Stepping Heavenward

Author: Elizabeth Prentiss

XXVII.

AUGUST 1

I HAVE just written to Mrs. Brown to know whether she will take us for the rest of the summer. A certain little man, not a very old little man either, has kept us in town till now. Since he has come, we are all very glad of him, though he came on his own invitation, brought no wardrobe with him, does not pay for his board, never speaks a word, takes no notice of us, and wants more waiting on than any one else in the house. The children are full of delicious curiosity about him, and overwhelm him with presents of the most heterogeneous character.

Sweet Briar Farm, AUG. 9.-We got there this afternoon, bag and baggage. I had not said a word to Mrs. Brown about the addition to our family circle, knowing she had plenty of room, and as we alighted from the carriage, I snatched my baby from his nurse’s arms and ran gaily up the walk with him in mine. "If this splendid fellow doesn’t convert her nothing will," I said to myself. At that instant what should I see but Mrs. Brown, running to meet me with a boy in her arms exactly like Mr. Brown, only not quite six feet long, and not sun-burnt.

"There!" I cried, holding up my little old man.

"There!" said she, holding up hers.

We laughed till we cried; she took my baby and I took hers; after looking at him I liked mine better than ever; after looking at mine she was perfectly satisfied with hers.

We got into the house at last; that is to say, we mothers did; the children darted through it and out of the door that led to the fields and woods, and vanished in the twinkling of an eye.

Mrs. Brown had always been a pretty woman, with bright eyes, shining, well-kept hair, and a color in her cheeks like the rose which had given its name to her farm. But there was now a new beauty in her face; the mysterious and sacred sufferings and joys of maternity had given it thought and feeling.

"I had no idea I should be so fond of a baby," she said, kissing it, whenever she stopped to put in a comma; "but I don’t know how I ever got along without one. He’s off at work nearly the whole day, and when I had got through with mine, and had put on my afternoon dress, and was ready to sit down, you can’t think how lonesome it was. But now by the time I am dressed, baby is ready to go out to get the air; he knows the minute he sees me bring out his little hat that he is going to see his father and he’s awful fond of his father. Though that isn’t so strange, either, for his father’s awful fond of him. All his little ways are so pretty, and he never cries unless he’s hungry or tired. Tell mother a pretty story now; yes, mother hears, bless his little heart!"

Then when Mr. Brown came home to his supper, his face was a sight to see, as he caught sight of me at my open window, and came to it with the child’s white arms clinging to his neck, looking as happy and as bashful as a girl.

"You see she must needs go to quartering this bouncing young one on to me," he said, "as if I didn’t have to work hard enough before. Well, maybe he’ll get his feed off the farm; we’ll see what we can do."

"Mamma," Una whispered, as he went off his facsimile, to kiss it rapturously, behind a woodpile, "do you think Mrs. Brown’s baby very pretty?

Which was so mild a way of suggesting the fact of the case, that I kissed her without trying to hide my amusement.

AUG. 10.-After being cooped up in town so large a part of the summer, the children are nearly wild with delight at being in the country once more. Even our demure Una skips about with a buoyancy I have never seen in her; she never has her ill turns when out of the city, and I wish, for her sake, we could always live here. As to Raymond and Walter, I never pretend to see them except at their meals and their bedtime; they just live outdoors, following the men at their work, asking all sorts of absurd questions, which Mr. Brown reports to me every night, with shouts of delighted laughter. Two gay and gladsome boys they are; really good without being priggish; I don’t think I could stand that. People ask me how it happens that my children are all so promptly obedient and so happy. As if it chanced that some parents have such children, or chanced that some have not! I am afraid it is only too true, as some one has remarked, that "this is the age of obedient parents!"’ What then will be the future of their children? How can they yield to God who have never been taught to yield to human authority? And how well fitted will they be to rule their own households who have never learned to rule themselves?

AUG. 31.-This has been one of those cold, dismal, rainy days which are not infrequent during the month of August. So the children have been obliged to give up the open air, of which. they are so fond, and fall back upon what entertainment could be found within the house. I have read to them the little journal I kept during the whole life of the brother I am not willing they should forget. His quaint and sagacious sayings were delicious to them; the history of his first steps, his first words sounded to them like a fairy tale. And the story of his last steps, his last words on earth, had for them such a tender charm, that there was a cry of disappointment from them all, when I closed the little book and told them we should have to wait till we got to heaven before we could know anything more about his precious life.

How thankful I am that I kept this journal, and that I have almost as charming ones about most of my other children! What I speedily forgot amid the pressure of cares and of new events is safely written down, and. will be the source of endless pleasure to them long after the hand that wrote has ceased from its .labors, and lies inactive and at rest.

Ah, it is a blessed thing to be a mother!

SEPTEMBER 1-This baby of mine, is certainly the sweetest and best I ever had I feel an inexpressible tenderness for it, which I cannot quite explain to myself, for I have loved them all dearly, most dearly. Perhaps it is so with all mothers, perhaps they all grow more loving, more forbearing, more patient as they grow older, and yearn over these helpless little ones with an ever-increasing, yet chastened delight. One cannot help sheltering their tender infancy, who will so soon pass forth to fight the battle of life, each one waging an invisible warfare against invisible foes. How thankfully we would fight it for them, if we might!

SEPTEMBER 20.-. The mornings and evenings are very cool now, while in the middle of the day it is quite hot. Ernest comes to see us very often, under the pretense that he can’t trust me with so young a baby ! He is so tender and thoughtful, and spoils me so, that this world is very bright to me; I am a little jealous of it; I don’t want to be so happy in Ernest, or in my children, as to forget for one instant that I am a pilgrim and a stranger on earth.

EVENING.-There is no danger that I shall. Ernest suddenly made his appearance tonight, and in a great burst of distress quite unlike anything I ever saw in him, revealed to me that he had been feeling the greatest anxiety about me ever since the baby came. It is all nonsense. I cough, to be sure; but that it is owing to the varying temperature we always have at this season. I shall get over, it as soon as we get home, I dare say.

But suppose I should not; what then? Could I leave this precious little flock, uncared for, untended? Have I faith to believe that if God calls me away from them, it will be in love to them? I do not know. The thought of getting away from the sin that still so easily besets me is very delightful, and I have enjoyed so many, many such foretastes of the bliss of heaven that I know I should be happy there, but then my children, all of them under twelve years old! I will not choose, I dare not.

My married life has been a beautiful one. It is true that sin and folly, and sickness and sorrow, have marred its perfection, but it has been adorned by a love which has never faltered. My faults have never alienated Ernest.; his faults, for like other human beings he has them, have never overcome my love to him. This has been the gift of God in answer to our constant prayer, that .whatever other bereavement we might have to suffer, we might never be bereft of this benediction. It has been the glad secret of’ a happy marriage, and I wish I could teach it to every human being who enters upon a state that must bring with it the depth of misery, or life’s most sacred and mysterious joy.

OCTOBER 6.- Ernest has let me stay here to see the autumnal foliage in its ravishing beauty for the first, perhaps for the last, time. The woods and fields and groves are lighting up my very soul! It seems as if autumn had caught the inspiration and the glow of summer, had hidden its floral beauty, its gorgeous sunsets and its bow of. promise in its heart of hearts, and was now flashing it forth upon ’the world with a lavish and opulent hand. I can hardly tear myself away, and return to the prose of city life. But Ernest has come for us, and is eager to get us home before colder weather. I laugh at his anxiety about his old wife. Why need he fancy that this trifling cough is not to give way as it often has done before? Dear Ernest! I never knew that he loved me so.

OCTOBER 31.-Ernest’s fear that he had let me stay too long in the country does not seem to be justified. We went so late that I wanted to indulge the children by staying late. So we have only just got home. I feel about as well as usual; it is true I have a little soreness a bout the chest, but it does not signify anything.

I never was so happy, in my husband and children, in other words in my home, as I am now. Life looks very attractive. I am glad that I am going to get well.

But Ernest watches me carefully, and want me, as a precautionary measure, to give up music, writing, sewing, and painting-the very things that occupy me! and lead an idle, useless life, for a time. I cannot refuse what he asks so tenderly, and as a personal favor to himself. Yet I should like to fill the remaining pages of my journal; I never like to leave things incomplete.

JUNE 1, 1858.-I wrote that seven years ago, little dreaming how long it, would be before I should use a pen. Seven happy years ago!

I suppose that some who have known what my outward life has been during’ this period would think of me as a mere object of pity. There has certainly been suffering and deprivation enough to justify the sympathy of my dear husband and children and the large circle of friends who have rallied about us. How little we knew we had so many!

God has dealt very tenderly with me. I was not stricken down by sudden disease, nor were the things I delighted in all taken away at once There was a gradual loss of strength and gradual increase of suffering, and it was only by degrees that I was asked to give up the employments in which I’d delighted, my household duties, my visits to the sick and suffering, the society of beloved friends. Perhaps Ernest perceived and felt my deprivations sooner than I did; his sympathy always seemed to out-run my disappointments. When I compare him, as he is now, with what he was when I first knew him I bless God for all the precious lessons He has taught him at my cost. There, is a tenacity and persistence about his love for me that has made these years almost as wearisome to him as they have been to me. As to myself, if I had been told what I was to learn through these protracted sufferings I am afraid I should have shrunk back in terror and so have lost all the sweet lessons God proposed to teach me. As it is He has led me on, step by step, answering my prayers in His own way; and I cannot bear to have a single human being doubt that it has been a perfect way. I love and adore it just as it is.

Perhaps the suspense has been one of the most trying features of my case. Just as I have unclasped my hand from my dear Ernest’s; just as I have let go my almost frantic hold of my darling children; just as heaven opened before me and I fancied my weariness over and my wanderings done; just then almost every alarming symptom would disappear and life recall me from the threshold of heaven itself. Thus I have been emptied from vessel to vessel, til I have learned that he only is truly happy who has no longer a choice of his own, and lies passive in God’s hand.

Even now no one can foretell the issue of this sickness. We live a day at a time not knowing what shall be on the morrow. But whether I live or die my happiness is secure and so I believe is of my beloved ones. This is a true picture of our home:

A sick-room full of the suffering ravages the body but cannot touch the soul. A worn, wasting mother ministered unto by a devoted husband and by unselfish Christian children. Some of the peace of God if not all of it, shines in every face, is heard in every tone. It is a home that typifies and foreshadows the home that is perfect and eternal.

Our dear Helen has been given us for this emergency. Is it not strange that seeing our domestic life should have awakened in her some yearnings for a home and a heart and children of her own. She has said that there was a weary point in her life when she made up her mind that she was never to know these joys. But she accepted her lot gracefully. I do not know any other word that describes so well the beautiful offering she made of her life to God and then to us. He accepted it, and as given her all the cares and responsibilities of domestic life without the transcendent joys that sustain the wife and the mother. She has been all in all to our children and God has been all in all to her. And she is happy in His service and in our love.

JUNE 20-It took me nearly two weeks to write the above at intervals as my strength allowed. Ernest has consented to my finishing this volume, of which so few pages yet remain. And he let me see a dear old friend who came all the way from my native town to see me-Dr. Eaton, our family physician as long as I could remember. He is of an advanced age but full of vigor, his eye bright, and with a healthful glow on his cheek. But he says he is waiting and longing for his summons home. About that home we had a delightful talk together that did my very heart good. Then he made me tell him about this long sickness and the years of frail health and some of the sorrows through which I had toiled.

"Ah, these lovely children are explained now," he said.

"Do you really think," I asked, "that it has been good for my children to have a feeble, afflicted mother?"

"Yes, I really think so. A disciplined mother—disciplined children."

This comforting thought is one of the last drops in a cup of felicity already full.

JUNE 2-Another Sunday, and all at church except my darling Una who keeps watch over her mother. These Sundays when I have had them each alone in turn have been blessed days to them and to me. Surely this is some compensation for what they lose in me of health and vigor. I know the state of each soul as far as it can be known, and have every reason to believe that my children all love my Saviour and are trying to live for Him. I have learned at last not to despise the day of small things, to cherish the tenderest blossom, and to expect my dear ones to be imperfect before they become perfect Christians.

Una is a sweet composed young girl now eighteen years old and what can I say more of the love her brothers bear her than this: they never tease her. She has long ceased asking why she must have delicate health when so many others of her age are full of animal life and vigor but stands in her lot and place doing what she can, suffering what she must, with a meekness that makes her lovely in my eyes, and that I am sure unites her closely to Christ.

JUNE 27 .-It was Raymond’s turn to stay with me today. He opened his heart to me more freely than he had ever done before.

"Mamma," he began, "if papa is willing, I have made up my mind-that is to say if I get decently good-to go on a mission."

I said playfully:

"And mamma’s consent is not to be asked ?"

"No," he said, "getting hold of what there is left of my hand. "I know you wouldn’t say a word. Don’t you remember telling me once when I was a little boy that I might go and welcome?"

"And don’t you remember," I returned, "that you cried for joy, and then relieved your mind still farther by walking on your hands with your feet in the air?"

We both laughed heartily at this remembrance, and then I said:

"My dear boy, you know your fathers plan for you?"

"Yes, I know he expects me to study with him, and take his place in the world."

"And it is a very important place."

His countenance fell as he fancied I was not entering heartily into his wishes.

"Dear Raymond," I went on, "I gave you to God long before you gave yourself to Him. If He can make you useful in your own, or in other lands, I bless His name. Whether I live to see you a man, or not, I hope you will work in the Lord’s vineyard, wherever He calls. I never asked anything but usefulness, in all my prayers for you; never once. His eyes filled with tears; he kissed me and walked away to the window to compose himself. My poor, dear, lovable, loving boy! He has all his mother’s trials and struggles to contend with ;but what matter it if they bring him the same peace?

JUNE 30.—Everybody wonders to see me once more interested in my long-closed Journal, and becoming able to see the dear friends from whom I have been, in a measure cut off. We cannot ask the meaning of this remarkable increase of strength.

I have no wish to choose. But I have come to the last page of my Journal, and living or dying, shall write in this volume no more. It closes upon a life of much childishness and great sinfulness, whose record makes me blush with shame but I no longer need to relieve my heart with seeking sympathy in its unconscious pages nor do I believe it well to go on analyzing it as I have done. I have had large experience of both joy and sorrow; I have the nakedness and the emptiness and I have seen the beauty and sweetness of life. What I say now, let me say to Jesus What time and strength I used to spend in writing here, let me spend in praying for all men, for all sufferers who are out of the way, for all whom I love. And their name is Legion for I love everybody.

Yes I love everybody! That crowning joy has come to me at last. Christ is in my soul; He is mine; I am as conscious of it as that my husband and children are mine; and His Spirit flows from mine in the calm peace of a river whose banks are green with grass and glad with flowers. If I die it will be to leave a wearied and worn body, and a sinful soul to go joyfully to be with Christ, to weary and to sin no more. If I live, I shall find much blessed work to do for Him. So living or dying I shall be the Lord’s.

But I wish, oh how earnestly, that whether I go or stay, I could inspire some lives with the joy that is now mine. For many years I have been rich in faith; rich in an unfaltering confidence that I was beloved of my God and Saviour. But something was wanting I was ever groping for a mysterious grace the want of which made me often sorrowful in the very midst of my most sacred joy, imperfect when I most longed for perfection. It was that personal love to Christ of which my precious mother so often spoke to me which she often urged me to seek upon my knees. If I had known then, as I know now what this priceless treasure could be to a sinful human soul, I would have sold all that I had to buy the field wherein it lay hidden. But not till I was shut up to prayer and to the study of Gods word by the loss of earthly joys, sickness destroying the flavor of them all, did I begin to penetrate the mystery that is learned under the cross. And wondrous as it is, how simple is this mystery! To love Christ and to know that I love Him-this is all!

And when I entered upon the sacred yet oft-times homely duties of married life, if this love had been mine, how would that life have been transfigured! The petty faults of my husband under which I chafed would not have moved me; I should have welcomed Martha and her father to my home and made them happy there; I should have had no conflicts with my servants, shown no petulance to my children. For it would not have been I who spoke and acted but Christ who lived in me.

Alas! I have had less than seven years in which to atone for a sinful, wasted past and to live a new and a Christ-like life. If I am to have yet more, thanks be to Him who has given me the victory, that Life will be Love. Not the love that rests in the contemplation and adoration of its object; but the love that gladdens, sweetens, solaces other lives.

O gifts of gifts!
O grace of faith
My God! how can it be
That Thou who hast discerning love,
Shouldst give that gift to me?

How many hearts thou mightst have had
More innocent than mine!
How many souls more worthy far
Of that sweet touch of Thine?

Oh grace! into unlikeliest hearts
It is thy boast to come
The glory of Thy light to find
In darkest spots a home.

Oh happy. happy that I am!
If thou canst be, O faith
The treasure that thou art in life
What wilt thou be in death?

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STEPPING WESTWARD.

WHILE my fellow-traveler and I were walking by the side of Loch Katrine one fine evening after sunset in our road to a hut where in the course of our tour we had been hospitably entertained some weeks before, we met, in one of the loneliest parts of that solitary region two well-dressed women, one of whom said to us by way of greeting, "What, you are stepping westward?"

"What, you are stepping westward?" "Yea." —’Twould be a wildish destiny If we who thus together roam In a strange land and far from home Were in this place the guests of chance: Yet who would stop, or fear to advance, Though home or shelter he had none, With such a sky to lead him on? The dewy ground was dark and cold; Behind, all gloomy to behold: And stepping westward seemed to be A kind of heavenly destiny: I liked the greeting; ’twas a sound Of something without place and bound, And seemed to give me spiritual right To travel through that region bright. The voice was soft and she who spake Was walking by her native lake: The salutation had to me The very sound of courtesy: Its power was felt; and while my eye Was fixed upon the glowing sky, The echo of the voice enwrought A human sweetness with the thought Of traveling through the world that lay Before me in my endless way. —WORDSWORTH.

The End

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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 January 24, 2021, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=XBCP6E3AKE832GY.

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. 24 Jan. 2021. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=XBCP6E3AKE832GY.

Harvard: Prentiss, E, Stepping Heavenward, ed. . cited in 1908, 1917, Stepping Heavenward, D. Appleton and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 January 2021, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=XBCP6E3AKE832GY.