Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Story of a Pioneer
High-school and college days

The end of the Civil War brought freedom to me, too.  When peace was declared my father and brothers returned to the claim in the wilderness which we women of the family had labored so desperately to hold while they were gone.  To us, as to others, the final years of the war had brought many changes.  My sister Eleanor's place was empty. Mary, as I have said, had married and gone to live in Big Rapids, and my mother and I were alone with my brother Harry, now a boy of fourteen.  After the return of our men it was no longer necessary to devote every penny of my earnings to the maintenance of our home.  For the first time I could begin to save a portion of my income toward the fulfilment of my college dream, but even yet there was a long, arid stretch ahead of me before the college doors came even distantly into sight.

The largest salary I could earn by teaching in our Northern woods was one hundred and fifty-six dollars a year, for two terms of thirteen weeks each; and from this, of course, I had to deduct the cost of my board and clothing--the sole expenditure I allowed myself.  The dollars for an education accumulated very, very slowly, until at last, in desperation, weary of seeing the years of my youth rush past, bearing my hopes with them, I took a sudden and radical step.  I gave up teaching, left our cabin in the woods, and went to Big Rapids to live with my sister Mary, who had married a successful man and who generously offered me a home.  There, I had decided, I would learn a trade of some kind, of any kind; it did not greatly matter what it was.  The sole essential was that it should be a money-making trade, offering wages which would make it possible to add more rapidly to my savings.  In those days, almost fifty years ago, and in a small pioneer town, the fields open to women were few and unfruitful. The needle at once presented itself, but at first I turned with loathing from it.  I would have preferred the digging of ditches or the shoveling of coal; but the needle alone persistently pointed out my way, and I was finally forced to take it.

Fate, however, as if weary at last of seeing me between her paws, suddenly let me escape.  Before I had been working a month at my uncongenial trade Big Rapids was favored by a visit from a Universalist woman minister, the Reverend Marianna  Thompson, who came there to preach.  Her sermon was delivered on Sunday morning, and I was, I think, almost the earliest arrival of the great congregation which filled the church.  It was a wonderful moment when I saw my first woman minister enter her pulpit; and as I listened to her sermon, thrilled to the soul, all my early aspirations to become a minister myself stirred in me with cumulative force.  After the services I hung for a time on the fringe of the group that surrounded her, and at last, when she was alone and about to leave, I found courage to introduce myself and pour forth the tale of my ambition.  Her advice was as prompt as if she had studied my problem for years.

``My child,'' she said, ``give up your foolish idea of learning a trade, and go to school.  You can't do anything until you have an education.  Get it, and get it NOW.''

Her suggestion was much to my liking, and I paid her the compliment of acting on it promptly, for the next morning I entered the Big Rapids High School, which was also a preparatory school for college. There I would study, I determined, as long as my money held out, and with the optimism of youth I succeeded in confining my imagination to this side of that crisis.  My home, thanks to Mary, was assured; the wardrobe I had brought from the woods covered me sufficiently; to one who had walked five and six miles a day for years, walking to school held no discomfort; and as for pleasure, I found it, like a heroine of fiction, in my studies. For the first time life was smiling at me, and with all my young heart I smiled back.

The preceptress of the high school was Lucy Foot, a college graduate and a remarkable woman. I had heard much of her sympathy and understanding; and on the evening following my first day in school I went to her and repeated the confidences I had reposed in the Reverend Marianna Thompson. My trust in her was justified.  She took an immediate interest in me, and proved it at once by putting me into the speaking and debating classes, where I was given every opportunity to hold forth to helpless classmates when the spirit of eloquence moved me.

As an aid to public speaking I was taught to ``elocute,'' and I remember in every mournful detail the occasion on which I gave my first recitation. We were having our monthly ``public exhibition night,'' and the audience included not only my classmates, but their parents and friends as well.  The selection I intended to recite was a poem entitled ``No Sects in Heaven,'' but when I faced my audience I was so appalled by its size and by the sudden realization of my own temerity that I fainted during the delivery of the first verse.  Sympathetic classmates carried me into an anteroom and revived me, after which they naturally assumed that the entertainment I furnished was over for the evening. I, however, felt that if I let that failure stand against me I could never afterward speak in public; and within ten minutes, notwithstanding the protests of my friends, I was back in the hall and beginning my recitation a second time.  The audience gave me its eager attention.  Possibly it hoped to see me topple off the platform again, but nothing of the sort occurred.  I went through the recitation with self-possession and received some friendly applause at the end.  Strangely enough, those first sensations of ``stage fright'' have been experienced, in a lesser degree, in connection with each of the thousands of public speeches I have made since that time.  I have never again gone so far as to faint in the presence of an audience; but I have invariably walked out on the platform feeling the sinking sensation at the pit of the stomach, the weakness of the knees, that I felt in the hour of my debut.  Now, however, the nervousness passes after a moment or two.

From that night Miss Foot lost no opportunity of putting me into the foreground of our school affairs. I took part in all our debates, recited yards of poetry to any audience we could attract, and even shone mildly in our amateur theatricals.  It was probably owing to all this activity that I attracted the interest of the presiding elder of our district--Dr. Peck, a man of progressive ideas.  There was at that time a movement on foot to license women to preach in the Methodist Church, and Dr. Peck was ambitious to be the first presiding elder to have a woman ordained for the Methodist ministry.  He had urged Miss Foot to be this pioneer, but her ambitions did not turn in that direction.  Though she was a very devout Methodist, she had no wish to be the shepherd of a religious flock.  She loved her school-work, and asked nothing better than to remain in it.  Gently but persistently she directed the attention of Dr. Peck to me, and immediately things began to happen.

Without telling me to what it might lead, Miss Foot finally arranged a meeting at her home by inviting Dr. Peck and me to dinner.  Being unconscious of any significance in the occasion, I chatted light-heartedly about the large issues of life and probably settled most of them to my personal satisfaction. Dr. Peck drew me out and led me on, listened and smiled.  When the evening was over and we rose to go, he turned to me with sudden seriousness:

``My quarterly meeting will be held at Ashton,'' he remarked, casually.  ``I would like you to preach the quarterly sermon.''

For a moment the earth seemed to slip away from my feet.  I stared at him in utter stupefaction. Then slowly I realized that, incredible as it seemed, the man was in earnest.

``Why,'' I stammered, ``_I_ can't preach a sermon!''

Dr. Peck smiled at me.  ``Have you ever tried?'' he asked.

I started to assure him vehemently that I never had.  Then, as if Time had thrown a picture on a screen before me, I saw myself as a little girl preaching alone in the forest, as I had so often preached to a congregation of listening trees.  I qualified my answer.

``Never,'' I said, ``to human beings.''

Dr. Peck smiled again.  ``Well,'' he told me, ``the door is open.  Enter or not, as you wish.''

He left the house, but I remained to discuss his overwhelming proposition with Miss Foot.  A sudden sobering thought had come to me.

``But,'' I exclaimed, ``I've never been converted. How can I preach to any one?''

We both had the old-time idea of conversion, which now seems so mistaken.  We thought one had to struggle with sin and with the Lord until at last the heart opened, doubts were dispersed, and the light poured in.  Miss Foot could only advise me to put the matter before the Lord, to wrestle and to pray; and thereafter, for hours at a time, she worked and prayed with me, alternately urging, pleading, instructing, and sending up petitions in my behalf. 

Our last session was a dramatic one, which took up the entire night.  Long before it was over we were both worn out; but toward morning, either from exhaustion of body or exaltation of soul, I seemed to see the light, and it made me very happy.  With all my heart I wanted to preach, and I believed that now at last I had my call.  The following day we sent word to Dr. Peck that I would preach the sermon at Ashton as he had asked, but we urged him to say nothing of the matter for the present, and Miss Foot and I also kept the secret locked in our breasts. I knew only too well what view my family and my friends would take of such a step and of me.  To them it would mean nothing short of personal disgrace and a blotted page in the Shaw record.

I had six weeks in which to prepare my sermon, and I gave it most of my waking hours as well as those in which I should have been asleep.  I took for my text:  ``And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.''

It was not until three days before I preached the sermon that I found courage to confide my purpose to my sister Mary, and if I had confessed my intention to commit a capital crime she could not have been more disturbed.  We two had always been very close, and the death of Eleanor, to whom we were both devoted, had drawn us even nearer to each other.  Now Mary's tears and prayers wrung my heart and shook my resolution.  But, after all, she was asking me to give up my whole future, to close my ears to my call, and I felt that I could not do it.  My decision caused an estrangement between us which lasted for years. 

On the day preceding the delivery of my sermon I left for Ashton on the afternoon train; and in the same car, but as far away from me as she could get, Mary sat alone and wept throughout the journey.  She was going to my mother, but she did not speak to me; and I, for my part, facing both alienation from her and the ordeal before me, found my one comfort in Lucy Foot's presence and understanding sympathy. There was no church in Ashton, so I preached my sermon in its one little school-house, which was filled with a curious crowd, eager to look at and hear the girl who was defying all conventions by getting out of the pew and into the pulpit.  There was much whispering and suppressed excitement before I began, but when I gave out my text silence fell upon the room, and from that moment until I had finished my hearers listened quietly.  A kerosene-lamp stood on a stand at my elbow, and as I preached I trembled so violently that the oil shook in its glass globe; but I finished without breaking down, and at the end Dr. Peck, who had his own reasons for nervousness, handsomely assured me that my first sermon was better than his maiden effort had been.

It was evidently not a failure, for the next day he invited me to follow him around in his circuit, which included thirty-six appointments; he wished me to preach in each of the thirty-six places, as it was desirable to let the various ministers hear and know me before I applied for my license as a local preacher. The sermon also had another result, less gratifying.  It brought out, on the following morning, the first notice of me ever printed in a newspaper. This was instigated by my brother-in-law, and it was brief but pointed.  It read:

A young girl named Anna Shaw, seventeen years old, [1] preached at Ashton yesterday.  Her real friends deprecate the course she is pursuing. [1] A misstatement by the brother-in-law.  Dr. Shaw was at this time twenty-three years old.--E. J.

The little notice had something of the effect of a lighted match applied to gunpowder.  An explosion of public sentiment followed it, the entire community arose in consternation, and I became a bone of contention over which friends and strangers alike wrangled until they wore themselves out. The members of my family, meeting in solemn council, sent for me, and I responded.  They had a proposition to make, and they lost no time in putting it before me.  If I gave up my preaching they would send me to college and pay for my entire course.  They suggested Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor tempted me sorely; but to descend from the pulpit I had at last entered--the pulpit I had visualized in all my childish dreams--was not to be considered. We had a long evening together, and it was a very unhappy one.  At the end of it I was given twenty-four hours in which to decide whether I would choose my people and college, or my pulpit and the arctic loneliness of a life that held no family-circle.  It did not require twenty-four hours of reflection to convince me that I must go my solitary way.

That year I preached thirty-six times, at each of the presiding elder's appointments; and the following spring, at the annual Methodist Conference of our district, held at Big Rapids, my name was presented to the assembled ministers as that of a candidate for a license to preach.  There was unusual interest in the result, and my father was among those who came to the Conference to see the vote taken. During these Conferences a minister voted affirmatively on a question by holding up his hand, and negatively by failing to do so.  When the question of my license came up the majority of the ministers voted by raising both hands, and in the pleasant excitement which followed my father slipped away. Those who saw him told me he looked pleased; but he sent me no message showing a change of view- point, and the gulf between the family and its black sheep remained unbridged.  Though the warmth of Mary's love for me had become a memory, the warmth of her hearthstone was still offered me.  I accepted it, perforce, and we lived together like shadows of what we had been.  Two friends alone of all I had made stood by me without qualification --Miss Foot and Clara Osborn, the latter my ``chum'' at Big Rapids and a dweller in my heart to this day.

In the mean time my preaching had not interfered with my studies.  I was working day and night, but life was very difficult; for among my school-mates, too, there were doubts and much head-shaking over this choice of a career.  I needed the sound of friendly voices, for I was very lonely; and suddenly, when the pressure from all sides was strongest and I was going down physically under it, a voice was raised that I had never dared to dream would speak for me.  Mary A. Livermore came to Big Rapids, and as she was then at the height of her career, the entire countryside poured in to hear her.  Far back in the crowded hall I sat alone and listened to her, thrilled by the lecture and tremulous with the hope of meeting the lecturer.  When she had finished speaking I joined the throng that surged forward from the body of the hall, and as I reached her and felt the grasp of her friendly hand I had a sudden conviction that the meeting was an epoch in my life. I was right.  Some one in the circle around us told her that I wanted to preach, and that I was meeting tremendous opposition.  She was interested at once. She looked at me with quickening sympathy, and then, suddenly putting an arm around me, drew me close to her side.

``My dear,'' she said, quietly, ``if you want to preach, go on and preach.  Don't let anybody stop you. No matter what people say, don't let them stop you!''

For a moment I was too overcome to answer her. These were almost my first encouraging words, and the morning stars singing together could not have made sweeter music for my ears.  Before I could recover a woman within hearing spoke up. 

``Oh, Mrs. Livermore,'' she exclaimed, ``don't say that to her!  We're all trying to stop her.  Her people are wretched over the whole thing.  And don't you see how ill she is?  She has one foot in the grave and the other almost there!'' 

Mrs. Livermore turned upon me a long and deeply thoughtful look.  ``Yes,'' she said at last, ``I see she has.  But it is better that she should die doing the thing she wants to do than that she should die because she can't do it.'' 

Her words were a tonic which restored my voice. ``So they think I'm going to die!'' I cried.  ``Well, I'm not!  I'm going to live and preach!''

I have always felt since then that without the inspiration of Mrs. Livermore's encouragement I might not have continued my fight.  Her sanction was a shield, however, from which the criticisms of the world fell back.  Fate's more friendly interest in my affairs that year was shown by the fact that she sent Mrs. Livermore into my life before I had met Anna Dickinson.  Miss Dickinson came to us toward spring and lectured on Joan of Arc.  Never before or since have I been more deeply moved by a speaker.  When she had finished her address I made my happy way to the front of the hall with the others who wished to meet the distinguished guest.  It was our local manager who introduced me, and he said, ``This is our Anna Shaw.  She is going to be a lecturer, too.''

I looked up at the brilliant Miss Dickinson with the trustfulness of youth in my eyes.  I remembered Mrs. Livermore and I thought all great women were like her, but I was now to experience a bitter disillusionment.  Miss Dickinson barely touched the tips of my fingers as she looked indifferently past the side of my face.  ``Ah,'' she said, icily, and turned away.  In later years I learned how impossible it is for a public speaker to leave a gracious impression on every life that for a moment touches her own; but I have never ceased to be thankful that I met Mrs. Livermore before I met Miss Dickinson at the crisis in my career.

In the autumn of 1873 I entered Albion College, in Albion, Michigan.  I was twenty-five years of age, but I looked much younger--probably not more than eighteen to the casual glance.  Though I had made every effort to save money, I had not been successful, for my expenses constantly outran my little income, and my position as preacher made it necessary for me to have a suitable wardrobe. When the time came to enter college I had exactly eighteen dollars in the world, and I started for Albion with this amount in my purse and without the slightest notion of how I was to add to it.  The money problem so pressed upon me, in fact, that when I reached my destination at midnight and discovered that it would cost fifty cents to ride from the station to the college, I saved that amount by walking the entire distance on the railroad tracks, while my imagination busied itself pleasantly with pictures of the engine that might be thundering upon me in the rear.  I had chosen Albion because Miss Foot had been educated there, and I was encouraged by an incident that happened the morning after my arrival.  I was on the campus, walking toward the main building, when I saw a big copper penny lying on the ground, and, on picking it up, I discovered that it bore the year of my birth.  That seemed a good omen, and it was emphatically underlined by the finding of two exactly similar pennies within a week.  Though there have been days since then when I was sorely tempted to spend them, I have those three pennies still, and I confess to a certain comfort in their possession!

As I had not completed my high-school course, my first days at Albion were spent in strenuous preparation for the entrance examinations; and one morning, as I was crossing the campus with a History of the United States tucked coyly under my arm, I met the president of the college, Dr. Josclyn.  He stopped for a word of greeting, during which I betrayed the fact that I had never studied United States history.  Dr. Josclyn at once invited me into his office with, I am quite sure, the purpose of explaining as kindly as he could that my preparation for college was insufficient.  As an opening to the subject he began to talk of history, and we talked and talked on, while unheeded hours were born and died.  We discussed the history of the United States, the governments of the world, the causes which led to the influence of one nation on another, the philosophical basis of the different national movements westward, and the like.  It was the longest and by far the most interesting talk I have ever had with a highly educated man, and during it I could actually feel my brain expand.  When I rose to go President Josclyn stopped me.

``I have something to give you,'' he said, and he wrote a few words on a slip of paper and handed the slip to me.  When, on reaching the dormitory, I opened it, I found that the president had passed me in the history of the entire college course!  This, moreover, was not the only pleasant result of our interview, for within a few weeks President and Mrs. Josclyn, whose daughter had recently died, invited me to board with them, and I made my home with them during my first year at Albion.

My triumph in history was followed by the swift and chastening discovery that I was behind my associates in several other branches.  Owing to my father's early help, I was well up in mathematics, but I had much to learn of philosophy and the languages, and to these I devoted many midnight candles. 

Naturally, I soon plunged into speaking, and my first public speech at college was a defense of Xantippe.  I have always felt that the poor lady was greatly abused, and that Socrates deserved all he received from her, and more.  I was glad to put myself on record as her champion, and my fellow-students must soon have felt that my admiration for Xantippe was based on similarities of temperament, for within a few months I was leading the first college revolt against the authority of the men students.

Albion was a coeducational institution, and the brightest jewels in its crown were its three literary societies--the first composed of men alone, the second of women alone, and the third of men and women together.  Each of the societies made friendly advances to new students, and for some time I hesitated on the brink of the new joys they offered, uncertain which to choose.  A representative of the mixed society, who was putting its claims before me, unconsciously helped me to make up my mind. ``Women,'' he pompously assured me, ``need to be associated with men, because they don't know how to manage meetings.''

On the instant the needle of decision swung around to the women's society and remained there, fixed. ``If they don't,'' I told the pompous young man, ``it's high time they learned.  I shall join the women, and we'll master the art.''

I did join the women's society, and I had not been a member very long before I discovered that when there was an advantage of any kind to be secured the men invariably got it.  While I was brooding somberly upon this wrong an opportunity came to make a formal and effective protest against the men's high-handed methods.  The Quinquennial reunion of all the societies was about to be held, and the special feature of this festivity was always an oration.  The simple method of selecting the orator which had formerly prevailed had been for the young men to decide upon the speaker and then announce his name to the women, who humbly confirmed it.  On this occasion, however, when the name came in to us, I sent a message to our brother society to the effect that we, too, intended to make a nomination and to send in a name.

At such unprecedented behavior the entire student body arose in excitement, which, among the girls, was combined with equal parts of exhilaration and awe.  The men refused to consider our nominee, and as a friendly compromise we suggested that we have a joint meeting of all the societies and elect the speaker at this gathering; but this plan also the men at first refused, giving in only after weeks of argument, during which no one had time for the calmer pleasures of study.  When the joint meeting was finally held, nothing was accomplished; we girls had one more member than the boys had, and we promptly re-elected our candidate, who was as promptly declined by the boys.  Two of our girls were engaged to two of the boys, and it was secretly planned by our brother society that during a second joint meeting these two men should take the girls out for a drive and then slip back to vote, leaving the girls at some point sufficiently remote from college.  We discovered the plot, however, in time to thwart it, and at last, when nothing but the unprecedented tie-up had been discussed for months, the boys suddenly gave up their candidate and nominated me for orator.

This was not at all what I wanted, and I immediately declined to serve.  We girls then nominated the young man who had been first choice of our brother society, but he haughtily refused to accept the compliment.  The reunion was only a fortnight away, and the programme had not been printed, so now the president took the situation in hand and peremptorily ordered me to accept the nomination or be suspended.  This was a wholly unexpected boomerang.  I had wished to make a good fight for equal rights for the girls, and to impress the boys with the fact of our existence as a society; but I had not desired to set the entire student body by the ears nor to be forced to prepare and deliver an oration at the eleventh hour.  Moreover, I had no suitable gown to wear on so important an occasion. One of my classmates, however, secretly wrote to my sister, describing my blushing honors and explaining my need, and my family rallied to the call. My father bought the material, and my mother and Mary paid for the making of the gown.  It was a white alpaca creation, trimmed with satin, and the consciousness that it was extremely becoming sustained me greatly during the mental agony of preparing and delivering my oration.  To my family that oration was the redeeming episode of my early career.  For the moment it almost made them forget my crime of preaching.

My original fund of eighteen dollars was now supplemented by the proceeds of a series of lectures I gave on temperance.  The temperance women were not yet organized, but they had their speakers, and I was occasionally paid five dollars to hold forth for an hour or two in the little country school-houses of our region.  As a licensed preacher I had no tuition fees to pay at college; but my board, in the home of the president and his wife, was costing me four dollars a week, and this was the limit of my expenses, as I did my own laundry-work.  During my first college year the amount I paid for amusement was exactly fifty cents; that went for a lecture.  The mental strain of the whole experience was rather severe, for I never knew how much I would be able to earn; and I was beginning to feel the effects of this when Christmas came and brought with it a gift of ninety-two dollars, which Miss Foot had collected among my Big Rapids friends.  That, with what I could earn, carried me through the year.

The following spring our brother James, who was now living in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, invited my sister Mary and me to spend the summer with him, and Mary and I finally dug a grave for our little hatchet and went East together with something of our old-time joy in each other's society.  We reached St. Johnsbury one Saturday, and within an hour of our arrival learned that my brother had arranged for me to preach in a local church the following day.  That threatened to spoil the visit for Mary and even to disinter the hatchet! At first she positively refused to go to hear me, but after a few hours of reflection she announced gloomily that if she did not go I would not have my hair arranged properly or get my hat on straight.  Moved by this conviction, she joined the family parade to the church, and later, in the sacristy, she pulled me about and pinned me up to her heart's content. Then, reluctantly, she went into the church and heard me preach.  She offered no tributes after our return to the house, but her protests ceased from that time, and we gave each other the love and understanding which had marked our girlhood days. The change made me very happy; for Mary was the salt of the earth, and next only to my longing for my mother, I had longed for her in the years of our estrangement.

Every Sunday that summer I preached in or near St. Johnsbury, and toward autumn we had a big meeting which the ministers of all the surrounding churches attended.  I was asked to preach the sermon--a high compliment--and I chose that important day to make a mistake in quoting a passage from Scripture.  I asked, ``Can the Ethiopian change his spots or the leopard his skin?''  I realized at once that I had transposed the words, and no doubt a look of horror dawned in my eyes; but I went on without correcting myself and without the slightest pause.  Later, one of the ministers congratulated me on this presence of mind. 

``If you had corrected yourself,'' he said, ``all the young people would have been giggling yet over the spotted nigger.  Keep to your rule of going right ahead!''

At the end of the summer the various churches in which I had preached gave me a beautiful gold watch and one hundred dollars in money, and with an exceedingly light heart I went back to college to begin my second year of work.

From that time life was less complex.  I had enough temperance-work and preaching in the country school-houses and churches to pay my college expenses, and, now that my financial anxieties were relieved, my health steadily improved.  Several times I preached to the Indians, and these occasions were among the most interesting of my experiences.  The squaws invariably brought their babies with them, but they had a simple and effective method of relieving themselves of the care of the infants as soon as they reached the church.  The papooses, who were strapped to their boards, were hung like a garment on the back wall of the building by a hole in the top of the board, which projected above their heads.  Each papoose usually had a bit of fat pork tied to the end of a string fastened to its wrist, and with these sources of nourishment the infants occupied themselves pleasantly while the sermon was in progress.  Frequently the pork slipped down the throat of the papoose, but the struggle of the child and the jerking of its hands in the strangulation that followed pulled the piece safely out again.  As I faced the congregation I also faced the papooses, to whom the indifferent backs of their mothers were presented; it seemed to me there was never a time when some papoose was not choking, but no matter how much excitement or discomfort was going on among the babies, not one squaw turned her head to look back at them.  In that assemblage the emotions were not allowed to interrupt the calm intellectual enjoyment of the sermon.

My most dramatic experience during this period occurred in the summer of 1874, when I went to a Northern lumber-camp to preach in the pulpit of a minister who was away on his honeymoon.  The stage took me within twenty-two miles of my destination, to a place called Seberwing.  To my dismay, however, when I arrived at Seberwing, Saturday evening, I found that the rest of the journey lay through a dense woods, and that I could reach my pulpit in time the next morning only by having some one drive me through the woods that night.  It was not a pleasant prospect, for I had heard appalling tales of the stockades in this region and of the women who were kept prisoners there.  But to miss the engagement was not to be thought of, and when, after I had made several vain efforts to find a driver, a man appeared in a two-seated wagon and offered to take me to my destination, I felt that I had to go with him, though I did not like his appearance. He was a huge, muscular person, with a protruding jaw and a singularly evasive eye; but I reflected that his forbidding expression might be due, in part at least, to the prospect of the long night drive through the woods, to which possibly he objected as much as I did.

It was already growing dark when we started, and within a few moments we were out of the little settlement and entering the woods.  With me I had a revolver I had long since learned to use, but which I very rarely carried.  I had hesitated to bring it now--had even left home without it; and then, impelled by some impulse I never afterward ceased to bless, had returned for it and dropped it into my hand-bag.

I sat on the back seat of the wagon, directly behind the driver, and for a time, as we entered the darkening woods, his great shoulders blotted out all perspective as he drove on in stolid silence. Then, little by little, they disappeared like a rapidly fading negative.  The woods were filled with Norway pines, hemlocks, spruce, and tamaracks-great, somber trees that must have shut out the light even on the brightest days.  To-night the heavens held no lamps aloft to guide us, and soon the darkness folded around us like a garment.  I could see neither the driver nor his horses.  I could hear only the sibilant whisper of the trees and the creak of our slow wheels in the rough forest road.

Suddenly the driver began to talk, and at first I was glad to hear the reassuring human tones, for the experience had begun to seem like a bad dream. I replied readily, and at once regretted that I had done so, for the man's choice of topics was most unpleasant.  He began to tell me stories of the stockades--grim stories with horrible details, repeated so fully and with such gusto that I soon realized he was deliberately affronting my ears. I checked him and told him I could not listen to such talk. He replied with a series of oaths and shocking vulgarities, stopping his horses that he might turn and fling the words into my face.  He ended by snarling that I must think him a fool to imagine he did not know the kind of woman I was.  What was I doing in that rough country, he demanded, and why was I alone with him in those black woodsat night? Though my heart missed a beat just then, I tried to answer him calmly.

``You know perfectly well who I am,'' I reminded him.  ``And you understand that I am making this journey to-night because I am to preach to-morrow morning and there is no other way to keep my appointment.'' 

He uttered a laugh which was a most unpleasant sound.

``Well,'' he said, coolly, ``I'm damned if I'll take you.  I've got you here, and I'm going to keep you here!''

I slipped my hand into the satchel in my lap, and it touched my revolver.  No touch of human fingers ever brought such comfort.  With a deep breath of thanksgiving I drew it out and cocked it, and as I did so he recognized the sudden click.

``Here!  What have you got there?'' he snapped.

``I have a revolver,'' I replied, as steadily as I could.  ``And it is cocked and aimed straight at your back.  Now drive on.  If you stop again, or speak, I'll shoot you.''

For an instant or two he blustered.

``By God,'' he cried, ``you wouldn't dare.''

``Wouldn't I?'' I asked.  ``Try me by speaking just once more.''

Even as I spoke I felt my hair rise on my scalp with the horror of the moment, which seemed worse than any nightmare a woman could experience. But the man was conquered by the knowledge of the waiting, willing weapon just behind him.  He laid his whip savagely on the backs of his horses and they responded with a leap that almost knocked me out of the wagon.

The rest of the night was a black terror I shall never forget.  He did not speak again, nor stop, but I dared not relax my caution for an instant. Hour after hour crawled toward day, and still I sat in the unpierced darkness, the revolver ready. I knew he was inwardly raging, and that at any instant he might make a sudden jump and try to get the revolver away from me.  I decided that at his slightest movement I must shoot.  But dawn came at last, and just as its bluish light touched the dark tips of the pines we drove up to the log hotel in the settlement that was our destination. Here my driver spoke.

``Get down,'' he said, gruffly.  ``This is the place.''

I sat still.  Even yet I dared not trust him. Moreover, I was so stiff after my vigil that I was not sure I could move.

``You get down,'' I directed, ``and wake up the landlord.  Bring him out here.''

He sullenly obeyed and aroused the hotel-owner, and when the latter appeared I climbed out of the wagon with some effort but without explanation. That morning I preached in my friend's pulpit as I had promised to do, and the rough building was packed to its doors with lumbermen who had come in from the neighboring camp.  Their appearance caused great surprise, as they had never attended a service before.  They formed a most picturesque congregation, for they all wore brilliant lumber-camp clothing--blue or red shirts with yellow scarfs twisted around their waists, and gay-colored jackets and logging-caps.  There were forty or fifty of them, and when we took up our collection they responded with much liberality and cheerful shouts to one another.

``Put in fifty cents!'' they yelled across the church.

``Give her a dollar!''

The collection was the largest that had been taken up in the history of the settlement, but I soon learned that it was not the spiritual comfort I offered which had appealed to the lumber-men. My driver of the night before, who was one of their number, had told his pals of his experience, and the whole camp had poured into town to see the woman minister who carried a revolver.

``Her sermon?'' said one of them to my landlord, after the meeting.  ``Huh!  I dunno what she preached. But, say, don't make no mistake about one thing: the little preacher has sure got grit!''

Return to Contents Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus