|Beautiful Belmont, Part 45 -- The Road Back to Ohio.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 44 -- Mose Becomes a Soldier.
Our farm had been left in deplorable condition owing to the death of our father and the long absence of all the boys. With the condition of my health broken from exposure, a portion of the rest of the family sick, and the farm badly neglected, it was all we could do to settle up the affairs of the estate. Wherever one turned the picture showed the absence of the masterly hand of our father. Our mother's face had taken on a look of sorrow and mourning. She realized she was a widow with a large family only half reared, her sons in the war, a heavy mortgage on the farm, and a hard struggle ahead. That mortgage ultimately swept the farm into the hands of strangers.
The struggles of our family from the war were not confined to the picket line and the rifle pit. A fast fading homestead was the phantom encountered by weeping eyes in the blaze of the old fireplace during the long winter nights. The hooting of the owl from the old apple tree over the smokehouse filled the residents of that once happy mansion with an ominous dread of separation and broken family ties. The voices of the croaking frogs by the little stream that ran from the spring added an additional gloom, and the piping of the cricket upon the hearth brought a corresponding sense of loneliness. Not even Aunt Tilda's ever cheerful face could break the spell of gathering twilight. So I found them when I returned -- and though the old place took on quite a degree of cheer after the return of the boys for a few years and before it was sold, still it was never again the same, and night and separation finally settled down upon that home forever.
My returned near the close of the war was a joyous one, however. Minerva was glad to see me. I was now of age, and had taken on more manhood and dignity of character. She had acquired a more matured, womanly appearance, and I imagined I could detect in her face a slight trace of anxiety. This rapidly disappeared, and on the occasion of our first stroll to the Chandler home she was never more cheerful. She said that she was glad to see me, although expressed concern that I looked thin and fragile. I remarked that I was surprised she was so concerned about my return, and Minerva said that I knew very well how she felt, but admitted that her mother had warned her not to make her excitement too evident. As gaunt as I looked, Minerva laughingly promised, she was now going to take me into her care and restore me to my old self.
We had found a shade of sadness on the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Chandler when we visited them. The war was not over yet, and their anxiety for their two children, Charles and John, who were still in the war, was having an effect on them, as it was on the faces of all parents having sons in that terrible contest. Indeed, I was impressed with a sense of abject loneliness on my arrival home because of the death of our father and the continued absence of my brothers in the war. This loneliness was not dispelled, but rather increased by visits among the neighbors. Only a few gray-haired men could be seen anywhere, everything in the neighborhood appeared changed, and a deep quiet had settled over everything.
I can think of no occasion more solemn and impressive than the autumn evenings on old Pinch Ridge toward the close of the war. The blessed relief to me amid this disturbing atmosphere was the satisfaction derived from being back with Minerva. Mr. Chandler remarked that it drove away a portion of their gloom to see Minerva and me back again, and they hoped it would only be a forerunner of the return of their own boys and a happy reunion for all. It is striking how one friend can miss another. Charlie and I had been such confidential, close companions, that to be at Chandler's without seeing him made the visit half disappointment, rather than a total pleasure.
Minerva, of course, catered to me, her whole focus one of tenderness and consideration for me. There was a kindly expression in her eye, a grace of deferential preference in her movements toward me, a confiding pressure of the hand -- all unmistakable evidences of her love. These all sent thrills of joy to my soul, and under their sweet and enchanting influence I felt a strange desire to continue in their joy and contemplated the hour when I would again ask for her hand. I wanted to live on in that dreamland of expectant love as long as possible. I was miserly in my love. I was selfish in it. It never occurred to me that in one rash act all might be lost.
Minerva was a noble creature. Her motives were always so exalted. Her every instinct was charitable and Godlike. She knew neither envy nor meanness. She was highly sensitive to justice and evenhandedness. Her refinement and tenderness challenged each other. Her judgment was always correct and far-reaching. As I think of it today, I am impressed she ultimately knew me better than I knew myself. For more than a year after my return, while administering and settling the estate of our father, my leisure moments were joyfully and pleasantly spent with Minerva. Our strolls, drives, and horseback rides were frequent, and our many quiet evenings together made up the measure of a blessed year's enjoyment never to be forgotten.
One afternoon at her request, we drove by way of the Van Pelt mansion, up Glens Run to the old Cope Mill, and after viewing with interest the secret retreat of Lucinda in her flight, which, by the way, had now become an open secret, we continued our drive to Colerain down the old plank road to her home, arriving in time for tea. This subsequently became one of our favorite drives, sometimes varied by a trip to Trenton, Mt. Pleasant, St. Clairsville, or other points. After tea we attended an evening party at the home of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Woods. At this party we met a Dr. Moore, who had been in the vicinity for some months, claiming to be a Union refugee driven from eastern Virginia by the persecutions of the rebels, who he said had stolen his property and attempted to take his life. He claimed to be a Mason, and was aided locally by that order and assisted to a medical practice in Bridgeport.
Moore was apparently a finely educated, pious, urbane gentleman. In fact he was quite polished, stately and fine looking. He was so scrupulously pious, he refused to indulge in dancing or a social game of cards. He subsequently married a fine woman in or near Smithfield, Ohio, but one evening left Bridgeport under a cloud and was never heard of again by his devoted wife, or anyone else in the vicinity. He was evidently a man with a history. Before his marriage his interest in Minerva was quite marked. He had contrived to have his expressed admiration for her brought to her knowledge. With that strange instinct that amounted almost to divination, she had read him like a book. She was as cold to him as an icicle. I conceived a dislike for him the first time we met, and I think Moore knew it. Our conduct toward him was always respectful and polite, however, for he was at least ten years our senior.
In contrast, Dr. Moore's manner toward me was exalted and overbearing. He made it quite obvious in Minerva's presence, and on the evening of the Woods' entertainment his conduct toward me was especially obnoxious. I concealed my feelings from the other guests in a polite manner, though my cheeks flushed with suppressed anger. At a moment when Moore knew I could hear him, he stepped up to Minerva, and in his soft, musical voice -- though in such manner and distinctness that many could hear -- said, "Miss Patterson, some three or four couples are going out for a moonlight stroll on the lawn, will you afford me the great pleasure of your company in doing likewise?" Minerva very coldly and politely replied, "Excuse me, doctor, I believe I prefer a half hour's amusement at Author Cards with Mr. and Mrs. Woods, if I am so fortunate as to prevail upon Mr. Cochran here to become my partner."
"Most certainly and with the greatest of pleasure," I responded, as she took my arm. We moved to the table, where we subsequently were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Woods.
The rebuff was so completely direct and public that it was crushing. The doctor knew his status with Minerva ever after that evening. "I resent the insolent manner in which he has treated you this evening, and which you have borne so gentlemanly," she softly whispered in my ear, leaning on my arm as I escorted her to the card table. "You noticed it then?" I asked. "Of course! I believe I am more upset than you," she replied. I assured her that I was very upset, and that I intended to confront the doctor in more private circumstances. Minerva insisted that I do no such thing, asking for my promise, which of course I gave her.
On our way home that evening, I asked Minerva to take a drive next Saturday afternoon to visit the grave of the Revolutionary War heroine, Elizabeth Zane, and that of my grandmother at the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Martinsville. "Your grandmother was a Pierce and related to ex-President Pierce, I believe?" she responded. "Yes," I said," she was a cousin." "I am glad you have suggested it, and shall be glad to go," she replied.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 46 -- Remembering Robert E. Lee.
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)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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