"Grace Holbrook - the Martyr" is a short story from Isabella (Pansy) Alden's (1841-1931) collection Grace Holbrook and Other Stories.
“To be sure, I never find one,” she said, with a bright little laugh; “but then, I might, you know, and it’s kind of exciting to be always looking.”
Rene Holbrook leaned over the fence and watched her, laughing at her for taking so much trouble just for a four-leaved clover. “What good would it do you to find one?” he asked.
“Oh! no good, only they are so uncommon; I think I like things that are a little uncommon. Then it is said to be good luck to find one, you know, though of course I don’t believe in luck.”
“You believe in wasting your time,” said Grace Holbrook, appearing just then from the side piazza. She was sixteen months older than Jennie, and took it upon herself to lecture her occasionally, though the two were seat-mates in school, and excellent friends. “I should think you would both better be studying your parts for the Review of Nations, instead of fumbling among those green leaves after silly little clovers. I don’t believe either of you are ready for rehearsal.”
“I know some of my part,” said Jennie, diving in among the younger clovers, and looking curiously at each one in the hope of being rewarded by the sight of a four-leaf; “and I’m going to study all the afternoon. I shall be ready, but I don’t like my quotations; they make me shiver. It seems dreadful to have to say over all those terrible things.”
“I don’t think so,” answered Grace, her eyes glowing with excitement. “Your part isn’t half so bad as mine, and I like mine. I glory in the courage of those men. Sometimes I almost wish there were martyrs in these days, so we would have a chance to show what we are made of.”
Timid little Jennie among the clovers shivered. “Oh! don’t,” she said, as though wishing might possibly bring it to pass. “I think it was terrible. I am so thankful that I did not live in those days that sometimes I could cry for joy. I almost know I would have been a coward.”
“O, Jennie Talbot! You are a pretty girl to have been chosen for that splendid verse you recite about the man who felt the flames creeping up around him. You recite it real well; I don’t see how you can, if you feel so.”
“It is just because I ‘feel so’ that I can put feeling into it, I suppose. I can almost seem to see those flames gathering strength, and it makes me feel hot and cold both at once. I am glad, as glad as I can be, that the man could be so splendid; but all the same, I know just as well as I do that I am sitting here in the grass, that I could never have been like him in the world.”
“Nonsense!” said Grace loftily; “I could; I feel it in me. I can imagine the whole scene – the trial, and the questions, and the way I should hold up my head and answer, and everything.”
A low, chuckling laugh from Rene broke in upon her eloquence. “Much you two know about it,” he said. “Just as though you could settle it in these days how you should feel if you were back in the times when it was dangerous to own that you had a Bible, or knew anything about the Bible, or cared anything about it.”
Grace turned on him angrily. “Well, I should hope we could, Rene Holbrook. I don’t say we can realize it as those people did; but if I couldn’t know whether I would be true to my principles and stand up for the Bible, and for everything else that I had promised to uphold, I should be ashamed of myself.”
“Well,” said Jennie with a meek little sigh, “I don’t feel that way, and I can’t. I think I’m a good deal of a coward. I should want to be true, and I think I should try to be; but honestly, I’m afraid I couldn’t.”
Rene laughed again, this time loud and long; it was so funny to him to hear those girls discussing martyrdom with all the nervous excitement of reality – or of what they imagined was reality – that he could not help but laugh. Grace told him she was ashamed of him, and went away; and soon after gentle little Jennie, who feared that she had in some way offended her dear Grace, followed her example, and went to her own home, which joined the Holbrook house, and set herself about studying her part for the great missionary exercise, which was to be a Review of Nations, and in which exercise she recited a brief descriptive poem concerning the days of Christian martyrs, with such depth of feeling as to bring tears to the eyes of those who were drilling her. Grace also recited with remarkable power some of the brave, strong answers of those grand men and women, and gloried in the portion of history which she was to represent.
Come back tomorrow to read Part Two