Nathaniel Benson is Mattie's primary love interest in the novel. He's a painter and an apprentice to the Peale family and he's apparently got great-looking hair. Interestingly enough, Mattie's interest in Nathaniel is not the main emphasis of this story. Mattie's relationship with Nathaniel is only one part of her life, not the sum of it. In the end, he's a part of her family, but so are many other people.