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                                          ©World Magazine of Ideas and the Arts™ — Winter 2017 Volume XVII,  Issue 1

 

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Arts

Historical Fiction Firmly Rooted in Fact

This story appeared in the Yankee Blade, a newspaper that was published in Maine from 1842 to 1895. It was reprinted in the book, One Thousand Years of Hubbard History by Harlan Page Hubbard, published in 1895.

Too many young women remain unaware that through the 1800s, women were expected to marry their parents' choice, and they remain unaware that in many parts of the world, not only is that still true, but young women are often sold to their grooms. Word Worth's first volume [www.wordworth.org] chronicled an 1800s protagonist in the early chapters who did not fare as well as the one here.

Bessy had the advantage of being a Quaker—The Religious Society of Friends. They have been a people who, more that most others, are able to stand by their beliefs even when it is strongly to their disadvantage. They are also taught to think, but to be respectful.

 THE PRETTY QUAKER’S CALL

Philadelphia boasts probably of the prettiest Quaker girls in the world. Twenty years or more ago there dwelt at the corner of Chestnut and I streets a certain dealer in cheese and butter by the name of Ephraim Pront. He had made a fortune in the trade and was widely respected His aged mother was one of those distinguished personages who take their seats upon the platform in the meeting houses, and occasionally–say, once in six months or so–have “a call to speak.”

His wife was an industrious body, as young looking as her own daughter. As for that daughter, words cannot describe her. Nature, in pity for the prejudice which doomed her to wear sad-hued garments all her life had showered upon her all the brilliant tints upon her palette. Friend Ephraim’s daughter was fair to look upon. Perhaps she knew it, too; she had a looking-glass, but not one word of flattery had she ever heard. So week after week, first day, found Bessy at meeting; second day, busy with household affairs, while her mother supeintended the washing: third day , ironing; fourth day, baking, and so on till the seven were recounted.

She was 24 –twenty-four– and not married. Had you asked Friend Hannah Pront why, she would have said: “My daughter does not yet bake bread as I could wish, and I cannot allow her to marry until that is well learned.” Young men who saw Bessy at the meeting or in her father’s store were not so calmly indifferent. More than one Quaker youth, with a pleasant appreciation of Bessy’s beauty and thrifty consideration of her father’s wealth, were willing. But not on one of them did the paternal eye fall with favor. Ephraim Pront and his wife Hannah had already selected a husband for their child. That husband-to-be was one Peter Potter, a widower of 40, who talked and occasionally preached, and owned three blocks of Arch street property squares in the center of Philadelphia. Bessy had not been consulted. Often she acquiesced in the maternal opinion that Friend Peter was a worthy man. And probably she would have acquiesced in the opinion that he was the proper husband to select when the time came but for one unlucky circumstance. About the middle of December,just when Bessie’s loaves were beginning to merit approval, Sehna Grief was married. After passing meeting and going through the other ceremonies, the new-made couple gave a house-warnimg, and thither, of course went Bessy, Bessy's mother and father, and Friend Peter.

Thither also came a young man of the world’s people, one Mr. John Hubbard, who wore a black coat, a pair of patent leather boots and a stovepipe hat, and who was regarded by the youthful Friends with feelings of mingled admiration and terror. Of course, there was neither singing or dancing, but they played, the forfeits being generally kisses.

Mr. Hubbard enjoyed himself amazingly. He managed to kiss Bessy oftener than any one else, and that night walked home with her.

Questioned by her mother, Bessy answered: “I thought it but right to allow him lest he should think Friends proud.” So maternal solicitude was put at rest, and few impressions were awakened by the fact that Mr. John Hubbard took an immense interest in butter and cheese, conversed with Friend Ephraim on those subjects with great animation when they encountered each other at that Friend’s store, and managed to be invited home to tea because he really could not leave Friend Ephraim until he quite comprehended the advantages of the new patent churn.

One evening Hannah cut the loaf, and smiling, turned to her daughter and said: “Bessy, thou makes bread as well as thy mother.” That afternoon was one to be remembered.

The time had come when Friend Peter Potter might be gratified. His wife was ready for him. A conference was held between the father and the anxious widower respecting Bessy’s pecuniary prospects should her future spouse die first, and the courtship commenced.

The three sat before the fire— Ephraim twiddling his thumbs, Hannah darning stockings, “the child,” Bessy, knitting. Ephraim began: “Bessy.”

“Yes, father.”

“Thou are fit to manage a house of thy own.”

“I think so, father.”

“In fact, it is time thou should marry.”

“Yes, father, I have been thinking so myself.”

“I am sorry to hear thou say that, my child,” cried Hannah. “A young girl should not think of such a matter until suggested by her parent or some wise friend.”

Bessy looked down abashed.

“Only last week a friend spoke to me of the matter.”

“What friend ? Good Sarah Rose, doubtless; she is ever for having women marry betimes.”

“No, mother, not Friend Rose.”

“Perhaps thy Aunt Eliza.”

“No, mother.”

“Who was it, child ?”

“Friend John Hubbard.”

“Friend — John Hubbard !”

“Yes, mother. He spoke of thinking well of me and suggesting that our lives would be passed happily together.”

“Bessy, thou knows a female Friend may not marry a young man of the world's people. Christie Brown was read out of meeting for so doing.”

“Yes, mother.”

“Well, child, since the time has come for thee to marry, thou will be glad to know that Friend Peter is anxious for a wife, and prefers thee.”

Bessy turned pale.

“Friend Peter is worth a lot of money.”

“Yes, father.”

“Also, he is a Friend.”

‘Yes, father.”

“Consequently thou had better marry him. It is now time for thee to retire. Good-night, Bessy.”

“Good-night,” said Bessy, with a trembling lip.

So it was settled. It never entered into any one's heart that Bessy was not used tenderly. And the days hurried on, one after the other, toward the first day, on which the twain were to “pass meeting” for the first time, preparatory to the solemnization of their nuptials. It was Friday. All the week Bessy had been a little sad, not quite herself.

The extremely fine fabric of her muslin dress did not seem to interest her as it should have done. At 2:00 she came to her mother. “I have some little business to attend to in Fairmount,” she said. “ And I have been thinking it would be a pleasant thing if Friend Peter could drive me there in his leathern conveyance.” So Friend Peter was summoned. The light wagon was brought out, and away they drove. Peter discoursed volubly. Bessy answered quietly. At last the wire bridge was crossed and Fairmount lay before them. When this was in sight Bessy spoke: “Friend Peter, thou sees that white building with white shutters?”

“Aye, verily do I.”

“Thou will oblige me by taking this package and deliver it to Friend Ann, with my good wishes. Meanwhile I will hold the reins; I do not wish to alight.”

Friend Peter obediently took the package and departed. He stayed ten minutes. When he returned, horse, wagon, and lady love were gone. He rushed about distractedly. No one had seen anything. Peter waddled home. They were not there. The Quaker mother said: “Be not alarmed; they will return soon.”

But the day passed with no sign. So did Saturday. At 10 o'clock Saturday evening a noise of wheels was heard. Rushing out they found the wagon, a mulatto boy, and a note, but no Bessy. In terrible anxiety they tore open the missive. It was as follows:

Dear Parents and Respected Friend Peter:

I hope you have not been alarmed. I am well. Mother knows, I presume, that it would not be easy to marry if one felt no call to do so. I had no call to be united to Friend Peter. I had a call to marry John. There is no need of the ceremony of passing meeting among world's people, so I am already Friend Hubbard.

Suggest to Friend Peter the worthy Ann Billings as a wife. She is a better housewife than I. And let me know soon that I may be forgiven, for I am in grief on account of your alarm and annoyance.

Your loving daughter,
Bessie Hubbard.

Friend Ephraim twisted his thumbs, Friend Hannah folded her hands, Friend Peter opened his eyes and mouth and shook his head slowly. At length Hannah said: “Call my mother, Ephraim.”

Ephraim brought the old lady down stairs. Nobody said a word — not one. They gave her the note. She read, folded it, put her spectacles on the table and sat quiet — fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour...

Then she arose and said:

“I have a call to speak. When the prodigal son returned, the father killed the fatted calf. Bessy is a naughty child; but verily she deserves forgiveness.” And Bessy was forgiven.

Two weeks later Peter married Widow Ann, and Mr. and Mrs. John Hubbard were guests at the wedding.

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