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   Chapter 6 GONE TO SEA.

Betty's Bright Idea; Deacon Pitkin's Farm; and the First Christmas of New England By Harriet Beecher Stowe Characters: 11338

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


A little way on in his moonlight walk James's ears were saluted by the sound of some one whistling and crackling through the bushes, and soon Biah Carter, emerged into the moonlight, having been out to the same husking where Diana and Bill had been enjoying themselves. The sight of him resolved a doubt which had been agitating James's mind. The note to his mother which was to explain his absence and the reasons for it was still in his coat-pocket, and he had designed sending it back by some messenger at the tavern where he took the midnight stage; but here was a more trusty party. It involved, to be sure, the necessity of taking Biah into his confidence. James was well aware that to tell that acute individual the least particle of a story was like starting a gimlet in a pine board-there was no stop till it had gone through. So he told him in brief that a good berth had been offered to him on the Eastern Star, and he meant to take it to relieve his father of the pressure of his education.

"Wal naow-you don't say so," was Biah's commentary. "Wal, yis, 'tis hard sleddin' for the deacon-drefful hard sleddin.' Wal, naow, s'pose you're disapp'inted-shouldn't wonder-jes' so. Eddication's a good thing, but 'taint the only thing naow; folks larns a sight rubbin' round the world-and then they make money. Jes' see, there's Cap'n Stebbins and Cap'n Andrews and Cap'n Merryweather-all livin' on good farms, with good, nice houses, all got goin' to sea. Expect Mis' Pitkin'll take it sort o' hard, she's so sot on you; but she's allers sayin' things is for the best, and maybe she'll come to think so 'bout this-folks gen'ally does when they can't help themselves. Wal, yis, naow-goin' to walk to the cross-road tavern? better not. Jest wait a minit and I'll hitch up and take ye over.

"Thank you, Biah, but I can't stop, and I'd rather walk, so I won't trouble you."

"Wal, look here-don't ye want a sort o' nest-egg? I've got fifty silver dollars laid up: you take it on venture and give me half what it brings."

"Thank you, Biah. If you'll trust me with it I'll hope to do something for us both."

Biah went into the house, and after some fumbling brought out a canvas bag, which he put into James's hand.

"Wanted to go to sea confoundedly myself, but there's Mariar Jane-she won't hear on't, and turns on the water-works if I peep a single word. Farmin's drefful slow, but when a feller's got a gal he's got a cap'n; he has to mind orders. So you jest trade and we'll go sheers. I think consid'able of you, and I expect you'll make it go as fur as anybody."

"I'll try my best, you may believe, Biah," said James, shaking the hard hand heartily, as he turned on his way towards the cross-roads tavern.

The whole village of Maplewood on Thanksgiving Day morning was possessed of the fact that James Pitkin had gone off to sea in the Eastern Star, for Biah had felt all the sense of importance which the possession of a startling piece of intelligence gives to one, and took occasion to call at the tavern and store on his way up and make the most of his information, so that by the time the bell rang for service the news might be said to be everywhere. The minister's general custom on Thanksgiving Day was to get off a political sermon reviewing the State of New England, the United States of America, and Europe, Asia, and Africa; but it may be doubted if all the affairs of all these continents produced as much sensation among the girls in the singers' seat that day as did the news that James Pitkin had gone to sea on a four years' voyage. Curious eyes were cast on Diana Pitkin, and many were the whispers and speculations as to the part she might have had in the move; and certainly she looked paler and graver than usual, and some thought they could detect traces of tears on her cheeks. Some noticed in the tones of her voice that day, as they rose in the soprano, a tremor and pathos never remarked

before-the unconscious utterance of a new sense of sorrow, awakened in a soul that up to this time had never known a grief.

For the letter had fallen on the heads of the Pitkin household like a thunderbolt. Biah came in to breakfast and gave it to Mrs. Pitkin, saying that James had handed him that last night, on his way over to take the midnight stage to Salem, where he was going to sail on the Eastern Star to-day-no doubt he's off to sea by this time. A confused sound of exclamations went up around the table, while Mrs. Pitkin, pale and calm, read the letter and then passed it to her husband without a word. The bright, fixed color in Diana's face had meanwhile been slowly ebbing away, till, with cheeks and lips pale as ashes, she hastily rose and left the table and went to her room. A strange, new, terrible pain-a sensation like being choked or smothered-a rush of mixed emotions-a fearful sense of some inexorable, unalterable crisis having come of her girlish folly-overwhelmed her. Again she remembered the deep tones of his good-by, and how she had only mocked at his emotion. She sat down and leaned her head on her hands in a tearless, confused sorrow.

Deacon' Pitkin was at first more shocked and overwhelmed than his wife. His yesterday's talk with James had no such serious purpose. It had been only the escape-valve for his hypochondriac forebodings of the future, and nothing was farther from his thoughts than having it bear fruit in any such decisive movement on the part of his son. In fact, he secretly was proud of his talents and his scholarship, and had set his heart on his going through college, and had no more serious purpose in what he said the day before than the general one of m

aking his son feel the difficulties and straits he was put to for him. Young men were tempted at college to be too expensive, he thought, and to forget what it cost their parents at home. In short, the whole thing had been merely the passing off of a paroxysm of hypochondria, and he had already begun to be satisfied that he should raise his interest money that year without material difficulty. The letter showed him too keenly the depth of the suffering he had inflicted on his son, and when he had read it he cast a sort of helpless, questioning look on his wife, and said, after an interval of silence:

"Well, mother!"

There was something quite pathetic in the appealing look and voice.'

"Well, father," she answered in subdued tones; "all we can do now is to leave it."

LEAVE IT!

Those were words often in that woman's mouth, and they expressed that habit of her life which made her victorious over all troubles, that habit of trust in the Infinite Will that actually could and did leave every accomplished event in His hand, without murmur and without conflict.

If there was any one thing in her uniformly self-denied life that had been a personal ambition and a personal desire, it had been that her son should have a college education. It was the center of her earthly wishes, hopes and efforts. That wish had been cut off in a moment, that hope had sunk under her feet, and now only remained to her the task of comforting the undisciplined soul whose unguided utterances had wrought the mischief. It was not the first time that, wounded by a loving hand in this dark struggle of life, she had suppressed the pain of her own hurt that he that had wounded her might the better forgive himself.

"Dear father," she said to him, when over and over he blamed himself for his yesterday's harsh words to his son, "don't worry about it now; you didn't mean it. James is a good boy, and he'll see it right at last; and he is in God's hands, and we must leave him there. He overrules all."

When Mrs. Pitkin turned from her husband she sought Diana in her room.

"Oh, cousin! cousin!" said the girl, throwing herself into her arms. "Is this true? Is James gone? Can't we do any thing? Can't we get him back? I've been thinking it over. Oh, if the ship wouldn't sail! and I'd go to Salem and beg him to come back, on my knees. Oh, if I had only known yesterday! Oh, cousin, cousin! he wanted to talk with me, and I wouldn't hear him!-oh, if I only had, I could have persuaded him out of it! Oh, why didn't I know?"

"There, there, dear child! We must accept it just as it is, now that it is done. Don't feel so. We must try to look at the good."

"Oh, show me that letter," said Diana; and Mrs. Pitkin, hoping to tranquilize her, gave her James's note. "He thinks I don't care for him," she said, reading it hastily. "Well, I don't wonder! But I do care! I love him better than anybody or anything under the sun, and I never will forget him; he's a brave, noble, good man, and I shall love him as long as I live-I don't care who knows it! Give me that locket, cousin, and write to him that I shall wear it to my grave."

"Dear child, there is no writing to him."

"Oh, dear! that's the worst. Oh, that horrid, horrid sea! It's like death-you don't know where they are, and you can't hear from them-and a four years' voyage! Oh, dear! oh, dear!"

"Don't, dear child, don't; you distress me," said Mrs. Pitkin.

"Yes, that's just like me," said Diana, wiping her eyes. "Here I am thinking only of myself, and you that have had your heart broken are trying to comfort me, and trying to comfort Cousin Silas. We have both of us scolded and flouted him away, and now you, who suffer the most of either of us, spend your breath to comfort us. It's just like you. But, cousin, I'll try to be good and comfort you. I'll try to be a daughter to you. You need somebody to think of you, for you never think of yourself. Let's go in his room," she said, and taking the mother by the hand they crossed to the empty room. There was his writing-table, there his forsaken books, his papers, some of his clothes hanging in his closet. Mrs. Pitkin, opening a drawer, took out a locket hung upon a bit of blue ribbon, where there were two locks of hair, one of which Diana recognized as her own, and one of James's. She hastily hung it about her neck and concealed it in her bosom, laying her hand hard upon it, as if she would still the beatings of her heart.

"It seems like a death," she said. "Don't you think the ocean is like death-wide, dark, stormy, unknown? We cannot speak to or hear from them that are on it."

"But people can and do come back from the sea," said the mother, soothingly. "I trust, in God's own time, we shall see James back."

"But what if we never should? Oh, cousin! I can't help thinking of that. There was Michael Davis,-you know-the ship was never heard from."

"Well," said the mother, after a moment's pause and a choking down of some rising emotion, and turning to a table on which lay a Bible, she opened and read: "If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me."

The THEE in this psalm was not to her a name, a shadow, a cipher, to designate the unknowable-it stood for the inseparable Heart-friend-the Father seeing in secret, on whose bosom all her tears of sorrow had been shed, the Comforter and Guide forever dwelling in her soul, and giving peace where the world gave only trouble.

Diana beheld her face as it had been the face of an angel. She kissed her, and turned away in silence.

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