Part 1: "Lord in the Morning...."
Part 2: "Work, for the night is coming."
Part 3: "Some poor faint, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save."
Part 4: "I walked in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses."
Part 5: "And the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright."
Part 6: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee."
Part 1: "Lord in the Morning ."
. . . 1
In a late summer of the mid-1890s two little children walked up a dusty mountain road. Not a leaf stirred. The slanting sun was yellow where it broke through the thick overhang of branches to speckle the wagon trail, but was fiercely white on the slabs of limestone that, convoluted and exposed at the tops of the rises, forced the trees back to better footing away from the road. The children walked quietly, without speaking, their bare feet soundless in the locust-buzzing, bird-calling, squirrel-chattering forest.
Anyone who might have been watching the children would have known they were not mountain-bred. These children, one nine years old, the other six, walked with their backs straight, their two dark, shapely heads carried lightly, with grace. Someone, hours ago, had braided the hair on each narrow skull with such skill and care that even in the late afternoon the neat plaits still pulled the delicate skin over the temples up and back, giving each set of eyes a slanty, exotic charm.
There was, however, no one to watch the children no one at all. The scattered farms that struggled to keep little cleared patches unreclaimed by the central Pennsylvania forests were miles from each other and miles from the road. The children were alone and on their way home. Home was a tent near the top of the mountain. Each child carried a full pail of wild berries. It would have been obvious that in spite of their dusty feet, their bramble-scratched arms, their weariness, their silence, they walked with an air of pensiveness and responsibility that is always the mark of prematurely civilized children. But there was no one to watch them or to judge their quality.
They were entirely alone as they rounded a curve over a ridge and came face to face with a panther lying on the white, hot rocks slanting across the road. A panther is a mountain lion, a puma, a great wild, tawny lion-without-a-mane, with the shoulder-muscle development of a leopard, with the lean flanks and pulled-up belly of a jaguar. This panthers back was to the sun, and the shadow of his great, blunt head was purple on the bleached rocks. The children stood frozen in horror, their sun-struck eyes blank with surprise. The panthers great yellow eyes opened wider in interest and mild alarm. The locusts, in the strange phenomenon that happens now and then for an instant, stopped all their noise at once. No leaf stirred.
Just for a moment, well leave the three of them there, frozen in time. You must believe that the children will save themselves somehow because one of them, the elder, grew up to be my mother.
She grew up to be many other things and many other childrens mother, too. This child facing the panther also grew up to be panther-prone, that is to say, she was so vigorous and so full of life force that she did not fear death, and so single-minded in pursuing each goal as it appeared that she did not give consideration even to danger until it stared her in the face with the bright eyes of a Nemesis.
I wonder how other people feel about their mothers. Once in a while, when the situation is such as to make the question not exactly impertinent, I ask, but I always get a silly answer. Dear Old Mom always turns out to be a hard worker and a good mother, considering everything; she is always loved in a comfortable fashion that is perilously close to indifference. This is not the attitude that makes strong men dying on the battlefield or in their peaceful beds cry out, "Mother! Mother!" Not the name of the beloved wife or the name of a child, but "Mother! Save Me!" Surely the bond between child and mother is vastly less casual than Good Old Mom for people other than me. And why does the bond run only from child to mother and not run also the other way? Even my mother, old, old as she was, and sick, and not always in the real world, at the end of her life, cried out in her sleep, she called to her mother. Not to her truly loved second husband, not to her children, but to her mother, who, ninety years before on that Pennsylvania mountain, loved her without tenderness and rejected her without compassion. Why is the bond from child to mother a one-way street?
But we have left the children frozen in terror under the August sun, staring into the eyes of a panther. What will they do? Everyone knows instinctively that to stare into the eyes of an animal, human or otherwise, is to establish an immediate, meaningful relationship that can be disastrous. Those who love expose their eyes; those who are artists at deceit practice the direct, open, candid gaze. For everyone else, there is an atavistic avoidance of the fixed stare. We know better, without having to learn. The first thing the older child did was to say to her little sister, "Dont look at him." The little ones eyeballs swiveled away toward the trees, although her neck was too rigid with fright to turn with them. The older child, looking only at the shadow of the panthers head, slowly shifted her bucket of berries into her left hand, her right hand groping and finding her little sisters hand. There was no way to retreat. Such a beast could outrun a deer. There was no help anywhere on the road behind. "God will save us," she said. "Sing!" Form somewhere she had remembered an old saying that a wild animal will never attack a singing human. Or did she remember? My mother was forever making up old sayings as though she had a private pipeline into the prehistoric human past. "Sing," she said, and started singing herself, her voice thin and tight.
"There is sunshine in my soul today," she sang, her sister joining her in a voice little more than a whisper. Together, hand in hand, the older one in the lead, they walked straight toward the panther.
"Oh, there is sunshine, blessed sunshine
When the peaceful happy moments roll,"
they sang as the passed the wild beast, who had risen to his feet. His warm breath on the older childs shoulder caused her to give him one glance that took in only the bright bits of straw caught in his lion-brown fur.
"When Jesus shows his shining face
There is sunshine in my soul."
And they were past. On they marched, singing the second verse.
I am exasperated with myself to feel prickles of laughter inside at the fact that they sang the second verse of a hymn. If this were fiction, I would never have thought of a second verse, but when you heard how these children came to be on a far mountain with their beautiful, stern-faced, gray-eyed mother, it will not seem incongruous that they knew the second verse and, indeed, all the verses to all the evangelical hymns. Meanwhile, they are in mortal danger. I think I laugh inside because a sense of humor is the first defense of the true coward and, in the face of raw courage, what can cowards do but prickle with wondering amusement while taking thought to avoid the places where panthers might lie in wait?
So the children marched ahead, now singing strongly, the panther somewhere behind them. The road up to the next turning must have seemed endless. They dared not look back. The very act of turning to look at danger paralyzes the will. They marched around the turn and, as soon as they could assume they were out of sight of those blazing yellow eyes, they ran. They ran so fast that he prints of their little toes made long blurs in the dusty road and the berries from the pails in their frantic hands scattered in all directions. Over the next ridge they came upon a wagon loaded with firewood, the farmer standing up behind his horse, his eyes popping from their sockets.
"God almighty, kids! I seen a great big painter jump to the woods. He musta been followin you. Lucky I come," he said. My mother remembered his name for ninety years; salvation, thy name is John Hurd! John Hurd turned his nervous horse, who had also seen the "painter," and took the children to the tent where their mother waited without fear, knowing that Jesus saves. John Hurd went off to gather the mountain farmers together to hunt down the first panther to be seen in the central Pennsylvania woods for thirty years. The beast was tracked and killed the next night. He measured eight feet three inches from nose to tail. May John Hurd be driving an untroubled horse over the golden streets of Heaven!
. . . 2
What where they doing there, the children? And why were they with their mother in a tent? We have to know these things. I will tell them quickly because the era of America behind my mother is history and, no matter how fascinating that slice of history may be, it is a time unlit for me by the handed-down accounts that illuminate my mothers lifetime.
The childrens mother, Harriet, was the only child of an English couple who had emigrated to the United States. Her father was a younger son of minor English nobility, but since the oldest sons of major noble families felt no call to emigrate to the New World, this minor son held a position in Philadelphia society that many Main Line families today would envy. He was a well-to-do Victorian and a snob. Two younger sisters came from England to visit him. Both married Americans, one to remain in Philadelphia, the other to "go west" with her husband to establish a woolen mill in a small town near Williamsport, Pennsylvania. To that town, which they naturally named after themselves, their niece Harriet often came to spend the summer. The town still exists today and, as far as I know, their descendents still manufacture fine English-style woolens.
Back in Philadelphia, sixteen-year-old, beautiful Harriet fell in love and eloped with a young blacksmith. What could a good Victorian father do in those days but cross the name of his only child out of the family Bible, execute a new will leaving his estate to his two sisters, and with his broken-hearted wife live a life of emotional deprivation? This he did, and both of Harriets parents died before they were fifty years old. "How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment."
When my mother could be prodded into recounting to strangers we had brought home some of the adventures of her childhood, she often spoke of her father as a "mechanical engineer." This was largely a lie; Harriets husband was a blacksmith, a happy blacksmith who, at fourteen, had lied his way into the Union Army to serve for the last year of the Civil War as a drummer boy. When Mark Case married Harriet, he was twenty-one; he was a beautiful blacksmith, six feet four, with crisp, curling black hair and bright blue eyes. He loved to laugh, to sing, and to work with his hands. What more could a willful, highly tutored Philadelphia debutante want?
They fled Philadelphia to go west to the real West where the cowboys were, and the Pony Express, and Indians, and gold. This was the era in our country when manual labor was vastly more valuable than all of little Harriets Latin and Greek and History of Art, so their flight was more of a stagger away from the East Coast. Their problem was not how to go on west but how to extricate themselves from the clinging hands that intended to hold fast to a young man who could forge horseshoes, mend wagons, weld pipes, and devise ingenious ways to repair broken parts of newfangled machinery. Its a wonder they even got as far as they did, which was Michigan.
In the little town of Ithaca, Michigan, they settled, in part because Harriet was pregnant and in part because the towns blacksmith had just gone away with the gold rush. It must have been a vigorous little place. Two-thirds of the population were under thirty years old, and the industrial revolution that was convulsing western Europe and the American east coast was already making itself felt in miniature, usable, happy ways in Ithaca. Everyone who was not yet anyone was importing machinery that had no spare parts and that was only dimly understood. What scope for a young man who had a feel for mechanical things! Maybe he was a "mechanical engineer." Lies told by a real raconteur are often more than half-truths.
Harriet bore eight children in fifteen years, and a final child, the ninth, three years later. Of all these children, only two remained with her, Nina and Dorothy, the two who sang their way past the panther.
John, the oldest child, left home at age sixteen to go on west. The great winds of the age were blowing children away from their parents, always westward. John lived to an old, old age but never once wrote to his parents. He was as lost to them as though he had died.
Jessie, the second child, married at sixteen with her parents consent. Jessie evidently was not much liked by her parents. They allowed her to marry a young farmer and then dropped her the way one drops an acquaintance whom one finds uninteresting. Maybe when one has eight children one does not feel compelled to like them all. I met Aunt Jessie many years later. We arrived late at night because we had trouble finding the lonely place the two old people were farming. They were waiting for us, long past their bedtime, and the grotesque shadows on the walls made by the flaring oil lamps were frightening to a city child. I wonder why her parents dropped her so casually. She had a quality that should have been worth care, an inner warmth that was shyer and more tender than my mothers intensity, but recognizable. She was having trouble with dentures and kept her store teeth in her mouth only long enough to kiss us all and make a good first impression on the sister she had never really known. But she had pinned a brave little red bow in her snow-white hair, and her faded blue eyes looked upon us all with such a shy, diffident, timid glow that I stopped being afraid of the shadows. Her husband must have loved her still to stay up so late for strangers. "When the father and mother forsake thee, then the Lord will take thee up."
The next four children died all at once in a diphtheria epidemic. We are now so accustomed to immunization that the very idea of four children dying all at once in one beautiful spring season, when the apple blossoms are bursting the trees and the little lambs are leaping stiff-legged in the meadow, is offensive. But in the old days it was not inconceivable, it was not unexpected. Maybe thats why no matter how many children one had in those days, one didnt "relate" too closely, one didnt care too much, one didnt overmanage any one childs life. One planned ahead to love and lose and keep on living. One after the other, some within hours of others, Joe, Claudia, Clyde, and Ivus died. During this time of crisis, Nina, six years old, was put in charge of her three-year-old sister. She played with Dorothy outside in the fresh spring air. She was bewildered that the vigorous, exciting world of a large family of children could disappear so suddenly, and she was without any real comprehension that death was busily folding up that world and filing it neatly away underground.
Harriet, the mother, held up well under disaster. Perhaps, though, this was the beginning of the change in her personality and goals that culminated in a lonely tent on a far mountain, but no one could be sure. We can be sure that no one changes overnight. The boulder that tips from its bed has already been undermined by many freezes, many thaws, and the final push by wind, water, or gentle tremor only seems to be the force that made it move and crash and change in some measure the face of the earth. By a similar erosion in the human sphere, the disintegration of personality can progress in small rents and rifts until suddenly the psychic fabric tears apart and only by looking back do we think we know where the first signs of the disaster began. Maybe, for Harriet, it began here. Or perhaps it began a year before when she heard of the death of her parents. I cant believe that she minded terribly that they were dead. The rash people of the world have a happy knack of substituting one relationship for another when what they do cuts them off from those who love them and oppose them. But it might have been a blow to her that they didnt leave her the money; the reckless ones of the world often have, oddly enough, more cupidity in their hearts than the prudent. Those whom they discard are expected to cherish and remember and forgive without rancor, and often they do, but Harriet' parents took their hard hearts with them into their stony Victorian graves. "Can a woman forget her sucking child?" asks Isaiah. "Yea, they may forget," he answers himself. It must have been a shock.
Whenever the change in Harriets personality began, it was not yet visible to those closest to her. She was strong and comforting and willing to be comforted. She was also pregnant with her final child, and to be pregnant is to be shielded against absolute despair.
The baby was born three months later and he died three months of cholera infantum. And now the change came. Harriet was fragmented by grief, resentment, bewilderment. She refused to be comforted and, in fact, refused to be there at all. She sat idle and unresponsive, looking out the window over the flat Michigan fields; she would talk to no one. She didnt care who was hungry or cold or sad. Neither her husband nor the children could reach her. Like Lots wife, she was a pillar of salt, tearless.
One beautiful November day, sixty-five years later, I heard the story from my mother under rather odd circumstances. After my sisters and I had grown up and married, we came home when we could, partly to see Mother and partly to eat. Dr. Nina was a great natural gourmet cook. She had trained her hired help in the basics of cooking, but she would rush in at the last minute from her medical rounds to add the final wine, spices, seasoning, butter, cream, or lavish handfuls of dewy mountain huckleberries picked that morning by a grateful patient. The hot breads, sturdy meats, delicate vegetables, and tender greens were worth coming hundreds of miles to eat.
But in order to have any time to talk to Mother, whoever was visiting had to go with her on her calls. Her medical practice was widespread and she cared about her patients. After one middle-of-the-night baby delivery, we were riding home together about eight oclock in the morning. The Indian summer sky was already a bright, warm blue and the Pocono Mountains were shouting with color. We pulled to the side of the road to look over a blazing valley and Mother said, almost to herself, "It was a morning just like this when my mothers baby died."
I was startled. "Your mothers baby?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, still more to herself than to me. "She wouldnt believe we cared. I loved the baby, too, but she wouldnt believe me," and tears showered down her face.
I was horrified. Id never seen my mother cry before. She cried all at once, like a child, so fresh was the grief and pain in the six-year-old hiding still under sixty-five more years of living.
I never saw her cry again. On that first Indian summer day long ago in Michigan, she knew, the way children sense what is real, that when her mothers baby died, the loss for them all was irretrievable.
. . . 3
Several weeks after Harriets baby died, Nina sat lonely and chilled on the chip pile. In the olden days of no central heating, every house had a chip pile in the yard. It was made by the chips that flew from the logs when they were split for firewood. The chips were used for kindling, but there were increasing more chips than uses for them, so the pile grew during the winter. Chip piles were good to sit on, being fragrant and buoyant. Nina must have looked forlorn because a strange voice asked, "Whats the matter, little girl? Why are you so sad?"
Nina turned to look up into the plain, kind face of a strange woman.
"Im Mrs. Squires," the lady said. "Im a new neighbor. Whats the matter?"
"My mothers baby died and she wont talk to me."
"Well, maybe shell talk to me," the lady said. "Maybe I can help. Lets try." And she walked to the back door, knocked, turned the knob, and walked in.
Inside, she stood looking for a moment at the woman by the window. "Your baby isnt dead, Mrs. Case, he is only sleeping," she said. Harriet turned, startled and shocked.
"Please, please dont misunderstand me," Mrs. Squires said. "I only want to tell you the Truth. I think you have always believed that when anyone dies, the soul immediately enters Heaven or Hell while the body lies buried in the grave. This is not true. Your darling little one sleeps peacefully in the grave until Jesus comes; then he bids him come forth, and sends His angels to bear him safely to your arms, and you will look down into the face of your beautiful baby. He will grow up with you in Heaven. Heaven is a real place and we will be real people looking exactly as we do now. We will build houses and inhabit them; we will plant vineyards and eat the fruit thereof; we shall walk and not be weary; we shall run and not be faint; and there shall be naught that can hurt or destroy; neither shall there be any more pain. Let me sit down and I will prove it to you." She drew a Bible from under her apron, and for two hours she read and explained from the Bible "the state of the dead."
Whatever events contributed to the alteration of Harriets personality and whenever the change actually began, Mrs. Squires was to serve as the catalyst that brought about a new focus for Harriets actions. Because of Mrs. Squires, the explosion occurred which was to tear the family apart and send Harriet and her two children to a tent on a high mountain for three years of summer heat and bitter winter snow. It would be comforting to blame Mrs. Squires or the particular religious sect for whom she was an apostle, but Mrs. Squires was a kind woman whose way was paved with good intentions and we cannot blame the Seventh-day Adventist Church any more than we can blame any church for the excessive zeal of its converts.
And Harriet herself was, by temperament, excessive. Ill be glad to get rid of Harriet, because she threatens by her excess of zeal in whatever she does to take over my story. The life of a fanatic doesnt make a good story. Great fanatics take their place in history; little ones like Harriet walk the midnight halls, wringing their hands and crying to be justified. If Harriet wants her story told, shell have to find someone else to tell it. But we cant get rid of Harriet until after she discards my mother the way one plucks off burrs from ones sleeve after a hike in the woods.
Maybe we should blame Mark, the handsome, happy blacksmith. We all know in our secret hearts that what we want most for ourselves is physical beauty, which almost none of us have. But true physical beauty often is accompanied by an insensitivity of spirit that blandly assumes as exemption from the onerous obligation of endearing oneself to others by tolerance and loving-kindness and diffidence. Mark was a blithe spirit, and tragedy left him still able to laugh and sing and work with his hands. Harriets months of dumb misery may have been the careful gathering-up of a wild resentment designed to make her husband suffer the death of spirit she herself had known. Mark remained intact under stress; he turned his exuberant joy in living away from grief and toward his remaining children. Harriet had never been physically demonstrative with any of the children; it was Mark who held and rocked and sang to them. In an almost pathetic effort to give to a few the love that had been spread among many, he drew Nina closer to him that any of the lost children had ever been. The more unreachable Harriet became, the more he tried to compensate to Nina and Dorothy for their shared rejection.
Certainly Harriet knew that Mark was fanatical in his distaste for the evangelical sects that were popping up out of the ground like crocuses. Of all the evangelical sects, Mark hated the "Advents" most. They not only took religion out of the churchhouse (where it belonged) and preached strange disciplines up and down the streets (where pleasant patterns were already in working order), but also expected momentarily the second coming of Christ and the end of the world, and therefore took a feckless attitude toward the value of personal possessions and a harsh view of the innocent pleasures of this world. Harriet, who knew of Marks rejection of the Advents, successfully deceived him for months and months as he rejoiced in her reentrance into the everyday world. When all was discovered, more than a year later, Harriet was a confirmed Advent herself and was determined that Mark should follow wherever she might lead, or be left behind totally alone.
He found out what was going on behind his back by accident. He must have vaguely noticed that some new element had taken over his household. Often when he came home, Mrs. Squires, with her kind, apologetic, propitiating smile, would be fading out of the back door. Harriet started using strange terminology, such as "in these last days," "sign of the times," and "the sure word of prophecy," none of which sounded terribly Episcopalian. He must have noticed, because about midway between the time of innocent hope and final disaster, he asked, "Arent you getting a little too deep into this religious stuff? You cant become a nun, you know, because you have us!" And he laughed.
Couldnt she, just? That laugh was to be wiped from his handsome face before he was many months older. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth."
A new character had entered the little family circle, by way of the back door. The Elder Adam T. Bates began to slip in and out with Mrs. Squires. He was an ordained minister, the man from the home office who gets the signature on the binding contract. He studied with Harriet Coming Events, and Separation from the World, and Divine Healing. He could find, with a flip of Bible pages, the solution to any human problem. And it was the visits of Elder Bates that were to start a chain of gossip that Mark was the last to hear.
Mark had been improvising some machinery repair at the local mill and had finished early in the afternoon. He decided to go home. On the way home he met a neighbor, Jack Fink, whom he invited over with his wife that night for a sing. "We havent seen you folks for months," Mark said.
"No," said Jack Fink, "and you wont see us, Im afraid. My wife wont go to a house that Advent preacher has taken over with his flock." Poor kind Mrs. Squires had grown into a flock. She would have been astonished.
Mark was furious. He strode home and into the house before Elder Bates and Mrs. Squires could fade out of the back door. My mother was to remember only once, many years later, the words he used then. They were new words to her, and Mark, in a black rage, used them coldly and cruelly as he backed Elder Bates step by step out of the house, past the chip pile, and through the garden gate.
. . . 4
The Seventh-day Adventist Church of this story was an offshoot of the Great Advent Movement of nineteenth-century America. The movement held its first Camp Meeting in 1842 and set April 1844 for the second coming of Christ. This date had been carefully calculated from Biblical prophecy. After much preparation and sacrifice and selling of property by the faithful, the world didnt end in April after all and a new date, recalculated to expel arithmetical error, was announced. October 22, 1844, was to be the day the world ended. During the entire year so much excitement and attraction were engendered that the established churches were forced to turn their attention to what they labeled "wild fanaticism" and to expel those of their members who expected the world to end in 1844. One of the more regular American Protestant churches announced that it felt "constrained to regard the Great Advent Movement as among the erroneous and strange doctrines which we are pledged to banish and drive away." In spite of this, converts flocked to the movement. During 1844 twenty-five Camp Meetings were held throughout the country, involving more than half a million people. I dont know what the population of the United States was in 1844, but half a million people preparing to leave this world can be an unsettling factor in the economy of any era.
The world didnt end in October, either, and after this second disappointment the Great Advent Movement fell apart. Remnants formed into other groups around other leaders. Most of the converts went home. One group formed itself into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which preached the second coming of Christ as imminent but not tied to any specific date. The belief of the Seventh-day Adventists was that the world was in "the last days" foreseen by the prophets, and although the last days could endure for many, many years, they could be at their close. Today could be the last day, today!
The Seventh-day Adventists Church in that era was Judaistic in ritual the Old Testament Jewish religion with Christ grafted on. Saturday was the seventh day, the Sabbath; pork was unclean; certain foods could not be eaten in the same meal with other foods; no work, including cooking should be done on the Sabbath. And most of all, the cry of the Jewish prophets was heard in the land: Repent! Repent!
The Seventh-day Adventist Church also embraced a totally new set of doctrines promulgated by a new leader, Ellen White. Mrs. White and her followers believed her writings to be divinely inspired. All of the fundamentalist sects of that day, in fact, believed with Swedenborg that thought was not created, but was received from a source extraneous to the mundane sphere. Mrs. White gave a new and important element to the Judaic tenets of this church: an immediate, direct, and practical concern for the health of the human body. The dietary laws of the Jews were not, for Mrs. White, good enough, because they didnt go far enough. To her, the body was a medium through which the mind and soul are developed and made acceptable to God. Ill health and unbridled appetites corrupt. What one eats determines ones health, and only through perfect health can one control ones baser passions. Butter, cheese, meat, condiments, spices, coffee, tea, salt, alcohol all these and more fevered the blood and weakened moral and intellectual powers. Moreover, guilt from sin diseased the mind, and a sick mind produced a sick body. In the light of present-day concern with cholesterol and psychosomatic illness, there is little in these tenets that is, in itself, strange.
What seems strange and interesting is that while, in the same era, Mary Baker Eddy was founding her Christian Science church, based on the doctrine that all illness was a result of erroneous human conception of Gods perfect plan, that all medicine was useless and sinful as a substitute for correct thinking, another woman, our Ellen White, accepted disease as an outcome of a faulty understanding of the God-given human body, which functioned well only when imbibing the food God meant to be eaten grain, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and cold, pure water. She was more than respectful of medicine and the training of competent medical doctors who could treat the sick by aiding nature in its work through diet, exercise, rest, and cleanliness. Since healing was, to her, linked with the forgiveness of sins, doctors were needed who could heal both mind and body together. Herbal medicine products, medical training, courage, hope, faith, and love all together could promote health and prolong life. In the same era, another interesting woman, Amelia Bloomer, the great feminist, evolved a female costume that she believed was in accordance with the ideas of Mrs. White. But Mrs. White found bloomers immodest and adopted a dress length that just cleared the street. A lot of women were very busy in those days.
Mrs. Whites church, with its combination of bland vegetarian diet, Old Testament observances and rituals, and the imminent second coming of Christ, was an impossible bill of goods to sell to Mark Case. Marks instinctive acceptance of mans place in the animal kingdom was no part of Ellen Whites theology, nor was her insistence on the suppression and, indeed, eventual elimination of "animal propensities" any part of his.
In 1845 the Seventh-day Adventist Church began holding modest tent meetings, single tents set up in small towns or in open country. The preacher visited around during the day. He helped with the farmwork, leading the conversation around to Bible themes. He asked pay for his farmwork. The money he earned went to support tent living.
In 1868 the Seventh-day Adventist Church held its first full-scale Camp Meeting, organized on the pattern of the Great Advent Movements Camp Meetings, which collapsed in 1844. The first new Camp Meeting had an encampment of twenty-two family tents and two large tens for services. This kind of Camp Meeting continued every summer until, suddenly, one of them involved our unhappy little family. In addition to the revived Camp Meeting technique, a new device was developed, the establishment of Bible workers. These were lay members of the congregation who visited homes and personally conducted Bible studies, answering questions and probing into personal problems that could never be considered at general meetings. So here we are with the threads in our hands that, put together, constitute the exact situation in which Harriet was zealously enmeshed.
The last year the family spent together must have been terrible. The frightening, improbable, and difficult events that followed could not have been, all together, so depressing and bewildering as the final year. After Elder Adam T. Bates had been backed out of the garden gate, Harriet began to have dreadful attacks of asthma. This was frightening for Mark and the children. Even worse, whenever Mark came into the house, Harriet would sit down, open the Bible, and read aloud. How exasperating for Mark! Every conversation between the parents turned into a dogmatic argument. Mark wanted eight-year-old Nina to go to school. Nina desperately wanted to go to school. Since her mothers baby died, Nina had had almost complete charge of her younger sister, and although she had long since learned to read and write, and read widely in her mothers extensive library, she dreamed of going to school the way a prisoner waits for the day that ends his sentence. Nina longed to be part of the life of the children she could watch from her fenced garden games and laughter and tears she remembered from the time before her older brothers and sisters disappeared.
"No," Harriet said. "Nina will not go to school. She will stay home and continue her studies with me. She must not learn all the worldly things they teach in school. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. The children at school are children of the world and my children must not be influenced. Besides, she is already far ahead of children her own age, and I need her at home to help me with Dorothy." The door closed and locked in the little prisoners face.
Poor prisoner. What is so pathetic to me is that after the next three bitter years on the mountain, the child who never chose the path of righteousness was to be given to the church the way one casually puts a coin in the collection plate, while the mother, leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church, fled back to her Philadelphia beginnings and dwindled away to an uneventful old age; never to do a strange or brave act again, so far as I know.
The most acrimonious argument revolved around Harriets insistence that they sell the blacksmith shop, their house, and most of their possessions and go to the mountains of central Pennsylvania that she had known and loved as a child. Mark was astonished. "But Harriet! All our life is here our home, our friends, our graves. Its foolishness. I cant agree to folly."
"I want to be there when Jesus comes," Harriet declared. "You could find work anywhere and we wont need much. All these earthly things will be burned up anyway, when Jesus comes. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."
Mark raged. "If it werent for those interfering, sneaking, hell-born Advents, you wouldnt be such a fool!"
Harriet opened her Bible and read aloud.
The final battle between Harriet and Mark raged over Harriets intention to go to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, in July, for a Seventh-day Adventist Camp Meeting. This was, she said, the least he could agree to let her do. Marks patience and temper, stretched too thin, snapped.
"All right," he said, "Go. But if you do, you can never come back. Im through. That goddamn church can take care of you all."
"The Lord will provide," said Harriet. "We can no longer stay here where Gods name is taken in vain." One up for Harriet!
Nina was given the choice of going with her mother and sister or staying with her father. How strange it is that when adults are enthusiastically biting on the bitter fruit of discord, it is the teeth of the children that are set on edge.
"Ill have to go with Mother," she said. "What would she do when she gets asthma without me?" The Lord provides in very mysterious ways, and the fires of Harriets zeal were to be stoked and tended and enabled to burn because of the decision of a small girl to provide for her mother.
Mark said, "She wouldnt have asthma if she hadnt taken up with that goddamn religion." One up for Mark!
Harriet and the children left the next week, Harriet driving the horse and wagon on the long trip from Michigan to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. All they took with them in the wagon were clothes, home-canned fruits and vegetables, a cooking pot, three light blankets, and books. Hundreds and hundreds of books. Mark had been so proud of Harriets erudition that, in the happier days, he had sent for books, gone to cities for books, bought books from westering families, rebound shabby books in soft home-tanned cowhide and deerskin. He had built cherry-wood bookshelves from floor to ceiling in every room of their little home. Harriet took the books, leaving Mark the empty shelves and an empty life. I cant believe his life was empty for long, although what he did with it is unknown. My mother never saw or heard from him again until she found his grave, years after he died, in a cemetery in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, covered brilliantly by a profusion of wild mountain pinks and being shot over by the rifles of the National Guard honoring the Civil War dead on Decoration Day. By what inexplicable coincidence had he found a final resting-place in a town where she was later to live, she was never to discover. She is sure he must have tried, years before, to find her, when his rage and grief had ebbed. But it couldnt have been that hard to find a living child, even in the 1890s, if one really looked. Can a father forget his hapless child? Yea, he may forget.
. . . 5
The Seventh-day Adventist Camp Meeting in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, must have been something to see. From all the states east of the prairies and west of the crest of the Appalachians the eager faithful came, some by train, some in wagons; whole families with furniture, dishes, bedding all for a ten-day encampment of religious worship and renewal of faith. Lock Haven had been selected because there was a great field close enough to the residential section of town to attract converts, and because the beautiful Susquehanna River with its slow-moving current and quiet pools made possible the ritual baptism by total immersion.
The big general assembly tent was pitched in the middle of the field. Nearby was the youths assembly tent; on the other side was the childrens assembly tent. There was a dining tent where most of the campers ate one healthful meal a day at a reasonable price; there was a book tent and a reception tent. Around this central complex were pitched orderly rows of small family tents, some with floors and some without. All of the tents where white, symbolizing purity. It must have been a charming sight all that purity laid out like fragrant fresh-washed linen on that lush summer green of the vast well-watered field.
The daily Camp Meeting schedule was rigorous. At six-thirty all the campers met in the general assembly tent for morning worship. Singing together, they sent a solemn chant of praise to God flowing across the plain, the city, and the river. It must have sounded very beautiful in the early summer mornings. After morning worship, each tent family cooked and served its own breakfast. There must have been much hurrying around; making of beds, washing of wailing children, many quick trips for water and books, much preoccupation with purely human and family concerns. Meanwhile, the ministers gathered for their business meeting before the ten-thirty sermon of the morning. All the faithful, young and old, attended the morning sermon. Almost everyone ate the main meal of the day in the dining tent, which began serving at twelve-thirty. Those who could not afford the modest fee were free to cook for themselves food that had been brought from home. At the two-thirty afternoon worship and the eight-oclock evening meeting, the sermons were specially prepared for the public. The most appealing and skillful ministers took over at these hours, presenting the doctrines of the church: "the prophecies," "the second coming of Christ," "the mark of the beast," "the true Sabbath," and "the end of the world." In between the services, various meetings for old and young filled the day.
Harriet and the children arrived in all the happy turmoil and friendly confusion of the first Camp Meeting day. As the word spread through the encampment that a beautiful woman and her children had been "turned out of their home for the Truths sake," everyone gathered round to admire, encourage, and help. Everything that could be done for their comfort was quickly done. Nina was thrilled by all the attention, and by the excitement of watching a special tent being put up for them in a special spot. When all was in order, she shyly edged into the first childrens meeting, and by evening was walking arm in arm with little girls her own age. She went to bed happier than she had been for a long time. But happiness for Nina was not yet to be more than as a firefly fitfully shining in cupped hands, giving brief brightness without warmth.
The early-morning worship followed a set pattern. Various members of the congregation stood up to give their testimony for the Truth or to lead the others in prayer, the whole service gentled and warmed by sweet hymns. Harriet, being the prized and martyred convert, and being not unwilling to justify herself, gave her testimony early and often. She testified to the courage and faith one needs to follow Gods mandate. She testified to the joy one finds when one loses the whole world to save ones immortal soul. She testified to the power of Gods grace, which enabled her to remove her two innocent babes from the influence of a father who was possess by the Devil and did the Devils work, a number of which she itemized in detail. Nina was dizzy with shame. She loved her father and could not accept either her mothers public portrayal of him or the disloyal exposure of family affairs before strangers. She wanted to cry out that somewhere, somehow, the truth was being mutilated and torn to dress up a lie, but she sat cold and silent, shivering with fear. How did she know what was truth? Maybe her mother and these people were the truth, and her father was a lie.
One evening, at the public service, the spirit of revival was strong. Many converts, backsliders, and young children, amid tears, prayers, and songs, went forward to the mourners bench. The organ was muted, people sang together softly, the ministers walked up and down the aisles or knelt by the mourners to talk and pray with them. Older members of the congregation led sobbing and shaken children and young people from the mourners bench to the altar.
A kind, sweet-voiced woman put her arm around Nina. "Child," she said, "wont you come to Jesus and be saved? Jesus said, Suffer the little children to come unto me."
Nina shook her head, her eyes on the sawdust floor.
"Dont you want to be saved?" urged the voice. "Jesus is coming soon. Dont you want to be one of those who go with him to Heaven?"
Her mother bent over her. "Why dont you go with the lady and give your heart to Jesus, Nina?" she whispered. Nina looked at her mothers face, which seemed to her to be shining with holy light; she looked at the weeping congregation, and she heard the soft singing, and she took a step toward the end of the bench, the strange woman gently pulling her along. But only a step. She turned out of the womans nudging arm and said to her mother, "I have to wait for Daddy. He is all alone."
The light dimmed in her mothers face.
"You may go back to our tent," Harriet said. As the child escaped from the hot, emotion-charged general assembly tent, she heard someone say behind her, "The spirit of God is wrestling with that child!"
On the last Sabbath before the encampment ended, baptism was celebrated. That day was the culmination of all the religious fervor, the singing, the testifying, the tears, and the exhortations of the Camp Meeting weeks. Nina was never to forget a detail of it. Two tents were pitched on the bank of the river, one for men and boys, one for women and girls. A large group of singers assembled at the water' edge. All those who had gone forward in the revival meetings were prepared for baptism. Willing hands helped them put on their baptismal robes, black for men and white for women.
Nina, Dorothy, and other children found a vantage point on a fallen tree on the bank close to the baptism pool. As the chorus sang "Washed in the Blood of the Lamb," two ministers in robes, their hands clasped before them, marched solemnly down tot he river and waded out until they stood hip-deep in the water. They raised their hands for silence, and prayed. The chorus sang "Just as I AM." A man from on tent and a woman from the other went down into the river. Each one was met by one of the ministers, who wets his hands in the water and touched the brow of the convert. After both were asked and had answered questions as to their profession of faith, one minister lifted his hand and silence fell as he said, "I now baptize thee in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." Both converts were plunged backward into the pool, to emerge sputtering and choking or with a calm joyful face, depending on their ability to hold their breath at the crucial moment. The choir sang joyful hallelujahs. The outstretched hands of brothers and sisters in the faith wrapped them in blankets and led them dripping to the tents. To Nina, it was a lovely sight. Watching the happy faces of the saved, she thought that perhaps she, too, should have gone up to the altar and should now be one of them. Then she thought that maybe someday she and her father could be baptized together. But she knew they never would be.
If I have seemed to keep us overlong at a religious Camp Meeting whose tents were folded long before any of us were born, it is because that kind of American gathering should not be totally forgotten in its detail and flavor. We know, deep and unspoken in our American hearts, that the proper place to seek for truth and beauty is out of doors. Our first settlers crossed the terrible ocean to build in our land shelters only big enough to house a family; it was out under the trees that the Thanksgiving dinner was set up, and it was the wild ones of the forest who were honored guests. The great wagon trains that moved westward joined together the just and the unjust, the weak and the brave, the craven and the strong into one efficient, indomitable organization under the scorching prairie sun and the bleak snows of the Rocky Mountains. After the era of the religious Camp Meetings, during which the Protestant egg incubated by Martin Luther hatched into a bevy of ugly ducklings scurrying in all directions, the Chautauqua Circuit took over. Culture with a capital C and information with political intent brought millions of our more immediate forefathers out of doors to the Chautauqua tents. Even the incomparable Sarah Bernhardt played in tent theaters on her most successful tour of the Southwest. The great American cookout has for years sent curls of aromatic smoke rising from every backyard and patio as neighbors join each other out of doors. There is, today, something deeply satisfying to the American soul that our astronauts hurl themselves into the wild blue yonder in tiny crowded spaceships and then they, and they alone, in all the universe, burst out into the open air, weightless and entranced, crying out, "I wish you were all here with me to see how beautiful this is! I dont want to go back inside."
For a few years, because of the comfortable and deadly combination of television and central air conditioning, it seemed that this great American tradition was moribund and would surely die. But in the 1960s our young people tried to save us. With their amazing instinct for tradition, they went outdoors again our flower children to the parks and fields, our brightest students to the barricades, our black American young to the long, hard road from the plantation and ghetto to the parks of Washington. The unconquerable wanderlust of young America filled the coves of the Greeks islands, the mountain passes and superhighways of Europe, the Peace Corps in Asia and Africa. They were as American as Davy Crockett, Nathan Hale, Abraham Lincoln. It was the television addicts, middle-aged and artificially cooled, who sat inside, sour with rancor and envy, while our young moved outdoors again, looking for the good, the true, and the beautiful where, perhaps, it can still be found. We should have more respect for our own traditions.
. . . 6
The last day of the Camp Meeting was, for the children, as exciting as the first. Tents were being taken down. Everyone was packing and saying goodbye. Movement and change and home thoughts were as vibrant in the air as the snorting of horses and the creak of wagon wheels. It must have been less exciting for Harriet, who was now hoisted by her own petard. She couldnt go back to Mark. I dont think she ever intended to go back, because she took the books, which, in their neatly labeled boxes, were still stacked unloaded in her wagon. Besides, she was the beautiful woman who, with her babes, had been "turned out of her home for the Truths sake." After playing such a role, how could she go home again? The Lord would have to provide. So she sat with her children on a bench by the reception tent, watching the encampment dissolve, too proud to ask what the church, Gods instrument, would do about her. She sat quietly, all apprehensions hidden behind a calm face and a slight asthmatic wheeze.
The Lord, and the church, did provide. A tent neighbor had already hitched Harriets horse to her loaded wagon. As he drove it up to the reception tent, it was followed by a second wagon drawn by two prancing horses and loaded to the scuppers with supplies donated by the congregation. There was food, especially staples such as flour, rice, sugar, and home-canned vegetables. There were candles, pots and pans, including water pails and a dipper, bed linen, towels, blankets, pillows, a potbellied stove complete with flue extensions and elbow joints, pine planks for shelving, and a fine oversized tent with flooring. A young minister climbed down from the drivers seat. "These are for you and I am to drive you out to the mountains where you want to go," he said. The minister name was Thurston Ames. They drove out of the campground with prayerful good wishes and God-bless-yous sounding in their ears. My mother remembered that Harriet was overcome with emotion and surprise.
Ill bet she really was. All of us, at least once in our lives, have had the appalling experience of stating flatly what we intend to do, fully expecting wiser, more logical, and kinder heads to reason out for us a less dangerous alternative and, with some difficulty, to persuade us out of folly. One is filled with fear and sick surprise to be cheerily ushered out into the lonely world of self-will by loving, helpful hands. Most of us have found ourselves, at least once, in the thin air of our own private self-made wilderness. Had I been Harriet, carting two trusting little children with me into an actual wilderness, I too would have been overcome by emotion by terror. I guess she was a brave woman. Or she was so unintegrated that any role she happened to be playing was always entirely Harriet at the moment? Its difficult to know.
Thurston Ames was a jolly young man, full of health, strength, fervor, and wit. He worked hard to set up the little family so that all would be as comfortable as possible until Jesus came. He pitched the tent under a tall pine in a sheltered recess in the crags near the top of a mountain and close to a spring that people in Waterville, halfway up the mountain, had mentioned when he was seeking out an ideal site.
The spring was so extraordinary that it is still marked on the land plats of this yet underpopulated wilderness area of Pennsylvania. It was called "Sinking Spring" because the water ebbed and flowed with a tidal pattern. It was a basin about ten feet across and six feet deep. At "high tide" the water rose to the top of the basin, boiling up the white sand and shiny black flintstones, then slowly ebbed and cleared and became a placid little pool. The ceaseless movement of the water was a blessing, for it kept the spring from freezing even during the most bitter winter cold.
In the wagon there were enough pine boards not only for a floor well away from the ground, but for low walls around three sides of the tent, outside of which, and drawn somewhat underneath, the sides and back of the tent could be firmly lashed. Thurston Ames used some of the lumber to build a little outhouse, and the rest he fastened firmly as shelves along the side walls in tiers. The books that could not be accommodated on the shelves were neatly piled in their cartons up to the peak of the end wall to serve as insulation against the winter cold. He built a stone platform for the stove in the center and near the back of the tent, and spent one long, hot July afternoon keeping a roaring fire a split logs going to test the series of pipes and joints that would carry the smoke and fumes away from the tent. He stocked firewood neatly near the spring, so that if the cold came before Jesus did, one trip would provide. He boxed in fragrant hemlock boughs for aromatic beds for the family. Everyone helped him as best she could, but it was Nina to whom he turned about knotty little problems of arrangement, and it was Nina who sawed and hammered and dug and sang with him. Harriet had to be careful, for the slightest overexertion brought on agonizing attacks of asthma. Dorothy was still the baby. And it was Nina who asked him one afternoon, as he was bouncing on an arrangement of hemlock branches to test the spring of his mattress concoction, "Are you really an Adventist?"
"Of course I am," he replied. "What a funny question. Why do you ask?"
"You always seem too happy to be an Adventist."
Thurston flushed. He turned to Harriet. "Maybe I dont seem serious enough to be a minister," he said apologetically. "But what you are doing is so wonderful, and the woods are so grand, and the days are so beautiful, I feel like laughing and shouting because Im alive. I dont think its wrong to be happy, do you?"
Harriets grim look softened. "No, but we must be happy in the Lord and not forget the troublous times we live in and the great burden to preach the Truth that is laid upon us." The blessing of s sense of humor is not bestowed upon us all.
Young Thurston was more silent and subdued the rest of the day. The next morning, after all had been done that he could think of to do, he hitched his young horses to his wagon. He had agreed to sell Harriets horse for her and to send the money to the Waterville post office, so he tied the horse to the tailboard of his wagon. He kissed the children, prayed with Harriet, and left for his parish in Coudersport. For those who stayed at the tent the world must have seemed, at first, totally silent. One woman with no sense of humor and two children with no idea of what was to happen next couldnt have been very noisy. But the birds sang, and here and there a squirrel chattered in the forest, and the first locusts, heralds of the thousands to come in August, tried out their rusty hymn of praise for the blessing of the life that was to be theirs for only a moment in time. Nina included Thurston Ames in her prayers for years. "God bless Thurston and keep him always happy." I hope he always was, although no one ever is, always.
. . . 7
Somebody had to take over. The immense problem of how to survive apart from civilization had to be solved. Harriet wasnt the one to cope. She was again fragmented, she fell apart, she functioned with a grim incompetence that obviously was not going to get them through the winter. Her asthmatic attacks increased in frequency and violence every time she walked farther from the tent than the spring or the groves of hazelnut and walnut trees nearby. I suspect that both her asthma and her inability to plan ahead stemmed from the same deep, blank dismay. The Lord had always provided for Harriet, but always before through human means; now there was nobody. Now he really has His work cut out for Him! And Harriet was again playing a new role, but with no audience. How could the charming debutante, the happy wife who gave up the world for love, the town bluestocking, the mother of many sons, the pet of the Camp Meeting, play a new drama with only the birds and the fat black bears and the crafty-faced, bright-eyed wildcats for an audience? I believe she was filled with incapacitating dismay. After the episode of the panther, she spent most of her time taking care of Dorothy, who was deathly afraid of leaving the tent. This is not surprising. It is not recommended as a cure for a childs fear of the forest that she be marched past the nose of a savage beast.
And so, to solve the immediate problems of survival, there was only Nina, not yet quite ten years old. She was afraid of the wild woods too, but she adopted a most unusual attitude toward her fear. As she searched the forest for nuts and berries, penetrating deeper into the unknown each day as she grew more confident of finding her way back, she said the herself, "I can no more than die, thats the worst that can happen." When she heard rustlings or creakings or snappings in the brush, she would say, "Its probably only a bunny. Anyway, the worst that can happen is that Ill be killed, then all this worry will be over. I wont have to be afraid if Im dead.
Thus fortified with a ten-year-olds stoicism, her little heart beat less wildly and she could concentrate on finding the fresh fruits her familys diet needed, and the nuts, especially chestnuts, that she could sell in Waterville for cash to buy milk and butter at the country store. Chestnuts brought twenty cents a quart at the Waterville general store. This was good money then. She made the long trip down the mountain and the long, hard trip back twice every week because she was too small to carry a weeks supply of milk in one trip.
After the episode with the panther, when the hunters stopped by to show the little family the carcass of the dead beast and to explain that it was unlikely that any of them would ever see another, because this one, they thought, must have lost his way coming down from Canada to the Rocky Mountains, Nina seized the opportunity to ask if she could get milk and butter from the Hurds, who lived, she found, only a scant three miles across the mountain instead of seven miles down. This was arranged, and when the money for the horse was finally sent, Waterville saw the children no more for the rest of the winter.
The first snow came early that year, falling softly in big, wet flakes throughout the windless night. It was the childrens first sight of snow in the forest, and they were enchanted with the wonder of its whiteness and silence. Every branch and twig was bowed down under its weight. The stumps of dead, broken trees were draped as though with soft, white wool. The wilderness glowed as the rosy afternoon sun finally broke through the eastward-moving clouds.
The rest of the winter that year was mild. Very little snow fell after the first big, wet, early dump. Although it was cold, the days of bitter cold and slashing winds were infrequent. Somehow they kept warm; warm enough, at least, to avoid frostbite and chilblains. The childrens shoes wear still wearable, they had warm clothes, and the supplies for the winter held out. The three of them survived.
Harriets schedule for the childrens lessons was astonishing. They began at dawn and ended with dark. After morning worship, they read together one chapter of the King James version of the Bible, looking up in the dictionary all new words and analyzing sentence structure. Each child memorized three verses. The rest of the morning they read the same chapter in Latin and Greek. This was slow going at first, but for two hours every afternoon they studied Greek and Latin grammar and vocabulary. Before long the children were fluent enough to play a game that Harriet instigated. Each child looked up in the Greek and Latin dictionaries all possible meanings for one word in the chapter. The next morning, after they had tried out each separate definition, Harriet would point out the God-inspired ability of the translators of the King James Bible to choose the right meaning for the word in English. In the afternoon they studied history, mathematics, and French. This schedule was followed six days a week. On Saturday, the Sabbath, they read three chapters of the English Bible, memorized one entire chapter, and, with the aid of the church tracts, concentrated upon the religious significance of what they had read. At night, by the light of one candle, the children could read any of the textbooks or classics or novels in Harriets library. There was no censorship. It seems curious to me that Harriet should go to such lengths to separate her children from "worldly" people and then hand them over to such authors as Shakespeare, Swift, Moliere, Euripides, Catullus, and the Restoration dramatists, a far more worldly group than ever could be gathered together either in Michigan or in the Pennsylvania mountains.
So they studied and read the winter away, and one day spring came. The birds came back suddenly before it was time for birds, and the pale-blue flowers of the wild hepatica bloomed in spite of the fitful snow flurries scattered from the heavy gray skies by the cold wind. And then that day, although nothing seemed to change, the seasons changed. Something tender and gay came into the air, the branches of the trees and bushes were faintly, faintly green without reason, and the great hemlocks pushed out baby shoots, chartreuse against the somber winter needles, at the end of every separate bough.
. . . 8
The horse money had been a gratifying amount, considering that the horse had been middle-aged and tired from hauling heavy books up hill and down dale from the flat lakelands to the Appalachians. Thurston Ames had sent $64. Because this was more money, in the olden days, than a horse of this age should bring, I suspect that the loving-kindness in Thurstons heart had, by alchemy, turned into a few dollar bills that added themselves to whatever was paid for the horse. During the winter Nina had spent close to $15 for milk, butter, and, when the staple supplies in the tent began to run low, whatever else the Hurds could afford to sell from their own supplies. When good weather settled in, in early June, Nina stashed $30 away among the leaves of her favorite book of the moment. Guicciardinis History of Italy, and set out for Waterville with $19. All the way down the mountain she was uneasy and concerned about what to buy. She had tried to plan with her mother, but Harriet was not to be drawn into useless discussion of practical details. "I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging bread," she said. "Consider the lilies of the field," and, as always, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." This was frustrating for little Nina, who was concerned not about present evil but about future food.
At Waterville she enlisted the help of Dave Lovett, the owner of the general store. Between customers and incoming deliveries and his own store affairs, he discussed and advised while Nina added and subtracted flour quantities and prices to and from the quantities and prices of rice, sugar, lentils, shelled corn, and Mrs. Lovetts home-canned vegetables. Finally, after agonizing reappraisals, she was ready with her list. Mr. Lovett, with real appreciation for her logic and arithmetic, approved her choices and, because there was at the moment only one other customer in the store, who was busy with his own list, sat down at the counter with her to discuss the problem of getting the supplies up the mountain to the tent. It was a knotty problem. Mr. Lovett was a "city" man; he lived in the village, did no farming, and had no horse or wagon. Nina had no money for drayage. Her hidden $30 was stored away against the coming of next winter. It might not last, but it was all the money there was, unless money, like manna, came from parts unknown.
The young farmer puzzling over his own supplies was named Jake Burton. He lived in a cabin across the crest of the mountain past the tent, and his life was hard. Although he was only in his early thirties, he had six children. His wife was a shrew and a slattern and his children were wild, undisciplined, and unloving. He scratched a sort of living out of his own little rocky fields and hired himself out to more affluent farmers for cash. He had become surly. He seldom spoke, never fraternized, and looked upon other peoples problems with the stony, cruel indifference of the overburdened.
All of a sudden Jake Burton, who, because he couldnt help it, had been listening to the discussion between the child and the man, turned and came to the counter. "Ill take the kids gear up the mountain for her," he said. Nina glowed with gratification.
"Thats wonderful!" she exclaimed, and turned to Mr. Lovett, who sat with such a look of open-mouthed surprise that she stopped short. Years later she told me that Mr. Lovett looked to her at that moment as though he were seeing the angel Gabriel. Since she was young and open-hearted, she turned back to Jake and said, "You must be the angel Gabriel!" Both of the men stared open-mouthed at the child. Perhaps neither of them knew who the angel Gabriel was, or perhaps the introduction of a heavenly being into the general store of Waterville, Pennsylvania, was shocking, but both of them stared at her with such blank incomprehension that the child was momentarily abashed.
It is a curious thing that evil and panic and blood lust spread in a mob as the Black Death spread through medieval cities, but kindliness spreads only from person to person, tentatively and modestly. It doesnt seem fair to goodness that evil is so much more contagious. Jake Burton was infected either by the assurance in the childs voice that what had to be done could somehow be done or by the patience and concern of Mr. Lovett. At any rate, he caught kindness. He explained that he had a full load of his own supplies to take up the mountain that day, but that "the kid" could ride up with him in the wagon with what she could carry on her lap, and the next week, when he returned to the Waterville foundry to pick up a plow that was being repaired, he would haul her gear to the tent. "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." Given a start, that is, by some invisible prod, and not always then.
Nina used the trip back with Jake to find out from him all he knew about food that could be found in the forest before the season of berries and nuts arrived. She knew that the small bundle of supplies on her lap, added to the dregs of the winters store, would not last the week unless she could supplement them with the wild products of the mountain. He told her about dandelion greens; he stopped the wagon to show her how to find mushrooms and how to tell the poisonous ones from the good. He pointed out a trail into the woods that eventually would lead to a burned-out wilderness of dead trees where a strange, early-ripening berry, long and thin like a finger, could already be found. She was cheerful and serene when they parted, sure she could manage to feed the three of them until Jake Burton came again.
It wasnt easy. They had found, late in the winter, that corn parched and pounded to a fine meal and then cooked made a delicious mush. They had some flour for bread, some brown rice, some butter and milk, a little sugar and a little salt. Harriet used salt sparingly, lest it inflame the baser passions.
The morning after her trip Nina went out at dawn to find mushrooms. She was far up a strange trail, carefully choosing good mushrooms from bad, when she heard twigs snapping behind her as birds flew up with sharp twitterings. A large black bear emerged from the woods from the right of the path about a hundred yards away. The bear stood for a moment, then began slowly moving toward her. She turned away and flew down the path, the skin on her back tightening in anticipation of a blow of the bears paw. At the end of the trail, in a clearing, was a mountaineers cabin. She raced into the open door, slammed it shut, and with bursting lungs leaned against it, gasping. The woman inside sprang up and went to the window. Nothing was in view. Turning, she asked, "What was after you? There aint nothing."
"A bear! A big bear!" Nina gasped, going to the window. Just then the bear ambled out into the clearing, turned by the edge of the woods, and went down the path toward the spring.
"He warnt after ye. He couldve ketched ye any time. He was just goin your way," said the woman. "Bars only git after people when they is cornered or got young uns. Hes just tryin to get fed up good atter bein holed up all winter. Set and rest, child. Youre plum done up. Youre one of them kids that live in the tent, aint ye?"
"Yes, I am. I think I lost my faith for a little while," Nina said.
"Lost what?" asked the woman, puzzled.
"My faith. You know. God said nothing can harm anyone who is his child, but I forgot when the bear came at me. I should have been praying unceasingly," she said.
"Who teached you that?" asked the woman. "Your ma?"
"Yes," the child replied gravely. "She reads it in the Bible."
After thanking the woman, she went home. She didnt mention the bear to her mother and sister. The mushrooms were delicious and not a poison one among them.
A week later, when Jake Burton still had not come, Nina set out to find the forest of dead trees in order to pick the berries he had called "timber berries." After a long hike along the faint trail made by animals in search of food, she arrived. It was awesome. Acres of once giant trees of pine, chestnut, oak, and hemlock stood stark and barkless, grayish-white, with broken limbs sticking up toward Heaven. As if to emphasize the barren loneliness, a few crows flew with raucous caws, lighting on the leafless arms and stubs of the spectral trees; black, shining, aggressive crows as large as ravens and unintimidated be desolation. The undergrowth of thick chestnut and oak shoots, mixed with the timber-berry bushes, was almost impassable. The day was warm and windless and, except for the intermittent harsh cry of the crows, entirely silent. Nina plunged into the underbrush, dropping timber berries into her ten-quart pail as she pushed and scratched her way through. She talked aloud to herself. She always did in times of uncertainty and danger. Even when she was old, she would suddenly begin to talk to herself, fortifying herself against the panic aroused by awareness of loss of health, vigor, and usefulness. "Ill bet the ghost of these old trees are in the briars clustered around them," she said. "But theyre not terrible ghosts. Theyre only little ghosts, cross and scratchy. I guess Id be cross, too, if I had once been an ancient, beautiful tree."
After her bucket was full, she climbed upon a rotting log, putting the bucket carefully on a wide, flat place between two knots of wood. She had turned so many ways picking berries that she was unsure of the directions from which she had entered the dead forest. She spotted the opening of the faint trail and started to slide down from the log when she heard a shrill, thin, ominous rattle that whirred and burred until the terrible sound seemed to fill the air. Down below, among the rocks that held the log high off the ground was a coiled seething mass of yellow and black flesh, a flat, bright, burnished head held high, a red tongue flickering and darting at her. "Its the Devil himself," she cried aloud as she threw herself backward over the other side of the log just as the snake struck. He missed her by inches and fell with a dull, flat thud into the rocks below where she had fallen. She sprang up as the rattler, with incredible rapidity, was already recoiling his heavy body, and scrambled along the rocks to a safe distance. From there she looked back at her berries, which were needed so badly at home. She hesitated, debating is she should go back. It is a terrible thing to have to learn the ways of wild creatures by trial and error and by judgment unacquainted with the essential nature of the enemy. Mountain children learned from others. Nina didnt know what to do. Almost immediately the air was again filled with the shrill menacing rattle, which is as deadly to the spirit as the venom is to the blood. The child turned and ran, clawing and pushing her way through the underbrush deeper and deeper into the dead forest until she was completely lost.
When darkness came she was still scrambling through the underbrush, but she could see the end of the burned-over ground and the beginning of the open forest. Darkness came early as the sky clouded over and the low, intermittent thunder of an approaching storm grumbled. Crows flapped slowly and dismally ahead of her. Within the edge of the forest the darkness became so thick and the child was so exhausted that she had to stop. She sank down to the ground, her back snuggled up against a large tree. "At least nothing can get me from behind," she said. Worn out by fear and exertion, she slept.
The storm was slow in coming, but finally the thick spat-spat of the rain on the leaves and the chill drops on her face awoke her. Before long, the full force of the storm broke over the forest and the child was drenched. She huddled against the tree trunk. As the great claps of thunder began to pass on, she thought she heard a dog barking. Cupping her hands, she shouted into the night. Now she was almost sure she heard a dog barking, nearer. Maybe its wolves, she thought, and for a while could hear nothing but her own pounding heart. But the dog barked again, still nearer. "No, its a dog. Thank God, its a dog. Here, Shep! Here, Shep!" she called.
"Oh, dog, take me out!" she sobbed as a big, wet shepherd dog, after barking and smelling around her, finally licked her hands and face as she huddled close to the tree. If ever there is a time to cry, it is in a night of sorrow when the muzzle of a dog sniffles, and the warm, wet tongue caresses a friend. Clinging to the dog, she set out into the night and the rain and, after a while, arrived at a cabin. Nothing stirred at the dogs short, sharp barks, so the child pounded on the door.
"Whos that?" a rough male voice called.
"Please open the door and let me in," cried the child. There was a pause and the scratch of matches. An old man, lamp in hand, opened the door.
"My God! Where did you come from?" he said as the child staggered in, still clinging to the dog, and sank into a wet, bedraggled heap on the dry dirt floor.
The farmers name was Wally Zinskinsky, "Old Wally." He took off the childs sodden dress and wrapped her in a dirty horse blanket. He forced a teaspoon of moonshine whiskey between her teeth. As Nina sputtered and choked she looked at the hairy old man. Oh! Im in an apes den, she thought in despair.
"Dont be afraid," he said gruffly. "Go to sleep tell me in the morning." The dog licked her face. I guess Im safe, she thought, and sank into a dreamless sleep.
. . . 9
Although Nina didnt know it, a new era in her life began the next morning. When she stumbled into the Zinskinskys cabin, drained of strength and courage, she stumbled into an end to the lonely responsibility of keeping three people alive. From now on, a new road to food and money and human contact would be open to her.
The rhythmic fall of an axe near the window awakened her. Sun was streaming in through the open door. Her clothes were folded and dry on a nearby stool. A tall, untidy girl of sixteen and a thirteen-year-old boy stood looking at her.
"How be ye?" asked the girl.
"Whats your name?" asked the boy.
"My names Nina Mae Case. Whats yours?"
"Mines Booby and hern is Mary," answered the boy. "Hold old are ye?"
"Im ten, going on eleven," Nina answered. "Wheres your mother?"
Mary answered, "She aint here now. She runned away again."
"Ran away? Oh, how awful! Cant you find her?"
"Pa dont want us to. We dont look for her no more. She used to run off and git drunk, but she always come back when she sobered. Last fall, Pa beat her good to learn her better, and Ma went off. We hear about her sometimes from lumberman and barkmen, but she dont come home no more." Mary flushed. Booby turned and walked out of the cabin.
While Mary started breakfast, Nina dressed and went out to the woodpile. Old Wally didnt look so terrible in the new-washed morning world.
"Well," he said, leaning on his axe, "who be ye, and how come ye here in a night storm?"
"Im Nina Case, and my mother and my sister and I live in a tent over on Smokey Hill." She told him what had happened the day before. The old man chuckled grimly.
"You was right to run from a rattler," he said. "Your momll be worrit about ye and its nigh eight miles to Smokey Hill."
"Mother wont worry," the child said. "Shell think I must have gone on to Waterville to sell part of the berries. She put me in Gods care, so she wont worry."
The old man looked at her strangely. "What do ye mean, in Gods care?" he asked.
"Why, she asks God to take care of me and then she doesnt have to worry."
"The she wont be cryin and huntin for you this morning?"
"No, why should she? No, indeed. She and Dorothy will sing Lord in the Morning and ask Him to bring me home safely with something to eat today." Nina sighed. "And that old rattler got my berries."
Old Wally shook his head. "Your mother must be fey, as I heerd tell."
Nina was indignant. "My mothers wonderful!"
"Thar, thar, course shes wonderful. Tell me, how do ye eat? Where do ye get food?"
"God sees we have enough," Nina assured him. "Weve never been a whole day without food. It looked pretty much like it two days ago. Mother had one of her bad spells with asthma, and I couldnt go into the woods for food. We had corn cakes for breakfast and used the last we had. My little sister asked, Now what will we have for dinner? Mother said, The Lord will provide. Lets ask Him. So while we prayed, we heard a man say, Whoa, at the end of our path on the road. We walked down and he called to us to find out where he was. He was afraid hed taken the wrong turn to go by the short cut to Coudersport to sell a wagonload of wintered potatoes. He sure had taken the wrong turn! Wasnt it wonderful that he came our way? He sold Mother two bushels of potatoes for her watch and chain. We had a wonderful dinner of potatoes baked in the ashes of our stove. I guess well have to eat potatoes again today, unless Mr. Burton comes."
Old Wally was as startled as Mr. Lovett had been to hear that Jake Burton would do any favors for anyone. "Ye musta witched him," he said. Nina laughed. She said she should start home.
Not to be outdone by Jake Burton, Old Wally bridled his horse and rode Nina two-thirds of the way home. He claimed he had to go to arrange for Injun Jake Dutter, a half-breed who lived with his mother not far from Smokey Hill, to bug potatoes the next day. And maybe he did have to go. But kindness is contagious, from person to person. On the way, Nina arranged to hire herself out for potato-bugging in exchange for twenty-five cents a day and findings, which would include lunch and whatever milk, vegetables, meal, and supplies Old Wally had extra, and as much as he would think her work would be worth.
Harriet was appalled at the idea of Ninas working for Old Wally.
"But you are not of this world, and you mustnt associate with those who are reserved for the second death," she argued. "No, I cannot let you."
"But Mother, we are in this world, and until Jesus comes, we have to eat. Even Jesus ate with publicans and sinners," Nina replied.
"So He did," said Harriet, startled. "Well, well pray about it."
The upshot of the prayers was that Nina could walk the eight miles back and forth every day, work all day in the summer sun, and bring home sustenance. The Lord will provide. Consider the lilies of the field. I would say to myself, "Poor child!" except that she was happy. She didnt have to worry any more. Winter would not find her unprepared.
The work was hard at first. She and Old Wally and Injun Jake bugged potato hills for several days. Each worker had a short stick and a pail partly filled with kerosene. Bending down to the potato hill, Nina put her pail under the leaves and brushed sharply against the stalks, shaking the potato bugs off into the pail. She then picked off the leaves that had yellow eggs in them and put them also into the kerosene. The sun was hot and the kerosene smell was strong. The first day, as they trudged back to the cabin for the noon meal, Nina was glad to leave the smothering fumes behind her with her pail. But she was appalled to sit down to the dinner Mary had prepared. I guess Mothers right, she thought. I guess we arent the same kind of people. Dinner consisted of boiled potatoes, fried side pork, sour black bread, and coffee. According to her religion, Nina could not eat pork, and coffee was Satans brew, so all she could eat were potatoes and sour bread. Old Wally was amazed and Mary was offended.
"Seems like your religion is for rich folks," she said. "Usuns eat what we can git and thank God for it."
Nina was thoughtful the rest of the afternoon. It would be nice, she thought, to just eat and sleep and live without the fear that Jesus would suddenly come and make snap judgments on the basis of one days transgressions.
But as summer drew on and Nina worked six days a week, every day but Saturday, the Sabbath, the work was often fun and sweet-smelling. She raked the hay and helped pitch it into the wagon, and she helped stow it away in the barn. She dug potatoes, husked corn, learned to milk. Every week brought something new, and every day brought twenty-five cents and all the food she could carry home. Old Wally was a good man.
. . . 10
The second winter was uneventful. In many ways it was more pleasant than the first, the way anything is after routine and know-how have been established. The intense program of study was more interesting for them all. By then the children were reasonably fluent in Greek and Latin, and in the afternoon they read plays and poems and essays in the original language. Harriet added geography and Eastern religions to the course of study. The children had developed physically and mentally, and had grown accustomed to living vicariously in books and imagination.
They also had grown out of their shoes. Ninas shoes were worn out, and her dresses were almost in shreds from her work in the fields and her wandering in the forest. Dorothy could still wear her shoes with the toes cut out, but Nina was shoeless. To go to the spring for water, or to the pheasant traps that Booby had taught her to make, or to the woodpile, she wrapped burlap bags around her feet and tied them to her ankles. Nina was always merry whenever there was a moment when she could be, and as she clowned with her oversized burlap-wrapped feet, prancing like a puss-in-boots, even Harriet and Dorothy had to laugh. It couldnt have been easy to amuse those two.
Winter came to an end, as winters always do, and in early May Nina set out for Old Wallys farm to begin work. Even before she entered the cabin she could hear Booby calling wildly for his mother. Old Wally and Mary were in despair. Booby had been "taken" with a mysterious fever a week before, which had risen each day until the boy was delirious, barely alive in a nightmare of constantly losing and finding and losing his mother. Nina was frightened. "My mother could help him, she knows what to do for fever," she told Wally. "But youll have to let Mary drive over for her. She cant walk this far."
Harriet and Dorothy came back with Mary in the wagon. It was the first time Harriet had left the tent since she came to the mountains. She brought with her the only medicines she had, niter and castor oil. She wrapped him in a wet sheet and alternately dripped ice-cold water over him and spooned herb tea into his mouth. The high fever began to abate, and in a little more than an hour the desperately sick child was conscious and able to take more liquid into his dehydrated body. Harriet told Wally to send for the boys mother. "Im afraid she will never see him alive unless she comes soon." Wally stood looking stubborn. "Dont delay," Harriet urged. "If he sees her, it may save his life."
Wally turned to Mary. "Go git Kathy," he said. "Tell her Boobys adyin and wants her."
Nina begged, "Oh, Mother, may I go with her? Maybe I can help persuade her to come." Harriet agreed that she could go.
"Dont worry ifen we dont git back tonight," Mary warned. "If she aint in Waterville, she maybe is up Pine Creek. Itll take some lookin."
"Hurry!" said Harriet. "This boy is sick unto death."
The girls raced down the mountain in record time and asked for Kathy at the hotel. Yes, Kathy had been there Saturday night, but no one knew where she was staying. They went to the general store. Mr. Lovett knew. "Yes, she was in here yesterday," he said. "She lives up on the Gooseberry with Old Man Yetter, if they ever got there from here. Both of them were so drunk they had to hold each other up when they staggered up the road. What do you want with Kathy?"
"Her boy is dying. Weve got to find her. How do we find Old Man Yetters place?" asked Nina.
"You cant miss it. There are only two cabins on Gooseberry Mountain and his is the first one." He led them outside and pointed to an opening in the hills. "Its four or five miles up that road. You kids have any dinner?" The girls shook their heads. "Well, you cant walk up that steep road on an empty stomach. Come back in and Ill fix you a lunch."
"We aint got no money," muttered Mary, backing down the steps.
"Dont need none," replied Mr. Lovett, hurriedly putting crackers, cheese, dried beef, and apples into a sack. Nina thanked him and offered to bring him chestnuts later to pay for the food. "No you wont," he said. "Pity if I cant help a sick boy by giving you a little lunch. Get along or youll be caught by the dark in the woods."
The girls climbed steadily for some time and then, exhausted by the steep, rocky road, sat down by a little run of water to eat. The view over the budding green valley was wonderful. "It just rests me to look at that stream wandering down there in the valley," Nina said.
"It dont rest me none," said Mary. "If we dont find Mom at Yetters, Im going back. She probably wont come anyway."
"Yes, she will. No one wold refuse to go to a dying person," Nina said confidently.
"You dont know my mom. If she says she wont, then she wont."
They came, finally to a cabin. A dog barked. A woman put her head out of an upstairs window. My mother remembered that the woman had beautiful white curls springing crisply above a tanned handsome face slightly raddled by an obvious hangover. "Thats Mom!" exclaimed Mary. They knocked and a man opened the door.
"What do you want?"
"We want Kathy."
"She aint here."
"Oh, yes, she is, Mr. Yetter," Nina said. "We saw her stick her head out of the window. Come on down, Kathy," she called. "Come down! Booby is dying and he wants you. My mother says you must come. His blood will be on your hands if you dont."
With a clatter of feet on the stairs, Kathy came down. She was trembling. "What blood? What blood? My God, my heads killin me! Whats this about Booby and blood?"
Kathy left with the girls, but part way down the mountain they met a man staggering, as my mother said, under a load of drink. His name was Sam. He and Kathy were old-time drinking friends, and when Sam pulled a bottle of moonshine whiskey out of his pocket, they sat down on a rock. Sam took a swig and passed the bottle to Kathy, who took along pull.
May said, "Come on, Nina, were done for. She wont come now."
Kathy passed the bottle back and Sam motioned with it to the girls. "Come on, kids, take a little drink, do you good. Come on, take it, take it," holding the bottle out to Nina. She walked up to him, took the bottle, and threw it over the cliff. It struck and rolled and crashed down through the brush and into the rocks below, and all was still. Sam roared with shock and dismay. Kathy, fortified by her drink, laughed, got up, and left with the children while Sam was still trying to get to his feet. Stronger now, Kathy set such a fast pace that the girls had to run to keep up with her.
They were climbing the Helmsville Mountain along Pinebottom Run when darkness closed in. Only the ribbon of starshine over the narrow road kept them on their way. Kathy had to slow her pace as the girls stumbled over roots and stones. "Well cut up Rattlesnake Run," she said.
"Oh, no, Mom!" Mary was frightened. Pop says never to go that way no more. Theres some men living in the Fry shanty and Pop thinks theys escaped convicts."
Kathy grunted. "Whoevers thar cant be no worse than I seen already. Come on. Well git a lantern thar, or a torch. Come on! Come on!" as the girls hung back.
It was so dark on the overgrown path that they could not see each other. Kathy broke off a long stick and the girls, stumbling and numb from exhaustion, hung on to the stick. "I can walk this path," Kathy said, "if its darker n hell. Manys the time I done it."
There was a light in the Fry cabin. Kathy rapped on the door with a stick. The light went out, the back door squeaked, and Kathy yelled, "Hey! Open up this door, you polecats, or Ill bust it in." Silence.
"Who the hell are you?" said a voice behind them.
"We need a lantern and something to eat," Kathy said.
"We aint got no lantern, and we dont hold with strangers hangin around. Git goin!"
By this time three other men, each coming from a different part of the woods, joined the first. Someone struck a match and held it to Kathys face. "Well! If it aint Kathy!" he exclaimed. "Come on in. But what about them kids?"
"Theyre all right," Kathy assured the men. "They wont talk. Ones mine and thisn," pointing to Nina, "is so done out that she dont know her ass from a hole in the ground."
Inside the cabin, when her eyes had adjusted to the relit kerosene lamps, Nina looked around in amazement. Exactly in the middle of the only room was a huge black machine. Underneath, it had a kind of giant treadle, and it had a big flat round top. Could it be a sewing machine? Across one wall was a long work table littered with tools and rolls of heavy paper. Kathy motioned the two girls to one of the bunks. They sat down and within minutes both of them were fast asleep.
Kathy woke them two hours later. As they struggled to their feet, Nina saw one of the men give Kathy a handful of money. "Take it to Ed King," he said. "But dont spend none until he gives em the once-over. If he wants some, come back and tell us when and where to deliver."
Outside the cabin, one of the men was splitting a pine knot into long slivers until he had two bunches. He lit the first sliver and, as it began to burn, added one sliver after another and handed them to Kathy as a torch. The second bundle he divided between the two children to carry as spares. "Thisll hold you with light till you git thar. You can stick the burned ones in the ground to put em out when theys burned up."
Kathy laughed and thwacked the bearded man on the back. "Boy," she said, "I made torches fore ye was borned!" All the men laughed. Mother remembered that she was too dazed with weariness to laugh with them. Kathy and her retinue marched off into the night.
It was past three oclock in the morning when they stumbled into Old Wallys lane. Kathy extinguished the torches and steered Mary and Nina toward the barn.
"Go sleep in the hay. Ill tell em where ye be," she said, and strode into the house.
The noon sun was high when the girls awoke. Nina was sore in every muscle. After a sedentary winter of reading, translating, quoting, and discussing, eighteen hours of rigorous hiking made themselves felt. She hobbled into the house with Mary.
"Wheres Ma?" Mary asked Harriet.
"Shes gone. She left an hour ago. Booby is better. His temperature is down and hes sleeping like a baby." Harriet looked at Mary and said, with wonderment, "Your mother is a remarkable woman."
Kathy was indeed remarkable. Born and bred to be the wife of a mountain farmer a life of boredom, drudgery, abuse, and disrespect she broke away at terrible cost; to her husband, Old Wally, who was a good man, but a wife-beater in the days when beating a wife was a normal relief from frustration; to her children, who loved her and forgave her continually in return for a few motherly crumbs; and to herself. I dont doubt that she did early from alcoholic poisoning or from falling off a mountain cliff. But she was life-loving and an Amazon. She escaped the fate of other ignorant mountain wives, which was an equally early death from overwork and hopelessness. And where could she escape to, illiterate, untrained, and penniless? Lumbermen, barkmen, counterfeiters liked her, and if they didnt treat her as a lady, they treated her as a person, which is sometimes the most important thing in the world.
Boobys recovery was, for Harriet, the beginning of a brief but true renaissance. I can safely judge that this was so because my mother once said that after Booby was saved from death, Harriet slowly became the capable and vigorous woman she had been before her baby died. The story of her success in saving Booby spread over the scattered mountain community. Wagons began arriving at the tent more and more frequently to take "Hattie," as they called her to her indignation, to the bed of someone in fever and pain, in childbirth, or with uncontrolled bleeding from accidents with axes or falling rocks. She did well. She was a brilliant woman. She had read widely. Her churchs emphasis on health and herbal medicine gave her tools to work with, and gave her confidence. She was both inventive and cautious. As he modest fame grew, her asthma waned. As she entered more and more into her Florence Nightingale role, she even began to robe herself in a special, freshly laundered nurselike uniform when she was sent for. She began to worry less about who was "reserved for the second death" and, with surprising success, saved from the first death those in dire distress and danger. She left religious tracts with her patients, in hope of also saving souls, but, unfortunately, most of her patients were unable to read.
It was during this period that Ninas determination to be a doctor was formed. She couldnt have had many opportunities, until then, to admire her mother objectively. Children seldom do. The poor little things are trapped in the dreadful world of childhood where they must love their mothers and depend upon them because there is, actually and literally, nothing else to do. Mother has to be right because she is indispensable. But Nina had had the unique experience of being, from the age of nine, the sole means of physical support for her indispensable mother. And then suddenly, when Nina was eleven, going on twelve, her mother entered Ninas world. In one soft sweet flowering gentle spring day, Harriet became to her child a partner in survival and a source of public pride. It is little wonder that this transient role that Harriet was playing crystallized into an adamantine resolve for a child who had been so hard beset, so frightened, and who was, by nature, so single-minded as to walk, singing hymns, straight past panthers. Nina decided she would become a doctor.
One Sunday, part of the chapter she had memorized for her Sunday-morning lesson haunted her mind all afternoon. "Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." All afternoon the phrase "and nothing shall be impossible unto you" kept running through her mind.
"Mother, how big is a mustard seed?" she asked that evening.
"Why," Harriet answered, "It is a tiny little seed."
"How little? Show me," Nina persisted.
Harriet looked around for something small as a mustard seed. She finally separated one grain of sugar from the sugar bowl.
"About this size, only round," she said.
"That is a little seed," Nina declared. Anybody ought to be able to grow that much faith. Im going to start in right now and have faith. What exactly does it mean, have faith as a grain of mustard seed?"
"Well," Harriet responded, "do you remember the first chapter in the Bible when God created the heavens and the earth? He spoke and it was. If we had some of that power, even as small a piece as a mustard seed, nothing would be impossible. That is faith."
"I want to go to school, and I want to be a doctor when I grow up," Nina announced, with shining eyes. "Im starting today to have faith that this will come to pass."
Harriet was appalled. "Women cant be doctors. Only men are allowed to go to medical school. For a woman, there isnt the ghost of a chance. Besides, surely Jesus will come before youre old enough. Have faith in something sensible."
Look who was talking!
Dismayed, Nina wandered out of the tent and down to the Sinking Spring. The moonlight glinted on the water that was boiling up so mysteriously from deep in the earth. And nothing shall be impossible unto you, she thought. Ill just start having faith, anyway, that Ill be a doctor. And Ill add an extra mustard seed of faith that Jesus wont come before I am a doctor. Because of my mustard seed, the Lord will have to wait.
We know now, from where we stand, that He waited.
. . . 11
June was a lovely month, misty with recurring pearly fogs that spiraled up from the lowlands, obscuring in soft gray swirls all the harshness of the forests; fogs that shimmered creamy gold in the late-morning sun before spiraling into nothingness above the fresh green leaves. Wagons clanked almost daily to the tent for Harriet and Dorothy. Both of them bloomed from their new association with the mountain folks. Every morning except the Sabbath Nina went to work with Old Wally, Injun Jake, and Booby. There was plenty of food in the tent, and the little family had much to relate to each other in the lingering summer evenings. All was well. July came in hot, but with brisk winds that ripened the hay in the modest scattered meadows. All was well until Nina was bitten by a rattlesnake.
Old Wally, Injun Jake, Booby, and Nina had just returned from one of Marys noontime dinners. Nina was carefully picking her way across the brush and rocks piled along the wagon trail at the edge of the big meadow when all at once the ominous rattle she had heard once before began to shrill and rose to a high, piercing whine.
"Rattlesnake!" she cried aloud.
She couldnt see the snake. She put her foot out into the clearest space to step back into the road when the snake struck, almost knocking her over. She screamed and sprang out into the road, dragging the snake with her until the flesh tore from the side of her foot and the rattler slid away into the rocks. Scream after terrified scream brought Old Wally running across the field.
"Sit down! Sit down right in the road," he shouted.
Nina sank down holding her foot, still screaming. As he ran Old Wally pulled out his pocket knife, and when he reached her he pulled up her foot between his legs as though to shoe a horse. He sucked the wound strongly, spitting out the blood and venom over and over again. Then he cut the wound, wide and deep, helping it to bleed freely. Nina fainted. When the wound stopped bleeding he packed it with tobacco from his pouch, picked up the unconscious child, and carried her to the barn, where Jake and Booby were already harnessing the horses to the wagon. They drove wildly over the rutted mountain trails to the tent. Harriet undressed the child and got her into bed. She commended Old Wally for his bloodletting but expressed grave concern about the use of the tobacco.
"Tobacco is an ugly weed. It was the Devil who sowed the seed," she said.
"Well," said Old Wally, "it was all I had to do with, and it shore is turnin green, aint it?"
Whether because of the abundant bleeding, the tobacco greening, or the grace of God, the child, after a week of pain and crisis, began to recover.
One result of the snakebite from which she was never to recover was the effect of bright sunlight on her eyes. In the first few weeks, any strong light, no matter how indirect, caused nausea and severe pain behind her eyes. Gradually, however, she was able to go out on sunny days if she wore a sunbonnet. In those times sunbonnets in the country and hats in town were commonplace. Years later she was to become famous for her beautiful hats, intricately decorated creations that she wore with her crisp white doctors coat as she made the rounds of her patients in the hospital or in their homes. When the American Medical Association feted her on her fiftieth year of medical practice, making her Pennsylvanias Woman of the Year, the association presented her not only with a plaque, but also with a hat covered with masses of pale pink roses to rest lightly on her lovely white hair. Fifty years before, when she began her medical practice, the men doctors, affronted at the idea that a woman should be allowed to practice medicine, were mollified when Dr. Nina wore a new creation of a hat to each monthly meeting of the county medical society; now their sons and grandsons were amused and softened, made courtly and condescending by what they considered a charming feminine foible in a lady doctor much older and wiser than they. They could not see the rattlesnake among the roses.
The most important result of the snakebite was that the three of them in the tent had to leave the mountain. They could not weather another winter without Nina to provide. The gifts of food that Harriet received in payment for her Florence Nightingale act, along with the nuts and berries and fruits that kindly neighbors, almost as poor as our little family, would leave at the end of the tent lane for "the young un," would provide only until the cold weather threatened, with its inexorable demand that there be a winters supply of staples bought, paid for, and delivered to the tent. Harriets asthma, which had returned when Nina was stricken, was complicated by the onset of arthritis in her neck and knees and fingers.
Harriet prayed for guidance all during July and early August. I would bet she also prayed that the Lord would come now, now, now, so that the need to act would be canceled. But by mid-August, when nothing had changed, she wrote to her aunt in the Pennsylvania town not so very far away to ask for house room for the winter. In late August, when Nina was well enough to go into Waterville for the mail, the reply came that the aunt had died some years before, and the uncle felt no call to take in those who were not his own blood kin. Then Harriet rewrote her plea both to the church elders and to her aunt in Philadelphia, the other heir of her parents estate.
. . . 12
September was beautiful. It almost seemed as though the whole forest, the whole summer, were saying, "Look at me! See how gentle, how green, how pretty I am! Where will you ever again find such a place, so beautiful and so benign?" No early frost began the coloring of the leaves. Only the country-butter-yellow goldenrod and the bright light blue of the flowering thistles and the dark, strong red of the berry bushes, whose color changes does not depend on frost, confirmed the cold to come. All else was sunshine and lusty green, with birds chirping and collecting for flight and not yet going; an occasional dark bear in a green tree gorging on amber honey; and the squirrels, natures most perfect rodents, cynically gathering their nuts with incessant chatterings, knowing that winter and famine and deprivation lurk behind the fašade of unnatural benevolence.
One green-gold late-September morning, Nina, sunbonneted, was early in the woods looking for food. As she walked, thoughts flickered in her mind and Bible verse came and went. This is not strange, considering the exposure she had had to the Bible. All of a sudden she said aloud, "Do with your might what your hands find to do, and the Lord will make room for you." She was pleased. She knew she was joining two separate verses from two disparate parts of the Old Testament. She knew she was misquoting each one of them. But at that moment in the September forest, this concise verbal statement of basic philosophy was profoundly pleasing.
Do you suppose that each of us, in puberty, already carries within himself the person he will be for the next sixty years? Is ones whole life form contained in ones temperament, to be sharpened and augmented by experience, education, and age, but never to be changed basically by any of these? Does the mating of the genes of two adults produce a child able to look at reality with only a single eye and to cope with the world in only one predestined, esoteric way? For Nina, who was the live eighty more years, work was to be the reality, the key to unlock a place that was to be her own in the crowded, strange, and indiscriminatory world.
On that green-gold September day, Nina, pleased with her philosophy, started a game, just as any child would do. Stretching her arms out wide, eyes closed, she swiveled left to right, right to left in as wide an arc as she could reach. At a given mystic moment, she stopped, opened her eyes, and sighted along her left arm. Nothing but forest and dappled sunlight. But along the axis of her right arm, far back off the trail, sat a red squirrel. Feeling himself watched, he flicked around and dived into a hollow log almost covered by brambles. By the time Nina reached the log, it was squirrellless but full of hundreds of chestnuts.
"Well, hands," she rejoiced aloud, "you found something sure enough!"
She searched through the brambles until she found a long stick with a stump of a branch near the end making a hook, and using it as a rake, she had more than a bushel of nuts piled on the ground. Gathering up her long, ragged skirt, she filled it with as many as it would hold and started back to the tent. "Here I come," she said, just like Ruth with wheat in her dress!" After two more trips, she had all the chestnuts safely stored in gunnysacks to be taken to Waterville.
"You know, Mother," she said as they were eating a lunch of roasted chestnuts, dandelion greens, and buttermilk, "my hands found these nuts."
"What on earth do you mean, your hands found them?" asked Harriet impatiently.
"Well, I was thinking of that Bible verse, Whatsoever they hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, and I stretched out my hands and told them to get busy. My hands found a squirrel near an old hollow log, and there were all the nuts."
"I guess the Lord sent food to us this way," said Harriet, "instead of by ravens, as he did to Elijah," She didnt notice how pale and tired and hot her eleven-year-old daughter was, exhausted by being Gods raven.
A few days later, Nina pulled and dragged two gunnysacks full of chestnuts down the mountain to the Waterville general store, taking care to keep to the high, grassy crown of the wagon road and to ease the sacks over the outcroppings of sharp flintstone and limestone that ridged the road at random spots. She had tied a two-gallon covered milk pail around her waist with a rope, and she eased herself and her burden down the mountain with rustlings and clinks and clanks.
With the money Dave Lovett gave her for the nuts, she ate a lunch of bread and cheese and milk. With flour, sugar, and salt in a gunnysack in one hand and her pail full of fresh milk, with a roll of country butter floating in it, in the other, she started the long climb home. By early afternoon the strength of the sun was already beginning to wane.
Nina had grown tall during the summer. She had begun to menstruate in the spring, and now, although she was taller and slimmer, she was beginning to round out in the bosom, buttocks, and thighs. Even though Harriet had let down the hem of her dress and had inserted panels of cloth from other worn-out dressed down the sides in order to accommodate Ninas budding womanliness, still her dress revealed more early bloom than it concealed. In a few days she would be twelve years old. As she toiled up the mountain with her sack and her pail, she must have been unaware, never having seen herself in a mirror, of how appealing a figure she was.
Any mother, when her first little girl shows unmistakable signs of becoming a woman, experiences a faint dismay, a subtle pale desolation. It is probably the one moment when a mother is most motherly; that is, most genuinely unselfish. Her dismay is entirely for the child who has had the door of childhood closed behind her and will go on, unavoidably uninstructed, into the forever and forever world of adult male-female complexities.
The early-October afternoon was changing to dusk when Nina rounded the last curve before the lane to the tent at the top of the mountain. She was startled to see a man leaning against the trunk of a tree, but then a horse snorted a greeting and she recognized Injun Jakes white mare by the side of the road.
"Oh, Jake, you scared me half to death!" she exclaimed. "For a minute I thought you were a panther! What are you doing here?"
"My moms dead," he replied, and a brief tremor contorted his face and slightly shook his strong, square body.
"Oh, Jake, Im so sorry! What happened? When did she die? Why didnt you come for us to help?"
"Last week," Jake said. "I dint know she was sick. She said she was tarred and her heart hurt, and she went to bed. Morning she was dead. I buried her back of the house. Now I come for you. I take you home with me."
Nina was startled. In her first rush of sympathy she had moved toward him. At first sight of her, he had pulled himself away from the tree and walked toward her. They were standing face to face. There was something in his eyes that was strange and new, and Nina tensed with alarm.
"I cant go home with you." Her voice was sharp. "I have to take care of my mother and sister."
Before she could say more, his arms were around her, pinning her arms and her sack and her pail to her sides. He pulled her roughly to him until her face was buried in his shirt against his hairless, stalwart chest. She said to me years later that he smelled awful. She also said, "I learned about men from him."
I was shocked.
"Oh, no, Mother! He didnt! He couldnt! Not a twelve-year-old child! Mother! No!"
And my mother, who by then had spent a lifetime dealing with the joys and sorrows, physical and spiritual, of the sexual encounter between males and females, blushed like a twelve-year-old child.
"I didnt mean that!" she exclaimed. "Of course Jake wouldnt harm me! I only meant that then was the first time I knew men were made differently, physically, from women."
I was so relieved that I had to laugh. This made my mother grow more red with annoyance. She hadnt meant her story to be funny. And of course it wasnt funny for either Jake or Nina.
Jakes Indian mother had raised her baby to manhood by herself. To have found a hovel and to have successfully provided for her child until he was old enough to help them both was a triumph of love and responsibility. And when she died, the shock for Jake must have been acute. When he wrapped her in a blanket and buried her, coffinless, in a grave he dug himself, he buried the only person in the world to whom he had been of real importance. He must have been dreadfully lonely, and in the dark of that night his mind surely groped here and there for some solution to his need. It was natural he should think of Nina. They had worked in the fields together. He knew she was a deft and willing worker. He had enjoyed her kindness and her laughter and her songs. He must have known, being a normal young male, that she was nubile. It could have come to him as a revelation that near at hand was the answer to the terrible vacuum of his irretrievable loss.
So he had come to claim his bride. While he waited by the wagon road through the long October day, it must have occurred to him that a wife can offer some basic and important pleasures that a mother cannot. Erotic fantasy is not a privilege of the civilized and wellborn alone. As Nina stood before him in her too tight dress, her face full of the first friendly sympathy for him that hed seen since his mother was tired and went to bed to die, his loneliness and fear, and his manhood, rose up in him. He clasped to him his self-chosen bride who was going to make everything all right for him again. And so the child learned from him that men are made differently from women and that this difference is capable of magnificent erection. The child reacted as a young animal reacts to complete surprise: She froze into rigid immobility.
Poor Jake! He had embraced a living girl and found himself holding a steel wire. In a moment he released Nina and stepped back, puzzled by such a reaction to simple passion and simple need. Ninas good arm, unfettered, swung in a wide arc, and the milk pail at the end of her arm caught Jake on the side of the head. The milk-can flew off. The butter popped out and rolled into a wagon rut. Milk cascaded over them both. Jake staggered back and sat down. I expect he was dazed by the blow. A two-gallon can full of milk and butter swung by a strong girl free to use the simple principle of centrifugal force is apt to be stunning. Had it been, however, a blow from anyone or anything else, Jake would have been back on his feet instantly, big, strong young savage that he was. But we all know from personal experience that the most disorienting shock comes not from a physical blow but from simple, trusting expectation rejected by someone in whom we have placed candid, and illogical, faith. And so it must have been for him, because he sat by the side of the wagon trail while Nina raced to the tent lane, ran down it, and began to scream for her mother.
Harriet went pale with worry and anger. She must have been appalled when her older daughter began to menstruate. She had, after all, given up all the sensual pleasures of the world for the Lords sake, not only for herself but for her children. It must have seemed to her a gross injustice that the Lord would allow ordinary sexual maturing to occur, as though Harriets sacrifice had been somehow unobserved. And for the Lord to have allowed a sinful, lecherous, unsaved, and unwashed half-breed to propose marriage (or its facsimile) to a twelve-year-old child must have made her really angry. The storm broke over Ninas head. I doubt if there are many child psychologists who would recommend this method of dealing with the shocks of puberty, but it certainly had the value of taking Ninas mind completely away from her fright and astonishment.
"Ive tried to tell you we must stay away from these ignorant, stubborn mountain people. They will not listen to Gods Word. Ive tried to tell it to them, but they laugh behind my back. Cant you understand they are not the kind of people you can make your friends? You dare not make friends of the world. If they will not listen to or obey Gods law, then they will drag you down to their level and you will be like them. If the world loves you it is because you are one of them. Jesus said, Because ye are not of this world, but I have chosen you out of this world, therefore the world hateth you. So when men want you, beware! It is a sign you are not following Jesus."
The shift of emphasis in a discussion between an adult and a child is the worst kind of motherliness that is to say, an unfair weapon used against a child who hasnt yet learned that no value can be derived form a discussion that has been artificially shifted from a real and present problem to general intellectual concepts. It is a mothers most effective and damaging device to hide her own inadequacies. Some children never learn how to cope with this maternal trickery, and these children end up pale, frightened, inadequate adults.
Nina gathered her wits together in order to reap some comfort and knowledge from this oblique by-pass.
"Do you mean that if someone likes me and speaks kindly to me, and theyre not Adventists, Im not either?" she asked. "Why must we be hated to be good?"
"Cant you understand, child? The struggle is not between us and these people. It is between Satan and God. Jesus was persecuted, spat upon, reviled, and cruelly treated. If we follow Him, we will be, too. If we are not, then we can be sure we are not following Him. The servant is not greater than his Lord. They hated Him. They will hate us."
"Why? Why?" demand Nina, all involved now in this theological discussion. Old Wally likes me. He laughs at what I say. Mary and Booby likes me. Jake likes me," she faltered momentarily, "except there is something wrong with him today. Why do they have to hate me?"
"Now, thats just it," said Harriet, triumphantly. "You should not be saying things to make worldly people laugh. You should be praying unceasingly, and thinking of how to tell them about the Truth!"
"Why do we have to have a God who doesnt want us to be happy or comfortable? I hate Him. I dont want to be saved! I want to live in a house and eat at a table and go to school and be a doctor!" Nina was carried away by nervous tension. "I wish the whole had been drowned in the Red Sea! Then the rest of the Bible would never have been written and we would be home safe with Daddy!"
Harriet became even whiter. She had successfully avoided any discussion of sex, only to find herself listening to heresy.
Serves her right!
Nina crept away to sit by the Sinking Spring, fully expecting to be struck dead by the hand of God.
. . . 13
The next morning Harriet sent Nina over the ridge to the Hurd farm to arrange with John Hurd to bring a horse and wagon and an extra horse to carry their belongings into Waterville as soon as a reply came from Harriets appeal for house room for the winter. She then made over two of her own dresses for Nina, sewing entirely by hand. One, my mother said, was a very fine gingham, and the other a fine delaine with matching silk braid. They were, Nina thought, the most beautiful dresses in the world.
The hard, ringing October frosts began all at once, and the leaves turned. Ninas feet became frostbitten, and chilblains made her feet and ankles burn and itch. Harriet boiled up potato peelings, and when the brew was cool enough Nina plunged in her feet and ankles, happily squeezing the soft, warm, slippery skins between her toes. When the brew became tepid, she plunged her feet into a bucket of ice-cold spring water while Harriet reheated the potatoes. After four or five shifts between hot pail and cold pail, the itching stopped. Nina lingered in the hot-potato pail, feeling like a coddled princess, tenderly ministered to.
A week later, Nina went to Waterville for the mail and to arrange with Dave Lovett to store the tent gear for the winter. There were two letters, one from Philadelphia and one from Williamsport. Nina raced home in a glow of expectation. Harriet read the letters aloud. The letter from Williamsport, from the church, was loving. With great tact and respect for human dignity Brother Leeland urged her to come to them. The children, he said, could help in the household before and after school; Harriet would be a blessing in the Work.
The letter from Philadelphia was specific. The aunt, who with her half of Harriets fathers money had been able, through her husband, to make more money, was old and widowed. She felt it to be her duty to help Harriet, but she could not imagine living a normal, retiring life with two children underfoot. She would be willing to take in Harriet and one child, but no more than one. She had enclosed two tickets to Philadelphia, one full fare and one half fare.
Harriet prayed briefly for guidance and then announced that she and Dorothy would go to Philadelphia and Nina would go to Williamsport.
I wonder what it would be like to be rejected totally by ones mother when one is twelve years old. Most of us at that age have had moments of fear that Mother might love someone else more than oneself. But we bury the fear, because to be sure that such a thing could be is worse than to live with the fear itself. For Nina, it must have been the end of hope. Did the tears that gushed like a spring freshet from her eyes more than sixty years later come really from sorrow that her mothers baby died, leaving her mother comfortless, or did they come from a pool of despair formed that day when she learned that she herself, no matter how hard she tried, was never able to be her mothers baby, ever? It was perhaps a measure of Ninas defeat that she didnt weep, didnt argue, didnt say anything, but began, the next morning, to gather her meager clothes together to pack in a cardboard box tied shut by a string.
Only two trains passed through Waterville each day: the milk train at eight in the morning and the train at five oclock in the afternoon. Both of these went to Williamsport on their way to other places. It would be impossible, in view of the heavy morning frost and the late rising of the October sun, to make the three-hour walk in time to catch the milk train. Nina kissed her mother and her sister and was ready to leave soon after their noon lunch. She had enough money left over from the chestnuts to buy her ticket on the train. The address of Brother Leeland in Williamsport was tucked in her pocket.
"I wish you had shoes and stockings," Harriet said. "Its so cold!"
"Oh, Ill run fast. I can stop often to warm my feet under my dress. Dont worry. I dont need shoes. The sun is out and its never so windy over the cutoff as it is here. Mr. Hurd will come for you tomorrow. Theres enough food til then."
Nina took one last look at her mother and sister and left the tent. She ran down the lane and was part way down the mountain before she huddled in a sheltered place to wrap the skirt of her new dress around her ice-cold feet. She arrived in Waterville more than an hour before the train was due. The station, which was opened only just before a train came in, was locked tight, so she went across to the general store to say goodbye to Dave Lovett. He was taking a day off for hunting, however, and Mr. Fry, the same Mr. Fry who owned the shack in Rattlesnake Run where the counterfeiters were squatting, was minding the store.
"Well, well!" he said. "Looks as if you was going somewhere."
"Yes, Im going away to school in Williamsport. I have the address written down here in my pocket." She patted her pocket to hear the paper rattle. "I can ask where it is when I get off the train. Its only a block from the station, and Mother says its a big building. Its a publishing house where they print religious tracts and the Keystone Gleaner thats a paper thats sent to all the church people. The Leelands live next door. Im to live with them and go to school."
"Well, we;;!" said Mr. Fry, somewhat overwhelmed by all this unexpected information. "Thats nice. You ought to go to school, and taint safe for any of you up in the woods. Wheres your pa? Why dont he come and get you?" At the sight of sudden tears in her eyes he went on hurriedly, "Thar now, dont cry. I didnt go to hurt your feelings. Hell come for you when he can. Whars your shoes?"
Nina was abashed. "I dont have any."
"Well, come on back to where the shoes is, and well see if we cant find some to fit." Mr. Fry was already walking toward the back of the store.
"I dont need shoes," Nina said quickly. "And besides, we dont take charity."
Mr. Fry turned. "Charity! Who said charity? Dave wouldnt pay me long to mind his store if I give his things away. Ill fit you with shoe and stockings and Ill give you a paper writ legal that tells what you owe, and when youre done with school and workin, you can send Dave the money. Hell need it more than, anyways."
Nina was entranced with such a transaction. "That would be splendid! Do you have low shoes, pretty black ones?"
"No." Mr. Fry hardened his heart. "You need high shoes for winter, and rubbers too. Its going to be a snowy winter, and youll want warm feet Goddamn it! Your feet are all frostbitten. What in hell does your mother mean, letting you go like that?"
Nina looked up startled. "Oh, Mr. Fry! Dont swear. Thats wicked. My mothers all right, and so are my feet. It just got cold all of a sudden.
"Of course it did. I didnt mean to swear; it just popped out. Now lets try a pair on for size."
Warmly shod in black cotton stockings and stout high-buttoned shoes and rubbers, with a cunning little shoe-buttoner in her pocket, she climbed aboard the train. As it rattled down the mountain through the early dusk, lamps were being lit in the scattered farmhouses along the way. Never had the child felt so alone as in that loneliest hour of the day when families gather together against the coming of night. Panic arose inside her. This is as bad as walking past a panther, she said to herself. She forced herself to sit quietly; she was afraid that if she moved at all, she would fight to get off the train to go back to the tent and to her mother.
The train conductor who had sold her her ticket came back and sat beside her and talked to her. He was a Williamsport man, and even knew the building where she was going.
"You just stand still when you get off the train," he said. "As soon as the other passengers are off, Ill take you to the publishing house. Well find the Leelands together." Panic subsided in her breast.
"Thank you," she said gratefully. "Mother has told me always ask a man who wears a uniform if I need help. She said a uniformed man always directs girls safely." She smiled at him brilliantly.
Comforted now, she rode through the darkness into a new life.
Continue to Part 2: "Work, for the night is coming."