See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 16 -- Cope's Mill: A Stop on the Underground Railroad.
To most boys, farm life appears a monotonous round of chores and tasks dictated by the changing seasons. Yet, compared with the lives of those in the city workshops, factories, offices, and other occupations, it is a veritable paradise. The most discouraging feature of farm life to the young, and that which drives many of them to the cities and often to a mistaken and less independent calling, is the lack of social opportunities.
Ideally, a home on the farm should have plenty of the latest music, and musical instruments with which to play it. The home should be supplied with all types of quality literature. Such things make poets, statesmen, scholars, and presidents. Our home had these things, yet the routine of work on our farm was anything but encouraging. In fact, it was discouraging, although it was the same as all others at that time in our area.
Awakened at three or four o'clock in the mornings, depending on the seasons, the milking, currying, and harnessing of the horses, feeding of the stock and other small chores were done before daylight. Breakfast was eaten by candlelight, and we were on our way to the fields, or other work, as day was breaking. We would return from the fields or other special work at dusk. Then, the same routine of chore work would be repeated after dark, and supper, like breakfast, would be eaten by candlelight. Such work was virtually slavery. It was not life in its true sense. Sooner or later it had its effects -- the young men and women became discouraged and justifiably disgusted with such living.
Jacob Van Pelt was a pioneer in this area. Early on, he instituted singing schools in our area, so there would be recreational and social opportunities for the young people -- indeed people of all ages. He was always thoughtful of the young people in the community and they all loved him. The singing school was held once a week at the Van Pelt schoolhouse, as it was known then; later it became known as the Riverview schoolhouse. Here the young, and old for that matter, could meet and cultivate the social side of life.
These events were a source of great delight to me, for there I could see and spend time with Minerva Patterson. She took little interest in singing -- at least she did not participate in singing herself -- though she seemed to love music. She was more interested in literature and philosophy, and to this she devoted most of her free time. She also was a good mathematician. On the other hand, she was very practical and her judgment was always correct.
I admired her -- to the point of thinking about nothing else. She was my ideal of womanhood. I tried to conceal my thoughts, and yet I wanted her to know them. I never could gather the courage to tell her in words. I wanted her to ask me, but this she would certainly never have done. I was always vigilant to see if she showed favoritism toward me. Such actions seldom came, and when I thought they did, they left me half in doubt.
I sought her approval through many actions calculated to draw her out. She saw this, and while she gave a word of appreciation where it was deserved, it was just enough to give me hope. I thought she was less demonstrative toward others, however, and this encouraged me.
As the evening of singing would draw to a close, everyone would be filled with good feelings. All cares were forgotten, except the special ones actually presented by these occasions. Everyone would go home happy except some poor unfortunate young man who was so unlucky as to get "the sack" from his best girl. This most frequently occurred at the door when the young ladies were leaving at the close of the evening exercises. The boys ordinarily lined themselves outside the door, watching for the opportunity to mercilessly tease the unfortunate one who had met his Waterloo. Such a trifling occurrence would be the talk of the neighborhood for weeks, and the victim of these jibes would find solace only when another shared the burden with him.
The more diplomatic young men, on the other hand, were preoccupied trying to learn during the evening whether the offer of their company would meet with acceptance outside that door. It is remarkable what concern those not otherwise involved took in the responses to those offers. Frequently bets would be made over who would ask whom to walk home, and whether the offer would be accepted. The zeal over these questions at times became sheer impertinence.
I embraced these opportunities to accompany Minerva on the road home as far as my grandfather's home. However, as the better part of discretion, I would not attempt to go near her until after leaving the schoolhouse. As many others going the same road were preoccupied with their own conversations, my conversation with Minerva was seldom disturbed.
Early on, I became impressed with her lovely disposition. She was always pleasant, and I never recalled a time when I had seen her angry. She always turned the conversation to an issue of some importance, as though these matters and concerns were uppermost in her thoughts.
Some years after I first saw the slave auction in the Wheeling marketplace -- when the issues on slavery were being more distinctly drawn -- Minerva said to me: "I notice you are unalterably and resolutely opposed to slavery. Will you tell me why this is so when your ancestors were so decidedly the other way?"
"You are just a bit mistaken as to some of my ancestors on this question, Minerva. It is true that my relatives have all been members of the Democratic party since it was formed, and consequently were in favor of slavery -- some of them even being slaveowners -- but my father, while a Democrat, is bitterly opposed to slavery."
"I have heard as much," she replied, "but I notice you go much further and denounce both the Whig and Democratic parties for ever having endorsed slavery. In fact, you seem to be bitterly opposed to slavery. Why is this?"
"I do not know what you fully imply by the word 'bitter,' Minerva. But I think 'bitter' applies to slavery in several ways. The sooner general bitterness is intensified against it, the sooner the curse will be removed, which will be for the betterment of all concerned. Also, this country and its people are assuming a terrible responsibility in allowing it to continue, and they will bitterly answer for it, sooner or later. There is another reason, as well, but I cannot tell you about this now, although I hope I can someday," I replied.
"But I notice you have become so much more intense in your feelings on these matters recently, and I know something is the cause of it. I have viewed the stand you have taken with much satisfaction and admiration, and I wanted to tell you so. I, too, am deeply interested and concerned about slavery, and probably pursue the question further than I should," she said.
It is hard to describe what cheer these words gave me. She had "noticed" my intense feelings.... Instinctively, I told her what I had seen at the auction block in Wheeling, in the most eloquent and fervent language I could command. I noticed she listened carefully, and that tears were in her eyes when I came to the heartrending separation of Aunt Tilda and Lucinda from poor Mose.
"Now, Minerva," I said, "I cannot tell you more about this event, but this is not the entire story. This is the most I have ever disclosed to anyone so far. There is only one other person beside myself who can tell you, but when all danger is past I will tell you more, and all." She looked at me as though a new light had dawned on her thoughts.
Soon after this, when Minerva and I were together again, she said, "Oh, tell me! Did you aid in the escape of Lucinda?" "I have told you what happened at Wheeling," I replied, and avoided her look.
"I see," she said. "I won't pursue your secret any more now, but I want to say to you, if you did, you were right, and you have no idea how I admire you for the manly stand you have taken on this growing question."
I turned, and looking her full in the face, said, "Minerva, you can't know what comfort you bring me in saying you admire me, or anything I do." I then described to her how difficult it seemed to get some reassuring reaction from her, and how her admiration led me to hope for something more between us. When I ended she blushed more deeply and her look was one of embarrassment not unmingled with fright at the serious tone the conversation had assumed. She looked from me toward the ground and was silent for some time. I stood immovable, waiting a reply. She knew I was still looking at her. Finally, with great deliberation, she urged me not to be so serious, and not to give too much weight to her admission. "Could we let this matter pass for the present?" she asked.
Instead, I stated that I loved her, that she knew I did, and that I felt we were growing up and should at least talk about a possible future together. Minerva responded, again speaking deliberately, "You and I are too young to form that mature judgment on a matter of such lasting importance. It is some years yet before either of us, under the law, will be permitted to assume control over ourselves and our affairs. It is far better to postpone a matter on which there is no urgency, and on which we can throw a better light, and to which we can bring a better judgment later on."
"But Minerva," I countered, "your words are too cold and philosophic." I again pressed her on the issue, pointing out that love was a matter of the heart, not the intellect. I paused for a reply. She again urged us to wait, and not attempt to make decisions in our youth, which we might regret after some period of time had passed. Still unsatisfied, I asked for at least some small encouragement to sustain me in my dreams. "If I were to do so," she replied, "I might be doing an injustice to you, or possibly both of us," said Minerva. I again pursued my previous request. Minerva thought for a moment and finally replied, stating that surely I had noticed the indications she had already given me which made it clear she preferred my company above that of all others.
Then Minerva gave me a smiling look that had more tenderness in it than anything I had ever noticed before from her. In fact, the whole exchange was a source of great pleasure which I cherished for many years thereafter.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 18 -- The Apple Paring.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
ENTRY NUMBER: EBK30011831