Chapter 4 | The Good By | Deacon Pitkin's Farm

Diana Pitkin was like some of the fruits of her native hills, full of juices which tend to sweetness in maturity, but which when not quite ripe have a pretty decided dash of sharpness. There are grapes that require a frost to ripen them, and Diana was somewhat akin to these.

She was a mettlesome, warm-blooded creature, full of the energy and audacity of youth, to whom as yet life was only a frolic and a play spell. Work never tired her. She ate heartily, slept peacefully, went to bed laughing, and got up in a merry humor in the morning. Diana's laugh was as early a note as the song of birds. Such a nature is not at first sympathetic. It has in it some of the unconscious cruelty which belongs to nature itself, whose sunshine never pales at human trouble. Eyes that have never wept cannot comprehend sorrow. Moreover, a lively girl of eighteen, looking at life out of eyes which bewilder others with their brightness, does not always see the world truly, and is sometimes judged to be heartless when she is only immature.

Nothing was further from Diana's thoughts than that any grave trouble was overhanging her lover's mind—for her lover she very well knew that James was, and she had arranged beforehand to herself very pretty little comedies of life, to be duly enacted in the long vacation, in which James was to appear as the suitor, and she, not too soon nor with too much eagerness, was at last to acknowledge to him how much he was to her. But meanwhile he was not to be too presumptuous. It was not set down in the cards that she should be too gracious or make his way too easy. When, therefore, he brushed by her hastily, on entering the house, with a flushed cheek and frowning brow, and gave no glance of admiration at the pretty toilet she had found time to make, she was slightly indignant. She was as ignorant of the pang which went like an arrow through his heart at the sight of her as the bobolink which whirrs and chitters and tweedles over a grave.

She turned away and commenced a kitten-like frolic with Bill, who was always only too happy to second any of her motions, and readily promised that after supper she would go with him a walk of half a mile over to a neighbor's, where was a corn-husking. A great golden lamp of a harvest moon was already coming up in the fading flush of the evening sky, and she promised herself much amusement in watching the result of her maneuver on James.

"He'll see at any rate that I am not waiting his beck and call. Next time, if he wants my company he can ask for it in season. I'm not going to indulge him in sulks, not I. These college fellows worry over books till they hurt their digestion, and then have the blues and look as if the world was coming to an end." And Diana went to the looking-glass and rearranged the spray of golden-rod in her hair and nodded at herself defiantly, and then turned to help get on the supper.

The Pitkin folk that night sat down to an ample feast, over which the impending Thanksgiving shed its hilarity. There was not only the inevitable great pewter platter, scoured to silver brightness, in the center of the table, and piled with solid masses of boiled beef, pork, cabbage and all sorts of vegetables, and the equally inevitable smoking loaf of rye and Indian bread, to accompany the pot of baked pork and beans, but there were specimens of all the newly-made Thanksgiving pies filling every available space on the table. Diana set special value on herself as a pie artist, and she had taxed her ingenuity this year to invent new varieties, which were received with bursts of applause by the boys. These sat down to the table in democratic equality,—Biah Carter and Abner with all the sons of the family, old and young, each eager, hungry and noisy; and over all, with moonlight calmness and steadiness, Mary Pitkin ruled and presided, dispensing to each his portion in due season, while Diana, restless and mischievous as a sprite, seemed to be possessed with an elfin spirit of drollery, venting itself in sundry little tricks and antics which drew ready laughs from the boys and reproving glances from the deacon. For the deacon was that night in one of his severest humors. As Biah Carter afterwards remarked of that night, "You could feel there was thunder in the air somewhere round. The deacon had got on about his longest face, and when the deacon's face is about down to its wust, why, it would stop a robin singin'—there couldn't nothin' stan' it."

To-night the severely cut lines of his face had even more than usual of haggard sternness, and the handsome features of James beside him, in their fixed gravity, presented that singular likeness which often comes out between father and son in seasons of mental emotion. Diana in vain sought to draw a laugh from her cousin. In pouring his home-brewed beer she contrived to spatter him, but he wiped it off without a smile, and let pass in silence some arrows of raillery that she had directed at his somber face.

When they rose from table, however, he followed her into the pantry.

"Diana, will you take a walk with me to-night?" he said, in a voice husky with repressed feeling.

"To-night! Why, I have just promised Bill to go with him over to the husking at the Jenks's. Why don't you go with us? We're going to have lots of fun," she added with an innocent air of not perceiving his gravity.

"I can't," he said. "Besides I wanted to walk with you alone. I had something special I wanted to say."

"Bless me, how you frighten one! You look solemn as a hearse; but I promised to go with Bill to-night, and I suspect another time will do just as well. What you have to say will keep, I suppose," she said mischievously.

He turned away quickly.

"I should really like to know what's the matter with you to-night," she added, but as she spoke he went up-stairs and shut the door.

"He's cross to-night," was Diana's comment. "Well, he'll have to get over his pet. I sha'n't mind it!"

Up-stairs in his room James began the work of putting up the bundle with which he was to go forth to seek his fortune. There stood his books, silent and dear witnesses of the world of hope and culture and refined enjoyment he had been meaning to enter. He was to know them no more. Their mute faces seemed to look at him mournfully as parting friends. He rapidly made his selection, for that night he was to be off in time to reach the vessel before she sailed, and he felt even glad to avoid the Thanksgiving festivities for which he had so little relish. Diana's frolicsome gaiety seemed heart-breaking to him, on the same principle that the poet sings:

"How can ye chant, ye little birds, And I sae weary, fu' o' care?"

To the heart struck through with its first experiences of real suffering all nature is full of cruelty, and the young and light-hearted are a large part of nature.

"She has no feeling," he said to himself. "Well, there is one reason the more for my going. She won't break her heart for me; nobody loves me but mother, and it's for her sake I must go. She mustn't work herself to death for me."

And then he sat down in the window to write a note to be given to his mother after he had sailed, for he could not trust himself to tell her what he was about to do. He knew that she would try to persuade him to stay, and he felt faint-hearted when he thought of her. "She would sit up early and late, and work for me to the last gasp," he thought, "but father was right. It is selfish of me to take it," and so he sat trying to fashion his parting note into a tone of cheerfulness.

"My dear mother," he wrote, "this will come to you when I have set off on a four years' voyage round the world. Father has convinced me that it's time for me to be doing something for myself; and I couldn't get a school to keep—and, after all, education is got other ways than at college. It's hard to go, because I love home, and hard because you will miss me—though no one else will. But father may rely upon it, I will not be a burden on him another day. Sink or swim, I shall never come back till I have enough to do for myself, and you too. So good bye, dear mother. I know you will always pray for me, and wherever I am I shall try to do just as I think you would want me to do. I know your prayers will follow me, and I shall always be your affectionate son.

"P.S.—The boys may have those chestnuts and walnuts in my room—and in my drawer there is a bit of ribbon with a locket on it I was going to give cousin Diana. Perhaps she won't care for it, though; but if she does, she is welcome to it—it may put her in mind of old times."'

And this is all he said, with bitterness in his heart, as he leaned on the window and looked out at the great yellow moon that was shining so bright as to show the golden hues of the overhanging elm boughs and the scarlet of an adjoining maple.

A light ripple of laughter came up from below, and a chestnut thrown up struck him on the hand, and he saw Diana and Bill step from out the shadowy porch.

"There's a chestnut for you, Mr. Owl," she called, gaily, "if you will stay moping up there! Come, now, it's a splendid evening; won't you come?"

"No, thank you. I sha'n't be missed," was the reply.

"That's true enough; the loss is your own. Good bye, Mr. Philosopher."

"Good bye, Diana."

Something in the tone struck strangely through her heart. It was the voice of what Diana never had felt yet—deep suffering—and she gave a little shiver.

"What an awfully solemn voice James has sometimes," she said; and then added, with a laugh, "it would make his fortune as a Methodist minister."

The sound of the light laugh and little snatches and echoes of gay talk came back like heartless elves to mock Jim's sorrow.

"So much for her," he said, and turned to go and look for his mother.