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Martha Lewis Beckwith Ewell.

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plainly written than upon the face of Fanny. She was one of the three
girls whom Louis found in the city streets, the eldest of the flock, and
so good and amiable we had always loved her. When mother held her hand
out to her in answer to her question, little Emily thought it time to
speak, and putting out both her own, said:

"Tum, Panny, et, you outer."

"I will," said Fanny, as she gathered her in her arms.

"I'm goin' to have flowers," I heard one little fellow say.

"I'm goin' to raise corn," said another.

Mr. Davis was with us this evening, and after the children had given
vent to their joy, he rose, saying:

"I have a word to say of our dear good friend, Mrs. Patten. About four
weeks before she left us, I had a long talk with her. She told me of her
pleasant anticipations and also that she expected to see me there ere
long. Her last words on that memorable occasion were, as nearly as I can
remember, these: 'I go from death to life, from bondage to freedom. All
I have of earth I want to leave where it shall point toward heaven, or a
higher condition of things. If you were to stay, Brother Davis, you
should do some of this work, but you must get yourself ready, and you
need no more to dispose of.' I feel that this is true, and I ask you,
children, to feel that I shall hope to be remembered by you through
time. The lesson of harmonious action has been taught upon these hills,
and when the years to come shall brighten our pathway, tired hearts will
still be waiting. The angel of deliverance will be present then, as now,
and the munificence of those who have gone from us, as well as of those
who are yet in the body, has made the strong foundation on which to
stand; and in the blest future your hands will be helpful, while your
hearts shall sing of those whose hearts and hands did great service for
the advancement of love and truth. My heart is glad; I have learned
much; I know that our Father holds so closely his beloved, that no one
of his children shall call to him unheard."

We had a real meeting, as Jane expressed it, and I said to Louis:

"What a great fire a small matter kindleth!"

He replied: "We have claimed the promise and brought to our hearts the
strength we need 'where two or three are gathered together.' You know I
often think of this, and also of the incomparable comfort the entire
world would have if the eyes that are blinded could see; if the hearts
that beat slow and in fear were quickened into life. Ah! Emily, the
years to come hold wondrous changes. The cruel hand of war would never
have touched us had the first lesson in life's book been well read and
understood."

"That is true," said my father, as we entered the gate at home, and
looking up I saw two stars, and said:

"Clara and Aunt Hildy both say 'Amen!'"




CHAPTER XXIII.

AUNT HILDY'S LEGACY.


It was the spring of 1862, when "Aunt Hildy's Plot" was the scene of
happy labor. Uncle Dayton made the survey of the land and a map of it.
All the children knew the boundaries of their individual territories;
and the youngest among them, five-year-old Sammy, strutted about with
his hands in his pockets, whistling and thinking, now and then giving
vent to his joy. When he saw Louis and me coming, for we all went over
to see the ground broken for the schoolhouse, he came toward us
hurriedly, saying with great earnestness:

"I shall raise much as three dollars' worth of onions on my land. Do you
s'pose I can sell em, Mr. Desmonde? I want to sell 'em and put the money
in the bank, for when I get money enough I'm going to build a house, and
get married, too, I guess."

Louis answered him kindly, as he did all the rest, and when we went home
he said he held more secrets than any one man ought to.

The dedication of our schoolhouse was a grand affair. It came off on the
seventeenth of June. Uncle Dayton and Aunt Phebe came, and we gathered
the children from the town and village, clothed them in white with blue
ribbons streaming from their hats, and had them marched in line into the
building - the first two holding aloft a banner which Louis and I had
made for them. Many came from the surrounding town, and three of our
friends from Boston. There were speeches made by Mr. Davis, Uncle
Dayton, Louis, John, and others, and singing by the children. It was a
glorious time, and we felt that our beloved Aunt Hildy must now be
looking down upon us with an approving smile; and when the marble
statuette of her dear self was placed in a niche, made for its
reception, it seemed to me I could hear Clara say, "It is beautifully
appropriate."

The mode of operation was to be decided on, and when Louis spoke with
feeling of the coming days, he said to the children:

"You are our children; we are your friends; and together we mean to be
self-supporting, instead of going about among the people soliciting
alms. We will be pensioners on each other's bounty, and when we are
strong enough to aid others who need our assistance, we will send forth
gladly comforts from our home. Some little boys who are to raise
strawberries on their patch of ground, will be glad to carry a dish of
berries to some poor invalid; and so with everything you do, remember
the happiness of doing something for those around us, for the poor we
have always with us. I have been thinking about a teacher. Mr. Brown,
our little Burton from the mill, has engaged to teach school in an
adjoining village, and for a time cannot come to you. He will be able to
be your teacher after awhile, and I understand that is his wish. I
never taught school myself, but I have been wondering if you would like
me to try until he is ready. All those who would like me to come, say
aye."

I rather think Louis heard that response. I started, for such a sharp,
shrill sound rent the air that the window glass quivered as if about to
break."

"Now all who do not wish me for a teacher, say no."

A calm like that of the Dead Sea ensued, to be broken after a second by
little Sammy, who cried:

"Oh, pooh! There ain't nobody."

"Agreed," said Louis; "then I am elected, am I?"

"Yes, sir!" shouted the children.

"Then we'll hear you sing 'Hail Columbia,' and separate for the day. I
hope the summer will be a happy one for you all!"

It will be impossible to fully describe "Aunt Hildy's Plot," as it
appeared in the days when everything was settled, and the children at
work in earnest, each with an idea born of himself.

I thought I saw little that spoke to me of original sin and of the
depravity which, according to an ancient creed, grew in the human heart
as a part of each individual. There were strawberry beds and raspberry
rooms, patches of lettuce and peppergrass, long rows of corn with
trailing bean-vines in their rear, hedges of peas and string beans, and
young trees set out in different places, like sentinels of love and care
reaching toward the overarching sky.

Little Sammy had his onion patch as he desired. It was a happy sight,
and one that touched the heart, to see each one progressing
methodically day after day. They worked an hour before breakfast, and as
long as they pleased after supper. They took great comfort in "changing
works," as they called it; you would hear them say:

"Now, let's all go over to Joe's land this afternoon, and to John's
to-morrow;" and in this way they sowed and reaped together.

The plot measured considerably more than two acres, and there was a
space of about twenty square rods for each.

This, when properly cared for, made for them nice gardens to take care
of. Louis succeeded, of course, in the school. The building had cost
considerably more than six hundred dollars, for we knew it was wise to
build it of brick rather than wood, and also to have room enough for an
increase of pupils.

Louis said, when it was being built:

"I can see, Emily, the days to come; the harvest that shall arise; and
for years, perhaps, the hands of the reapers will not number many. Some
of the seed will fall on barren soil, and some of the grain that waits
for the reaper will spoil; but in the end, yes, in the gathering up of
all, the century shall dawn that lights the world with these dear
thoughts that feed us to-day. Work and pleasure go hand in hand with the
progressive thought that after a time shall blend the souls of men with
those of angels, for 'the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.'
I feel that I have escaped so much in coming here when I did. These
hills have, with your presence, my beloved, made it the shrine of
purity, and the vows here taken have absolved my soul. The little
things that arise to annoy us may not be called trouble, and we shall
live here till our hair is gray; till Emily Minot shall take in her own
hands the reins that fall from the hands of her mother; for I feel that
all the unfinished pictures which we shall leave will be completed, some
at the hands of our daughter, and others by those whose hearts we shall
learn to know.

Before we leave this lower state
To join the well-beloved who wait,
Our little mother helps us here,
Our guardian angel through each year.
She was as beautiful as fair;
How glorious an angel there!'"

And the face of my Louis, transfigured by his thought, shone with a
light that seemed to come from afar. I loved so well to hear him preach,
that when Mr. Davis' health became too precarious for him to occupy the
pulpit longer, I was glad to hear Louis say he would accept the place
tendered by Mr. Davis and by all the people of our town. I say all the
people, although perhaps there were a few who, liking to be busy and
failing to look for anything better, occupied themselves with the small
talk which made sometimes great noise without really touching anybody;
but we did not count this in life's cost, and were not affected by it.

Louis treated all with uniform kindness, and taught them the lessons
they could not fail to appreciate, though, as he had said, some of the
seed must fall on barren ground. It is not to be supposed that the
mill-owners were glad to lose the work of the children, for it was
worth much and cost little; but since they were not powerful enough to
establish monarchical government, they were forced to submit, and they
submitted gracefully, too, from the policy which, as Louis had said,
whispered "He has money," and they might sometime desire favor at his
hands.

It seemed to me sometimes that Louis' money would not last as long as
his life; but when I said something of the kind, he answered:

"Yes, yes, Emily; we shall not be embarrassed financially, for we
consult needs, and these you know are small compared to wants. A little
ready money will go a long way; we shall not suffer from interest nor
from high rates of taxation here; give yourself no uneasiness."

When the school was started we were surprised, as well as pleased, to
receive calls from some of our good people, who desired to have their
children go to the Home School as pupils. They felt moved to take this
step from two considerations; one, the more thorough education which the
children would receive; and the other, an interest felt in our work, and
a desire to help the school to become one of the best.

They proposed paying a tuition fee, to which we all consented, reserving
to ourselves the right of taking those who might desire to attend and
not be able to pay; and through their really generous contributions in
this way, when Burton Brown came to assume the duties of a schoolmaster,
there was a fund sufficient to pay him well for his services.

We named this the Turner Fund, although Jane insisted it should be
_De_mond.

John desired to donate his gift from Aunt Hildy to the Turner Fund, but
Louis objected, saying:

"John, you have no right to do this; you need to get a house for
yourself before you help others. It would not be right to take your
money, and we cannot accept it."

Matthias says:

"'Pears like I kin tote ober to de 'Plot' an' tinker roun' thar wid de
chilun. John's done boun' I shan't do no moah work, an' I can't stop
still no how, for it 'pears like I'm dead 'fore de time."

He made himself wonderfully useful there, and the children loved him.
John got along splendidly, and bought the saw-mill; for Ben, although
better, could not do any work at the mill, and John was very glad to own
it.

I am ashamed to say that now and then a small-souled individual would
ventilate his miserable prejudices, and expressions like the following
came to our ears:

"Wonder what'll happen if the niggers all get free; got one for a
saw-mill owner already;" all of which fell, to be sure, at John's feet
with an ignorant thud. Still, when we looked at him and realized his
noble nature, it seemed too bad to think there could be one such word
spoken.

How fortunate it is that our hearts do naturally retain the perfume of
the roses, and forget the presence of the thorns! The wiser we grow the
more natural we become; and on the rock of truth we can stand, feeling
no jar, when the missiles of a grovelling mind are hurled against its
base. When we get tired, however, and are forced by the pressure of
material circumstances to wander down into the valley, while we stand
even then in the shelter of our mountain, still we find our feet
sometimes soiled by the gathered mud.

Here is where the weak-hearted of our earth fail, and, looking not to
the mountains, become at last settled in the valley, and suffer even to
the end, borne down by the fettering chains of a life which is, at best,
only breathing. Their wings held close, they cannot rise beyond the
clouds and fog into the clearer atmosphere of a higher condition.

My fortieth birthday is upon me. I am sitting in the room where, since
the day of our wedding, all of my best thoughts have been written. Sharp
winds blow around our dwelling, but our hearts heed not their harsh
voices. Louis and I have been retrospecting to-day, reading together the
journal of the past two years. We have kept it together, devoting two
pages to each day, each of us writing one. It is not uninteresting; many
changes have been dotted down; and still, to look in upon us, you could
not see them. Here is the date of one, the death of good Mr. Davis, and
an account of the sermon preached by Louis at his funeral, the
witnessing of his last experience among us, and the blessed comfort it
gave us, as with his death-cold lips he murmured, "My wife." Clara and
all, he saw their beckoning hands and angelic faces. He heard sweet
music blending with our voices as we sang to him at his request.

"It is enough; let us rejoice together," said Louis, "for he has gone to
his own, and he shall have no more pain forever."

On another page we read of the children's harvest gathered, and also of
their Christmas festivities, of the prosperous condition of the school,
and the untiring diligence of the scholars; extracts from lectures given
by John at the schoolhouse, and the date of his first lecture in the
Quaker city, Philadelphia; sorrowful records of the battles fought and
gained; a sad story of Willie Goodwin, who was taken prisoner by the
Confederates, and came home, poor fellow, only to die; news from our
Southern Mary in her Pennsylvania home, and an account of her visit to
us, bringing with her Louise, a pet girl, once owned by her father. I
saw John looking at her sharply, and with undisguised admiration, and I
thought, perhaps, when Ben's wedding day had passed, John might have
one. I could say truthfully, "I hope he will."

No matter how many or great the changes, the robins still build their
nests in the elm tree, and the grass still grows to cover the earth of
brown with its emerald mantle; for what care the daisies and the grapes,
if the hand of the reaper bids them bow before his trusty blade? The
life is at their roots, and their flowers and blades will come again. So
with our hearts; they are as hopeful as in the earlier days, ere we had
lost sight of some of our jewels, and it is true our love has deathless
roots.

Louis grows more blessed all the while. The step of my mother is slow,
and father bends to bear the burden of his years, while the voice of our
Fanny, who will be my sister through all time, cheers them in their
daily walk, as she holds in peace the place of little house-keeper. She
loves her home, and we love her. Louis and I have just been looking at
the pleasant picture in our middle room, where our Emily Minot, sitting
between gray hairs, holds in her lap a year-old brother (Louis), while
Fanny, sitting on the old sofa, sings the song of "Gentle Annie."

Matthias, Peg and John are coming over the hill; Jane and her husband
will be here soon, for I am to have a birthday supper. Ben will be with
us, but Hal and Mary, with little Hal, are across the sea. They sailed
last June to find "Love's Fawn," or rather strength for Mary. Aunt
Hildy, "done up in marble," went with them. They will come to us in
June, the month of roses; I love it best of all.

"Hope dey will; but 'pears like you's jes' gone an' done it."

It is morning again. No clouds skirt the horizon; broad, beautiful
daylight beams lovingly upon us. The wind, which yesterday blew such
fierce breaths, journeyed southward during the night, and returned laden
with good-tempered sweetness, whispering of warmer days. We had a
pleasant birthday supper, and by request I read aloud a few of the
foregoing chapters. Matthias rose in terror as he listened to the
recital of our united lives, and interrupted me, saying:

"De good lansake, 'fore de Lord ob Canaan! but you ain't gwine to put
_me_ down in rale printed readin', is ye?"

One would have supposed I had been reading his death warrant, or
something equally portentous, as he stood before me with dilated eyes
and upraised hands. I smiled at the picture and answered:

"Certainly."

"Wall," he said, in a despairing tone, "it'll jes' kill de sale ob dat
book. All de res' is good nuf, but dem tings I'se said don't have no
larnin' to 'em, Miss Em'ly. 'Spect de folks'll tink you's done gone
crazy puttin' me down by de side ob de white lamb. It's mighty quare an'
on-reasonablelike, 'tis sartin'."

"Oh, Matthias," I replied, "the people will like it!"

"Hope you's in de right ob it, but what kin you call it when it's all
done printed out fur ye?"

"That is the question. Louis says 'call it _The Harvest of Years_.'"

The look of quiet wonder which had succeeded the terrified expression
his face at first revealed merged gradually into one of happy certainty,
his large eyes filled with honest tears, and he said with much feeling:

"Mas'r Louis knows what's right sure nuf. De good Lord had taken into de
kingdom some ob de bes' grain an' lef de ole stubble still. 'Pears like
'twas cuttin' a big field fur to take Miss Catten an' de white lamb too.
Ah! Miss Em'ly, dis harves' ob years is a gwine on troo all de seasons;
hope dis ole nigger'll be ready when de Lord comes roun' fur him."

The child of my thought is christened by the recognition which comes
from the heart of one who is "faithful over the few things," and
therefore claims the promise which many with enlarged privileges fail to
acknowledge. Can I regret the choice Louis made? My heart says "never,"
and my narrative shall be called "The Harvest of Years."

"Yes," said Louis, "I think so too; but my name for the book is 'Emily
Did It.'"




Transcriber's Notes:

Pg 164 - moved closing quote from 'shook as if with ague."' to
'feel such a strange joy;"'







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