Martha Lewis Beckwith Ewell.

The Harvest of Years online

. (page 19 of 20)
Online LibraryMartha Lewis Beckwith EwellThe Harvest of Years → online text (page 19 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I did not know what to say, and he answered the question himself:

"Yas, de Lord knows, dat man needs tendin' to, an I'se mighty anxious
fur de good Lord to take him in han'. We'll live to see ebery black man
free, Miss Em'ly, - we shall, shure, - an' dere'll be high times down in
Charleston. Wonder what little Molly'll do?"

"I have been thinking about her," I said. "You know the last letter we
received they were fearful of war, and thinking of coming to her
husband's friends in Pennsylvania; but she feared her mother would die;
she has been poorly for a long time."

"Reckin she'll die, then, fur de 'sitement'll kill her, ef nuffin else

The days wore on and Clara still lingered with us. Ben was as yet
unhurt, and first lieutenant of his company. He wrote us that battle was
not what he had thought it; he was not shaky at all, and the smell of
powder covered every fear; he had only one thought and that was to do
his duty. A letter full of sorrow came from Mary. Her mother had passed
from earth, and her father was going on to a little farm they owned a
few miles from the city, and she, with her husband and Althea Emily was,
trying to get into Pennsylvania. "I am in momentary fear," she wrote,
"for my husband is watched so closely, his principles are so well known,
I think we shall have great trouble in getting through, but we cannot
stay here."

The dewy breath of May was rising about us; violet angle was alive with
its blossoms, and the birds sang sweetly as if there were no sorrowing
hearts in the land.

Clara had failed of late, and the evening of the fifteenth we were
gathered together at her request in her sitting-room.

"Do not feel troubled," she said, "for when I am out of sight, you will
sorrow if you feel I have not told it all. Come, baby Emily, sweet bird
sit close to mam Cla, while she tells the story."

Louis and I sat on either side, Aunt Hildy with mother and father very
near, so that we formed a semi-circle.

"I am losing my strength, as you all know," said Clara "and the day is
very near when I shall reach for the hand that will lead me to the
hills. Now, Louis, my dear boy, here is the paper I have written,
wherein I give to you all the things I believe you will prize. I believe
I have remembered all who have been so kind and so dear to me, and I
know you will comply with every wish, and I desire no form of the law to
cover my words." Louis took the papers with a trembling hand, and she
continued: "It is wise and right for me to tell you about the laying
away of this frame of mine, for I know if I do not tell you about it
many questions will arise, and we will have them all settled now before
I go beyond your hearing. I shall hear you and see you all the time.

"First, buy for me a cedar coffin, since it will please you to remember
that this wood lasts longer in the ground than any other. Do not have
any unnecessary trimmings for it, and I would like to wear in this last
resting-place the blue dress I prize the most. You will find in my large
trunk the little pillow I have made for my head; just let me lie there a
little on one side, and put a few of Emily's sweet violets in my hand
that I may be pleasant to look upon. Leave no rings upon my fingers;
these I wear, my Louis Robert gave me, and you must keep them for his
grandchild," and as she said this, she unfastened the shining chain that
she had worn hidden so many years, and putting it around our little
Emily's neck, said: "Let her always wear the chain and the locket," and
while the baby's eyes reflected the gleam of the gold that dazzled them,
we were all weeping. "Do not feel so," said Clara; "it is beautiful to
go; let me tell you the rest. All these people whom I have known will
desire to look at my face, and for their sakes let me be carried into
the old church which has become to me so dear. I have asked Mr. Davis to
preach from the text, 'I am the resurrection and the life.'

"Be sure that the children from the Home all go, and I would like you
with them to occupy the front pews. I have a fancy," and she smiled,
"that if you sit there it will help me to come near to my deserted
tenement. I know I shall be with you there, and I hope you will never
call me dead. My house of clay is nearly dead now, and the more strength
it loses the stronger my spirit feels. Mr. Minot said, long since, that
I might own part of his lot in the churchyard, and I would like to be
buried under the willow there. I like that corner best. Do not ever tell
little Emily I am there; just say I'm gone away to rest and to be well
and strong, and when she is older tell her the frame that held the
picture is beneath the grasses, and that my freed soul loves her and
watches her, for it will be true. If you feel, Louis, my dear boy, like
bringing your father's remains to rest beside me, you can do so. It will
not trouble either of us, for it matters little; we are to be together.
This is all, except that, if it be practicable, I should like the burial
to take place at the hour of sunset; this seems the most fitting time.
While the grave is yet open, please let the children sing together,
'Sweet Rest;' I always like to hear them sing this. To-morrow evening I
have something to say to the friends who really seem to belong to
me, - Hal and Mary, Mr. Davis, Matthias, Aunt Peg and John, Jane and her
husband. Please let them come at six o'clock."

She closed her eyes wearily, and looked so white and beautiful, her
small hands folded, and the fleecy shawl about her falling from her
shoulders, and it seemed as if the material of life, like this delicate
garment, was also falling from her. Desolation spread its map before me.
I could think of nothing but an empty room and heart, and with Louis'
arms about me, I sobbed bitterly. Then I thought how selfish I was, and
said: "Louis, take her in your arms; she is so tired, poor little
mother." The blue eyes looked at me with such a tender light, and she
said, "Yes, I am tired." Louis gathered her in his arms and seated
himself in a rocker. Aunt Hildy went for some cordial. Mother and father
sat quietly with bitter tears falling slowly, and with little Emily in
my arms, I crossed the room to occupy a seat where my tears would not
trouble her. It was sadly beautiful.

She drew strength from Louis, and was borne into her room feeling, she
said, very comfortable. I wanted to stay with her through the night, but
she said:

"No, the baby needs you; so does Louis; I know how he feels; my night
will be peaceful and my rest sweet; Aunt Hildy will rest beside me."

"Yes, yes, I'll stay, and we shall both rest well," said Aunt Hildy.

In the morning she was weak, but we dressed her, and after eating a
little she felt better, and in the afternoon seemed very comfortable and
happy. We had our supper at a little after five o'clock, and at six
o'clock, as she had wished, all were in her room.

"Louis, roll my chair into the centre of the room, and let me face the
west, for I love to see day's glory die. Now come, good friends all, and
sit near me, where I can see your faces. I want to tell you that I am
going out of your sight, and I have left to each of you what seemed good
and right to me. I hope, yes, I know you will remember that I love you
all so much I would never be forgotten. You are grown so dear to me that
I shall not forget to look upon you; and please remember that I am not
dead, but shall be to you a living, active friend, who sees and knows
your needs, and to whose heart may be entrusted some dear mission for
your greatest good. Mr. and Mrs. Turner," and she held her hands to
Jane and her husband, "be true and faithful to each other. Leave no work
undone, love the children, and ask help from the hills, whence it shall
ever come. You will, I am sure;" and her eyes turned inquiringly upon

"Oh, Mis' _De_-Mond," said Jane, "I will, oh, you blessed angel woman!"

"I will, so help me God!" said Mr. Turner, and they took their seats,
while Clara, with a motion that said please come, called:

"Matthias and Aunt Peg, and you too, John, don't think I can ever forget
you. You will come to me, and you will know me there, and, John, you
have a wonderful work to do; your words will bear sweet tidings to your
race, and your reward shall be that of the well-doer."

"Oh, de good Lord! white lamb, how kin we ever let you go; you's done
got hold on our heart-strings! Oh, de good Lord bless ye, ye snow-white
darlin', an' ef it's de Mas'r's will, den we mus' lib all in the dark
widout ye, but de light ob your eyes is hevin to dis ole heart!"

"Oh, that's true' nuf!" said Aunt Peg, "God'll take care on you, but
what'll we do?" and their groans fell like the wailing winds upon the
ears of us all; our hearts were touched to their inmost chords.

"Mr. Davis," said Clara, and her eyes dilated with a wondrous light
while her voice grew unnaturally strong, "I am to see your wife. Shall I
say you are looking forward to meeting her?"

"Just that, and it will not be long," and he bowed his head as he held
in both his own her white hand.

"Halbert and Mary, come and let me bless you. My brother and sister, you
are so dear to me. You, Halbert, have a wondrous touch; you stand before
the shrine of art, and ere many years a people's verdict shall more than
seal your heart's desire; a master artist you shall be, my friend."

"Oh, Clara, Clara!" said Hal -

"Yes," she continued, "Love's fawn has won the prize for you at home and
abroad; I leave to you a friend, - Louis will attend to it all, - and
among the little ones who come there will be some who have, like you,
talent; help them as you shall see fit."

He could only bow his head, while Mary, sobbing as if her heart would
break, said:

"Do not go; oh, do not leave us!"

Clara closed her eyes and sank back among her cushions almost
breathless. We took her hands, Louis and I, and I feared she would never
speak again. Tearful and motionless these beloved ones sat about her,
and at last, when the crimson and gold swept like a full tide of glory
the broad western expanse that lay before us, she raised herself, looked
into all our faces, held her lips for a last kiss from us of the
household, and said in tones as clear as silver bells:

"I am going now; he is coming. Aunt Hildy, you will come soon. Emily,
love my Louis. Louis, kiss me again; fold close the falling garment.
Baby, breathe on me once more - Louis Robert. Oh, this is beautiful!"

Her head dropped on Louis' shoulder. Slowly the eyelids covered the
beautiful eyes.

She was dead. Clara, the purest of all, dead and how beautiful the
transition! What a picture for the sunset to look upon, as with the full
tide of sympathy flooding our hearts, we stood around her where she lay!
John, in his strong dark beauty, with folded arms, and eyes like wells
of sorrow; Matthias and Aunt Peg, with tears running over their dusky
faces; good Mr. Davis, with his gray hairs bending over her as if to
hear her tell the message to his loved one; Aunt Hildy standing like one
who is only waiting for a little more to fill the cup, which is already
near her lips; my father and mother with their tender sympathies
expressed in every feature, with Jane and her husband near them like two
statues; Hal and Mary beside Louis and me, wrapt like ourselves in the
mantle of a strange and new experience. How long we stood thus, I know
not; the last sun-rays were dying as Aunt Hildy said: "We must wait no
longer; Jane and Aunt Peg, you'll help me, the rest of you need'nt
stay;" and so we left our beautiful dead, still in the hands of her

The day of her burial was a perfect one - calm in its beauty, the blue of
its skies like the eyes of our darling. The little pillow made by her
own hands was of blue, covered with a fine web of wrought lace, and with
edging that had also been her handiwork. We dressed her as she
desired, - in a plain dress of pale blue, - the violet blossoms she loved
were in her hand, and it seemed to me as if I could never see her laid
out of sight - she was so beautiful in this last sleep; she looked not
more than thirty; there were no gray hairs among the brown, and no lines
of care or sorrow marked her sweet, pure face.

All things were as she desired, and when the sun burned low on the
hills, we laid her under the willow, while the children sang "Sweet

"Will there ever be another like her?" I said.

"Never," said Aunt Hildy.

"No, never," said the hearts of all.

My father missed her as much as if she had been his daughter, and I was
glad of little Emily's presence; it was a star in our night. Louis was
calm and strong, and spoke of her daily, and insisted on her plate at
the table, saying:

"I cannot call her dead. Let us keep a place for her."

It was a tender recognition which we respected. He looked after her, it
seemed to me, and almost saw her in her new home. The months wore on,
and our cares were still increasing. News of battles lost and won came
to us daily, and at last a letter telling of Lieutenant Minot having
been wounded seriously. It was impossible for any one to reach him at
present, and we must wait until he got to Washington, whither he would
be sent as soon as he was able. Our fears were great, but at last a
letter came from Washington, stating he would start for home on the
twenty-first of October, and he desired Hal to meet him in New York. Hal
found that the wound was in the shoulder, and the ball was still in it.
Unsuccessful probing had caused him great suffering, and we should
hardly have known him.

When the real state of the wound was known, Aunt Hildy said:

"I can get that ball out," and she went to work energetically. She cut
cloth into strips and bound all about the place where the ball entered,
and then she made a drawing "intment," as she called it, and applied it
daily, and in about four weeks, to our great delight, the ball came out.
Ben had the receipt for that wonderful "intment," and he calls it "Aunt
Hildy's miracle."

When the cold days of the fall came upon us, Aunt Hildy felt them
greatly, and the morning of December tenth we awoke to find her gone;
she had gone to sleep to wake in a better home.

It seemed as if we could not have it so, but when I remembered all she
had told me of her hopes and fears, when I knew she had found Clara and
was glad, I said we were selfish; let our hearts say "Amen."

The town mourned Aunt Hildy, and again our church was filled to
overflowing, and the sermon Mr. Davis preached was a just and beautiful
tribute to our beloved friend, the true and faithful Hildah Patten.

The day after the burial, father said to us in a mournful tone:

"Now I have a duty to perform, and when she talked to me about it, she
said, 'Do it right off, Mr. Minot; don't wait because you feel kinder
bad to have me laid away. It's the best way to do what you've got to do,
and get it over with.'

"So to-night we'll read the papers, and then we will carry out her
desires - good old soul; I do wish she could have stayed longer. I can
hardly see how we're going to live without her."

The evening drew near, and Halbert, Mary and Ben, with little Hal, were
seated in the "middle room," while my father, with a trembling hand,
turned the key in a small drawer of the old secretary, and took out a
roll of papers and a box. As he did so a thought struck him, and he
turned suddenly, saying:

"Why are not all here? She told me to have Matthias and Peg and John
come over. I believe a few more sad partings would make me lose my

"I'll go over for them," said Ben; "it is early yet."

"Yes, there is plenty of time," said father. "The sun sets early; the
shortest day in the year will soon be with us," and his eyes closed as
if he were too tired to think, and he sat in silence until the sound of
feet on the walk aroused him.

"Hope we hain't come over to see more dyin', Miss Em'ly. 'Pears like its
gettin' pooty lonesome round yere," and as our friends seated
themselves, the old clock tolled the hour of seven.

Little Emily was asleep in Louis' lap, and her cousin Hal curled himself
up in one corner of the old sofa, as if he, too, felt the presence of
the god of sleep.

"Now we are ready," said my father, "and here is the paper written by
Aunt Hildy which she bade me read to you all, and whose instructions we
must obey to the letter, remembering how wise and good our kind friend
has ever been. It is written in the form of a letter," and he read the

"My dear friends, I am writin' this as ef I was dead and you still in
the land of the livin', as we call it; I feel now as if when you read it
I shall be in the land of the livin', and you among them who feed mostly
on husks. I know by this stubbin pain in my side that I shall go to
sleep, and jest step over into Clary's room before long, and all that
ain't settled I am settlin' to-night, and to Mr. Minot's care I leave
these papers and this box. You have been good and true friends to me,
and I want to help you on a little in the doin' of good and perfect
work. When Silas left me alone he took with him little money. I don't
know what possessed him; but Satan, I guess, must have flung to the
winds the little self-respect he had. He took one boy off with him to be
a vagrant. Silas' father was a good man, and he left a good deal of
property to this son of his, and we had got along, in a worldly sense,
beautiful; so when, he went away he left considerable ready money and a
lot of land, and I've held on to it all. Sometimes I've thought one of
'em might come back and want some of it; but now I know they are dead.
From time to time I've sold the land, etc., and you see I've added to
what was left. I now propose to divide it between Emily and Louis, as
one, Jane North Turner and her husband, and John Jones."

As this name fell from my father's lips, John's dark eyes spoke volumes
and his broad chest heaved with emotion, but he sat perfectly erect,
with his arms folded, and I thought what a grand picture he made.

Matthias groaned:

"Oh, de good Lord ob Israel, what ways?" Aunt Peg gave vent to one of
her peculiar guttural sounds as father concluded the unfinished sentence
with the names of Ben, Hal and his good little wife.

"Now, you can't do a great deal with this money, but it will go a little
ways toward helpin' out. I believe there is just three thousand dollars,
and that figgers only six hundred dollars apiece. Now, ef Ben's
shoulder prevents him from workin', and he needs to have it, Halbert
must give him half of what I leave to him, and I know he'll do it. Ben
wants to get married, and I can see which way the wind blows in that
quarter, and I think sense he's been half killed you'd all better help
him. When that comes to pass, give to him all the furniture and beddin'
that I leave, for his wife will be sensible enough to be glad of it.
Halbert's likeness of me in marble is a great thing they say, and sells
well, and he will please to put me up again in that same shape, and then
sell the picter and use the money to help the poor. He'll do jest what
I'd like to have him.

"Emily and Louis will know jest what to do with their share; and now,
John Jones, to you, - as a child of our father, as a brother to me, - I
say, help yourself with what little I bestow in the very best way you
can. Ef I didn't know you would look well after Peg and Matthias I
should have left it to them and not to you. They won't stay here very
much longer, any way - and its all peace ahead, blessed peace. You,
perhaps, are wonderin' why Jane and her husband ain't here in this list.
This is the reason: I wanted to tell you jest how I come to have this
money, and I thought her husband would feel bad at the explanation. I
should like to have you all go over there, and let Mr. Minot read to Mr.
and Mrs. Turner and the children the paper I have left for them. Now I'm
contented to go, and ef they do put a railroad track through my wood
lot, it can't make me feel bad. The things of earth that I held so close
through long years, will not seem to me any more as they have, too holy
to be teched."

When father concluded the reading, we sat in such silence that the tick
of the old clock, was to our ears the united beating of our hearts. Our
thoughts were all centered on the wisdom and goodness of our unselfish
friend who, through her life had been ever mindful of the needs of her
fellow-men, and who, when standing before the gate of her eternal home,
threw behind her her last treasure, thinking still of the poor hearts
who needed its benefit.

We were to assemble at Jane's the next afternoon at five o'clock, and
when we said "good night," John looked up at the stars and said:

"If the spirit of that good woman sees me, she reads what I cannot tell

The next afternoon found us in Jane's large square room, which faced the
western sky, and no less than twenty children were seated there with us.
This number seemed to be the complement of the Home, - as many as could
comfortably be accommodated. It was a pleasant care to Jane, for her
heart was in the work, and she looked younger now than before the work
began. The wishes of the boys were consulted, and each one as nearly
fitted to the place he occupied as possible. Jane said, when they first
began to multiply, the care troubled her some; but she began to talk to
herself, and to say: "There now, don't be foolish enough to notice every
little caper of them boys," and then, she said: "I began to practise
what I preached to myself. It worked first-rate, for I give over
watchin' 'em, and we get along splendid."

There was a breathless silence when Louis said:

"We are here at the request of your friend, children, the blessed Aunt
Hildy who has left a word for you. You know she loved you, and I
imagine at this moment you are each wearing a pair of stockings which
were knit for you by her. Now listen, please, while Mr. Minot reads to
you her letter."

Then, in a slow and impressive manner, father read as follows:

"My dear folks at the Home. I'm about to leave this world for a better,
and on the borders of that blessed land I think of you. I think of your
happy faces and of Mr. and Mrs. Turner, who love you so much, and I
should like to have you know that I expect to meet you all over there.
You boys will grow to be good men, and you girls, who are like sweet
pinks to my mind, I want you to make blessed good women every one of
you. Now I think the good folks who take care of you would be thankful
to have a school-house of their own, and teachers who are interested in
the work of helping you along; and to give a little help, I leave to Mr.
and Mrs. Turner eight hundred dollars - two hundred is in the box in one
dollar gold pieces - to build a school-house with. You know I own a piece
of land next to yours, and here in this plot of two acres I want you to
put up this school-house. Give Mr. Brown the work, and let him draw up
the plan with Mr. Turner; I've figured it out, and I think there's
enough to build a good, substantial building such as you need; and the
deed of the two acres I give to the children. Each one of their names is
there, including those of the two that came first. Let each one, ef old
enough, do as he or she pleases with the ground. Ef they want to raise
marigolds, let 'em, and ef they want to raise garden sass, let 'em. I
should think Burton Brown would like to step in as a teacher, and I
believe he will, but the rest you can manage.

"Now this is all. When you get the school-house built you'll want a walk
around it, and ef you should have a border of flowers, you may put in
some 'live forever' for me, for that means truth, and that is what I
want you to find. If Fanny Mason feels like goin' over to Mis' Minot's
to live with her, I'd like to have her go, and if she does, she'll find
two chests and a trunk full of things I've left that she needs, but she
must have her piece of ground here just the same. The deed I have made
is recorded, and I would like to have Mr. Dayton survey the land, and
make the division of it. Then you can each one of you hold your own as
long as you live, Mr. and Mrs. Turner keepin' it in trust till the law
says you're of age."

The hearts of the children were touched at this token of love. Bright
eyes reflected happy thoughts. Fanny Mason was the first to speak. She
looked at my mother, while her eyes swam in tears.

"May I come, Mrs. Minot? - I would like to help somebody, and it must be
right or she would not have written it."

Mother held her hand to her, and I thought I never saw gratitude more

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryMartha Lewis Beckwith EwellThe Harvest of Years → online text (page 19 of 20)