Chapter 5 | Mother and Son | Deacon Pitkin's Farm

He knew where he should find her. There was a little, low work-room adjoining the kitchen that was his mother's sanctum. There stood her work-basket—there were always piles and piles of work, begun or finished; and there also her few books at hand, to be glanced into in rare snatches of leisure in her busy life.

The old times New England house mother was not a mere unreflective drudge of domestic toil. She was a reader and a thinker, keenly appreciative in intellectual regions. The literature of that day in New England was sparse; but whatever there was, whether in this country or in England, that was noteworthy, was matter of keen interest, and Mrs. Pitkin's small library was very dear to her. No nun in a convent under vows of abstinence ever practiced more rigorous self-denial than she did in the restraints and government of intellectual tastes and desires. Her son was dear to her as the fulfillment and expression of her unsatisfied craving for knowledge, the possessor of those fair fields of thought which duty forbade her to explore.

James stood and looked in at the window, and saw her sorting and arranging the family mending, busy over piles of stockings and shirts, while on the table beside her lay her open Bible, and she was singing to herself, in a low, sweet undertone, one of the favorite minor-keyed melodies of those days:

"O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home!"

An indescribable feeling, blended of pity and reverence, swelled in his heart as he looked at her and marked the whitening hair, the thin worn little hands so busy with their love work, and thought of all the bearing and forbearing, the waiting, the watching, the long-suffering that had made up her life for so many years. The very look of exquisite calm and resolved strength in her patient eyes and in the gentle lines of her face had something that seemed to him sad and awful—as the purely spiritual always looks to the more animal nature. With his blood bounding and tingling in his veins, his strong arms pulsating with life, and his heart full of a man's vigor and resolve, his mother's life seemed to him to be one of weariness and drudgery, of constant, unceasing self-abnegation. Calm he knew she was, always sustained, never faltering; but her victory was one which, like the spiritual sweetness in the face of the dying, had something of sadness for the living heart.

He opened the door and came in, sat down by her on the floor, and laid his head in her lap.

"Mother, you never rest; you never stop working."

"Oh, no!" she said gaily, "I'm just going to stop now. I had only a few last things I wanted to get done."

"Mother, I can't bear to think of you; your life is too hard. We all have our amusements, our rests, our changes; your work is never done; you are worn out, and get no time to read, no time for anything but drudgery."

"Don't say drudgery, my boy—work done for those we love never is drudgery. I'm so happy to have you all around me I never feel it."

"But, mother, you are not strong, and I don't see how you can hold out to do all you do."

"Well," she said simply, "when my strength is all gone I ask God for more, and he always gives it. 'They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.'" And her hand involuntarily fell on the open Bible.

"Yes, I know it," he said, following her hand with his eyes—while "Mother," he said, "I want you to give me your Bible and take mine. I think yours would do me more good."

There was a little bright flush and a pleased smile on his mother's face—

"Certainly, my boy, I will."

"I see you have marked your favorite places," he added. "It will seem like hearing you speak to read them."

"With all my heart," she added, taking up the Bible and kissing his forehead as she put it into his hands.

There was a struggle in his heart how to say farewell without saying it—without letting her know that he was going to leave her. He clasped her in his arms and kissed her again and again.

"Mother," he said, "if I ever get into heaven it will be through you."

"Don't say that, my son—it must be through a better Friend than I am—who loves you more than I do. I have not died for you—He did."

"Oh, that I knew where I might find him, then. You I can see—Him I cannot."

His mother looked at him with a face full of radiance, pity, and hope.

"I feel sure you will" she said. "You are consecrated," she added, in a low voice, laying her hand on his head.

"Amen," said James, in a reverential tone. He felt that she was at that moment—as she often
was—silently speaking to One invisible of and for him, and the sense of it stole over him like a benediction. There was a pause of tender silence for many minutes.

"Well, I must not keep you up any longer, mother dear—it's time you were resting. Good-night." And with a long embrace and kiss they separated. He had yet fifteen miles to walk to reach the midnight stage that was to convey him to Salem.

As he was starting from the house with his bundle in his hand, the sound of a gay laugh came through the distant shrubbery. It was Diana and Bill returning from the husking. Hastily he concealed himself behind a clump of old lilac bushes till they emerged into the moonlight and passed into the house. Diana was in one of those paroxysms of young girl frolic which are the effervescence of young, healthy blood, as natural as the gyrations of a bobolink on a clover head. James was thinking of dark nights and stormy seas, years of exile, mother's sorrows, home perhaps never to be seen more, and the laugh jarred on him like a terrible discord. He watched her into the house, turned, and was gone.