Stepping Heavenward

Author: Elizabeth Prentiss



HELEN returned Dr. Cabot’s letter in silence this morning, but, directly after breakfast, set forth to visit Mrs. Campbell, with the little bottle of beef-tea in her hands, which ought to have gone yesterday. I had a busy day before me; the usual Saturday baking and Sunday dinner to oversee, the children’s lessons for to-morrow to superintend and hear them repeat, their clean clothes to lay out, and a basket of stockings to mend. My mind was somewhat distracted with these cares, and I found it a little difficult to keep on with my morning devotions in spite of them. But I have learned, at least, to face and fight such distractions, instead of running away from them as I used to do. My faith in prayer, my resort to it, becomes more and more the foundation of my life, and I believe, with one wiser and better than myself, that nothing but prayer stands between my soul and the best gifts of God; in other words, that I can and shall get what I ask for.

I went down into the kitchen, put on my large baking apron, and began my labors; of course the door-bell rang, and a poor woman was announced. It is very sweet to follow Fenelon’s counsel and give oneself to Christ in all these interruptions; but this time I said, "oh, dear!" before I thought. Then I wished I hadn’t, and went up, with a cheerful face at any rate, to my unwelcome visitor, who proved to be one of my aggravating poor folks-a great giant of a woman, in perfect health, and with a husband to support her if he will. I told her that I could do no more for her; she answered me rudely, and kept urging her claims. I felt ruffled; why should my time be thus frittered away, I asked myself. At last she went off, abusing me in a way that chilled my heart. I could only beg God to forgive her, and return to my work, which I had hardly resumed when Mrs. Embury sent for a pattern I had promised to lend her. Off came my apron, and up two pairs of stairs I ran; after a long search it came to light. Work resumed; door-bell again. Aunty wanted the children to come to an early dinner. Going to Aunty’s is next to going to Paradise to them. Every thing was now hurry and flurry; I tried to be patient; and not to fret their temper by undue attention to nails, ears, and other susceptible parts of the human frame, but after it was all over, and I had kissed all the sweet, dear faces good-by, and returned to the kitchen, I felt sure that I had not been the perfect mother I want to be in all these little emergencies-yes, far from it. Bridget had let the milk I was going to use boil over, and finally burn up. I was annoyed and irritated, and already tired,. and did not see how I was to get more, as Mary was cleaning the silver (to be sure, there is not much of it), and had other extra Saturday work to do. I thought Bridget might offer to run to the corner for it, though it isn’t her business, hut she is not obliging, and seemed as sulky as if I had burned the milk, not she. "After all," I said to myself, "what does it signify, if Ernest gets no dessert? It isn’t good for him, and how much precious time is wasted over just this one thing?" However, I reflected, that arbitrarily refusing to indulge him in this respect is not exactly my mission as his wife; he is perfectly well, and likes his little luxuries as well as other people do. So I humbled my pride and asked Bridget to go for the milk, which she did, in a lofty way of her own. While she was gone the marketing came home, and I had everything to dispose of. Ernest had sent home some apples, which plainly said, "I want some apple pie, Katy." I looked nervously at the clock, and undertook to gratify him. Mary came down, crying, to say that her mother, who lived in Brooklyn, was very sick; could she go to see her? I looked at the clock once more; told her she should go, of course, as soon as lunch was over; this involved my doing all her absence left undone.

At last I got through with the kitchen, the Sunday dinner being well under way, and ran upstairs to put away the host of little garments the children had left when they took their flight, and to make myself presentable at lunch. Then I began to be uneasy lest Ernest should not be punctual, and Mary be delayed; but he came just as the clock struck one. I ran joyfully to meet him, very glad now that I had something good to give him. We bad just got through lunch, and I was opening my mouth to tell Mary she might go, when the doorbell rang once more, and Mrs. Fry, of Jersey City, was announced. I told Mary to wait till I found whether she had lunched or not; no, she hadn’t; had come to town to see friends off, was half famished, and would I do her the favor, etc., etc. She had a fashionable young lady with her, a stranger to me, as well as a Miss Somebody else, from Albany, whose name I did not catch. I apologized for having finished lunch. Mrs. Fry said all they wanted was a cup of tea and a bit of bread and butter, nothing else, dear; now don’t put yourself out.

"Now be bright and animated, and like yourself," she whispered, "for I have brought these girls here on purpose to hear you talk, and they are prepared to fall in love with you on the spot"

This speech sufficed to shut my mouth.

Mary had to get ready for these unexpected guests, whose appetites proved equal to a raid on a good many things besides bread and butter. Mrs. Fry said, after she had devoured nearly half a loaf of cake, that she would really try to eat a morsel more, which Ernest remarked, dryly, was a great triumph of mind over matter. As they talked and ’laughed and ate leisurely on, Mary stood looking the picture of despair. At last I gave her a glance that said she might go, when a new visitor was announced-Mrs. Winthrop, from Brooklyn, one of Ernest’s patients a few years ago, when she lived here. She professed herself greatly indebted to him, and said she had come at this hour because she should make sure of seeing him. I tried to excuse him, as I knew he would be thankful to have me do, but no, see him she must; he was her "pet doctor," he had such "sweet, bedside manners," and "I am such a favorite with him, you know!"

Ernest did not receive his "favorite" with any special warmth; but invited her out to lunch and gallanted her to the table we had just left. Just like a man! Poor Mary! she had to fly round and get up what she could; Mrs. Winthrop devoted herself to Ernest with a persistent ignoring of me that I thought rude and unwomanly. She asked if he had read a certain book; he had not; she then said, "I need not ask, then, if Mrs. Elliott has done so? These charming dishes, which she gets up so nicely, must absorb all her time." "Of course," replied Ernest. "But she contrives to read the reports of all the murders, of which the newspapers are full."

Mrs. Winthrop took this speech literally, drew away her skirts from me, looked at me through her eye-glass, and said, "Yes?" At last she departed. Helen came home, and Mary went. I gave Helen an account of my morning; she laughed heartily, and it did me good to hear that musical sound once more.

"It is nearly five o’clock," I said, as we at last had restored everything to order, "and this whole day has been frittered away in the veriest trifles. It isn’t living to live so. Who is the better for my being in the world since six o’clock this morning?"

"I am for one," she said, kissing my hot cheeks; "and you have given a great deal of pleasure to several persons. Your and Ernest’s hospitality is always graceful. I admire it in you both; and this is one of the little ways, not to be despised, of giving enjoyment." It was nice in her to say that, it quite rested me.

At the dinner-table Ernest complimented me on my good housekeeping.

"I was proud of my little wife at lunch" he said.

"And yet you said that outrageous thing about my reading about nothing but murders!" I said.

"Oh, well, you understood it," he said, laughingly.

"But that dreadful Mrs. Winthrop took it literally."

"What do we care for Mrs. Winthrop?" he returned. "If you could have seen the contrast between you two in my eyes!"

After all, one must take life as it comes, its homely details are so mixed up with its sweet charities, and loves, and friendships that one is forced to believe that God has joined them together and does not will that they should be put asunder. It is something that my husband has been satisfied with his wife and his home to-day; that does me good.

MARCH 30.-A stormy day and the children home from school, and no little frolicking and laughing going on. It must, be delightful to feel well and strong while one’s children are young, there is so much to do for them. I do it; but no one can tell the effort, it costs me. What a contrast there is between their vitality and the languor under which I suffer! When their noise became intolerable, I proposed to read to them; of course they made ten times as much clamor of pleasure and of course they leaned on me, ground their elbows into my lap, and tired me all out. As I sat with this precious little group about me, Ernest opened the door, looked in, gravely and without a word, and instantly disappeared. I felt uneasy and asked him, this evening, why he looked so. Was I indulging the children too much, or what was it? He took me into his arms and said:

"My precious wife, why will you torment yourself with such fancies? My very heart was yearning over you at that moment, as it did the first time I saw you surrounded by your little class at Sunday-school, years ago, and I was asking myself why God had given me such a wife, and my children such a mother."

Oh, I am glad I have got this written down! I will read it over when the sense of my deficiencies overwhelms me, while I ask God why He has given me such a patient, forbearing husband.

APRIL 1.-This has been a sad day to our church. Our dear Dr. Cabot has gone to his eternal home, and left us as sheep without a shepherd.

His death was sudden at the last and found us all unprepared for it. But my tears of sorrow are mingled with tears of joy. His heart had long been in heaven, he was ready to go at a moment’s warning; never was a soul so constantly and joyously on the wing as his. Poor Mrs. Cabot! She is left very desolate, for all their children are married and settled at a distance. But she bears this sorrow like one who has long felt herself a pilgrim and a stranger on earth. How strange that we ever forget that we are all such!

APRIL 16.-The desolate pilgrimage was not long. Dear Mrs. Cabot was this day laid away by the side of her beloved husband, and it is delightful to think of them as not divided by death, but united by it in a complete and eternal union.

I never saw a husband and wife more tenderly attached to each other, and this is a beautiful close to their long and happy married life. I find it hard not to wish and pray that I may as speedily follow my precious husband, should God call him away first. But it is not for me to choose.

How I shall miss these faithful friends, who, from my youth up, have been my stay and my staff in the house of my pilgrimage! Almost all the disappointments and sorrows of my life have had their Christian sympathy, particularly the daily, wasting solicitude concerning my darling Una, for they to watched for years over as delicate a flower, and saw it fade and die. Only those who have suffered thus can appreciate the heart-soreness through which, no matter how outwardly cheerful I may be, I am always passing. But what then! Have I not ten thousand times made this my prayer, that in the words of Leighton, my will might become, identical with God’s will."

And shall He not take me at my word?" Just as I was writing these words, my canary burst forth with a song so joyous that a song was put also into my mouth. Something seemed to say, this captive sings in his cage because it has never known liberty, and cannot regret a lost freedom. So the soul of my child, limited by the restrictions of a feeble body, never having known the gladness of exuberant health, may sing songs that will enliven and cheer. Yes, and does sing them! What should we do without her gentle, loving presence, whose frailty calls forth our tenderest affections and whose sweet face makes sunshine in the shadiest places! I am sure that the boys are truly blessed by having a sister always at home to welcome them, and that their best manliness is appealed to by her helplessness.

What this child is to me I cannot tell And yet, if the skillful and kind Gardener should house this delicate plant before frosts come, should I dare to complain?

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Stepping Heavenward

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Stepping Heavenward

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward, ed. White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922 in Stepping Heavenward (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917), Original Sources, accessed June 17, 2024,

MLA: Prentiss, Elizabeth. Stepping Heavenward, edited by White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922, in Stepping Heavenward, Vol. 22, New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917, Original Sources. 17 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Prentiss, E, Stepping Heavenward, ed. . cited in 1908, 1917, Stepping Heavenward, D. Appleton and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 June 2024, from