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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 18 -- The Apple Paring.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 17 -- Singing School.

A respectable apple paring is not an unpleasant affair. It is fun -- wit and enjoyment mingled with work. Very frequently it is accompanied with a taffy pull at the close of the evening. This was usually conducted by the young folks of the neighborhood, and most ordinarily utilized as a variation from other amusements. Besides, it was frequently helping out a neighbor who was behind with his work.

Few farm families of our time were without the long strings of dried apples hung on poles in the attic, or out of the way places from the flies and insects. The apples were pared, quartered and cored, and then strung on strings by means of a darning needle run through their centers. These, when dried, formed a supply for apple sauce or apple pies until the fruiting season came again.

Large baskets of apples properly distributed were surrounded by groups of congenial spirits, with pans and tubs in which to throw the fruit of their labors, while the stringers were performing their part. The girl who got a hollow-cored apple was liable to pay the penalty with a kiss.

What joyous times were had at these apple parings! The jokes flew free and plentiful, and sometimes the apples. Frequently, after the work was over, the evening would be concluded with a dance.

One of the most pleasant of these apple parings occurred at the large mansion of Mr. Joseph S. Chandler, near the old tavern. This mansion was the largest and most imposing in the neighborhood, and the farm one of the finest. It had been presented to Mrs. Chandler by her father, John Hogg, of Mt. Pleasant, and being quite wealthy, he had spared no pains in its improvements.

Mr. and Mrs. Chandler were splendid people, and they and their children were most hospitable and entertaining. Their eldest son, Charles B., and I have been close friends from boyhood, and though Charles now lives in Iowa and I have not seen him since we both returned from the Civil War, yet an occasional exchange of letters revives the memories and affections of former days.

The young people always enjoyed going to Chandler's. Being people of education and refinement, their entertainments were high-toned and elevating. Mr. Chandler took delight in being plentifully supplied with the best historic, scientific, and literary works of the day, including the weekly, and later, the daily papers. I spent much of my leisure time at Chandler's, as also did Minerva. Many of my sweetest recollections are hours spent with her at Chandler's.

A few of us used to go there on Saturday evenings to read and hear read the latest literary works and newspapers of the week. Our brother Robert was a good reader, as was also Mr. Chandler, and they would read to the remainder of us alternately, as each became fatigued. Later, this reading was participated in by Minerva, my friend Charles, and me. One novel that deeply interested Minerva and me was Forest Rose. In my fancy I imagined myself "Captain May," and Minerva, "Forest Rose."

Some of the most pleasurable occasions were when the two younger sisters of Mrs. Chandler, the Misses Annie and Cassie Hogg, of Mt. Pleasant, would visit the Chandler home. On these visits, horseback rides, carriage drives, moonlight strolls, evening parties, visits to neighbors, maple-sugar making, and kindred social enjoyments would be indulged in and greatly enjoyed. In my mind, I can yet see Mrs. Chandler's ample sideboard loaded with apples and cider, doughnuts and chestnuts, which so largely contributed to the enjoyment and happiness of the social circles gathered around their large comfortable fires on the long winter and fall evenings, when the Misses Hogg were enjoying an outing at the Chandler home.

On the night in question a large circle of friends were guests at the Chandler mansion, and a few were there from Bridgeport and Martins Ferry. From the former place was a young gentleman some three years older than myself, of most refined speech and handsome appearance. He was "dressed to kill" in the latest style, was an excellent conversationalist of most insinuating manners, and seemed to realize his power in these accomplishments. His parents were wealthy, and he was regarded as one of the society leaders. To the ordinary observer he made a favorable impression, but to a person of fine discrimination there was observable a degree of superficiality. Among the people present on this occasion, he realized his importance more forcibly than ordinarily. I watched him critically, for I saw he was particularly desirous of making himself acceptable to Minerva, and he spared no opportunity to make his every attention to her quite marked. He was the ideal of some of the other young ladies present and seemed to have completely captivated them.

Minerva's deliberate, formal manner confused him, and losing some of his self-confidence, he committed errors in his zeal to fascinate her. I could see she enjoyed his confusion, and this gave some relief to my jealousy, though I did not for a moment doubt the result of his hollow intentions. As a result of his attention, I had little of Minerva's company until toward the close of the evening.

It was a delightful moonlight night and after the apple paring the larger portion of the guests were, arm in arm, enjoying a promenade along the long porch, through the large dining and sitting rooms and thence to the porch again. Minerva, leaning upon the arm of her city acquaintance, at his polite request was indulging in the parade.

I was at the library examining some recent works when Minerva, by an adroit movement, stopped her companion close beside me and began questioning her new acquaintance as to his knowledge and familiarity with historic and literary works. He seemed remarkably uninformed about the whole range of subjects she found interesting and attempted frequently to redirect the conversation. If he succeeded for a moment, he was soon again brought face to face with the topic she was pursuing. If she happened to mention an author, or work, with whom he was familiar and showed a disposition to continue the talk on that particular subject, she promptly changed to one with which he was less familiar. His confusion was great, and I saw she enjoyed it. I knew she had brought him there that I might enjoy it likewise.

Someone called me to the other room for a few minutes to aid in the arrangements of some literary readings and exercises to soon follow, and on my return I caught the faces of Minerva and her companion still standing apart by the library. His face was flushed and red as if from a sudden disappointment, and I imagined I detected a trace of anger. Minerva's was a little pale, but as ever, cool and unruffled. They exchanged a word or so, and, moving toward me, she said, "I have not had the pleasure of your company this evening. May I be so presumptuous as to take your arm for a stroll?" I said I would be delighted, as she slipped her arm into mine.

"Let us walk out into the yard a little," she remarked, "I want some fresh air." While walking, Minerva asked why I had stayed away from her in the course of the evening, to which I replied that I did not want to deprive her of such charming company. I then asked why her companion had looked so angry, and why she was suddenly so eager to seek my own company for a stroll. Surprised that I had watched her so closely, she stated that she had wanted to deflate her previous admirer's pride, having found his egotism unbearable. "He was asking me if he could not accompany me home this evening, but I said I was expecting another gentleman to escort me. Now, do you know whether there is a young gentleman in this assembly who will help me make that an honest statement?"

"That would be my pleasure," I replied. Her eyes beamed full upon me under the shadows of the apple tree, and when I softly slipped my right hand into hers, which she was still resting on my arm, she made no effort to withdraw it.

Minerva pinned a bouquet of fall flowers to my lapel. She then reminded me that it was time to return to the house, as we both were scheduled to give group readings.

Minerva's rendition of David's lament over the death of Absalom, and her comments over the divided duties of a king to a dead son, his distracted and divided people, and to a general who, though disobeying his explicit orders, had established him firmly upon his throne, were moving and instructive. She received the hearty applause of the company, as she always did. My reading of "Mary in Heaven" was received with approval, but my suggestion that Burns was a Christian at heart stirred up considerable criticism from a rigidly righteous minister, who charged the poet with being a skeptical, profane, immoral drunkard. In this he was supported by Minerva's attentive friend from Bridgeport.

Minerva came to my aid by saying the true point of difference between me and my critics lay in the fact that the latter were unable to discriminate between true Christianity and the orthodoxy of the day; that the sermons from the pulpit of many of the present orthodox ministers were not according to Christ, but according to badly distorted dogmas and creeds. She stated that she assumed I had used the term in its true and broader sense, and in this view she agreed with my statements. Burns was distinctly a child of nature. He took in the whole world. He despised sectarian bigotry.

Some other comments followed, pro and con, when I closed the discussion, as I had a right, by remarking that Miss Patterson had interpreted my remarks correctly. The charge of profanity had not been proven, and under the light of facts and a more liberal education, it was being abandoned even by his most fanatical critics. As to Burns' immorality, I said I did not know what was fully intended by the word, unless it was the immorality of drink, as the great author's honesty of purpose had never been questioned. He was a kind husband, good neighbor and citizen, was not given to gambling or anything of that sort, had filled public office honestly and acceptably. His drunkenness, if such it might be termed, was exceedingly limited, and confined to a few evenings of convivial social enjoyment with close companions. These were the result probably of unguarded youth, grief at the early loss of his beloved Mary, a heart overflowing with good fellowship, and lasted for only a short period of his life.

I escorted Minerva home that night, going by way of the old State Road, as it gave a longer and more pleasant walk. "You helped me out admirably tonight," I said, "and I am profoundly grateful. Except for you I would probably have received a regular church disciplining at the hands of that minister and your friend from town."

"I am not so certain you did not deserve a part of it," she said. "The truth is, there are some features in the life and character of Burns which I do not like; but his great charity for others begets a like charity for him, and then I did not like the narrow manner of their criticism. It was uncharitable. I think they went away more deeply impressed with this best of graces."

I said goodnight to Minerva at her home near the old tavern, and thoughtfully made my way home. The night was delightful, and as I reached the summit of the hill, which would soon hide her home from view, I turned in the moonlight to take a last view of it. She was still standing at the gate. There was a mutual wave, and we parted.

I felt I could look back at that night as one of the most happy of all my life. Minerva's actions and manner toward me, coupled with our conversation, had filled me with an unspeakable joy. I felt she loved me -- and yet I was not entirely free from doubts. If she did, might it not be of that tentative nature, easily replaced by possible future rivalry? Might it not be she was studying her own heart and trying to reason herself into a belief that she did, or could, love me? She had had few other male associates, certainly none she preferred to me but would this always be so? The world was before us, and she every day was growing into greater loveliness and intellectuality. Would not such a woman become as pronouncedly attractive to others as to me, and would not some more eligible offer come to her? If so, how would she meet it? I was waiting, hoping, doubting. The time came when it was answered fully.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 19 -- The Dancing Violin.

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

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