Martha Lewis Beckwith Ewell.

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ever love each other here, that none of us shall ask for bread and
receive a stone, neither fish and receive a serpent, was spoken to us
from the ages past. Christ came into the world as the bearer of all
essential truths. His enemies, the Jews, knew he told the truth and
hastened to crucify him, saying in plain words - 'If he live, all men
will believe on him, crucify him, crucify him,' and it was done, but he
left behind him the great token of his love, and he hath said,
'Whosoever believeth on me, even though he were dead yet shall he live,'
etc. If we can understand him, he means us all, every child of our
Father, and are we not all his? The law of Moses was buried when the law
of Christ was given, which is the law of our omnipotent Father. I am
ready," and down her cheeks tears coursed their way; "I do so want to
know more of this beautiful faith, for it has ever been my own; I say to
you to-night and I have already said it to my heavenly Father, I will
yield my life, if I can help the poor, tired hearts, the needy souls of
men, to embrace this glorious truth, 'Love ye one another.'" Tears
filled the eyes of all save those of Wilmur Benton, who sat as if
covered with astonishment, and I could see that he was puzzled; and if
he spoke his thought might have said, "What manner of woman is this, and
how can I touch the strings of her heart."

Clara's eyes grew large and full of light as she continued:

"I care not for the name, for what manner of difference can that
make - we are to be known and know each other by and by; we can and
should have our heaven below; we can and should have love for one and
all; and while my loyal friend Emily speaks harshly of the minister,
who, fearing a new path before some of his people, feels it his duty to
not only call, but drive them back into the square pen of the old ideas;
yet we must not condemn him, neither measure his heart exactly by the
words of his text or sermon. The circumference of the tree is more than
three times its diameter, and yet we know the width of the board we use
is found in the diameter. Words are a circumference which encircle the
breadth of a diameter, and we may feel and know that this man, standing
as he does within the bounds of a belief whose main foundation embraces
the two thoughts, heaven and misery, cannot, if he believes this to be
true, do less than urge it upon us all. But if we stop and think, we can
say, perhaps the heart of this religious tree he represents may not be
sound, and when the axe of advancing ideas trims its branches and buries
its blade within its trunk, we shall, as I believe, have proof of this;
and then, perhaps his eyes will turn with ours to the outstretched arms
of a noble oak, whose leaves are green, whose heart is sound, and at
whose base we all may gather, against whose sides we all may rest. It
has waited long, and grown in our father's forest until at last its
giant dimensions have been apparent. The leaves of its upper branches
caught the eye of a ranger on truth's high mountain, and the underbrush
must now be cut away to make a path for our feet. Let the winds
annihilate the dogmas of a creed, let our hearts open to all good
thoughts, and let this one also be as the anchor of our souls, this
glorious thought of our Father's love, this binding together of his
children. Patience and work both are needed: will not my dear boy help
me? I know he will, and our Emily; God give to me the help I need from
these two young hearts," and she held out her hands to us.

I said "Oh, Clara!" and sank on the floor beside her, put my head in her
lap, and let the tears fall as they would, unmindful of all else save my
dear, beautiful friend. Louis sat on the other side of her with his arm
around her waist, and her head lay on his shoulder. The curtain of the
evening slowly fell, and in slumbers I drew her thoughts close to my
heart, Aunt Hildy's "God help us" floating like music through my



"Emily will help me!" Oh, how those words haunted me! I would help her;
yes, if I could, but when should I ever stop making blunders, when
should I lose the impetuous nature that drove me too often on the beach
of thought, with shipwrecked sentences that fell far short of my
thought, and expressed nothing of my real self. Why was it, as I grew
older, I came to realize, that if I had been born a little later, it
would have been easier? I was standing on tip-toe trying in vain to
touch that which lay beyond my reach; of course I must be constantly
falling, and the security of growth I could not then wait for. I must
keep reaching and falling, covering myself with disappointments, while
in the hearts if not on the lips of those about me must rest the same
old words, "Emily did it."

Clara says I can do something, and having grown to feel that her words
were almost prophecy, I felt sure there was something ahead, and
repeated again and again, "Emily will do it." Mr. Benton was looking
beyond his depth, and still did not hesitate to try and swim across the
difficult waters that lay between himself and Clara, and before Louis
left us, something occurred which I must tell about. I had been called
over the hill on an errand, was obliged to go alone, and was then
detained somewhat, and when I came back, Louis met me, and taking my
arm, said:

"Walk slowly, I have something I must say."

I thought of Clara at once, and it was a true impression, for he said:

"My little mother is in trouble; I have heard what I would never know if
I could avoid it - Professor Benton has been telling her that he loves
her. He has forced this upon her, I know, for these are his words to
which I unwillingly listened: 'Why, Mrs. Desmonde, do you shun me, why
turn you eyes whenever they meet my own, why call Miss Minot to your
side when an opportunity presents for us to be alone together? I cannot
be baffled in my love for you; no woman has ever before touched the
secret spring of my heart, no voice has ever reached my soul - yours is
music to me; and, Mrs. Desmonde, I need great love and sympathy; I am
not all I want to be; my lot in life has been in some respects very hard
to bear; I never knew my mother's love, and when old enough to desire
the companionship man needs, I had an experience which killed the flower
of my affection - I thought its roots were as dead as its leaves, until I
met you. Oh! Mrs. Desmonde, do you not, can you not return this feeling?
My life is in your hands.' It was hard for my little mother, and I stood
riveted to the spot, Emily, expecting to be obliged to enter and catch
her fainting form, for I knew in my heart each word was a thorn, but
here is her reply:"

"Professor Benton, I had hoped to be spared this pain, I have avoided
you, because I could do no other way. I am so sorry! I can never, never
love you as you desire! I have a husband - my Louis Robert waits for me
in heaven, and he is my constant guide here. He will always be near me
while I tarry, and I have no love to give you in return for yours. I can
be your good friend always, I can help you as one mortal helps another.
I can call you a brother, and I can be your sister; but do not dream
falsely. I shall not learn to love you; my heart is full, and it is
through no fault of mine that you have raised false hopes in your bosom,
but I am very sorry - more sorry than I can tell you."

"Is that all, and is it final?" I heard him say.

"It is all that I can ever say," she said.

"I drew back from the door, and, passing through your middle room, came
into my own, in time to see Professor Benton step into Halbert's studio.
I entered then the room where little mother sat, and held her in my arm
awhile, saying no word to her of what I had heard. She was not
exhausted, and after a little time I left her to come and meet you. Tell
me, Emily, if you know about it - has she said anything to you?"

Of course I told him all, and then added her, "'Say no word to Louis,'
but under these circumstances she could not blame me, could she, Louis?"

"No, no, Emily," he replied, "but what can we do?"

"I do not know," I said, and he added:

"Do you like Professor Benton?"

"I cannot see anything in him to like very much, Louis," I replied;
"when I met him in Hal's sick-room, he seemed really beautiful. His eyes
looked so large and dreamy, and he had such sympathy for Hal, and I
like him now, for that, but otherwise he jars me so I say all sorts of
uncomfortable things, and his talk always irritates me. No, I could not
imagine your mother loving him, for she is so much better than I am, and
I could never love him in the world."

Louis' hold on my arm tightened, and he said:

"Ah! Miss Emily, you are beginning to know yourself, you are learning to
understand others, and I am glad," and to his eyes came again that
earnest look, "for I long to be known by you; I have brought you a
Christmas present, and the New Year is at hand before I give it to
you - wear this in the dark, until your heart says you love me, then let
the light fall on it."

He put a box in my hand, and when I opened it in my own room I found a
small and finely linked chain of gold, and attached to it a locket
holding Louis' picture. One side was inlaid with blue enamel in a spray
of flowers, and on the other the name "Emily." My heart told me that I
did love Louis, and then there came so many changeful thoughts, that I
felt myself held back, and could not express myself to Louis.

This evening was spent in our middle room, and Mr. Benton, being obliged
to write letters, was not with us. Of this I was glad, for it gave
relief to the three who were cognizant of what had passed. The subject
of universal salvation was again brought before us, and this time my
mother expressed herself greatly in favor of giving the new thoughts a
hearing, and to my utter astonishment and pleasure, my father proposed
going sometime to hear the Reverend Hosea Ballou, who was then
preaching over his society in Boston, and came sometimes to preach for
the few in a town lying to the north and east of us. There were no
houses of worship dedicated to the Universalists nearer than the one I
speak of, and though it was a ride of ten miles, that was nothing for a
span of good horses.

"When can we go?" rose to my lips quickly.

"Are you also desirous of hearing him, Emily?"

"Oh, father!" I said, "I want something beside the fire of torment to
think of. You know the Bible says, 'He that is guilty in one point, is
guilty of the whole.' If that is true, father, I am not safe; but if
these new thoughts are truths, I am; and can you blame me if I want to
know about it. I am afraid I knew very little of what I needed when I
was united to our church."

"It is not singular, Emily," my father said, "and I desire only to help
you, if you really want to know. We need not fear to investigate, for if
the doctrines are erroneous, they are too far below our own standard of
truth to harm even the soles of our feet, and if they are true, it must
be they lie beyond us, and we shall feel obliged to reach for them, and
be glad of the opportunity. Halbert, have you nothing to say? are you to
go with us? the three-seated wagon will hold us all."

"Yes," added mother, "and we will take our dinner and go to cousin
Belinda Sprague's to eat it."

Halbert looked a little puzzled and then replied:

"I guess the rest of you may go the first time, and I will stay at home
with Will (Mr. Benton), for I know he would as soon stay at home as

Then said Ben, "Let me go, father, I'm young and I need starting right;
don't you think so?"

We all laughed at this, and my father looked with fondness at his boy,
as he answered:

"Ben, it shall be, and a week from next Sabbath, the day, if nothing

I believe it was a relief to my father, this hope that there might be
something more beautiful beyond than he had dared to dream; and Clara
was absorbed with the prospect of his getting hold of the truth, which,
though unnamed by her, had always been, it seemed, her firm belief. She
said nothing to me of what had occurred, and the days wore on until the
morning came when Louis said "good-bye," and left us for school.

Directly after his departure, Aunt Phebe (mother's sister) wrote us she
was coming to visit us for a few days. Of this I was glad, and I
rehearsed to Clara her virtues, told her of her early years, the sorrows
which she had borne, the working early and late to maintain the little
family of four children (for at the age of twenty-eight she was left
widowed and alone in a strange city). Her native town was not far
distant from the one in which we lived, and when she came I expected a
treat, for together these two sisters unshrouded the past, took off the
veil of years that covered their faces, and walked back, hand in hand,
to their childhood - its years, its loves, its friends, its home - and it
was never an old tale to me.

I loved to hear of grandfather Lewis, who went as minister's waiter in
the War of Seventy-six, going with old Minister Roxford, whose name has
been, and is still to be handed down through generations as a good old
man of Connecticut. Grandfather was only sixteen years at that time, and
though he saw no hard service, but was dressed up in ruffled shirt,
etc., received through life a pension of ninety-six dollars per year,
having enlisted for a period of six months, whereas some of his friends,
who saw hard service, and came out of the contest maimed for life,
received nothing.

Grandfather was of French extraction, and he boasted largely of this,
but I could not feel very proud of the fact that he traded with the
British, carrying to them hams, dried beef, poultry, and anything in
shape of edibles, receiving in return beautiful silk stockings, bandanna
handkerchiefs, and the tea that the old ladies were so glad to get.
Several times he was nearly captured, and once thrust into a stone wall,
in the town of Stratford, a quantity of silk stockings, with which his
pockets were filled. He was so closely pursued at that time, that he lay
down close to a large log and covered himself with dead leaves, and one
of his pursuers, a moment after, stood on that very log and peered into
the distance, saying, "I wonder which track the scamp took."

I must not tell you more about this grandfather, whose history filled me
full of wonder, but must hasten on to meet Aunt Phebe, who came
according to appointment, and found a warm reception. She had a fine
face, was tall and well-formed, her hair was a light-brown, and her eyes
a bright, pure blue; she had a pleasant mouth and evenly set teeth, and
she was a sweet singer. She is yet living, and sings to-day a "Rose tree
in full blooming" with as sweet a cadence as when I was a child.

Clara was drawn toward her, and brought some of her best thoughts to the
surface; read to her some of her own little poems, and wrote one for
her, speaking tenderly of the past and hopefully of the future. Aunt
Phebe had a nature to appreciate the beautiful, and ought herself to
have been given the privilege of a later day, that she might have
expressed her own good and true thoughts. She was a member of the
Baptist church, and while we had no fear of condemnation from her lips,
we knew she had not as yet tested this new thought that was now
agitating our minds. She said she would like to go with us to hear
"Father Ballou," as he was called by the Universalist people, and Clara,

"Well, Mrs. - - , the day is coming when all shall see and rejoice at
the knowledge they have long desired; this will be the real fruit that
has been promised by the hope of the soul for years; and it is not new,
it is an old, old truth, and for this reason there will be less
preparation needed to accept it. The soil is ready, and the hand of the
age will drop the seed in the furrows which the years have made."

"This talk is as good as a sermon," said Aunt Phebe, "I would like to
hear you every week. Learning the work of wisdom is not an easy task,
and all these thoughts come as helping hands to us; we are never too old
to learn."

Aunt Phebe was free from all vanity; she dressed simply, and was truly
economical. Her hands were never idle; she had always something to do;
and during the few days she spent with us she insisted on helping. A
huge basket of mending yielded to her deft hands, and patches and darns
were made without number. These were among our great necessities, for,
as in every other household, garments were constantly wearing out, and
stitches breaking that must be again made good, and nothing could be
appreciated more than her services in this direction. Mother felt,
however, that she was doing wrong to let her work at all.

"Phebe," I heard her say one afternoon, as they sat in our middle room
together, "you have stitches enough to take at home, and I feel
condemned to see you so busy here. You should have every moment to rest
in; I wish you could stay longer, for I believe when these carpet rags
are cut you will find nothing more to do, and then we could rest and
talk together. How I wish Sally and Polly and Thirza could be with us,
and our brothers too! Have you heard from Peter lately?"

"I heard only a few days before I left; one of the girls came down, and
she said Peter was well, but oh, how they miss their own mother! Peter's
first wife was the best mother I ever knew; those little girls looked as
neat as pins, with their blue and iron-rust dresses, and she taught them
to do so much - not half do it, but to finish what they began. I think of
her with reverence, for her ways were in accordance with her ideas of
duty, and she was no ordinary woman. It seems too bad she could not have

And Aunt Phebe sighed, and then added:

"You ask what makes me work? Work has been my salvation. In the needs of
others I have forgotten my own terrible experiences, and although the
first time I washed a bedquilt I said 'I can never do that thing
again,' I have since then washed many; and done also the thousand kinds
of work that only a woman can do. Force of circumstances has made me
self-reliant, and so long as I can work I am not lonely, and if there
comes a day when the labor of my hands is less needed, I shall be only
too glad to take the time for reading I so much desire."

"Oh, Phebe!" said my mother, "I often think of you as you were when
young; slender and lithe as a willow, with a cheek where the rose's
strength did not often gather; and then I think of all you have done
since, and looking at you to-day, you seem to me a perfect marvel; for
you have lived, and borne hard work and sorrow, and your face is fresh,
your fingers taper as of old, and on your cheek is the tinge of pink
that becomes you so well. You are only five years younger than I, and
you look every day of twenty; you may outlive me - yes, I'm sure you

There was silence for a few moments, and then Aunt Phebe said:

"Speaking of work makes me think to tell you about an old colored man
who came to my door last winter. He was so cold he could hardly talk,
but seeing some coal before the door wanted to put it in for me. I asked
him in, and he grew warmer after a little. I made a cup of hot
composition tea for him, and while he was putting in the coal hunted up
an old coat that one of our neighbors had given me for carpet rags, and
when the poor old man told me his story I felt like proclaiming it to
the city. Never mind that now. He lived through the winter and did not
freeze, and last summer found considerable work, but I have thought for
some time how valuable his help would be to William, my father, and I
wonder if he could find a place to live in here among you. His name is
Matthias Jones, and he is faithful though slow, but the constant
dropping, you know, wears a stone. I like the old man, and you would,
for he is honest and ambitious. He might have owned a farm himself if
the evil of slavery had not crushed under its foot the seeds of growth
that lay within him. Mr. Dutton has helped to get him work."

"Phebe," said mother, interrupting her, "are you going to marry that Mr.

"I can't say," said Aunt Phebe, and their conversation closed, for
father came in and supper-time drew near.



Father was consulted regarding the coming of Matthias Jones, and he
thought it would be a good plan, for our farming people had often cause
to hire help, and it had always been scarce, since it was only in the
busiest time there were such needs.

Aunt Phebe and myself were delegated to go over to the house of Jacob
Lattice and Plint Smith, who were the only colored people among us, and
who lived about a mile to the west of our house. We thought there might
be a chance for a home among them, and so it proved.

Jacob Lattice's wife had no room; "hardly enough for themselves," Mrs.
Lattice said depreciatingly, "much less any place for strange folks";
but Mrs. Smith, known to us all as Aunt Peg, gave us a little hope. She
had a peculiar way of addressing people, and sometimes her talk seemed
more like the grunting of words strangely mixed. When she saw Aunt Phebe
with me, her face radiated in smiles (and as her mouth was large, these
smiles were broad grins) and, jerking her small wool-covered head while
she hastily smoothed out her long apron, she said:

"Come in, Miss Minot."

"This is my aunt, - you have seen her before," I replied.

"Yes, seen her to meetin' with ye; come in, mam," and she dropped a low
curtsey and set forward two chairs, whose sand-scoured seats were white
and spotless, for Aunt Peg was a marvel of neatness.

I told our errand, and with one of her queer looks, she said:

"Is he clean?"

Aunt Phebe replied, "Why, I think the old man does the best he can, a
lone man can't do as well as a woman, you know."

"Well, there's that ground room of mine he kin have if Plint is willin',
and if he ain't, for that matter; for Plint himself arn't good for
nothin' but fiddlin', and you see if I want bread I get it. I s'pose
wimmen ought to be a leetle worth mindin', 'specially if they get their
own bread," and a look of satisfaction crept over her face as if pleased
with this thought.

"Well," said Aunt Phebe, "I would like to see the room, and also know
the price of it; of course, you must have some pay for it, and then, if
Matthias should be ill, or prove troublesome to you in any way, it will
not be so hard for you."

"Oh, the pay, bless the Master, mam, I never get pay for anything
hardly, not even the work I did up to Deacon Grover's for years! I jist
wish I had that money in a chist in the cellar. He kep' it for me, he
said, an' so he did, an' he keeps it yet, and - oh! but the room, come
right along, this way, mam," and we followed her steps.

She led us out of the little door, which in the summer was covered with
those dear old cypress vines my mother used to have, and though the
lattice was made by her own hands of rude strips, when it was well
covered with the cypress intergrown with the other vines, there was
great beauty round that little door.

When Clara saw it, and I told her of its construction, and remarked on
Aunt Peg's love for flowers, she said:

"Ah, Emily, it is typical of our nature! We do seem so rudely made in
the winter of our ignorance, and through the lattice of our untutored
thoughts the cold winds of different opinions blow and we are troubled.
But when the summer of our better nature dawns, and the upturned soil
catches seed, even though dropped by a careless hand, the vines of love
will cover all our coldness, and the scarlet and white blossom of our
beautiful thoughts appear among the leaves. Aunt Peg's earthly hand made
the lattice, and the love of her undying soul planted the cypress

I thought of it this cold winter's day, and told Aunt Phebe, as we
passed out of the door, how many flowers she had in summer and how
pretty the vines were. Aunt Peg heard me, and smiled graciously. Then we
went around to a side door, which opened into the ground room, as she
called it.

Her house was on a bank, or at least its main part, and while a valley
lay on one side, the ground rose upon the other. The door-sill of this
room was, therefore, even with both the ground and the floor, and on
either side of it were two windows, both door and windows facing the
south. The sides and back of the room had no windows, the back partition
being that which divided it from Aunt Peg's little cellar; and the east
and west sides were hedged in by the bank which came sloping down from

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Online LibraryMartha Lewis Beckwith EwellThe Harvest of Years → online text (page 6 of 20)