Lima News
Lima, Ohio
October 19, 1898
Page 3

AUNT BINA’S QUILT by Mrs. O. W. Scott
A War-Time Episode

  Aunt Bina Emerson had pieced the quilt from bits of calico given her by the women and girls of Eden that she liked. It was the lone woman’s “love-quilt,” with her shades of affection deliberately outlined in tiny triangles.  
“I won’t have any pieces in it that call up anybody that’s stingy, or stuck-up, or meddle-some, or cruel,” she said.  “I’ll have it just as near like fresh air and sunshine as it can be, so when I’m sick it’ll seem like a nice, bright story.” 
  “But you needn’t have counted every stitch,” protested her sister, Mrs. Billings, in whose home she had her cozy room.  
  “Anybody would think you were an astronomer, counting stars, to see how particular you’ve been,” added pretty Hetty Barton, for whose benefit the quilt was now exhibited; and she looked at the paper, covered with cabalistic figuring, which was Aunt Bina’s actual record of stitches set. 
  “Well, stars or stitches, we like to seem
how many we’ve got, and counting is only a pastime.  The minister says we can’t think of two things at the same time, but somehow I can count my stitches and have most profitable thoughts right along.  I like the way I’ve disposed of my lights and darks, don’t you? Aunt Bina shook out the great square complacently.
“It is beautiful!” Betty exclaimed.  “Why, you’ve got a piece of my light blue in the middle; and here is my pink, and there is my dark blue!”
  “Yes; that’s because I—” Aunt Bina had almost said “love you,” but she was not in the habit of expressing herself in that way.
The young girl looked at her questioningly, then suddenly stooped and dropped a kiss upon her forehead.
“Don’t be foolish, child,” said Aunt Bina.
When the last minute triangle was finally set in its corner Mrs. Billings made a “quilting,” to which every woman came who was invited, for it was well understood by this that goodness.  As well as gowns—according to Aunt Bina’s measurements—was represented.
“She ought to know who amongst us is angelic, after being in our sickrooms and kitchens so many years,” they said.
In those days quiltings were supposed to be enlivened by much gossip, but the women who gathered that afternoon, in the spring of 1862, were anxious faces and had but one theme of conversation, the sacrifices that the overburdened nation seemed to be preparing to ask from them.
  “They have opened a recruiting office,” said one to another.
“Capt. Pillsbury’s in charge.  His furlough is almost up but he means to get a company enlisted before he goes back,” was the next bit of news.
“I should think we were far enough out of the world to be let alone,” said Mrs. Hastings, as she snapped the cord, wet in starch water, across the triangles.
“That’s crooked!” interrupted her neighbor, referring to the work; then she added, coming back to the topic, “but I don’t wonder you feel so, with three grown boys to worry about.”
“We’ve no boys to spare, here in Eden,” added Mrs. Thornton; but Massachusetts hasn’t failed to do her part  so far, and I’ve expected our time would  come.”
“Her John’ll be one of the first to enlist, now you see!” whispered two busy workers on the opposite side of the quilt.
And so it proved; for when, at twilight the husbands and brothers came in to partake of Mrs. Billings’ bountiful supper, bringing the Boston papers and the news of the day, they gave the names of those who had enlisted that afternoon, and the first one was John Thurston’s.
“And probably Harry Thurston will join that company before it is filled; but his mother needn’t know about John now,” they said.  So it was whispered in the room where she sat; but she understood the message that passed from eye to eye.  Hetty Barton understood, too, although she did not raise her eyes from the line where she was setting small, even stitches.  The air waves were full of echoes in ’62 and Hetty did not need even John’s words, which came later in the evening, to confirm their dire prophecies.
Then how the war fever spread through Eden.  Around the recruiting office, where a large flag proudly floated, on the store steps, at the post office, out of the country roads, and beside the fences, while horses stood still in the furrows, men gathered to talk about the boys who were going to the war.  The village paper printed a long list one week, and, as it was read with tear-dimmed eyes, the people said; “It seems as though all Eden is going.”
Then, one bright June morning, the sun shone upon a company of eager young soldiers, in new blue suits with shining brass buttons.  It fell upon the fathers, and mothers, and friends, who stood grouped near the long wagons which were ready to take “company 1” to the nearest railroad station.  The white-haired old pastor offered the last prayer, and, with fluttering flags, beating drums, huzzas and waving caps, the brave soldier boys were borne away.
A strange hush fell upon the small town.  It had always been a staid and sober place, but now it almost seemed as though life had gone out of it.  Hard work became a blessed necessity to old and young.
The girls learned to drive horses that were not “steady,” to ride mowing-machines, to help plan the farm work, to do “everything but sing bass,” which they could not learn to do.  But the real life of the place depended upon news from the boys, after all; and the coming of the old yellow stage, twice each day, quickened heart-throbs as did nothing else.
Two years passed, and the suspense was not yet over.  Some of the Eden boys had gone beyond the sound of bugle-call, a few were in hospitals, but most of them were in action that dreadful spring of ’64, when news of battle after battle flashed over the land.
Eden was at its height of anxiety as the people gathered for worship in the white church one Sunday morning, the last of May.  Hymns, Scripture reading and prayer were over, and the old pastor arose, but instead of beginning his sermon, he said:
“Late last night word came that there is great need of everything for use on the battlefields and in hospitals.  The sanitary commission begs us to send cotton and flannel garments, socks, sheets, quilts, old cotton and linen—everything we can gather, at once.  It would be cruel to keep you women, who can use needles, here with hands folded over your Bibles, when the need is so great.  You are invited to gather, immediately, at the home of Mrs. Grow for work, and may God’s blessing go with you.”
There were children in the congregation who still remember how, with one impulse, all the women arose and reverently left the church. 
  The law of Sabbbath observance in Eden was Puritanic, but those who would not sew on a missing button under ordinary circumstances were soon seated, needle in hand, wearing the exalted look which meets a great emergency.
Mrs. Grow was president of the Soldiers’ Aid, and her husband kept the village store.  This was opened, and necessary materials were taken from it.  The only two sewing-machines in the village were already there, and were soon clicking an accompaniment to the subdued voices of the busy workers.
A delegation, one of whom was Aunt Bina, was sent out to gather whatever could be found, ready for use.
“I’m glad to get out in the open air,” said she.  “It stifles me to sit there like a funeral in Mrs. Grow’s parlor.  Seems as if it would kill me to see the look in Mrs. Hastings’ eyes since Harry was shot.”
“They knew you could tell just where to go for supplies,” remarked Mrs. Kent.  “We must get sheets and quilts and old linen. Have you any quilts to spare at your house, Aunt Bina?”
“I’m sure sister has some, and—yes, I’ve got an extra blanket or two.  Come in.”
While Mrs. Billings was collecting her contribution Aunt Bina was in her room upon her knees.  When she entered the parlor again a few minutes later, she bore in her arms a pair of soft, white blankets—and her love-quilt.
“Bina Emerson!” exclaimed her sister.  “You don’t mean that you’re going to send that quilt?”
“Yes, I am!” cried Aunt Bina, her face quivering.  “Nothing’s too good for our boys.  I won’t send’em old things I don’t want; they shall have this.”
  It was useless to argue; nor in that hour of supreme devotion did anyone care to do so; but when it was known that Aunt Bina has sacrificed her treasure it aroused a splendid rivalry which brought together just such stores as were needed.
All day the good work went on, and at night, the men, weary of their enforced idleness, packed barrels and boxes ready to ship in the early morning.
Aunt Bina reached her room again at twilight, taking with her Hetty Barton.  “You know I’ve sent my quilt to the soldiers.” she said, hesitatingly.
“Yes, they told me so.  I think it was so generous of you,” Hetty replied, in an absent-minded way, as she twisted the plain gold ring on her finger.
“I had planned to give it to you, Hetty.  There’s nobody I like so well as you and John; but now—” Hetty’s eyes were full of dumb agony.  Suddenly, slipping from the chair to her knees, she buried her face in Aunt Bina’s lap.  “Oh! Oh!” she sobbed, “you needn’t think about that.  It has been two long weeks since I heard from him.  John wouldn’t neglect me so, Aunt Bina, unless—” and then the girl could say no more.
Aunt Bina’s tears fell upon the brown braids.  “There, there! Don’t give way.  I guess John is all right.”
“Oh, but he always wrote!  He wasn’t careless, like some of the boys.  Do you know his father and mother are almost sick.  They think he—is—”
  “There, there!” comforted Aunt Bina.  I believe John will live to come home; that’s my faith.  Why, we’ve got to believe it, Hetty!   If we didn’t how could we live through it!”
  Even while they wept and talked, John was lying in one of the Washington hospitals.  He had been terribly wounded, and after many delays was brought there with one leg amputated and his right arm disabled.  His nurse, a bright little woman from Maine, tried in every way to arouse him.  “I believe he wants to die,” she said to the surgeon.  “I can hardly persuade him to eat.”
“Probably he does,” he replied the weary-eyed man.  “He had a magnificent physique, and such a fellow feels that he cannot face life maimed in this fashion.  I’ve often had such cases.  If you can only get him past this first shock—”
The busy man hurried away without finishing his sentence, but the nurse understood.
 A few nights later a lot of boxes arrived in response to the urgent call for hospital supplies, and John’s nurse eagerly claimed some of their precious contents.  “I need blankets in my ward,” she said, “and oh, here is a beautiful quilt!  This will cheer my poor boys like a bouquet of flowers.”
The nurse from Maine was one of the best in the hospital, and no one objected when she carried away the quilt and placed it gently over her favorite patient.
“Perhaps it will keep his eyes off the blank wall,” she said to herself, with a sigh.
When the first morning light shone in through the long, narrow windows, the young soldier opened his eyes, almost resenting the knowledge that he had slept better than usual.  As he looked languidly to see if his nurse had given him an extra blanket, he saw the new quilt, and at the same moment was conscious of a faint perfume of rose leaves, perceptible even in that sickening atmosphere.
He closed his eyes and saw the bushes under the parlor windows at home, laden with great red roses, as they had been the morning he left Eden.  He had started out that morning with a bud in his buttonhole, and another between his lips—“decked for the sacrifice.” he thought, with a spasm of bitterness.
With his left hand he pulled the quilt nearer.  It was made of many, many small triangles!  “Mother’s dress!” he murmured, placing his finger upon a brown bit, with a tiny white spray in it.  “Hetty!” and a wave of color rose to his pale face, as he caressed a triangle of pink.
For the first time since he was placed upon that cot, great tears rolled down his cheeks.  The spell of despair was broken.  Life was sweet after all.
“Mother and Hetty won’t mind if I am a poor one-legged fellow,” he sobbed.
All the bitterness and rebellion melted out of his heart as he lay there quietly crying; and when his nurse came in he greeted her with a smile that transfigured his face.
 “This is Aunt Bina’s quilt!” said he.  “I don’t know how it got here, but it is. Now, nurse, bring on your broth, for I’m going to get well.”
“It’s better than medicine.” the delighted woman declared to the doctor. “He’s given me his address, and I’ve already written to his mother.
“And I’ve shown that quilt to all my boys, and told them about the dear old maid who counted all the stitches and thought so much of her love-quilt, and how hard it must have been to give it up.  They’re all brighter and better for it.  ‘Why,’ they say, ‘do the folks at home think so much of us as that?”
Years passed since that day, and John and Hetty are elderly people now, with boys and girls growing up around them.  John found that his brains could do better service for him than even his physical energy, and has become a successful and conscientious lawyer.  In their busy, happy lives they have never forgotten the woman whose sacrifice meant so much to them, and when Memorial day comes round, and the veterans gather to decorate their comrades’ graves, John and Hetty reserve the choicest flowers of their garden for Aunt Bina’s humble resting place.
And the quilt?  Through the thoughtfullness of the nurse from Maine, it was returned to the generous donor, who bestowed it, as she had intended, upon her young friends.  If you had the privilege of examining the contents of a certain chest in the Thurston homestead, you would find a soldier’s cap and suit of faded blue, and very near it, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, Aunt Bina’s quilt.—Youth Companion.