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The ladies' home journal
Vol. XX, No. 7 (June, 1903)

Portor, Laura Spencer
Betty Maria's guard,   pp. 9-10 PDF (1.9 MB)


Page 10

Page 10                                 Tht Ladies' Home Journal for June 1903
" Lester didn't have enough money yet to marry,
so nobody else knew anything about the affair and I
promised to keep it to myself.
" It was only a little while that things went smooth.
The bump came when a gyurl from the North-a second
or third cousin of Lester-came from some little town
back of Boston, to visit Lester's aunt. Seein' Esther
was Lester's cousin, and a visitin' gyurl, Betty Maria
put herself out to be good to her. She ran over to tell
me about her that first day. ' Do you know, Miss
Lize,' she said, 'she's just as clever as she can be. She
is a Vassar graduate! and she is so good ! She helps
run three missions.' ' Humph!' I said, ' and doin' all
that, I reckon she makes you feel like an unbaptized
Baptist. But you needn't !' I said. ' There are lots of
kinds of missions in this world. You just keep on bein'
the helpful, dutiful, lovin' woman the Lord meant you
to be ! As for Vassar graduatin', you just remember
that it's people you live with in this world,' I said, 'real,
live, flesh-and-blood people, with tempers and sorrows
and troubles of their own. Yes !.You don't see French
verbs and Cesar-that's dead and buried long ago-
and higher mathematics walkin' on the street, with shoes
and gloves and bonnets on them, do you?-needin'
your comfort and sympathy, and havin' sore throats
and the blues-do you? If they taught you to learn
and parse and construe people at college-if they
taught you to be a comfort and a stay-if you could
learn there to be gentle and patient and lovin' with little
children, or to be strong in trouble, and sympathetic
and knowin' in joy, I'd say it was a pity you hadn't
got a college certificate, too!'
Betty Maria always was used to me. But young
folks never do like old folks' wisdom-that's to be had
for the askin'; they'd rather dig 'round and get their
own. little by little, and get all scratched up, too, in the
briars while they're gettin' it.
" One day she said to me: ' Do you know, Miss Lize,
I've been wonderin' about the Guard. Sometimes I
think maybe it isn't right. I think I'm going to make
Tommie go away for a while. Somehow it doesn't
seem honorable.'
It appears that Esther, after they'd got intimate,
told Betty Maria that up where she lived gyurls didn't
have men hangin' 'round them like that, and that it was
heartless and mean to the men. Well. I jumped in right
there. ' Betty Maria,' I said, ' her home isn't your
home. We do things differently down here, thank the
Lord. Maybe it's the women up there that make the
difference. Maybe if they were as warm-hearted and
sympathetic and bewitchin' as some of the gyurls I
know. that grow south of the Mason and Dixon, they
wouldn't have such notions about men.'
" Of course, that was nothin' in the world but spiteful-
ness in me. for I don't know a thing about Massachusetts
women. They may be the most fascinatin' things on
earth-regular houris, for all I know!
" You see the truth was this-I was all roused up on
Tommie's account. I knew Tommie from a to izzard.
Tommie was just for all the world like his Uncle Tom-
and you know how his Uncle Tom went when Belle
Bragg threw him over-you've heard that story!
Tommie just didn't know how to give up. I think he
knew, too, that Betty Maria cared a good bit for Lester,
but somehow-well, it's in the Cressons-they don't
know how to let go-from way back in Revolutionary
times and before. That old portrait in their hall-that's
old Timothy Cresson, you know, that got himself hanged
by Governor Berkeley or some bigwig for hangin' on
to his independence-way back yonder at the time of
Bacon. I never knew one of 'em vet that knew how
to give up-they're worse than snappin'-turtles-ten
times over.
" ' Betty Maria.' I said, ' you take my advice and let
Tommie down easy. Be just as good to him as you
know how. It's not your fault. He was in love with
you from the start. Remember he's hot-headed like his
poor Uncle Tom was. Tommie knows. and Tommie's
a man-bless his heart. But let him down easy. Be
good to him, child.'
" I'm tellin' you all this so you can see how the whole
thing came about Lester's aunt, Miss Sara Scoville.
never did like Betty Maria. She didn't know how much
there was between Betty Maria and Lester, but she knew
Lester cared for Betty Maria, so she set in to make
trouble. It's too long to tell you the ins and outs-but
she tried to get Betty Maria to believin' that Lester
loved the Massachusetts grurl. But bless my soul !
Betty Maria would as soon have doubted the Lord
Himself as any one she loved.
4
"Everything just rolled right off like water off a
'duck's back. By-and-by Lester's aunt took another
tack. She set to work to show Lester that Betty Maria
was only a flirt at best. It's easy enough for a woman
like that to make trouble-a woman that hasn't got a
brace of scruples in the locker. It was Tommie she hit
upon to get doubt goin' in Lester's mind. You see
how easy it all came about. Betty Maria. bent on bein'
good to Tommie; Tommie, takin' his fate pretty hard,
and holdin' on like grim death; Lester. jealous, like the
best of men ; the Massachusetts grurl in love with Lester:
and Lester's aunt stirrin' the brew like a witch cookin'
trouble.
" If I'd known then what I know now! But I didn't,
you see; so things went wrong.
" After a while Betty Maria told me that Lester had
quarreled with her; she had tried to explain; he would
not hear; her pride had been hurt. and now he had
gone away somewhere-she did not know just where-
engineerin' down in the mountains. What ought she
do? Ought she write to him?
" 'Well,' I said,' Lester deserves a good round lettin'
alone-that's what he deserves. He's nothin' but a
small-minded, hazelnut-headed fellow. Pon my word,
if it ain't like a man to quarrel with perfection!'
" Then she wouldn't hear any more. I found out
afterward that she wrote him one letter, explainin' as
near as her pride would let her. He never answered it.
" Even with Lester gone and Betty Maria terribly
upset about him she kept on bein' good to Tommi"-
mighty good. I used to think mayb' Lester havin'
gone off in that small-minded way, Tommie would have
a good chance of winnin' her, after all. Tommie's so
fine! Then one day when he got complainin' she told
him she reckoned he hadn't gone through with any more
than she bad-she had siffered, too. Tommie told me
this afterward. ' You're just the finest fellows in the
world,' she said, 'you and the rest of the Guard. You're
the best friends I have, and I'd do anything on earth for
you, and I love you all-but I've never loved aily of
you that way-and it's only right to tell you that I do
love sonie one else that way-and always will.'
4
After that Tommie showed what calibre he was.
Maybe he measured her love for some one else by his
own, and respected it accordingly. Anyway, from then
on he was such a friend to her as any gyurl could be
proud of. He set to thinkin', and puttin' two and two
together, I reckon, 'til he'd got it figured out that she
loved Lester, and Lester had gone off and left her-
only he never figured near enough to know that Lester
had gone off jealous because of him-him that had
never had any show of winnin' her. I didn't know it
then, either, or I could have taken a hand, I reckon - I
usually can. Tommie couldn't understand, and I
couldn't either, what Lester was thinkin' of - with a
gyurl like that lovin' him. ' He wants the earth, I
reckon,' I said. 'And so he ain't content with Heaven !'
Tommi~e said, speakin' up sharp; but he never did speak
of it aggin, after that, 'til the whole thing was over.
" That spring Aunt Nancy died. Betty Maria was
worn out with trouble and care, and kind of went to
pieces. Well, the Guard stood by her and did every-
thing they could. Clay and Tommie attended to all the
law business for her.
" I wanted Betty Maria to come and live with me for
a while, but no, she thought she'd go over to Winchester
to live with her brother Tom for a while. Tom's wife
bein' delicate she could be of some use. But she didn't
go. Somethin' else happened. Lester, while he was
engineerin' in the mountains, got badly hurt. Tommie
found it out just by the merest chance. Lester's aunt,
you see, was in Massachusetts, visitin' Esther, and
cookin' up more schemes, I reckon. Anyway, Tommie
didn't let the grass grow. He just set those long legs
of his to goin' and came straight to Betty Maria as fast
as he could come, and told her about Lester's bein' hurt.
And what do you reckon they did-the two of 'em?
W~ell, she just tied on her sun-flat-there wasn't time
even to run upstairs for her hat, or to stop by to tell me
- they'd have missed the train. Well, in just ten min-
utes there they were on that two o'clock train goin' to
the mountains. Tommie knew a mighty kind old
woman livin' up there and he took Betty Maria to her,
and the old woman's son showed 'em where the camp
was. It was right up here in the mountains, on the old
Fitchburg furnace road; so they got there that afternoon.
Then Tommie went back to Irvine and telegraphed
for me and for Doctor Brent.
4
When we got to camp there wasn't any use askin'
questions. It was plain enough by the look in her
face. Betty Maria had got Lester back again. I never
did know' how it came 'round. I reckon just the sight
of her was enough to set things straight.
" Lester was pretty badly hurt, but Doctor Brent told
me-that first day he saw him-that he thought it was
more than likely he'd get well. ' Get well !' said I.
' Well, I reckon he is goin' to get well ! Hasn't that
child been through enough already - without. the Lord
puttin' her through that!'
" Besides Lester bein' ill with his injuries there were
several of the men in camp down with a fever. I found
out that the whole place was just reekin' with it. You'd
'a' thought it would 'a' been healthy up there - but it
just wasn't. I got mighty uneasy about Betty Maria
catchin' it. maybe. But my gracious ! what could you
do? Lester was there, and lie couldn't be moved, and
you couldn't keep her away, of course.
" Tommie and I did what we could for the other men
who were ill. There were some mountain women came
to help, too - but the)' were stupid, not knowin' what to
do. Those big, raw-boned mountaineers stood about
gawky and willin' and as quiet as women. They fetched
and carried, and followed Betty Maria with their eyes,
and jumped kind of slow when she spoke to them, and
did anything on earth she said. Tommie stayed right
along, and we all worked like Trojans. Even then three
of the men died, poor things.
" It seemed to me Lester didn't get on as well as he
might have. Betty Maria began to seem kind of worn
out and half ill every now and then, too- but gracious !
she'd had enough to wear her out! Then one day
Doctor Brent called me to one side. ' Lize,' he said,
' things aren't going the way I've been hoping thex
would, but the way I've been afraid they would; and
it ain't likely Lester will live but a little while more at
best; and I've done all I can -God bless me ! '
W Well, you could just have toppled me over with a
turkey-tail
Not goin' to get well!' I said. Jim Brent knows
me so well that I reckon he don't mind. We were
children together, and I used to play ' jacks' with him
over yonder on my front steps, long before he ever knew
there was such a. thing as medicine, except squills and
goose-grease, I reckon. ' Not goin' to get well !' I
said. ' Well, who are you, Jim Brent, anyhow, to say
who's goin' to get well and who ain't? You'd think,
to hear you talk, you were the chosen of the Lord,
and knew all His affairs!' Jim never said a word, but
just blew his nose - that way he's got, you know.
'Tommie,' I said, 'you go fetch me the Governor quick
as you can. He was due back in town to-day. Maybe
he can do somethin'- he most always can!'
4
Well, Tommie started down to Irvine to see if he
could get the Governor. And who do you reckon he
met there but the Governor himself ! He'd got back to
town and had learned how things were, and had come
to help us. That was just like him.
" But Jim Brent was right. That's the worst of it -
he mostly is, amd before two days, one mornin' when the
gray dawn was gettin' pink back of the trees up yonder
on top of the mountain, Lester died-poor boy-with
Betty Maria kissin' him on the lips. She'd been so
brave, too. Pitiful? Yes, my dear-that it was for a
fact-if ever I saw anything pitiful. I couldn't get her
away. She just lay with her face close to his and one
hand in his hair. Once in a while she'd get her head
up and look at him, or maybe up at me, and once
lookin' up she found Tommie standin' there-and that
was the first word she spoke: 'Oh, Tommie ! 'she said,
'isn'tithard! You know-don't you?' AndTommie
waggled his head and just lit out back of the cabin.
" The Governor and Betty Maria and I were goin'
home next day-just as quick as we could-but that
very night Betty Maria took down sick. First I reckoned
she was just worn out, but it wasn't long before she
went out of her head; and we knew it was the fever
she'd got.
" Well, the Governor, he got a special car sent up
from B- to Irvine, and Preston along to do what
he could. But it wasn't easy to get from the camp to
Irvine. The road down the mountain was only a path
that nothin' but a horse and man could travel on.
So Tommie, he was the tallest and the strongest-I
don't know whether you've seen him-well, Tommie,
he carried her in his arms all the way down the
mountain, and she not knowin' what was happenin',
and the Governor and I followin'.
There isn't much more to tell. When we got home
everybody set themselves to doin' what they could. I
came right over here and stayed, and brought 'Nervy
along with me; and the Guard just fairly lived here at
the house. There was sure to be some one of them
every time I vent through the halls, beggin' to be
allowed to do somethin'.
" Betty Maria stayed mostly out of her head-poor
child -and she didn't get any better. Then one Sunday
morning it was, just when the St. John's bells were
ringin', she just slept herself away.
" Poor dear old Mr. Kennedy was here at the time,
and that young Charles Worthin'ton, that was his assist-
ant then, came over from the rectory to fetch him for
church.
" ' Read the service,' says poor dear old Mr. Kennedy,
and give them any sort of sermon you please. I won't
be preachin' to-day.'
" ' But I'm not prepared,' said young Worthin'ton.
(Clay told me this afterward.)
"' ' lell, don't you reckon,' said poor dear old Mr.
Kennedy, in that kind of patient way he has-'don't you
reckon maybe you could say a little somethin' in favor
of the Lord without studyin' it out? ' swingin' his eye-
glasses, and the tears rollin' down his cheeks ; ' if
you can't, though, I reckon you'll have to dismiss the
congregation unfed. You might preach somethin' on
' The Lord's name be praised' though-that's an easy
text-where you've only got to look around you, or
'-Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow.' Then he just came on upstairs and left
young Worthin'ton kind of absent-minded, and sat
down there beside Tommie on the old haircloth sofa
that used to stand in the upper hall.
" I reckon maybe Betty Maria felt it in her bones she
was goin', because she called me to her-when I thought
she was drowsin' ; and her mind was as clear as mine,
and she said: 'Miss Lize, I want the Guard-all six of
them-to stand by me-you know-after I'm gone.'
" That was the last thing she said. By-and-by, when
I went out to go downstairs, there was Tommie on the
old sofa outside, sittin' with his head in his hands.
' She's gone, Tommie, honey,' I said. ' You can go
in,' I said; ' it's for all the world as though she was
sleepin'.' But Tommie, he just put his head down on
the arm of the sofa and went all to pieces like he was a
little child.
" When I got downstairs two or three of the Guard
were in the hall-and Clay was there, and -Patty
Castleman. Well, when I told them there wasn't any
one could say a word. Then by-and-by Patty spoke up
very gentle: ' Yes, Miss Lize.' she said, ' but Betty
Maria will never be gone so long as any of the Guard
live!' It was sweet, you know-and understandin';
and the boys looked kind of grateful for her speakin'
that way for them.
" That's all there is to tell. I dressed Betty Maria in
one of her little pink and white ruffled dresses. She
made them herself, you know, just the daintiest, prettiest
little things you ever saw. I wouldn't scarcely know
Betty Maria, nor the Guard wouldn't either, except in
one of them. ' It's a pity,' I said, ' that she can't go
along the golden streets swingin' a pink and white sun-
flat like we've all seen her do hundreds of times comin'
down Clay Street.' So it was ! And I did slip it in
alongside of her where nobody would see it.
4
"W'ell, thats the story of the Guard. And you
know now what the Guard was, and how the boys all
stood by her in good Southern fashion, from the time
she was a little thing, playin' inf the pasture, up to the
time they came and stood beside her to be her pall-
bearers-the six of them-here in the front parlor,
where she lay so young and gyurlish, with pink and
white sweet peas around her, and the blinds drawn
down."
It was a moment before either spoke, then Miss Lize
rose :
" Yes, the Guard's gone to pieces now, and married,
as I said. There's only Tommie left  "  She paused
a moment, looked about her, and dabbed the tears off
her cheeks. " When I look 'round it seems some-
how as though she just must come runnin' up the steps.
Good-by, my dear. You'll be tellin' that darky of yours
not to let me in again if I come over here and talk to
you like this-as mournful, I'll declare, as a hardshell
Baptist ! Besides, it's just as Patty Castleman said-
Betty Maria never will be gone so long as any of the
Guard live."
When Miss Lize turned at the gate to nod another
good-by, Mrs. Worrall stood in the broken sunlight
and shade of the veranda of the old Chenault house
where Betty Maria had so often stood. Two of the
children had hold of one hand and were talking up at
her, and the chubby baby was hanging to her skirts.
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