Chapter 2 | Biah Carter | Deacon Pitkin's Farm

It was in the flush and glow of a gorgeous sunset that you might have seen the dark form of the Pitkin farm-house rising on a green hill against the orange sky.

The red house, with its overhanging canopy of elm, stood out like an old missal picture done on a gold ground.

Through the glimmer of the yellow twilight might be seen the stacks of dry corn-stalks and heaps of golden pumpkins in the neighboring fields, from which the slow oxen were bringing home a cart well laden with farm produce.

It was the hour before supper time, and Biah Carter, the deacon's hired man, was leaning against a fence, waiting for his evening meal; indulging the while in a stream of conversational wisdom which seemed to flow all the more freely from having been dammed up through the labors of the day.

Biah was, in those far distant times of simplicity a "mute inglorious" newspaper man. Newspapers in those days were as rare and unheard of as steam cars or the telegraph, but Biah had within him all the making of a thriving modern reporter, and no paper to use it on. He was a walking biographical and statistical dictionary of all the affairs of the good folks of Mapleton. He knew every piece of furniture in their houses, and what they gave for it; every foot of land, and what it was worth; every ox, ass and sheep; every man, woman and child in town. And Biah could give pretty shrewd character pictures also, and whoever wanted to inform himself of the status of any person or thing in Mapleton would have done well to have turned the faucet of Biah's stream of talk, and watched it respectfully as it came, for it was commonly conceded that what Biah Carter didn't know about Mapleton was hardly worth knowing.

"Putty piece o' property, this 'ere farm," he said, surveying the scene around him with the air of a connoisseur. "None o' yer stun pastur land where the sheep can't get their noses down through the rocks without a file to sharpen 'em! Deacon Pitkin did a putty fair stroke o' business when he swapped off his old place for this 'ere. That are old place was all swamp land and stun pastur; wa'n't good for raisin' nothin' but juniper bushes and bull frogs. But I tell yeu" preceded Biah, with a shrewd wink, "that are mortgage pinches the deacon; works him like a dose of aloes and picry, it does. Deacon fairly gets lean on't."

"Why," said Abner Jenks, a stolid plow boy to whom this stream of remark was addressed; "this 'ere place ain't mortgaged, is it? Du tell, naow!"

"Why, yis; don't ye know that are? Why there's risin' two thousand dollars due on this 'ere farm, and if the deacon don't scratch for it and pay up squar to the minit, old Squire Norcross'll foreclose on him. Old squire hain't no bowels, I tell yeu, and the deacon knows he hain't: and I tell you it keeps the deacon dancin' lively as corn on a hot shovel."

"The deacon's a master hand to work," said Abner; "so's the boys."

"Wai, yis, the deacon is," said Biah, turning contemplatively to the farmhouse; "there ain't a crittur in that are house that there ain't the most work got out of 'em that ken be, down to Jed and Sam, the little uns. They work like tigers, every soul of 'em, from four o'clock in she morning' as long as they can see, and Mis' Pitkin she works all the evening—woman's work ain't never done, they say."

"She's a good woman, Mis' Pitkin is," said Abner, "and she's a smart worker."

In this phrase Abner solemnly expressed his highest ideal of a human being.

"Smart ain't no word for 't," said Biah, with alertness. "Declar for 't, the grit o' that are woman beats me. Had eight children right along in a string 'thout stoppin', done all her own work, never kep' no gal nor nothin'; allers up and dressed; allers to meetin' Sunday, and to the prayer-meetin' weekly, and never stops workin': when 'tan't one thing it's another—cookin', washin', ironin', making butter and cheese, and 'tween spells cuttin' and sewin', and if she ain't doin' that, why, she's braidin' straw to sell to the store or knitting—she's the perpetual motion ready found, Mis' Pitkin is."

"Want ter know," said the auditor, as a sort of musical rest in this monotone of talk. "Ain't she smart, though!"

"Smart! Well, I should think she was. She's over and into everything that's goin' on in that house. The deacon wouldn't know himself without her; nor wouldn't none of them boys, they just live out of her; she kind o' keeps 'em all up."

"Wal, she ain't a hefty woman, naow," said the interlocutor, who seemed to be possessed by a dim idea that worth must be weighed by the pound.

"Law bless you, no! She's a little crittur; nothin' to look to, but every bit in her is live. She looks pale, kind o' slips round still like moonshine, but where anything's to be done, there Mis' Pitkin is; and her hand allers goes to the right spot, and things is done afore ye know it. That are woman's kind o' still; she'll slip off and be gone to heaven some day afore folks know it. There comes the deacon and Jim over the hill. Jim walked home from college day 'fore yesterday, and turned right in to-day to help get in the taters, workin' right along. Deacon was awful grouty."

"What was the matter o' the deacon?"

"Oh, the mortgage kind o' works him. The time to pay comes round putty soon, and the deacon's face allers goes down long as yer arm. 'Tis a putty tight pull havin' Jim in college, losin' his work and havin' term bills and things to pay. Them are college folks charges up, I tell you. I seen it works the deacon, I heard him a-jawin' Jim 'bout it."

"What made Jim go to college?" said Abner with slow wonder in his heavy face.

"Oh, he allers was sot on eddication, and Mis' Pitkin she's sot on't, too, in her softly way, and softly women is them that giner'lly carries their p'ints, fust or last.

"But there's one that ain't softly!" Biah suddenly continued, as the vision of a black-haired, bright-eyed girl suddenly stepped forth from the doorway, and stood shading her face with her hands, looking towards the sunset. The evening light lit up a jaunty spray of golden rod that she had wreathed in her wavy hair, and gave a glow to the rounded outlines of her handsome form. "There's a sparkler for you! And no saint, neither!" was Biah's comment. "That crittur has got more prances and capers in her than any three-year-old filly I knows on. He'll be cunning that ever gets a bridle on her."

"Some says she's going to hev Jim Pitkin, and some says it's Bill," said Abner, delighted to be able to add his mite of gossip to the stream while it was flowing.

"She's sweet on Jim while he's round, and she's sweet on Bill when Jim's up to college, and between um she gets took round to everything that going. She gives one a word over one shoulder, and one over t'other, and if the Lord above knows what's in that gal's mind or what she's up to, he knows more than I do, or she either, else I lose my bet."

Biah made this admission with a firmness that might have been a model to theologians or philosophers in general. There was a point, it appeared, where he was not omniscient. His universal statistical knowledge had a limit.