Stepping Heavenward

Author: Elizabeth Prentiss



AUNTY sent for us all to dine with her to-day to celebrate Lucy’s fifteenth birthday. Ever since Lucy behaved so heroically in regard to little Emma, really saving her life, Ernest says Aunty seems to feel that she cannot do enough for her. The child has taken the most unaccountable fancy to me, strangely enough, and when we got there she came to meet me with something like cordiality.

"Mamma permits me to be the bearer of agreeable news," she said, "because this is my birthday. A friend, of whom you are very fond, has just arrived, and is impatient to embrace you.

"To embrace me?" I cried. "You foolish child!" And the next moment I found myself in my mother’s arms!

The despised Lucy had been the means of giving me this pleasure. It seems that Aunty had told her she should choose her own birthday treat, and that, after solemn meditation, she had decided that to see dear mother again would be the most agreeable thing she could think of. I have never told you, dear journal, why I did not go home last summer, and never shall. If you choose to fancy that I couldn’t afford it you can!

Well! wasn’t it nice to see mother, and to read in her dear, loving face that she was satisfied with her poor, wayward Katy, and fond of her as ever! I only longed for Ernest’s coming, that she might see us together, and see how he loved me.

He came; I rushed out to meet him and dragged him in. But it seemed as if he had grown stupid and awkward. All through the dinner I watched for one of those loving glances which should proclaim to mother the good understanding between us, but watched in vain.

"It will come by and by," I thought. "When we get by ourselves mother will see how fond of me he is." But "by and by" it was just the same. I was preoccupied, and mother asked me if I were well. It was all very foolish I dare say, and yet I did want to have her know that with all my faults he still loves me. Then, besides this disappointment, I have to reproach myself for misunderstanding poor Lucy as I have done. Because she was not all fire and fury like myself, I need not have assumed that she had no heart. It is just like me; I hope I shall never be so severe in my judgment again.

APRIL 30.-Mother has just gone. Her visit has done me a world of good. She found out something to like in father at once, and then something good in Martha. She says father’s sufferings are real, not fancied; that his error is not knowing where to locate his disease, and is starving one week and over-eating the next. She charged me not to lay up future misery for myself by misjudging him now, and to treat him as a daughter ought without the smallest regard to his appreciation of it. Then as to Martha, she declares that I have no idea how much she does to reduce our expenses, to keep the house in order and to relieve us from care. "But, mother," I said, "did you notice what horrid butter we have? And it is all her doing."

"But the butter won’t last forever," she replied. "Don’t make yourself miserable about such a trifle. For my part, it is a great relief to me to know that with your delicate health you have this tower of strength to lean on."

"But my health is not delicate, mother."

"You certainly look pale and thin."

"Oh, well," I said, whereupon she fell to giving me all sorts of advice about getting up on step-ladders, and climbing on chairs, and sewing too much and all that.

JUNE 15.-The weather, or something, makes me rather languid and stupid. I begin to think that Martha is not an entire nuisance in the house. I have just been to see Mrs. Campbell. In answer to my routine of lamentations, she took up a book and read me what was called, as nearly as I can remember, "Four steps that lead to peace."

"Be desirous of doing the will of another rather than thine own."

"Choose always to have less, rather than more."

"Seek always the lowest place, and to be inferior to every one."

"Wish always, and pray, that the will of God may be wholly fulfilled in thee."

I was much struck with these directions; but I said, despondently:

"If peace can only be found at the end of such hard roads, I am sure I shall always be miserable."

"Are you miserable now?" she asked.

"Yes, just now I am. I do not mean that I have no happiness; I mean that I am in a disheartened mood, weary of going round and round in circles, committing the same sins, uttering the same confessions, and making no advance."

"My dear," she said, after a time, "have you a perfectly distinct, settled view of what Christ is to the human soul ?"

"I do not know. I understand, of course, more or less perfectly, that my salvation depends on. Him alone; it is His gift."

"But do you see, with equal clearness, that your sanctification must be as fully His gift, as your salvation is?"

"No," I said, after a little thought. "I have had a feeling that He has done His part, and now I must do mine."

"My dear," she said, with much tenderness and feeling, "then the first thing you have to do is to learn Christ."

"But how ?"

"On your knees, my child, on your knees!" She was tired, and I came away; and I have indeed been on my knees.

JULY 1.-I think that I do begin, dimly it is true, but really, to understand that this terrible work which I was trying to do myself, is Christ’s work, and must be done and will be done by Him. I take some pleasure in the thought, and wonder why it has all this time been hidden from me, especially after what Dr. C. said in his letter. But I get hold of this idea in a misty, unsatisfactory way. If Christ is to do all, what am I to do? And have I not been told, over and over again, that the Christian life is one of conflict, and that I am to fight like a good soldier?

AUGUST 5.-Dr. Cabot has come just as I need him most. I long for one of those good talks with him which always used to strengthen me so. I feel a perfect weight of depression that makes me a burden to myself and to poor Ernest, who, after visiting sick people all day, needs to come home to a cheerful wife. But he comforts me with the assurance that this is merely physical despondency, and that I shall get over it by and by. How kind, how even tender he is! My heart is getting all it wants from him, only I am too stupid to enjoy him as I ought. Father, too, talks far less about his own bad feelings, and seems greatly concerned at mine. As to Martha I have done trying to get sympathy or love from her. She cannot help it, I suppose, but she is very hard and dry towards me, and I feel such a longing to throw myself on her mercy, and to have one little smile to assure me that she has forgiven me for being Ernest’s wife, and so different from what she would have chosen for him.

Dr. Elliott to Mrs. Mortimer:

OCTOBER 4, 1838.

My dear Katy’s Mother-You will rejoice with us when I tell you that we are the happy parents of a very fine little boy. My dearest wife sends "an ocean of love" to you, and says she will write her self to-morrow. That I shall not be very likely to allow, as you will imagine. She is doing extremely well, and we have everything to be grateful for. Your affectionate Son, J. E. ELLIOTT.

Mrs. Crofton to Mrs. Mortimer:

I am sure, my dear sister, that the doctor has riot written you more than five lines about the great event which has made such a stir in our domestic circle. So I must try to supply the details you will want to hear.... .1 need not add that our darling Katy behaved nobly. Her self-forgetfulness and consideration for others were really beautiful throughout the whole scene. The doctor may well be proud of her, and I took care to tell him so ill presence of that dreadful sister of his. I never met so angular, so uncompromising a person as she is in all my life. She does not understand Katy, and never can, and I find it hard to realize that living with such a person can furnish a wholesome discipline, which is even more desirable than the most delightful home. And yet I not only know that is true in the abstract, but I see that it is so in the fact. Katy is acquiring both self-control and patience and her Christian character is developing in a way that amazes me. I cannot but hope that God will, in time, deliver her from this trial; indeed, feel sure that when it has done its beneficent work He will do so. Martha Elliott is a good woman, but her goodness is without grace or beauty. She takes excellent care of Katy, keeps her looking as if she had just come out of a band-box, as the saying and always has her room in perfect order. But one misses the loving word, the re-assuring smile, the delicate, thoughtful little forbearance, that ought to adorn every sick-room, and light it up with genuine sunshine. There is one comfort about it, how-ever, and that is that I can spoil dear Katy to my heart’s content.

As to the baby, he is a fine little fellow, and his mother is so happy in him that she can afford to do without some other pleasures. I shall write again in a few days. Meanwhile, you may rest assured that I love your Katy almost as well as you do, and shall be with her most of the time till she is quite herself again.


to his mother:

Of course there never was such a baby before on the face of the earth. Katy is so nearly wild with joy, that you can’t get her to eat or sleep or do any of the proper things that her charming sister-in-law thinks becoming under the circumstances. You never saw anything so pretty in your life, as she is now. I hope the doctor is as much in love with her as I am. He is the best fellow in the world, and Katy is just the wife for him.

Nov. 4.-My darling baby is a month old to-day. I never saw such a splendid child. I love him so that I lie awake nights to watch him. Martha says, in her dry way, that I had better show my love by sleeping and eating for him, and Ernest says I shall, as soon as I get stronger. But I don’t get strong, and that discourages me.

Nov. 26.-I begin to feel rather more like myself, and as if I could write with less labor. I have had in these few past weeks such a revelation of suffering, and such a revelation of joy, as mortal mind can hardly conceive of. The world I live in now is a new world; a world full of suffering that leads to unutterable felicity. Oh, this precious, precious baby! How can I thank God enough for giving him to me!

I see now why He has put some thorns into my domestic life; but for them I should be too happy to live. It does not seem just the moment to com plain, and yet, as I can speak to no one, it is a relief, a great relief, to write about my trials. During my whole sickness, Martha has been so hard, so cold, so unsympathizing that sometimes it has seemed as if my cup of trial could not hold another drop. She routed me out of bed when I was so languid that everything seemed a burden, and when sitting up made me faint away. I heard her say to herself, that I had no constitution and had no business to get married. The worst of all is that during that dreadful night before baby came, she kept asking Ernest to lie down and rest, and was sure he would kill himself, and all that, while she had not one word of pity for me. But, oh, why need I let this rankle in my heart! Why cannot I turn my thoughts entirely to my darling baby, my dear husband, and all the other sources of joy that make my home a happy one in spite of this one discomfort! I hope I am learning some useful lessons from my joys and from my trials, and that both will serve to make me in earnest, and to keep me so.

DEC. 4.-We have had a great time about poor baby’s name. I expected to call him Raymond, for my own dear father, as a matter of course. It seemed a small gratification for mother in her loneliness. Dear mother! How little I have known all these years what I cost her! But it seems there has been a Jotham in the family ever since the memory of man, each eldest son handing down his father’s name to the next in descent, and Ernest’s real name is Jotham Ernest—of all the extraordinary combinations! His mother would add the latter name in spite of everything. Ernest behaved very well through the whole affair, and said he had no feeling about it all. But he was so gratified when I decided to keep up the family custom that I feel rewarded for the sacrifice.

Father is in one of his gloomiest moods. As I sat caressing baby to-day he said to me:

"Daughter Katherine, I trust you make it a subject of prayer to God that you may be kept from idolatry."

"No, father," I returned, "I never do. An idol is something one puts in God’s place, and I don’t put baby there."

He shook his head and said the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

"I have heard mother say that we might love an earthly object as much as we pleased, if we only love God better." I might have added, but of course I didn’t; that I prayed every day that I might love Ernest and baby better and better. Poor father seemed puzzled and troubled by what I did say, and after musing a while, went on thus:

’The Almighty is a great and terrible Being. He cannot bear a rival; He will have the whole heart or none of it. When I see a young woman so absorbed in a created being as you are in that infant, and in your other friends, I tremble for you, I tremble for you!"

’But, father," I persisted, "God gave me this child, and He gave me my heart, just as it is."

’Yes; and that heart needs renewing."

"I hope it is renewed," I replied. "But I know there is a great work still to be done in it. And the more effectually it is done the more loving I shall grow. Don’t you see, father? Don’t you see that the more Christ-like I become the more I shall be filled with love for every living thing?"

He shook his head, but pondered long, as he always does, on whatever he considers audacious. As for me, I am vexed with my presumption in disputing with him, and am sure, too, that I was trying to show off what little wisdom I have picked up. Besides, my mountain does not stand so strong as it did. Perhaps I am making idols out of Ernest and the baby.

JANUARY 16, 1839.-This is our second wedding day. I did not expect much from it, after last year’s failure. Father was very gloomy at breakfast, and retired to his room directly after it. No one could get in to make his bed, and he would not come down to dinner. I wonder Ernest lets him go on so. But his rule seems to be to let everybody have their own way. He certainly lets me have mine. After dinner he gave me a book I have been wanting for some time, and had asked him for-"The Imitation of Christ." Ever since that day at Mrs. Campbell’s I have felt that I should like it, though I did think, in old times, that it preached too hard a doctrine. I read aloud to him the "Four Steps to Peace"; he said they were admirable, and then took it from me and began reading to himself, here and there. I felt the precious moments when I had got him all to myself were passing away, and was becoming quite out of patience with him when the words "Constantly seek to have less, rather than more," flashed into my mind. I suppose this direction had reference to worldly good, but I despise money, and despise people who love it, The riches I crave are not silver and gold, but my husband’s love and esteem. And of these must I desire to have less rather than more? I puzzled myself over this question in vain, but when I silently prayed to be satisfied with just what God chose to give me of the wealth I crave, yes, hunger and thirst for, I certainly felt a sweet content, for the time, at least, that was quite resting and quieting. And just as I had reached that acquiescent mood Ernest threw down his book, and came and caught me in his arms.

"I thank God," he said, "my precious wife, that I married you this day. The wisest thing I ever did was when I fell in love with you and made a fool of myself!"

What a speech for my silent old darling to make! Whenever he says and does a thing out of character, and takes me all by surprise, how delightful he is! Now the world is a beautiful world, and so is everybody in it. I met Martha on the stairs after Ernest had gone, and caught her and kissed her. She looked perfectly astonished.

"What spirits the child has!" I heard her whisper to herself; "no sooner down than up again."

And she sighed. Can it be that under that stern and hard crust there lie hidden affections and perhaps hidden sorrows?

I ran back and asked, as kindly as I could, "What makes you sigh, Martha? Is anything troubling you? Have I done anything to annoy you?"

"You do the best you can," she said, and pushed past me to her own room.

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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 October 28, 2021,

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. 28 Oct. 2021.

Harvard: Prentiss, E, Stepping Heavenward, ed. . cited in 1908, 1917, Stepping Heavenward, D. Appleton and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 28 October 2021, from