Stepping Heavenward

Author: Elizabeth Prentiss

II. June 1.

LAST Sunday Dr. Cabot preached to the young. He first addressed those who knew they did not love God. It did not seem to me that I belonged to that class. Then he spoke to those who knew they did. I felt sure I was not one of those. Last of all he spoke affectionately to those who did not know what to think, and I was frightened and ashamed to feel tears running down my cheeks, when he said that he believed that most of his hearers who were in this doubtful state did really love their Master, only their love was something as new and as tender and perhaps as unobserved as the tiny point of green that, forcing its way through the earth, is yet unconscious of its own existence, but promises a thrifty plant. I don’t suppose I express it very well, but I know what he meant. He then invited those belonging to each class to meet him on three successive Saturday afternoons. I shall certainly go.

July 19.-I went to the meeting, and so did Amelia. A great many young people were there and a few children. Dr. Cabot went about from seat to seat speaking to each one separately. When he came to us I expected he would say something about the way in which I had been brought up, and reproach me for not profiting more by the instructions and example I had at home. Instead of that he said, in a cheerful voice,

"Well, my dear, I cannot see into your heart and positively tell whether there is love to God there or not. But I suppose you have come here to-day in order to let me help you to find out?"

I said, "Yes"; that was all I could get out.

"Let me see, then," he went on. "Do you love your mother?"

I said "Yes," once more.

"But prove to me that you do. How do you know it?"

I tried to think. Then I said,

"I feel that I love her. I love to love her, I like to be with her. I like to hear people praise her. And I try—sometimes at least—to do things to please her. But I don’t try half as hard as I ought, and I do and say a great many things to displease her."

"Yes, yes," he said, "I know."

"Has mother told you?" I cried out.

"No, dear, no indeed. But I know what human nature is after having one of my own fifty years, and six of my children’s to encounter."

Somehow I felt more courage after he said that.

"In the first place, then, you feel that you love your mother? But you never feel that you love your God and Saviour?"

"I often try, and try, but I never do," I said.

"Love won’t be forced," he said, quickly.

"Then what shall I do?"

"In the second place, you like to be with your mother. But you never like to be with the Friend who loves you so much better than she does?"

"I don’t know, I never was with Him. Sometimes I think that when Mary sat at His feet and heard Him talk, she must have been very happy."

"We come to the third test, then. You like to hear people praise your mother. And have you ever rejoiced to hear the Lord magnified?"

I shook my head sorrowfully enough.

"Let us then try the last test. You know you love your mother because you try to do things to please her. That is to do what you know she wishes you to do? Very well. Have you never tried to do anything God wishes you to do?" "Oh yes; often. But not so often as I ought."

"Of course not. No one does that. But come now, why do you try to do what you think will please Him? Because it is easy? Because you like to do what He likes rather than what you like yourself?"

I tried to think, and got puzzled.

"Never mind," said Dr. Cabot, " I have come now to the point I was aiming at. You cannot prove to yourself that you love God by examining your feelings towards Him. They are indefinite and they fluctuate. But just as far as you obey Him, just so far, depend upon it, you love Him. It is not natural to us sinful, ungrateful human beings to prefer His pleasure to our own, or to follow His way instead of our own way, and nothing, nothing but love to Him can or does make us obedient to Him."

"Couldn’t we obey Him from fear ?"Amelia now asked. She had been listening all this time in silence.

"Yes; and so you might obey your mother from fear, but only for a season. If you had no real love for her you would gradually cease to dread her displeasure, whereas it is in the very nature of love to grow stronger and more influential every hour."

"You mean, then, that if we want to know whether we love God, we must find out whether we are obeying Him?" Amelia asked.

"I mean exactly that. ’He that keepeth my commandments he it is that loveth me.’ But I cannot talk with you any longer now. There are many others still waiting. You can come to see me some day next week, if you have any more questions to ask."

When we got out into the street, Amelia and I got hold of each other’s hands. We did not speak a word till we reached the door, but we knew that we were as good friends as ever.

"I understand all Dr. Cabot said," Amelia whispered, as we separated. But I felt like one in a fog. I cannot see how it is possible to love God, and yet feel as stupid as I do when I think of Him. Still, I am determined to do one thing, and that is to pray, regularly instead of now and then, as I have got the habit of doing lately.

July 25.- School has closed for the season. I took the first prize for drawing, and my composition was read aloud on examination day, and everybody praised it. Mother could not possibly help showing, in her face, that she was very much pleased. I am pleased myself. We are now getting ready to take a journey. I do not think I shall go to see Dr. Cabot again. My head is so full of other things, and there is so much to do before we go. I am having four new dresses made, and I can’t imagine how to have them trimmed. I mean to run down to Amelia’s and ask her.

July 27.-I was rushing through the hall just after I wrote that, and met mother.

"I am going to Amelia’s," I said, hurrying past her.

"Stop one minute, dear. Dr. Cabot is downstairs. He says he has been expecting a visit from you, and that as you did not come to him, he has come to you."

"I wish he would mind his own business," I said.

"I think he is minding it, dear," mother answered. "His Master’s business is his, and that has brought him here. Go to him, my darling child; I am sure you crave something better than prizes and compliments and new dresses and journeys."

If anybody but mother had said that, my heart would have melted at once, and I should have gone right down to Dr. Cabot to be moulded in his hand to almost any shape. But as it was I brushed past, ran into my room, and locked my door. Oh, what makes me act so! I hate myself for it, I don’t want to do it!

Last week I dined with Mrs. Jones. Her little Tommy was very fond of me, and that, I suppose, makes her have me there so often. Lucy was at the table, and very fractious. She cried first for one thing and then for another. At last her mother in a gentle, but very decided way put her down from the table. Then she cried louder than ever. But when her mother offered to take her back if she would be good, she screamed yet more. She wanted to come and wouldn’t let herself come. I almost hated her when I saw her act so, and now I am behaving ten times worse and I am just as miserable as I can be.

July 29.- Amelia has been here. She has had her talk with Dr. Cabot and is perfectly happy. She says it is so easy to be a Christian! It may be easy for her; everything is. She never has any of my dreadful feelings, and does not understand them when I try to explain them to her. Well, if I am fated to be miserable, I must try to bear it.

Oct. 3.-Summer is over, school has begun again, and I am so busy that I have not much time to think, to be low spirited. We had a delightful journey, and I feel well and bright, and even gay. I never enjoyed my studies as I do those of this year. Everything goes on pleasantly here at home. But James has gone away to school, and we miss him sadly. I wish I had a sister. Though I dare say I should quarrel with her, if I had.

Oct 23.-I am so glad that my studies are harder this year, as I am never happy except when every moment is occupied. However, I do not study all the time, by any means. Mrs. Gordon grows more and more fond of me, and has me there to dinner or to tea continually. She has a much higher opinion of me than mother has, and is always saying the sort bf things that make you feel nice. She holds me up to Amelia as an example, begging her to imitate me in my fidelity about my lessons, and declaring there is nothing she so much desires as to have a daughter bright and original like me. Amelia only laughs, and goes and purrs in her mother’s ears when she hears such talk. It costs her nothing to be pleasant. She was born so. For my part, I think myself lucky to have such a friend. She gets along with my odd, hateful ways better than any one else does. Mother, when I boast of this, says she has no penetration into character, and that she would be fond of almost any one fond of her; and that the fury with which I love her deserves some response. I really don’t know what to make of mother. Most people are proud of their children when they see others admire them; but she does say such pokey things! Of course I know that having a gift for music, and a taste for drawing, and a reputation for saying witty, bright things isn’t enough. But when she doesn’t find fault with me, and nothing happens to keep me down, I am the gayest creature on earth. I do love to get with a lot of nice girls, and carry on! I have got enough fun in me to keep a houseful merry. And mother needn’t say anything. I inherited it from her.

Evening.-I knew it was coming! Mother has been in to see what I was about, and to give me a bit of her mind. She says she loves to see me gay and cheerful, as is natural at my age, but that levity quite upsets and disorders the mind, indisposing it for serious thoughts.

"But, mother," I said, "didn’t you carry on when you were a young girl?"

"Of course I did," she said, smiling. "But I do not think I was quite so thoughtless as you are."

"Thoughtless" indeed! I wish I were! But am I not always full of uneasy, reproachful thoughts when the moment of excitement is over? Other girls, who seem less trifling than I, are really more so. Their heads are full of dresses and parties and beaux, and all that sort of nonsense. I wonder if that ever worries their mothers, or whether mine is the only one who weeps in secret? Well, I shall be young but once, and while I am, do let me have a good time!

Sunday, Nov. 20.-Oh, the difference between this day and the day I wrote that! There are no good times in this dreadful world. I have hardly courage or strength to write down the history of the past few weeks. The day after I had deliberately made up my mind to enjoy myself, cost what it might, my dear father called me to him, kissed me, pulled my ears a little, and gave me some money.

"We have had to keep you rather low in funds," he said laughing. "But I recovered this amount yesterday, and as it was a little debt I had given up, I can spare it to you. For girls like pin-money, I know, and you may spend this just as you please."

I was delighted. I want to take more drawing-lessons, but did not feel sure he could afford it. Besides-I am a little ashamed to write it down-I knew somebody had been praising me or father would not have seemed so fond of me. I wondered who it was, and felt a good deal puffed up. "After-all," I said to myself, "some people like me if I have got my faults." I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him, though that cost me a great effort. I never like to show what I feel. But, oh! how thankful I am for it now.

As to mother, I know father never goes out without kissing her good-by.

I went out with her to take a walk at three o’clock. We had just reached the corner of Orange Street, when I saw a carriage driving slowly towards us; it appeared to be full of sailors. Then I saw our friend, Mr. Freeman, among them. When he saw us he jumped out and came up to us. I do not know what he said. I saw mother turn pale and catch at his arm as if she were afraid of falling. But she did not speak a word.

"Oh! Mr. Freeman, what is it?" I cried out. "Has anything happened to father? Is he hurt? Where is he?"

"He is in the carriage," he said. We are taking him home. He has had a fall."

Then we went on in silence. The sailors were carrying father in as we reached the house. They laid him on the sofa, we saw his poor head...

Nov. 23.-I will try to write the rest now. Father was alive but insensible. He had fallen down into the hold of the ship, and the sailors heard him groaning there. He lived three hours after they brought him home. Mr. Freeman and all our friends were very kind. But we like best to be alone, we three, mother and James and I. Poor mother looks twenty years older, but she is so patient, and so concerned for us, and has such a smile of welcome for every one that comes in, that it breaks my heart to see her.

Nov. 25.-Mother spoke to me very seriously to-day, about controlling myself more. She said she knew this was my first real sorrow, and how hard it was to bear it. But that she was afraid I should become insane some time, if I indulged myself in such passions of grief. And she said, too, that when friends came to see us, full of sympathy and eager to say or do something for our comfort, it was our duty to receive them with as much cheerfulness as possible.

I said they, none of them, had anything to say that did not provoke me.

"It is always a trying task to visit the afflicted," mother said, "and you make it doubly hard to your friends by putting on a gloomy, forbidding air, and by refusing to talk of your dear father, as if you were resolved to keep your sorrow all to yourself."

"I can’t smile when I am so unhappy," I said.

A good many people have been here to-day. Mother has seen them all, though she looked ready to drop. Mrs. Bates said to me, in her little, weak, watery voice:

"Your mother is wonderfully sustained, dear. I hope you feel reconciled to God’s will. Rebellion is most displeasing to Him, dear."

I made no answer. It is very easy for people to preach. Let me see how they behave when they their turn to lose their friends.

Mrs. Morris said this was a very mysterious dispensation. But that she was happy to see that Mother was meeting it with so much firmness. "As for myself," she went on, "I was quite broken down by my dear husband’s death. I did not eat as much as would feed a bird, for nearly a week. But some people have so much feeling; then again others are so firm. Your mother is so busy talking with Mrs. March that I won’t interrupt her to say good-bye. I came prepared to suggest several things that I thought would comfort her; but perhaps she has thought of them herself."

I could have knocked her down. Firm, indeed! Poor mother.

After they had all gone, I made her lie down, she looked so tired and worn out.

Then, I could not help telling her what Mrs. Morris had said.

She only smiled a little, but said nothing.

"I wish you would ever flare up, mother," I said.

She smiled again, and said she had nothing to "flare up" about.

"Then I shall do it for you!" I cried. To hear that namby-pamby woman, who is about as capable of understanding you as an old cat, talking about your being firm! You see what you get by being quiet and patient! People would like you much better if you refused to be comforted, and wore a sad countenance."

"Dear Katy," said mother, "it is not my first object in life to make people like me."

By this time she looked so pale that I was frightened. Though she is so cheerful, and things go on much as they did before, I believe she has got her death-blow. If she has, then I hope I have got mine. And yet I am not fit to die. I wish I was, and I wish I could die. I have lost all interest in everything, and don’t care what becomes of me.

Nov. 23.-I believe I shall go crazy unless people stop coming here, hurling volleys of texts at mother and at me. When soldiers drop wounded on the battle-field, they are taken up tenderly and carried "to the rear," which means, I suppose, out of sight and sound. Is anybody mad enough to suppose it will do them any good to hear Scripture quoted sermons launched at them before their open, bleeding wounds are staunched?

Mother assents, in a mild way, when I talk so and says, "Yes, yes, we are indeed lying wounded on the battle-field of life, and in no condition to listen to any words save those of pity. But, dear Katy, we must interpret aright all the well-meant attempts of our friends to comfort us. They mean sympathy, however awkwardly they express it."

And then she sighed, with a long, deep sigh, that told how it all wearied her.

Dec. 14.-Mother keeps saying I spend too much time in brooding over my sorrow. As for her, she seems to live in heaven. Not that she has long prosy talks about it, but little words that she lets drop now and then show where her thoughts are, and where she would like to be. She seems to think everybody is as eager to go there as she is. For my part, I am not eager at all. I can’t make myself feel that it will be nice to sit in rows, all the time singing, fond as I am of music. And when I say to myself, "Of course we shall not always sit in rows singing," then I fancy a multitude of shadowy, phantom-like beings, dressed in white, moving to and fro in golden streets, doing nothing in particular, and having a dreary time, without anything to look forward to.

I told mother so. She said earnestly, and yet in her sweetest, tenderest way,

"Oh, my darling Katy! What you need is such a living, personal love to Christ as shall make the thought of being where He is so delightful as to fill your mind with that single thought!"

What is "personal love to Christ?"

Oh, dear, dear! Why need my father have been snatched away from me, when so many other girls have theirs spared to them? He loved me so! He indulged me so much! He was so proud of me! What have I done that I should have this dreadful thing happen to me? I shall never be as happy as I was before. Now I shall always be expecting trouble. Yes, I dare say mother will go next. Why shouldn’t I brood over this sorrow? I like to brood over it; I like to think how wretched I am; I like to have long, furious fits of crying, lying on my face on the bed.

Jan. I, 1832.-People talk a great deal about the blessed effects of sorrow. But I do not see any good it has done me to lose my dear father, and as to mother she was good enough before.

We are going to leave our pleasant home, where all of us children were born, and move into a house in an out-of-the-way street. By selling this, and renting a smaller one, mother hopes, with economy, to carry James through college. And I must go to Miss Higgins’ school because it is less expensive than Mr. Stone’s. Miss Higgins, indeed! I never could bear her! A few months ago, how I should have cried and stormed at the idea of her school. But the great sorrow swallows up the little trial.

I tried once more, this morning, as it is the first day of the year, to force myself to begin to love God.

I want to do it; I know I ought to do it; but I cannot. I go through the form of saying something that I try to pass off as praying, every day now. But I take no pleasure in it, as good people say they do, and as I am sure mother does. Nobody could live in the house with her, and doubt that.

Jan. 10.-We are in our new home now, and it is quite a cozy little place. James is at home for the long vacation and we are together all the time I am out of school. We study and sing together and now and then, when we forget that dear father has gone, we are as full of fun as ever. If it is so nice to have a brother, what must it be to have a sister! Dear old Jim! He is the very pleasantest, dearest fellow in the world!

Jan. 15.-I have come to another birthday and am seventeen. Mother has celebrated it just as usual, though I know all these anniversaries which used to be so pleasant, must be sad days to her now my dear father has gone. She has been cheerful-and loving, and entered into all my pleasures exactly as if nothing had happened. I wonder at myself that I do not enter more into her sorrows, but though at times the remembrance of our loss overwhelms me, my natural elasticity soon makes me rise above and forget it. And I am absorbed with these school-days, that come one after another, in such quick succession that I am all the time running to keep up with them. And as long as I do that I forget that death has crossed our threshold, and may do it again. But to night I feel very sad, and as if I would give almost any thing to live in a world where nothing painful could happen. Somehow mother’s pale face haunts and reproaches me. I believe I will go to bed and to sleep as quickly as possible, and forget everything.

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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 June 17, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q36ZGCC7K8N33HF.

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. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q36ZGCC7K8N33HF.

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 http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q36ZGCC7K8N33HF.