|Beautiful Belmont, Part 57 -- Scenes of Our Childhood.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 56 -- A Trip to Lake Worth.
I faded in and out of consciousness from the blow I had received. After I had revived a little, I found Minerva on one side and a kindhearted gentleman on the other, whom I soon learned was a physician. Together they attempted to escort me to a more comfortable place, but I became quite sick before we had walked very far, and in a partially unconscious condition was carried to Mrs. Moore's. My exhaustion soon caused me to fall into a deep sleep. I awoke toward evening and Minerva was sitting at my bedside. We discussed my condition, and then I told her about my shock at seeing her, as I believed she was dead. She smiled kindly, telling me they should wait until after I had rested to talk further. After a couple of hours the doctor came back, and his examination assured him that with some medicine and a good night's rest that I would be recovered by morning.
Then Minerva assured me that we would talk further in the morning. For some time, I wondered fitfully about whether I was dazed, dreaming, and whether Minerva was indeed alive and well. The medicine administered to me somewhat added to my disorientation. I could see the shadow of the nurse, a kindly middle-aged lady, as she passed to and fro across the room in the dim light. About one o'clock I fell into a deep sleep from which I did not waken until six in the morning. When I did so, the bright, cheerful sunlight was shining in at the window and I felt refreshed and strong. I informed my nurse of my recovered condition and indicated my desire to get out of bed; I was soon dressed and sitting in an easy chair. I was so hungry I went to the diningroom and ate a good breakfast, which added greatly to my strength. The doctor came soon after and expressed satisfaction with my condition.
As soon as the doctor left, I went outside for a little fresh air in the park. Just as I was passing down the walk from the Moore mansion I met Minerva coming to inquire after me. The moment she saw me, her look of care and anxiety was replaced by one of joy. We expressed concern for each other's condition and state of mind following the previous day's harrowing experiences. Finally I asked her again to tell me how it was she had been reported as dead. I took her arm and we soon seated ourselves under the shade of a friendly palm close by the fragrant oleanders. "It is not the first time I have heard I was dead, said Minerva. "Others were likewise deceived. The newspapers made a bungle of that obituary notice. It was a maiden aunt of mine after whom I was named who was visiting us and who died quite suddenly at our home."
I learned that she had written a reply to the last letter I had sent her, but that I had already left Missouri before its arrival.
I wondered how we had chanced to meet again, how we had come together as we did in this of all places in the world. Minerva told me that, for her part, she had been spending the winter with her cousin, who lived at St. Augustine. She, the cousin, and her husband were now on a three weeks' visit to Palm Beach. The other woman that I had rescued from the surf was her cousin. I talked to Minerva long and earnestly about my life since we had last been together, and finally asked her once again to take me back into her life. As I said this I took both her hands and pressed them warmly between my own. I noticed she made no effort to withdraw them.
She told me that she had been so heartbroken by the way that we parted that she had decided never to marry anyone in her life. "I would have remained Minerva Patterson until I died," she said. She had come to realize that despite her reasonableness and maturity, she had held romantic ideals beyond the ability of anyone to fulfill, and standards of perfection that no human being would probably ever be able to achieve. "Last evening, as I sat alone with you at your bedside, I realized how deep and lasting your love had always been for me. And I decided then and there that if you every again asked me to marry you, I would renew my old promise to do so -- which I do now." The past and all its pain and differences melted away, and not ten minutes after our reconciliation, we were restored by our old confidence and affection.
On taking a more careful look at Minerva's features, I noticed she had changed somewhat. Lines of care had gathered around her mouth and on her forehead. While she had grown more womanly, yet she appeared frail and her general appearance indicated some past suffering. She informed me this was why she was spending the winter in Florida; only temporarily indisposed, the subtropical climate had already done her a great deal of good.
Looking at my watch I found we had been sitting together for over two hours. Just then we were interrupted by the voice of Minerva's cousin. Minerva said, "permit me to present my cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Brown of St. Augustine." Turning to them she said, "this is Judge Cochran, an old schoolmate and neighbor of mine." "Anything else?" said Mr. Brown, as he looked at Minerva with a twinkle in his eye, cordially grasping my hand. Minerva had told her cousin everything the previous night. After a little further conversation, we all walked together along the beach. Traces of the storm of the day before were quite visible and numerous fresh and beautiful sea shells had been thrown on the shore, which were being gathered by the visitors. The staunch little "cat boat" had been turned right side up again and, while damaged considerably, was being repaired.
Minerva and her cousins had already been at Palm Beach a week by the time I arrived. During their two weeks' remaining stay there they took almost daily trips in my boat to different points on Lake Worth. I found the Browns a delightful young married couple, and the remainder of our visit was pleasantly spent. These trips and walks with Minerva greatly revived us both. It was soon arranged that I should visit Minerva at the Browns' home at St. Augustine. I sent my boatman with the boat a day or so ahead with instructions to wait for us at Titusville, where we would again board the boat for the balance of the trip to Dummit Grove. On the morning appointed we took a launch for Juno and went by the "Celestial Railway" to Jupiter, where we took a steamer up the river. On our way we lingered for a day or so in the interesting pineapple section at Jensen, putting up at the very hospitable "Alfresco Hotel."
The voyage up the river was captivating for all concerned. The beautiful Indian River carried us to Titusville, where we found our boat waiting for us and we began a three-day trip to Dummitt Grove.
I spent a pleasant two weeks in St. Augustine at the home of the Browns and found them splendid people. St. Augustine is a remarkable city. Here antiquity and modern splendor are side by side. The slave market still stands as a grim reminder of a barbarism now passed away. The Royal Archway in the stone wall is rapidly crumbling to decay, however. Old Fort Marion serves now only as a reminder of its former strength and impregnable defence; its crumbling rock walls could be pulverized in a half hour by modern artillery. The Spanish character is plainly depicted in the old town, while in the new, American enterprise, skill, and architectural beauty never shone in sharper and more impressive contrast. The Ponce De Leon Hotel, built by Mr. Henry M. Flagler, is one of the prettiest in the world. Its gardens and walks are pleasing and fascinating. The Alcazar and Cordova hotels likewise are very fine.
Seated with me one day on the wall of old Fort Marion looking out on the ocean, Minerva wondered at the human tendency to preserve things from the past as a way of gaining immortality; not being in a philosophical mood, I teased her, saying that I felt compelled to remind her about what she had said to me after our memorable meeting with the Gypsy Queen so long ago: "You are taking life too seriously." Minerva agreed, and we laughed together. Despite our weeks of warm confidences and fond rememberances, Minerva confided that she feared her trip had not been as good for her health as she had first thought. Indeed, I could see that Minerva's health was breaking down; she did not appear as vivacious as formerly, and the bloom of her cheeks was not as apparent. However, I reflected, we were both somewhat older and this would necessarily bring some changes.
The two weeks spent with Minerva at St. Augustine appeared to me to be the shortest of my life. We parted at the depot in Jacksonville, as she and her friends returned to Ohio. As Minerva took her seat in the car, I placed in the folds of her hair a spray of orange blossoms, and as I did so I noticed a blush of the old-time beauty on her cheeks resembling those of her early school days. We parted with bright hopes for a future together.
A Letter from Home
While travelling in the North in the following midsummer, I received a letter from my old home in Ohio. It was from Minerva, asking me to come to her soon, as she was in declining health. She indicated that she did not expect to live much longer and wanted to spend as many remaining hours as possible with me. The letter came as a great shock to me, and I hastened to her side. I discovered she was rapidly failing. The color in her cheeks had disappeared and the bright sparkle in her eyes was fast fading away, but she still had the dear old smile, and she clung to me more closely as her features whispered the inevitable to both of us. Minerva was a grand woman. Her instincts, if possible, were more noble and elevating than when I knew and loved her in her younger days. In the short remaining month of her life, we lived over and talked over our early school days and the days of our courtship many, many times. We lived in the past, and she spoke of the glad greeting with which she would meet me when both our earthly lives were over.
Whenever we discussed the nine years of our separation, we grasped each other's hands more warmly as if to exclude thoughts of another parting. I tried to be more tender and considerate than ever towards Minerva, though suffering deeply myself under the advancing shadow of this new sorrow. She noticed this and tried in every manner to reciprocate. She was all gentleness. Her patience was abounding. Occasionally she would revive her old-time vivacity; this was more to cheer me than because she actually felt better, however, and such episodes cost her dearly and only consumed her remaining vitality even more rapidly. She suffered in silence and without a murmur. We did not mention it to each other. Two weeks later, in September, we laid her to rest, as she had requested, in the Weeks Cemetery close beside the scenes of our childhood, and our early wooings.
I am an old man now, wandering around lonely and heartbroken. Recently I visited the cemetery and stood by Minerva's grave. In my sadness I wanted to die and prayed for it. The clay that covered Minerva looked too cold for her, and yet I wished to be wrapped in it. The stone that marked her resting place looked ghostlike and forbidding, and yet I desired to clasp it and rest my fevered cheek against its chilly marble. I lay in an agony of grief for hours; finally the chill of the night closed in on me, leaving me exhausted, although calm and collected in my affections. As I turned from that grave I felt as though the light that once adorned my heart had gone out. I felt like a solitary and lifeless tree trunk in a barren wasteland -- a shaking, tottering monument in a forest once green, inviting, and beautiful. For me, the bright and sparkling streams that once ran through the underbrush had now ceased to babble, and the deep cooling springs were finally all dried up.
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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