|Beautiful Belmont, Part 51 -- Separation.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 50 -- Loss.
Minerva's Move to Bridgeport
On Monday morning I returned to my studies. Before Minerva and I separated she informed me that she and her family expected to move to Bridgeport shortly, which they subsequently did. The move saddened me as I recalled the many local places made sacred to me by my strolls and visits with Minerva, places now unlikely to be experienced again. I continued my studies for a year after the Patterson's moved to Bridgeport, my visits with Minerva and correspondence continuing as before. I think city life suited her better. Here she had ample opportunity to pursue her literary and social inclinations. She was a splendid, charming conversationalist, and no matter in what circle, never failed to make an impression. Her tall, commanding figure, and impressive, cultivated countenance, with her stately, easy, graceful movement added greatly to her force of character. Few talked with her that were not pleased or fascinated.
I never felt more elated and gratified than on an occasion of a most fashionable event in Wheeling to which she and I were invited, and during which she made me the center of her attention. I know that I must have appeared a mere social bumpkin in the eyes of many young society gentlemen of wealth attending that party, and I thought it gracious of her to assume a manner of deferential respect toward me amid the other more polished young men. I wondered afterward how it could all be true, and how little appreciation I had probably shown Minerva for her behavior in those circumstances.
In her city life, Minerva came into social contact with many brilliant ladies. I noticed she had become more vivacious and spirited. In my deep-seated love for her and my social inexperience, I construed her sophisticated conversation, and polished reactions to other young gentlemen as downright deception and flirtation, and I told her as much. It seemed to hurt her feelings deeply, though I suggested it in the most polite manner. I was sorry for saying it as soon as done, and when she resented it, I begged her pardon. I felt that the same confidence never again existed between us from that hurt, however. She felt I had not only lost confidence in her, but had questioned her motives, and it tore at her heart. I could not have touched her sensibilities in a more tender spot. I should have known better, for she was at all times the very embodiment of truth -- and deception had no place in her soul. In my jealousy and rustic social ignorance, I had construed polished politeness as an effort to fascinate other gentlemen.
The disagreement was the first split between two hearts which had beaten almost as one since childhood, but was healed over at once by my apology, though it ever after left its mark on both our hearts, notably on Minerva's. Her belief in my confidence regarding her truthfulness had been shaken. Her disappointment was strengthened by another incident involving a certain young man of wealth and high family standing, then a most popular society gentleman in the community, who became deeply infatuated with Minerva. On account of his wealth and social station there was not a mother in the community having a marriageable daughter who would not have been glad to have called him son-in-law. His reputation was good, yet I knew (as all young men so well know each other) that from the habits of this gentleman and the company he occasionally kept, he was a graceless social scamp. He lost no opportunity in paying his attention to Minerva, to the envy of many other young ladies, and I did not like him. I knew he was a man with an impure heart socially, and not a fit escort in my absence for such a fine and pure woman as Minerva.
I cautiously hinted my convictions concerning the moral status of Minerva's new friend; she, again encountering my disapproval, supported the young man's standing and reputation, and demanded proof. I resented the circumstances, but she would not take my word for it. I urged that my relationship with Minerva was such as to give me a right to speak my mind in such matters when otherwise I should be silent. She acknowledged this, and said if I would only give her some evidence of my disparaging claims, her conduct toward this young man would change. I did not think she had any love for the other young man, but in my unreasonable, hasty temper, I told her if she allowed this individual to persist in keeping company with her, I would not. We separated with this point of difference between us. I returned to St. Clairsville, and we continued to conduct our continuing disagreement by letter.
Years later, I realized my hasty unreasonableness at the time. In fact I realized it soon after our quarrel, but I was too stubborn to admit it. I should not have put Minerva to such severe and arbitrary test. I could have given her evidence, but my false pride stopped me. Minerva deserved such evidence. She was a cool, deliberate woman, never judging anyone hastily or partially. She could not be tempted from doing justice to all, and would not have done this gentleman an injustice even for my sake, no matter how deeply she may have loved me. My resentful, overbearing manner shocked and startled her. Such harshness coming from me was uncharacteristic. To add to my unreasonable frenzy, I subsequently misconstrued her motives and acted on the assumption that had taken possession of my reason, namely, that she really loved this young man regardless of his moral shortcomings. I claimed that Minerva had been untrue to me, and I persisted in this even against her protests.
Our argumentative correspondence dragged on for months. I learned from someone that the young man had occasionally been Minerva's escort, and I interpreted this as an insult to me under the circumstances. The truth is that Minerva had been avoiding the fellow, and subsequently requested him to discontinue his attentions to her. I was not aware of this, however, until long afterwards. My pride had been injured, and in a desperate hour I wrote to Minerva demanding she return my letters; on receipt of them, I returned hers as well. My law studies had ended and in my desperation and despair I decided to go west and begin the practice of my profession. Unfortunately, I was going through a transitional period in my life, somewhere between boyhood and manhood; as a result, I was particularly insensitive in my relationship with Minerva.
In hindsight, I concluded that I had been motivated by hurt pride. In my mad jealousy, I seemed to have lost my most ordinary reason and judgment. Had I gone to Minerva in the right spirit and manner even at the last hour, all would have been well again. Instead, my last letter before leaving for the West was most unkind and critical. All her replies were dignified and kindly, though wonderfully firm. Afterward, I often cursed the spell I apparently could not shake off at the time, dealing with the most important and sacred matter to me of all others in life. If I had only gone to Minerva in person, the magic of her presence and softening influence would have settled everything. My pride intervened, however, and I acted not only the part of a fool, but wounded the heart of a noble woman.
The date of my contemplated departure for the West was announced in local newspapers. My sisters and brothers accompanied me to the Cleveland and Pittsburgh depot in Bridgeport, from where I took passage to Bellaire and the West. It seemed strange to me that for the first time Minerva was not present to say goodbye. It was nine o'clock in the morning, and standing on the rear platform of the last car, I wondered if she would acknowledge my departure. She lived in Kirkwood, near the end of the creek wagon bridge, her house fronting the railroad just 300 feet away. Nothing blocked the view between the house and the car in which I rode on that beautiful June morning. Minerva was indeed at the upper window, anxiously watching the train. I waived to her as the train moved by, and she immediately responded. We kept it up until I had passed out of sight down toward West Wheeling. My heart was still rebellious, and with a kind of half gratified triumph, I took my seat in the car and began to address my thoughts to my future prospects in the far west.
Bound for Sedalia
After finishing my law studies, I settled in Sedalia, Missouri, and began the practice of law. Among the friends I made there were George W. Cummings, Professor George W. Ready, Thomas Cummings, Abram Myer, Harry Smith, J.G. White, Gould Sturgis, Hon. J.T. Herd, Judge John F. Philips, Hon. A.J. Sampson, Captain L.L. Bridges, and Colonel Mack J. Learning, and their good wives. Of course, there were many others. General A.J. Sampson, later made U.S. Minister and Envoy to Equador, was my first law partner. My practice soon became lucrative and I accumulated considerable property for so young a man. My increasing practice kept my mind employed and indeed, quite preoccupied. I was soon made prosecuting attorney for the county, which multiplied my duties further.
Despite my good fortune, I ached to see Minerva. But not a letter passed between us. I waited for her to write and ask my pardon. Finally, in the silence of my office, I went over my first and only difference with Minerva in a calmer, more reflective manner. I tried to give it that impartial, unprejudiced consideration that a judge would in determining a case. When I had done so, I knew I had not only been wrong and arbitrary, but cruel as well. I wrote to her, blamed myself, and asked her forgiveness. In due course, I received a letter from her -- a cold, formal, though forgiving reply. She accepted her share of the blame, but felt the fact that a whole year had intervened without a word passing between us demonstrated that the feelings we once shared had proved themselves inadequate for those contemplating marriage. She concluded it was therefore best for us not to revive our past relationship. The contents of her letter hit me like a thunderbolt. I wrote her letter after letter in an attempt to renew her affections for me, and to prove to her that my feelings for her were such that a similar breach between them would never occur again.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 52 -- Remembering Fort Pillow.
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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