Martha Lewis Beckwith Ewell.

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And her sleeves would go up to her elbows, and she would march through
work like a mower through a field.

Her coming gave me a chance to do some sewing, and with Clara's help
about cutting (and she sewed with me), the needed spring and summer
apparel and house linen were fashioned and made ready for use. The days
passed pleasantly to us all, and though I had watched Clara closely, she
betrayed neither by word nor sign anything that savored of dislike
toward Professor Benton; and still, sometimes, I felt that unexplainable
something that once in a while tried as it were to shape itself before
me, and as often vanished in mist. We had long evenings, and many new
topics were introduced and discussed. I had access to Clara's large and
well selected library, and I improved every opportunity to inform myself
on doubtful subjects. Sometimes I despaired of knowing anything new, and
again my brain would seem clearer, and would take in the new thoughts
with keen perception. When, however, we came to talk upon these same
subjects, I sat nearly dumb; I could summon no thoughts nor words to
frame them. Even this stupidity had its advantage, for Mr. Benton (Hal
called him Will) was a good talker, and had, as all talkers have, a
great respect for a good listener, and he often said to me:

"You have a heart to appreciate rare truths, Miss Minot."

Clara was gifted in conversation, but did not always express her
sentiments with great freedom.

If we touched on things nearest her heart, and I believe the doing of
good each to the other was her highest thought, she was at home, and her
blue eyes would glow with light, as in her own sweet way she talked long
and earnestly. I shall never forget the first time Mr. Benton noticed
this point in her organization. The newsmonger of our town had been to
see us, had spent the afternoon and taken tea, and while it was
amusement for me to hear her gossip incessantly about this thing and
that, this person and the other, Clara was greatly annoyed by it. It
caused a righteous indignation to rise within her, and when after the
visit we were seated by the antique centre table in her sitting-room,
the conversation turned upon the peculiarities of this scandal-loving
Jane North.

Clara expressed herself freely on the subject of small talk, as she
termed scandal. Her eyes dilated, her small hands were folded tightly,
and when she closed it was with this last feeling sentence:

"I can only say, 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,' who
scatter the theme of contention where roses should appear, and in
tearing down the habitation of their neighbors lose also their own; for
they who have respect for themselves will have respect for their
neighbors. May we yet live to understand the meaning of the words, 'Love
ye one another.' When this shall be, oh, my more than friends, when this
shall be, we shall know each other, even as we are known! No secret
blight shall cover any life, no worm of regret gnaw at the tree of our
unfolding lives! We shall all be as a unit, and our Father who seeth us
in secret shall then reward us openly! Yea, more, for are not we
ourselves capable of holding communion with this part of God within us?
We know our souls are with us to-day, and it is only because the roots
of thought are covered, and the feet of envy, hatred and malice are
pressing, the hard soil against them, that the tendrils of our loving
natures are never asked to climb, and the eternal ivy of our great love
reaches not the windows of expressed thought, else our hands would be
made strong to do daily that which is found to do with all our might."

Her last beautiful utterance finished, she closed her eyes as if covered
with the mantle of her holy thoughts, and we all sat in a breathless
silence. Aunt Hildy who sat in the corner (by preference) stirred not a
muscle from the beginning to the close of her talk, and Mr. Benton
looked first in wonder then in admiration, and when our silence was
broken by a fervent "Amen" from Aunt Hildy, he added:

"'Even so let it be.' Those thoughts are beautiful."

Clara looked at him with an almost reproachful glance, the import of
which I could not understand.

I was not sensitive like Clara; perhaps intuitive would express it
better. She seemed to understand every one's nature on the first
meeting, and I had marvelled many tunes at her accuracy in reading

She told me that her heart went out to Aunt Hildy at their first
meeting, and I felt convinced now there was something about this new
friend that no one save herself could detect, and whether it had shape
with her or not was a question.

Three weeks of Mr. Benton's stay had passed when this incident occurred,
and from that hour there was a marked change in his manner toward her.
I could see, ignorant as I was of the phases of life, how he was
attracted to her. This glimpse of her wondrous nature had opened his
eyes, and perhaps touched his heart. His age must be about hers, I
thought, and how strange if it should be that he loved her. But here I
run into a mist where nothing was plain. Days will tell the story, I
thought, and we were sure of days and changes while life lasted. It
became plain to me after a little that Clara felt the change in his
manner toward her, and in every quiet move of hers I detected the
disposition on her part to repel any advances. She gave him no
opportunity to be with her alone, and if by chance this happened, her
sweet voice would call "Emily, come in this way, we are lonely without
you," and her eyes would turn on me when I entered with a sort of
wistful glance. It always reminded me of a child looking confidently
into the eyes of its mother, expecting the help it was sure to find. I
hardly enjoyed this, for I knew Mr. Benton thought me old enough to
discern a little, and he must have believed us to be in league together,
whereas no word had passed between us on the subject until just before
Christmas, when Louis was expected.

Clara and I were sitting busily sewing and talking of the coming of "her
dear boy," when she let her sewing fall and sat as in thought a few
moments before she spoke.

"Emily (and she spoke slowly and with earnestness. I felt frightened for
her cheek grew white as the words fell from her lips), when Louis comes
keep close to me all the time, will you? Oh! I know you will, and since
I ask such a favor, it is only right I should tell you all about it. I
know, for I feel it in here (and she laid her hand on her head), that
Professor Benton desires to talk to me. He must not be allowed to,
Emily, for if he does it will hurt me so much. I will tell you why, and
I know you will tell it to no one."

I looked an assent and she continued:

"He thinks that he might like me so well that he would wish me near him
for ever. But he does not know that I cannot let him say this to me. It
would be hard to make him understand me; he never could. And then if he
should know me very well, it would be all wrong. I love my Louis Robert,
and he is waiting on the hills for me. Yes, my dear Emily, he waits for
me there. Did he not say so when he died, and will he not come for me
some day when I shall be a little more weary, and this beating heart
grows colder? He says he will and I am always with him in my thoughts.
It almost hurts me to live at all. Can you see, Emily, can you know how
it is because I need you all _so_ much that I must stay with you?
Professor Benton has a good heart, but it feels cold to me. His art
obscures from him all else; he can love no one as he loves a picture.
Now you will promise me, no not with words - I would only feel your arm
around me, and with my hand in yours feel you are my trusted one - my
soul friend and my great help."

Silence was ill suited to my feelings at that moment. I gathered her
gentle form to me, and held her tight while those ever ready tears of
sympathy filled my eyes full, and I spoke honestly when I said:

"I don't care a fig for Mr. Benton, and if he troubles you I will send
him back to Chicago, and I wish he had never come at all."

"Oh! oh! do not say it; I shall fear to have you know my heart, it makes
you rebellious. It is well that he came, as your brother needs him, and
you do wrong to say such words. Wait, Emily, keep quiet, you are like a
wind when your thoughts are stirred, and time, my love, will help you to
make your hand strong, and your heart also. It is on a full tide and
with a steady wind that vessels find the sea, while changeful blasts
will shipwreck them, and then cast their wrecks upon the shore. And so
it is with mortals; we have to keep saying, wait! while we pray to be
guided aright."

"I am always running off the track, Clara, I know; teach me to know
myself and let me help you; you are so different; I shall never be like
you," I said.

"And you do not wish to be, I hope," was her reply.

"I would like more of your quiet spirit, but that belongs to you, and if
I wait and work hard to do it, I shall always be upsetting what I wish
to do, and plaguing others instead of helping - " Mother came in and our
talk was at an end.



Many thoughts filled my mind after what Clara had said, and I thought
much of her beautiful faith as to her husband and his waiting for her;
of her trust in his coming, and of the reality with which came into her
existence this wonderful future that waits for us all if (and sometimes
this little conjunction assumed wonderful proportions) immortality
really be ours. My heart told me we were to live, and in my higher
thoughts I could sometimes see the light that flooded those old hills
near our home, reaching far on to where all those of our household were
waiting. I never at these times could think of our beloved friends, my
blessed grandmother, of whom we did not even possess a daguerreotype, as
an angelic and unearthly something with wings, but rather as a real
being, whose face I should recognize, whose hands should touch my own,
while her lips would move, and in her dear old way she would say "Come
in, Emily," just as she used to when I went as a child to her door, and
looked in at her, as she lay on her bed, partly paralyzed. Her hair was
white with the cares of seventy-four winters, and her eyes filled then
with such a pleasant light. She had lived with us, this dear Grandma
Northrop, for years. Hal had always been her special charge; she called
him her boy, and up to the last month of her life mended his stockings
first; she would go to the door and watch him go for the cows, and when
he came back over the west meadows, would say with admiration:

"That boy is worth a dozen such as Ben Davis; he'll do something great
before he dies."

My mother spoke often of her, and also recalled her saying, "I hope
angels can see men," meaning that she could not bear the thought of
leaving Hal.

I was only five years old when she left us, still her memory was sacred
to me, and through the summer days I covered her grave with everlasting
flowers and daisies. I remembered her as genial, though somewhat
peculiar in her ways; she had a warm appreciation of wit, and was ever
ready with answers. Mother remembered and told me so many of her happy
sayings that it kept her memory fresh among us all, and if angels could
both see and hear men, she must have felt grateful that we remembered
her with such pleasure. I treasured the hoop ear-rings which she wore,
and which bore her initials, "E.L.N." Her name was Elizabeth, but she
was called by all "Betsey." To Hal she had left two silver spoons and
her snuff-box. He had it among his little treasures, and kept the same
bean in it that was there when she died. I wished a thousand times and
more that my name might be Elizabeth, but Emily was given me by a sister
of father's who desired me to be her namesake, and if I had been more
like her in my young years I should never have been likened to a "fierce
wind," as Clara so truly termed me. This Aunt Emily had gone to her
heavenly home, as had many of my mother's family. She was one of eleven
children, and at this date only one brother, Peter, and a sister, Phebe,
were living. Mother had a beautiful sister, Sallie, who died young, and
whom I loved to hear about. She painted her picture in words for me, and
I could see her dark blue eyes, her brown hair that looked like satin,
and her pink cheeks, almost as if I had really seen and known her. And
when this heaven, that sometimes seemed so like far off mist, grew
nearer, I imagined the meeting of them all, and enjoyed the pleasant
picture which lay before my mind's eye like a waiting promise of whose
fulfillment I felt sure. Clara and Aunt Hildy had long conversations on
these subjects, and Aunt Hildy said to me when speaking of these talks:

"Oh! I love her white soul, Emily; she allus brings heaven right down to
airth, and even when she don't talk I feel so kind of blessed when I sit
near her. Few such folks are let to live, and somehow I'm almost
convinced she can't stay long," and the corner of her blue-checked apron
would touch her humid eyes, as she turned again to her work.

Work was a matter of principle with her, and to neglect one duty
unnecessarily, no light offense. She was as true to her highest
conviction of right as the needle to the pole, and held the truth close
to her heart - so close that all her outer life was in correspondence
with her interior perceptions. Truly her light was not under a bushel.

I hoped her fear of Clara's death would not soon be realized, for it did
not seem as if we could bear to lose her presence. Never in any way
could she intrude herself, for her nature moved her in perpetual lines,
whose shadow never fell on the path of another. I felt sorry that she
should be troubled, and I fear my dark eyes now and then shot telling
glances at Mr. Benton.

The more she tried, even in her graceful way, to repel his advances, the
more determined he was to gain access to her heart. In this I could
detect the selfish part of his nature, and while I could not blame him
for loving her, I knew that my love for her was so great that I would
not knowingly give her any pain, and it seemed to me his love must be
less than it should be, for he could not fail to know it troubled her
and should have desisted. In a few days after our conversation Louis

Clara had, since she realized Mr. Benton's feelings toward her, been
very careful in the selection of her wearing apparel, choosing for her
daily use the plainest dresses. But on the day of Louis' arrival she
said to me, as we went up stairs after dinner was cleared away:

"Emily, will you put on the dress that becomes you so well?" It was a
garnet merino she alluded to, a gift from herself.

"We should make a pleasant picture for Louis when he comes; the dear boy
loves to see his little mother in blue, and our royal Emily in becoming

"Of course I will," I said, and as I fastened the lace collar, whose
pattern was roses and leaves, with the pin she gave me, and looked in my
little glass, I thought what a poor resemblance to royalty I bore, and
laughed at the appellation.

Supper was ready, but we waited for the stage, and when it came we were
all at the door. Hal met Louis first and then came Mr. Benton; Clara
kept drawing me back with her, and he was obliged to greet mother and
father and Aunt Hildy also, ere we were visible.

"Little mother! blessed little mother!" and he held her close, kissing
her with passionate fondness, then turning to me he took both my hands
and whispered softly:

"Last but not least," and we followed the rest to the supper table.

Mr. Benton was more than polite during the meal, and afterward delighted
Louis with showing him an unfinished portrait of Clara, which he had
commenced painting on canvas.

This information was conveyed to me at the first favorable opportunity,
and when Louis enjoined secrecy upon me, he expressed great pleasure
with Mr. Benton, and said:

"Oh! Miss Emily. Little mother is so beautiful; she is always a picture.
When the artist adds to the charming portrait the dress and the little
pearls she wore to receive me, it will be so real I shall want to ask it
to speak to me, and when she leaves me I can look at it, and in my heart
hear her say 'Louis my dear boy.' You love her very much, do you not,

"Oh, Louis!" I cried, "do not talk so, everybody says she is too good
and beautiful to live, and it is a thought too bitter, I cannot bear

He turned the conversation into another channel, and talked so strongly
about his great desire to master this art of painting, while I wondered
to myself how it had happened that these hearts were gathered to our
own and had become members of our household, coming, as they did, like
rare exotics, to live and blossom among us plain hollyhocks and
dandelions. Hal I could liken to a rare flower, but then he was only one
among our number, and in all our family and friends there were none
possessing the gifts of these two souls which had come to us so

Aunt Hildy said, "The ways of life are past all comprehending." I
thought so too. Christmas came on Sunday in this year of our Lord
eighteen-hundred-and-forty-two, and for this I rejoiced and was glad.
When it came on a week-day, it seemed like Sunday, and although now and
then we had some really interesting sermons, there was not enough to
fill two sabbaths coming so near together, and it gave me a restless
sort of feeling, especially so, when I knew how quiet and solemn my
father used to be all day, and also his great desire that we should
imitate him.

I had been a member of our old church three years, and while I desired
to live a Christian life, I could never feel that a long face, and
solemnly pronounced words made any difference in my real life. Father
did not believe any more in long faces than I did, still, I think from
fear of neglecting any part of his duty, he maintained a serious
demeanor from the break of our Sabbath days to their close. He had an
unusually beautiful way of asking a blessing that always gave me a happy
feeling. He merely said in a pleasant way, and with open eyes: "We
should be very thankful for this meal; may we have wisdom to prepare no
unsavory dishes, and strength to earn for ourselves, and others if
necessary, the bread we daily need." This gave us a thought (that never
grew old with me) of the needs of our neighbor, and also seemed so
rational, and fitted our needs so perfectly. Aunt Hildy called it a
common-sense blessing. I remember well how she spoke of it, in contrast
with Deacon Grover's long-drawn-out table prayers, saying with emphasis;
"The man, if he is a deacon, has a right to grow better, and we know he
asks God to bless things cattle couldn't eat."

Christmas, we all went to church, and although it was more than a mile,
aunt Hildy refused to ride.

"Let me walk as long as I can, time enough to ride by and by, and I'm
only fifty-eight years old, Mr. Minot," she said.

It was useless to urge her, and she came into church a few minutes later
than we did, and sat in her own pew next ours. This church was an
old-time affair, having been built by the early settlers. It had, as all
those old churches had, square pews, a stove in its central portion with
huge arms of pipe that stretched embracingly in all ways; and its pulpit
was so high that I prevailed on father to sit back from the centre as
far as we could and be comfortably warm, for it was breaking ones' neck
to look at the minister, and the sermon was half lost if you could not
see the play of his features. Our worship was of the Presbyterian order,
and our present pastor a worthy man. This was all the church that
belonged to us really. In the village which nestled in the valley two
and a half miles south-west of us, like a child in the lap of its
mother, there were three churches, Baptist, Methodist, and
Presbyterian, and many who attended our old church would have liked
better to go to one of those, and at times did so, but it was quite a
ride in winter, and for this reason our church was better filled at this
season than in the summer days.

A new branch of belief had latterly developed itself somewhat in our
neighborhood, and this embraced the thought of universal salvation.
There had been meetings held at the houses of some of our friends, and
once or twice mother and myself had attended.

The sermon on this Christmas day did me no good, for our minister chose
for his subject false doctrines, and the pointed allusions and
personalities savored greatly of a spirit that was not calculated to
remind us of the humble Nazarene and his lowly spirit.

Tearing the roof down over our heads would not give one an idea of a
comfortable home; and surely charity's mantle should at least cover the
sins of ignorance, and that certainly was the hardest verdict we could
render against those of our number who had become interested in these
ideas, for that they were good and true people appeared from their
doctrines. The only difference was this: That the love of God was so
great for his children that not one of them would be lost or cast into
the terrible fires, which, according to our old belief, burned for the
guilty through endless time. And now as I reflect I can surely see it
was more through fear of being thus cast off, and not because I could
put my hand on anything so terribly wicked in myself or my acts, that I
early desired and had communication with the church. Somehow I felt more
secure to know I was approved of by men, and my name enrolled on the
church list. As I grew older this was a troublesome thought that now and
then, asked for a hearing. As we came out of church, Deacon Grover with
his small black eyes peering into aunt Hildy's face, said to her:

"Smart sermon; good talk, Miss Patten, how did you enjoy it?"

"Well as I could," and I nearly laughed in his face, although I knew he
did not realize what she meant. She never liked fiery sermons, as she
called them, and believed that the only way to heap coals of fire on the
head of the unrighteous, was by living so rightly as to make them
ashamed of their ways and do better. Mr. Benton and Louis walked with
Ben and aunt Hildy, and our ride home was a nearly silent one. I knew my
father had not been any more edified than myself, but it was not his way
to talk of it, and not until the next evening was the subject mentioned.
The fire of reproof was begun by your humble servant, and I said many
things which were unnecessary, and expressed my determination to
investigate the new doctrine. If father had been with us I should have
spoken less freely, and as it was I shocked my mother and almost myself,
so severely did I denounce the minister. Louis sat in silence, also his
mother, but aunt Hildy spoke as follows, after waiting a few moments to
see if any one else had pent up wrath to give vent to:

"Well, as the youngest has spoke, I suppose I may express my feelin's,
and I must say I never heerd a worse sermon. I have been a steddy
meetin-goer for forty years, and have tried to hold a peaceful spirit
that would be jest such as the Master would recommend if he was among
us; but I believe we all allow we are sinners more or less, and after
all do daily the things we should not do. Still if anybody wanted my
help, I should hate to have 'em chase me with a broomstick, for I
couldn't do a thing for 'em if they did; and if we think anybody is
going into a ditch of a wrong idee, we'd better not scare 'em to death
hollerin at 'em, it would be apt to send 'em in head first, while if we
could kinder creep along behind, and speak a few words kindly, they
would turn round, and we could tell 'em of their danger." Her similes
were original, and we involuntarily smiled an approval of her sentiment,
when Mr. Benton said:

"Do you not think the fear of hell helps to hold people in the right
path sometimes, Mrs. Patten?" Aunt Hildy looked at him with a wondrous
light in her eyes, as she answered:

"_No, sir_, I don't; my Bible says perfect love casteth out fear. The
woman that's afraid of her husband can't love him if she dies for it,
and the boy who hates his father through fear, can't muster up respect
enough to love him if he tries." And her knitting needles clicked again
as if to say, "that's the truth."

A few moments and then Clara spoke (Aunt Hildy stopped knitting the
moment she began, as if expecting a treat). "We are taught," she said,
"that our Father loves us; that he rejoices with great joy in the return
of a prodigal to his fold. The truth that he loves us better than we can

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Online LibraryMartha Lewis Beckwith EwellThe Harvest of Years → online text (page 5 of 20)