This story of Village Life in New England was its author’s only novel. Mr. Beecher had been for several years previously to the Civil War a regular contributor to the New York Ledger, and when, at the close of the great conflict, he found himself at leisure to devote considerable time to literary work, he acceded to the request of Mr. Robert Bonner, proprietor and editor of the Ledger, to furnish him a serial story. As Mr. Beecher never had turned his attention to the production of fiction, the task seemed at first very difficult; but as the work progressed he became deeply interested in his theme, in the development of which he took great delight. Norwood was written mostly in Peekskill, New York, and its author denominated it “a summer-child, brought up among flowers and trees”; he asserted that there was not a single unpleasant memory connected with it. While the work was in preparation Mr. Beecher said of it: “I propose to make a story which shall turn, not so much on outward action as on certain mental and inward questions. I propose to delineate a high and noble man, trained to New England theology.. . I propose introducing a full company of various New England characters, to give a real view of the inside of a New England town, its brewing thought, its inventiveness, its industry and enterprise, its education and shrewdness and tact.”
SURROUNDED by goodly hills, and nestling close to the Connecticut River, lay the town of Norwood with its few thousand inhabitants. It was a typical New England village, settled not many years after the landing of the Pilgrims, and retaining in large measure the manners and morals, customs and religion of its fathers.
The place was unusual for picturesqueness and beauty, and it would be safe to say that no fairer village ever glistened in the sunlight or hid itself under arching elms.
Abiah Cathcart, a lifelong resident of Norwood, was an honorable specimen of a New England farmer. He possessed great bodily strength, calmness, patience, and an inflexible will. From his parents he had received, in addition to a healthy body, a sound judgment, habits of industry, a common-school education, and a good name.
At the age of eighteen, Abiah had “bought his time” of his father for two hundred dollars. These were considered liberal terms in the early ‘thirties, when this took place, for a son’s services for the three years before his majority were no small part of the working capital of a farm.
After leaving his father’s house Abiah had hired out as a teamster, and by his faithful labor, thrift, and industry had soon become independent. He had married Rachel Liscomb, a girl of fine traits and sterling character, who made him an admirable wife.
At the time of his marriage, Abiah had purchased a large farm, which, on account of its deteriorated condition and dilapidated buildings, he had been able to secure at a very low price. After his purchase he had set to work to bring his property out of the state of chaos and decay in which it was enveloped, and what would have seemed an impossible task to one of less persistent nature had not daunted his courage.
Abiah had worked early and late with untiring energy, and his wife, who was his equal in industry and frugality, had aided him greatly in his struggle.
In course of time success had crowned his labors and he had found himself the owner of a prosperous farm, which was clear of debt and returned him a large revenue. Sons and daughters had been born to him, only two of whom, however, Alice and Barton, the two youngest, have to do with this narrative.
Barton Cathcart was a true son of his father. Industry and fidelity marked him from his childhood, and he early manifested an ambition and tenacity of purpose which were remarkable in one so young. At the age of ten he was ambitious to do a man’s work, and in any labor that required tact and quickness, rather than strength, he was fully the equal of a grown person.
He was eager to prove himself strong and hardy, rejoicing in the severest storms, and aspiring to the reputation of being considered “a good farmer.” His winters were given to schooling, and his father’s example bred in him a love of reading. When he was fourteen years of age dim questionings began to arise in his mind as to how he should spend his future life, and while a choice of various careers floated before him, the die was cast by Rose Wentworth, his childhood’s friend and companion.
Rose was the doctor’s daughter, lovely in form and feature as well as in character, and loved by all who knew her. She was just the age of Barton’s sister Alice, and the two girls had grown up together and were devoted friends.
When discussing the vital question of a career, Rose expressed the opinion that to her mind college was the first stepping-stone toward a useful life, and Barton, who had not thought of this matter before, was impressed at once with the suggestion.
From this time his mind was filled with the ambition to go to college, and he confided his hope to his parents, who looked upon it as a great step, which should not be taken lightly or unadvisedly.
His father told Barton that if he proved himself worthy of this higher education he would willingly indulge him in his de-sire, but that he must first perfect himself in some branch of learning which his parent should choose.
Accordingly, surveying was decided upon by Mr. Cathcart, and Barton agreed to acquire as much knowledge as he could on that subject. He betook himself to “Uncle Tommy Taft,” who was a retired sailor, and who, he felt sure, could give him advice on this subject. Uncle Tommy was a good-natured old soul, beloved by all the children in the village, for in spite of his rough manners and outlandish ways, he had a warm heart, which they did not fail to appreciate.
Tommy had a wooden leg which he addressed with the endearing epithet of “old Smasher,” and the cheery old fellow, who tinkered and did odd jobs for a living, was always full of quips and pranks and stories of adventure drawn from his sea-faring experiences.
The jolly old, soul had a wink and a word for everybody, and his kind services rendered to the children, and to those poorer than himself, always without compensation, were too numerous to relate.
Good Parson Buell sometimes visited his shop in the regular rounds of parochial duty and tried to talk faithfully to him.
Tommy would listen respectfully and then would respond in the following manner:
“I know that I am, Parson, a sinneran awful sinner; and without excuse. I live below my privileges; I don’t live up to my light and knowledge. To set under such preachin’ as I do, Parson Buell, and not to be better’n I am, is a great sin; and I’m afeerd that I get harder and harder, and that I am puttin’ off the day of repentance, and sinnin’ away my opportunities, and wastin’ my day of grace. It is a surprisin’ thing in me! I don’t wonder that you are alarmed at my case, Parson. It is a very alarmin’ caseI know it is. It has been alarmin’ for more’n forty years. I ought to repent, that’s sartain! Why shouldn’t I? It is well said that it is time for sinners to be surprised in Zion. The rest of the varse, too, is very alarmin’. `Who among us shall dwell with devourin’ fire, and who among us shall dwell with everlastin’ burnings?’ It is sartinly time that I should repent of my evil thoughts, and my drinkin’, and of my swearin’, and of my manifold evil ways and deeds, and I hope, Parson, you will pray for me.”
Among Tommy’s friends no one ranked higher than Bar-ton, and for him the old man had a feeling akin to worship, so that when the latter came to him to confide his college ambitions he could not disguise the regret awakened by the thought of the boy’s departure. His manner was so new, and there was such a sort of helplessness in his way, that Barton was affected by it, and said :
“Why, Tommy, I sha’n’t go this two years, and I shall be home every vacation, you know. It is only a few miles to Amherst, anyhow.”
“It’s all right. If a boy’s got anything particular in him, it’ll certainly git out, somehow, and it ain’t much use to try to stop it. If you do, it’ll only twist it and twirl it, like a seed with a board on it, that will come up and creep out sideways, and gits up in spite of hindrance, only with a cruel crooked stem. I might ‘a made a smart man once, but they meddled with me, and I was fiercewell, no matter. Old Tommy missed it. But you won’t. You’ll be all right, Barton, boy!
On the hull, I’m glad of it. Folks that stay to hum are like coasterssloops and schooners like, that run along shore and do a peddlin’ business in shoal water. Folks that go to college are square-rigged. They can make long voyages, carry big freights, go around the world if they’re mind to.”
In course of time Barton was ready to enter college. He had finished his preparatory studies in a satisfactory manner, and his scholastic ability combined with his athletic prowess made him the pride of the village.
During the last months at home the strong feeling of affection which Barton had always entertained for Rose had been steadily increasing, and he at last realized that he felt for her a passionate and overwhelming love.
Feeling himself unworthy of her, he kept back the words he fain would have uttered during their last evening together, but confided his secret to his mother, who urged him to wait a little longer before acquainting Rose with his feelings.
During Barton’s years at college Rose saw him only at in-frequent intervals, and on these occasions Barton’s efforts to conceal his true feelings caused him to appear formal and cold.
Rose found other admirers who were not held back by scruples of any sort, and Frank Esel, a handsome young artist, and Tom Heywood, a dashing and fascinating Southerner, both aspired to her hand. But Rose did not reciprocate the affection of either of these suitors, as she realized that lying dormant in her heart was a deep love for Barton, waiting to be acknowledged when he should ask for it.
Barton was graduated from college with highest honors, and returned to his native town, where he accepted the place offered him by the trustees to become principal of the Norwood Academy.
This engagement was gratifying to him in every respect, as he was glad to spend a few years in teaching before deciding on his life-work, and also it would keep him near Rose. He found, however, to his consternation, that he had apparently a dangerous rival in Tom Heywood, and he seriously considered questioning him in regard to his intentions.
During this period of uncertainty Barton kept away from Rose, thereby causing her to wonder at his indifference. He finally decided to go West on a business venture, and leave the field to Heywood for a time, thinking that this method of procedure would bring matters to a crisis.
Accordingly, he slipped away without even bidding good-by to Rose, who, though she was at a loss to understand his behavior, did not waver in her allegiance to him.
Meanwhile Alice Cathcart had found her heart going out to the handsome young Southerner, though she fully understood that his interest was centered in Rose.
One day, while the young people were on a nutting excursion, Heywood slipped through a crevasse and was picked up unconscious and with a broken leg. He was carried to the Cathcart farm, where he was nursed through his illness and convalescence by Mrs. Cathcart and Alice, the latter finding her happiest hours when seated by his bedside.
Heywood, on his part, began to appreciate the attractions of his shy, brown-eyed companion, but before he was aware of any serious feelings rumors of war called him back to the South.
The echo of the guns that fired on Fort Sumter was heard in the quiet town of Norwood, and the loyal citizens of that place immediately organized their militia and set out on the march to the front.
Barton, who had returned from the West a few weeks previously, was put in command of a company and departed at the first call. He had reached Norwood in time to cheer with his presence the death-bed of Tommy Taft, which old friend had felt that he could not die content without seeing his much-loved Barton once again.
Before departing for the seat of war, Barton wrote a letter to Rose, who was absent on a visit, telling her of the deep feeling he cherished for her in these words:
“Today I leave for the field upon a sudden summons. My whole soul consents. I was never more cheerful. But a single shadow lies upon me. At last let me speak plainly, Rose. I am sad at leaving you, whom I love more than father and mother, or all besides. This will surprise you, but it is no sudden experience. It has been the secret of my life.
” Only within the year have I been in circumstances to justify me in an honorable solicitation. But a shadow fell upon me. Another came before me. Pardon me! I would not speak of it, but I may never return, and for our child-hood friendship’s sake you will indulge me in the sad pleasure at last of speaking out my heart.
“If only I knew that your interest was with another, all struggle would cease. Your happiness would shed some faint joy on my disappointment. I know not whether, even if you were free, you could love me. Have I said too much? It is as nothing to the unsaid. The silence of my heart through years now yearns for an expression. Only let me hear one word from you; if not in Boston, then at Washington. I pray you do not send me to the war without a word to say that you are not offendedto say more would be a joy too great to hope! But let me not go in the chill of utter silence.
This letter he hastily folded, and, being obliged to trust it to a messenger, put it into the hands of black Pete, whom he charged to deliver it safely.
“Sawmill Pete,” as this individual was usually called, was a well-known character in Norwood. He was colossal in size and strength, overflowing with good nature, and spent his time doing odd jobs instead of devoting himself to any regular labor. He had been the friend of Barton and Rose from their earliest days, and as children they never were happier than when learning about the trees and flowers from Sawmill Pete.
One weakness Pete had which is common to many, and that was his fondness for liquor, but fortunately it assailed him only at infrequent intervals, and at other times he was thoroughly trustworthy and reliable.
On the night that Pete took Barton’s letter he found himself surrounded by many temptations, numerous treats were offered him by men who were to set out for the scene of war the following day, and he could not fail to respond to their advances.
By the time that evening had waned Pete’s brain had become somewhat hazy, but he did not forget Barton’s commission, and delivered to Dr. Wentworth a note which he thought the correct one.
But this note was only a business communication intended for Barton’s father, which the doctor promptly forwarded to its rightful owner. The note addressed to Rose never reached its destination, but was accidentally tossed by Pete into the fire with some other crumpled papers, when he was clearing out his pockets the following morning.
Rose returned from her visit just after Barton and his men had taken their hurried departure, and found it impossible to conjecture any reason why he should leave her a second time without a word of farewell; she tried, however, to console herself with the thought that there must have been some good reason for his having done so.
While the men of Norwood were giving their lives and their services to their country, the faithful women at home were doing everything in their power to assist in the great struggle.
Rose worked for the soldiers unceasingly, but was not satisfied with these slight tasks, for she longed to go to the front as a nurse, and begged her father to accede to her wish.
The death of her brother Arthur, on the battlefield, awakened the conviction in her mind that in this course lay her duty; and her father, feeling at last that she was called to this noble mission, gave his consent. Accordingly, after some months spent in preparation and study, Rose set out for Washington accompanied by Agate Bissell, who had been the Went-worths’ faithful housekeeper and friend for many years.
Alice Cathcart also was filled with a burning desire to aid in this work, and after gaining her parents’ consent she joined Rose in this labor of love. The two girls were never separated; they worked together, traveled together, slept together, and were equally’ admired and beloved by the soldiers to whom they ministered.
Alice Cathcart was not less patriotic in her feelings than Rose, but for some reason she added to these generous impulses a peculiar pity and tenderness toward the sick and wounded rebel prisoners.
Her thoughts continually turned to Heywood, who was fighting for the Confederacy, in spite of the fact that his heart was not in the cause, for his judgment and reason told him that the Northerners were right in this great conflict.
After several months of service in the Washington hospitals, Rose and Alice returned to their homes for a period of rest; but before this time had elapsed they were impatient to be back at their labors, and returned to their work in time to enter the campaign of Chancellorsville.
This campaign opened in May, 1863, and Barton Cathcart (who had been advanced to the rank of general), learning of his sister’s presence, immediately sought her out and had an affectionate meeting with her, but missed seeing Rose Wentworth, who was at that time temporarily employed in the transport service. But just before the great battle of Gettysburg these two lovers, between whom existed such a complete misunderstanding, had a sudden and unexpected meeting. It was only for a passing moment, and but few words were exchanged between them, yet as they stood together Barton fixed upon Rose a look so full of inquiry, so imploring and hungry, so full of eagerness and helplessness, that Rose never forgot it.
During the terrible scenes that followed Rose and Alice worked tirelessly, and when after days and nights of almost continual service Rose was questioned as to how she could endure so much and hold out so long, she responded, ” God gave me strength according to my need.”
During one terrible charge, in which the Union troops were led by Barton, Alice recognized Tom Heywood in the opposing army, and her grief and fear lest he should be killed knew no bounds. The following morning Alice was up before dawn, searching with, anxious foreboding for some news of Heywood. To her horror, she suddenly came upon his dead body, and the shock was so great that she was bewildered, and could not believe as she gazed upon his noble face that its calmness was more than that of sleep.
“Speak to me!” she cried. “Do wake! It is AliceAlice Cathcart! 0 Heywood, I would speak to you if it were I lying so! He is not dead! It cannot be death!”
Then, looking long and wildly, as a child looks shudderingly into some dark room at night, she lowered her voice and said in a hoarse whisper:
“He is dead! 0 God, take me!”
Already the light seemed vanishing and Alice fell fainting upon Heywood’s breast. At last she had found on his bosom a brief rest of love.
Thus she was found by Hiram Beers, an old Norwood friend, who lifted her up tenderly and gave her what comfort he could.
Alice returned to the hospital, arranged her apparel with more than common care, and stepped forth calmly but firmly to her merciful duties. Her face was serene but without smiles. Her care and pity, always striking, had in them now an austere tenderness that struck the rudest men with awe and admiration, as if an inspired priestess were among them. Nor, to the end, did Alice ever mention Heywood’s name, nor for one waking hour did she ever forget it!
After the third day of Gettysburg, which brought victory to the Northern troops, Rose received a letter from Barton which was brought to her by Hiram Beers, with the sad tidings that General Cathcart had fallen in the battle and that no trace of him could be found.
Rose took the letter and read:
“I have a presentiment, Rose, I feel that evil will befall me to-morrow. If you get these lines I shall have fallen, and my words will be forgiven as of one dead. Rose, I have tried to conquer that love which has so taken possession of my life as to overcome all other feelings. As early as I can remember, I loved you. It has grown with my manhood. It is a part of my being. Not to love you would be not to be myself. When I told you all this,, on leaving home, I had hoped for some sympathy; I pleaded for only a word. My letter was not answered or noticed. Perhaps your silence was best. It was hard to bear. If I could have ceased loving, I could have conquered the pain of the refusal which you gave by silence. It will not be a trouble to you any longer to know that a heart has loved you beyond every other thing. My latest, strongest feeling, Rose, is love for you! My last wishes and prayers invoke blessings on you! I go toward darkness; but there is a light beyond. In heaven, 0 Rose, in heaven, I shall meet you, and say `I love you!’ without-fear of repulse.
Rose stood silent and motionless. Amazement, sorrow, and joy filled her heart. She whispered to herself:
“He loved me! He loved me always!best!to the last! He told me of it! When? what letter? There has been some dreadful mistake! And he will never know that I loved him more! Noble soul, if thou art in heaven, God will tell thee how thou art loved!And he wrote to me! wrote to tell me all this when first leaving Norwood? Where is that treacherous letter that did not fulfil its message?”
Rose then called Alice and broke the sad news to her; but while she did so her mood seemed exalted, as in her sorrow she was filled with an overmastering joy, and she could triumph in the knowledge of Barton’s undying love.
Alice saw in Rose’s experience a great contrast to the one that had come to her, as her one desire had been for Heywood’s love, and that longing must forever remain ungratified.
After three days, during which time Barton was mourned as dead, news came that he had been picked up wounded on the battle-field and taken prisoner.
Rose was overwhelmed with joy at the tidings that he still lived, and wished to go immediately to get a pass that would take her through the enemy’s lines so that she might see General Lee and sue for Barton’s release.
Just as she was departing, however, Sawmill Pete, who had been Barton’s faithful servant and ally through the war, appeared on the scene with the further information that Barton was among friends, but was seriously wounded and lying very near death.
Rose, accompanied by her father, who had recently responded to the call for surgeons, set out at once, guided by Pete, for Barton’s bedside. They found him in the home of a kind family named Hetherington, where he had been carried by the faithful Pete, who had journeyed for miles with Barton in his arms after rescuing him from the hands of the enemy.
Barton hovered for some days between life and death, but at last consciousness returned, and he opened his eyes and saw Rose kneeling beside him.
He put his hand timidly out to touch her, as if to make sure whether it was an illusion or a reality. His hand was clasped in both of hers. She leaned toward him. He felt her kiss upon his brow. Slowly and with difficulty he spoke:
“Isthis–Rose?my Rose ?I mean”
“Yes, Bartonyour own Rose; you will live, BartonO Barton, live! live!” She spoke with an intensity full of anguish, for a moment letting go restraint.
He lay silent. His eyes were closed. In his weakness he could not keep back the tears that would break from under his eyelids. After a moment’s pause, Barton raised his eyes to Rose with a look of utter imploring, as if he would say : “Do not let me be deceived, nor send me back again to hopelessness.”
Her eyes were full of gladness and love, if one could have seen them behind her tears.
“God has been very gracious to us both, Barton. He has brought us together, and nothing shall ever divide us again.”
After Barton’s wounds were healed and his strength had returned, he joined his corps again and fought with them till the war ended, two years later. Then, his duties over, he re-turned to Norwood and married his beloved and faithful Rose, who had proved herself worthy to be the wife of a man so noble.
The village of Norwood rejoiced in this happy event and united with enthusiasm in the wedding festivities of these two lovers, who had so truly merited the love and admiration of their community.