SNEAK PEEK: Evelyn’s Anxious Bench by Allison Kohn

Evelyn’s Anxious Bench by Allison Kohn


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It is the early part of the nineteenth century and although New Englanders have been spreading their wings and moving ever further west for years Evelyn Brook, the daughter of wealthy Jonathan Baker, has lived in Maryland all of her life and would never think of leaving. She doesn’t know how to cook, she doesn’t make her own clothes, and she doesn’t take care of her own children. That’s what servants are for.

Evelyn does have a good education for a girl brought up in those days, and is compelled by her father to teach school just long enough to get a taste of the power of independent thought. But after her marriage she settles down in a mold set by generations of the upper class in New England, and is quite satisfied with her life, for the most part.

Then the unthinkable happens and she finds herself without servants, riding in an expensive but uncomfortable and clumsy covered wagon. Evelyn not only has to learn to cook, but she has to eat her mistakes while she learns. She soon discovers the clothes considered suitable for a woman of her class in society are totally unacceptable for the trail west. So she learns to sew. Can life get any harder? It certainly can; much, much harder, but Evelyn finds the secret to overcoming in all the circumstances of life.




Chapter I


Margaret listened to Evelyn’s tirade and thought what a pretty picture she made in her sea green gown with a perfect match glowing from her expressive eyes. Evelyn’s index finger was pointing upward and her thumb held her chin high as she said coldly, “I suggest we cancel the rest of our trip and return home immediately!”

Her mother blinked. “Why dear, you know that your father is not yet returned from Toronto. We will all travel back together of course; it would be rude to leave now. Your father’s own brother’s house.”

“Mother you know that Father would not approve of those meetings.”

“Why – why, there is nothing wrong with Mr. Finney’s meetings. He is a perfectly respectable lawyer, and his messages are quite interesting.”

“His meetings have nothing to do with the legal field and his language is atrocious – and he is rude.”

“Hush dear, your aunt and uncle will hear you. And really dear, all that he says is right you know. I read a pamphlet when I was a young girl in England that told all about it.”

“Mother, how could you say such a thing? You know that it is rude to name people in public prayer. You know that whole meeting is nothing but crude sensationalism. Who ever heard of such a thing as an anxious bench? Of all things!”

“It seems like a very good idea to me, dear. I almost went down there myself.”

“There you are. That’s just what I mean. You were carried along with the excitement of the whole thing. I tell you, it is dangerous and father would not approve.”

“Oh but dear, I’m sure if father could just hear him speak, he would be very impressed and see that Mr. Charles Finney is a very honest and intelligent man,” this said with much confidence and a relaxed smile on her face.

Evelyn drew close to her mother and whispered, “No Mother, he would not. Father is an enlightened man and enlightened men know that the essence of the gospel is the ethical teachings of Jesus. Man must stop looking to some fanatic’s fable for salvation and realize that the bible is an ethical guidebook that human reason may use to help man attain a high standard of virtue and piety.”

Evelyn’s mother held out her hands to the middle-aged couple entering the room. “Oh Ralph and Emma, here you are at last. How did you find your neighbors? Is the old woman any better?”

“Yes, she is much better, praise God. Emma was glad to see her eat every bit of the broth we took to her. Well how did you enjoy the meeting? You are very fortunate to be here when Mr. Finney is preaching. He is a very clever and wonderful Christian.”

Evelyn barely stifled a sneer and her mother spoke too quickly and louder than usual to cover her embarrassment. “Yes, he is a good speaker and all that he said was true, I am sure. When I was a young girl, in England you know, I read a pamphlet written by a man named William Wilberforce. I believe it was called Practical View. As I remember it said very much the same thing that Mr. Finney was telling us.”

“Yes, I remember that little booklet. Yes, he taught salvation by grace through faith in the atoning blood of the Lamb of God which takes away all sin.”


Emma raised her hands high over her head where they quivered to the tune of her singing voice. “Praise the Lord.”

Ralph put his arm around Evelyn’s shoulders. “What was the grunt for, my dear? Didn’t you care for the meeting?”

Evelyn stiffened. “It was – quite entertaining, I’m sure.”

“Why, it wasn’t supposed to entertain you, my dear. Aw, there you are Julie. Are you feeling better after your long sleep?”

Julie blushed and brushed a wisp of golden curl off her forehead with long delicate fingers. Her coral lips trembled into a shy smile. “Oh yes, thank you, I feel much better now. The rest did me a world of good, and now I am ready for anything.”

“Marvelous! There is going to be another meeting this evening, and I was sure you would all want to go.”

“Oh Uncle Ralph! Another meeting this evening? but what if father comes while we are gone?”

Evelyn smiled sweetly. “You must not worry about that, Julie dear. I will stay here and wait for Father.”

Julie hung her head to hide the disappointed look in her eyes and the jutting lower lip.

Emma put her arm around her sister-in-laws shoulders and started walking with her toward the door. “”Come Margaret, we just have time to look at those patterns before we eat.”

Margaret looked back at her daughters. “Evelyn, you and Julie will both go with us this evening of course. If your Father returns while we are gone, the servants will explain where we have gone, and take care of him until we return.”

They had gone of course, and suffered through that meeting, but that was a long time ago. Evelyn thought that she was all through with the unsettling feelings those meetings had engendered. She thought that she would never have to deal with the subject again. But time and change happen to us all and the time would come when she would be challenged again by the creeds that had so unsettled her at those meetings.

But the next time anxiety broke the calm, her serenity wasn’t just threatened by a couple of unsettling meetings. It was yanked out from under her in full force when her whole family got the insane idea to leave their comfortable homes and profitable businesses and establish a whole new town on the west coast. Evelyn didn’t yet know that there were greater losses than opulent living – or gains far greater.


Evelyn’s new dilemma was something that she would have to come to terms with, in spite of the fact that she was pretty sure that she couldn’t.

Southeastern Arkansas was anchored on the back of slaves, so the issue of balance between Slave and Free states was dear to the hearts of plantation owners and politicians alike.  Politicians, because they represented the plantation owners in Washington; and plantation owners, because their livelihood depended on slavery. If the states were balanced as free and slave, slavery had a chance of survival, but if another state were added as a free state, congress might be able to abolish slavery everywhere in the United States. Mrs. Thomas listened with interest to the talk of what would happen if Texas were annexed and the wheels in her head started turning. She had a get rich quick plan, made a date for a private audience with one of the politicians, and came away smiling. Plans were being made for a train of wagons to leave Independence in the spring and the grapevine had it that that a whole lot of rich families would be part of it. Mrs. Thomas made her own plans and got her wagon ready to roll.[i]






Chapter II



As Evelyn walked through the rooms of the spacious, fashionably beautiful house on Elm Tree Lane, her finger tips gently touched pieces of exquisitely crafted furniture. She loved the satiny feel of the rich old pieces, and the opulence they represented. She ran the back of her hand through the folds of the rich, long silk of the window curtains and wondered if she would ever feel the lushness of that silk against her skin in the wild country they were going to.

Evelyn didn’t try to hold the tears back any longer. Lawrence was with the other men supervising the final inspection of the already loaded wagons. The children were with their nanny, in their beds. Neither would see her weakness. Nanny was the only member of the domestic staff left in the house. All of the other servants had already packed their belongings and left. Some she would never see again.

Oh, how could she bear the loss? It was not that she would miss any of them personally. As far as she knew, they weren’t endowed with personalities. But the house seemed so empty without servants; and they and always been so useful.

She looked around her fearfully and shuddered at the silence that surrounded her with a suggestion of grave peril in the offing.

She wiped the tears from her cheeks and ran her fingers lovingly over the intricate work on the back of a delicately fashioned settle; and took her sopping handkerchief after a new deluge of tears.

Quite suddenly, her eye caught sight of a stray ball of yarn lying on the floor under the corner of a table. How annoying! There it lay, like a wart, making the house messy and there was no servant to pick it up. What, she wondered, did one do without servants? She sighed and began to weep again, this time for the absent servants.

Evelyn was more upset about leaving some of the furniture than she was about leaving any particular servant, but the idea of not having any servants at all was as frightening as the idea of not having furniture. Oh of course, they would be taking a few pieces of furniture, but it wouldn’t be the same. Nothing would ever be the same again.

But this crying isn’t going to change anything; she told herself sternly as she sat her spine straight in her chair and tried to gather her courage. She wiped her eyes on the delicate bit of lace in her hand, sighed and threw her head back. Then she got up and started walking around the room again.

As she walked, she glanced out a window at the budding cherry trees and listened to a sparrow sing a lullaby to its mate. Oh those old familiar trees, and the sweet song of the birds. Can their song be as sweet anywhere else? She mopped her face with her hankie and her whole body shook again with heart wrenching sobs.

How could she leave her home? This was the only the only house she had lived in since she left her father’s house (within walking distance for the hired help) to marry Lawrence. Those trees had been there on the other side of her windows all these years. That same road had brought her friends to visit, and taken her and her family to visit others, and home again – always home again.

She heard Lawrence’s footsteps coming toward the porch and she ran to her room to repair the damage the crying had done. She resolved she would never let Lawrence know how much this leaving hurt.

“Best get some sleep, Evelyn,” said Lawrence cheerfully. “We will be leaving very early in the morning you know. Earlier than you are wont to leave your bed.”

Yes, she would be expected to leave it all, of her own free will, never to return. Oh, how could she bear it all?

Evelyn was an apathetic but cooperative participant in her father (Jonathan Baker)’s dream. Lawrence was her husband so her name was Brook, but that only changed her name and added Lawrence to the family and Jonathan’s dreams, as far as Jonathan was concerned. Lawrence was the last of the family drawn into the dream. Until her husband gave in, Evelyn was sure that her family would eventually forget the whole thing and get back to normal. But after months of forceful argument, Lawrence gave in.

“The rest of the family are going to leave their nice comfortable homes in Maryland and travel across the continent to build a new and wonderful town in the Willamette Valley, so I guess we had better go too,” Lawrence had said. “You wouldn’t care to remain in Maryland without your family.”

Of course he was right about that. The Baker family had always been close in spite of the fact that Jonathan Baker had been absent in body most of the time that they were growing up. His presence had always been felt very strongly.

After Lawrence’s announcement, everything happened so fast that Evelyn didn’t have time to think about what she was doing. She did everything she could to keep up a good front and no one seemed to know that her heart was being torn from her body and mutilated. After all, why should anyone notice? They were all so excited and happy about destroying their life to go on this senseless adventure that they couldn’t see her anguish.

Before Evelyn knew it she was sitting on a hard seat in a sturdy covered wagon watching her beautiful home fade into the distance as she kept the tears back by sheer willpower. How could this have happened? She asked herself. Why doesn’t someone see how appalling this whole deranged scheme is and stop it?

She looked around her at the occupants of the other wagons, but no one else seemed the least bit concerned that what they were doing might be wrong. Then she realized that her husband was talking to her and she tried to concentrate on what he was saying.

Lawrence was reminding her that the Jonathan Baker family had the best outfitted train possible. “We have ten large sturdy wagons. They and our stock are the best money can buy, along with all of our gear.” He glanced at her. “Our clothes are, too, but according to Adam, that may have to change very soon.”

Evelyn turned her head and pretended that she hadn’t heard that last statement. And the fact that they were traveling in luxurious vehicles didn’t make her a bit happier about leaving her beautiful home. What could they be thinking? She suppressed a shudder. Sane people just don’t leave a life of ease and luxury to live like paupers in untamed territory just for an idea. What’s wrong with everyone anyway? Evelyn felt as though her heart was being torn from its roots. Do hearts have roots?

Lawrence looked at Evelyn and sighed, half with pride and half with compassion. He knew that she was unhappy about the move, but she was so beautiful he couldn’t help being proud that she was sitting there by his side. She wore a fashionable, neat traveling dress, and a bonnet trimmed with soft silk ribbons with a downy rushing of tulle framing her face. She looked so angelic sitting there with her parasol shading her face. No one else would have been able to tell how distraught she was.

Evelyn thought no one could see her tormented soul, but she had to hide the parasol between her face and Lawrence’s to hide the tears that wouldn’t stay away. In spite of her efforts Lawrence knew what she was doing and sympathized. So he kept up a steady stream of talk as they moved slowly away from their birthplace. It seemed to Evelyn that he was intent on pointing every dreadful aspect of their folly.

“We are leaving a lot behind,” he said. “But we are taking a part of our past lives with us too. Yes, the wagons are loaded with precious cargo, the material substance of the dreams of our new home. There’s the cylinder press that your brother got from England, now fated to print a paper in Oregon Territory.”

Oh good, maybe the Indians will read a paper if Stephen puts if out. If they can even read.

Lawrence pretended not to notice Evelyn’ scowl and kept talking. “And there are other treasured pieces of our homes such as Daniel’s library and your piano.”

Evelyn stiffened. Yes, my beautiful piano going to a wild, untamed region where none of my friends can hear its notes as I play.

“We will have everything we need to start building when we get there – tools, gadgets, and machines of agriculture.”

Lawrence put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed. She tried to relax but his next words made her wonder if he had forgotten they didn’t being any of the help to do the work he was talking about.

“We have planting supplies, looms, reels, washing machines, and irons. And of course we brought our china, silver, and pewter. It’s all packed carefully around the furniture with the wood, tin, candlesticks, lamps, and lanterns. We really have everything we need,” he added encouragingly.

You forget about the servants because you always left them to me, thought Evelyn bitterly, and I know that we cannot get along without them. What good is a dish without someone to fill it? 

Lawrence looked at her averted face and patted her knee. “You need to know that, among all those treasures we stashed the money and things equal to money – all the jewelry that is valuable enough to be converted to cash, but not too valuable to carry with us.”

Evelyn nodded but still didn’t answer, and Lawrence became silent. He whistled a short tune now and then as they moved slowly away from everything familiar, but as time went on he became quieter until the only sound of that long way came either from the plodding feet of the animals or the chattering of the children.

[i] As the Texas Revolution began in 1835, some slaves sided with Mexico, which provided for freedom. In the fall of 1835, a group of almost 100 slaves staged an uprising along the Brazos Riverafter they heard rumors of approaching Mexican troops. Whites in the area defeated and severely punished them. Several slaves ran away to serve with Mexican forces. Texan forces executed one runaway slave taken prisoner and resold another into slavery.[27] Other slaves joined the Texan forces, with some killed while fighting Mexican soldiers. Three slaves were known to be at theBattle of the Alamo; a boy named John was killed, while William B. Travis’s slave Joe and James Bowie’s slave Sam survived to be freed by the Mexican Army.[28]

After the Republic of Texas was created in 1836, Anglo-American views on slavery and race began to predominate. They passed laws reducing the rights of free blacks as citizens.[29] The 1836Constitution of the Republic of Texas required free blacks to petition the Texas Congress for permission to continue living in the country. The following year all those who had been living in Texas at the time of independence were allowed to remain. On the other hand, the legislature created political segregation; it classified free residents with at least 1/8 African heritage (the equivalent to one great-grandparent) as a separate category, and abrogated their citizens’ rights, prohibiting them from voting, owning property, testifying against whites in court, or intermarrying with whites.[30]As planters increased cotton production, they rapidly increased the purchase and transport of slaves. By 1840 there were 11,323 slaves in Texas.[24]

In 1845 the United States annexed Texas as a state. The state legislature passed legislation further restricting the rights of free blacks. For example, it subjected them to punishments, such as working on road gangs if convicted of crimes, similar to those of slaves rather than free men.[31]

Main article: History of Texas (1845-1860)

On February 28, 1845, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would authorize the United States to annex the Republic of Texas and on March 1 U.S. President John Tyler signed the bill. The legislation set the date for annexation for December 29 of the same year. On October 13 of the same year, a majority of voters in the Republic [of Texas] approved a proposed constitution that specifically endorsed slavery and the slave trade. This constitution was later accepted by the U.S. Congress, making Texas a U.S. state on the same day annexation took effect (therefore bypassing a territorial phase).

The Mexican government had long warned that annexation would mean war with the United States. When Texas joined the U.S., the Mexican government broke diplomatic relations with the United States. The United States now assumed the claims of Texas when it claimed all land north of the Rio Grande. In June 1845, President James K. Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to Texas, and by October, 3,500 Americans were on the Nueces River, prepared to defend Texas from a Mexican invasion. On November 10, 1845,[118] Polk ordered General Taylor and his forces south to the Rio Grande, into disputed territory that Mexicans claimed as their own. Mexico claimed the Nueces River — about 150 miles (240 km) north of the Rio Grande — as its border with Texas. On April 25, 1846, a 2,000-strong Mexican cavalry detachment attacked a 70-man U.S. patrol that had been sent into the contested territory north of the Rio Grande and south of the Nueces River. The Mexican cavalry routed the patrol, killing 16 U.S. soldiers in what later became known as theThornton Affair. Both nations declared war. In the ensuing Mexican-American War, there were no more battles fought in Texas, but it became a major staging point for the American invasion of northern Mexico.

One of the primary motivations for annexation was the Texas government’s huge debts. The United States agreed to assume many of these upon annexation.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Texas History)





Allison Kohn writes both fiction and non-fiction. She is an ordained Presbyterian elder who has worked with both children and adults in the past and uses her experience in her books. A lover of science and history, she incorporates these subjects into her books while telling stories with life-like characters.



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