Mary returned to the house with her basket of warm, fresh eggs, which she set down mournfully upon the table. In her heart there was one conscious want and yearning, and that was to go to the friends of him she had lost—to go to his mother. The first impulse of bereavement is to stretch out the hands towards what was nearest and dearest to the departed.

Her dove came fluttering down out of the tree and settled on her hand, and began asking in his dumb way to be noticed. Mary stroked his white feathers, and bent her head down over them till they were wet with tears. ‘Oh, birdie, you live, but he is gone!’ she said. Then suddenly putting it gently from her, and going near and throwing her arms around her mother’s neck,—‘Mother,’ she said, ‘I want to go up to Cousin Ellen’s.’ (This was the familiar name by which she always called Mrs. Marvyn.) ‘Can’t you go with me, mother?’

‘My daughter, I have thought of it. I hurried about my baking this morning, and sent word to Mr. Jenkyns that he needn’t come to see about the chimney, because I expected to go as soon as breakfast should be out of the way. So hurry, now, boil some eggs, and get on the cold beef and potatoes, for I see Solomon and Amaziah coming in with the milk. They’ll want their breakfast immediately.’

The breakfast for the hired men was soon arranged on the table, and Mary sat down to preside while her mother was going on with her baking, introducing various loaves of white and brown bread into the capacious oven by means of a long iron shovel, and discoursing at intervals with Solomon with regard to the different farming operations which he had in hand for the day.

Solomon was a tall, large-boned man, brawny and angular, with a face tanned by the sun, and graven with those considerate lines which New England so early writes on the faces of her sons. He was reputed an oracle in matters of agriculture and cattle, and, like oracles generally, was prudently sparing of his responses. Amaziah was one of those uncouth over-grown boys of eighteen, whose physical bulk appears to have so suddenly developed that the soul has more matter than she has learned to recognize, so that the hapless individual is always awkwardly conscious of too much limb; and in Amaziah’s case this consciousness grew particularly distressing when Mary was in the room. He liked to have her there, he said, ‘but somehow she was so white and pretty, she made him feel sort o’ awful-like.’

Of course, as such poor mortals always do, he must, on this particular morning, blunder into precisely the wrong subject.

‘S’pose you’ve heerd the news that Jeduthan Pettibone brought home in the “Flying Scud,” ’bout the wreck o’ the “Monsoon;” it’s an awful providence, that ’ar’ is—a’n’t it? Why Jeduthan says she jest crushed like an egg-shell’—and with that Amaziah illustrated the fact by crushing an egg-shell in his great brown hand.

Mary did not answer. She could not grow any paler than she was before; a dreadful curiosity came over her, but her lips could frame no question. Amaziah went on:

‘Ye see, the cap’en he got killed with a spar when the blow fust come on, and Jim Marvyn he commanded; and Jeduthan says that he seemed to have the spirit of ten men in him. He worked, and he watched, and he was everywhere at once, and he kep’ ’em all up for three days, till finally they lost their rudder, and went drivin’ right onto the rocks. When they come in sight, he come up on deck, and says he, “Well, my boys, we’re headin’ right into eternity,” says he, “and our chances for this world a’n’t worth mentionin’, any on us; but we’ll all have one try for our lives. Boys, I’ve tried to do my duty by you and the ship—but God’s will be done! All I have to ask now is, that if any of you git to shore, you’ll find my mother and tell her I died thinkin’ of her and father and my dear friends.” That was the last Jeduthan saw of him, for in a few minutes more the ship struck, and then it was every man for himself. Laws! Jeduthan says there couldn’t nobody have stood beatin’ agin them rocks unless they was all leather and inger-rubber like him. Why, he says the waves would take strong men and jest crush ’em against the rocks like smashin’ a pie-plate!’

Here Mary’s paleness became livid; she made a hasty motion to rise from the table, and Solomon trod on the foot of the narrator.

‘You seem to forget that friends and relations has feelin’s,’ he said, as Mary hastily went into her own room.

Amaziah, suddenly awakened to the fact that he had been trespassing, sat with mouth half open and a stupefied look of perplexity on his face for a moment, and then, rising hastily, said: ‘Well, Sol, I guess I’ll go an’ yoke up the steers.’

At eight o’clock all the morning toils were over, the wide kitchen cool and still, and the one-horse waggon standing at the door, into which climbed Mary, her mother, and the Doctor, for, though invested with no spiritual authority, and charged with no ritual or form for hours of affliction, the religion of New England always expects her minister as a first visitor in every house of mourning.

The ride was a sorrowful and silent one. The Doctor, propped upon his cane, seemed to reflect deeply.

‘Have you been at all conversant with the exercises of our young friend’s mind on the subject of religion?’ he asked.

Mrs. Scudder did not at first reply. The remembrance of James’s last letter flashed over her mind, and she felt the vibration of the frail child beside her, in whom every nerve was quivering. After a moment she said: ‘It does not become us to judge the spiritual state of any one. James’s mind was in an unsettled way when he left; but who can say what wonders may have been effected by Divine grace since then?’

This conversation fell on the soul of Mary like the sound of clods falling on a coffin to the ear of one buried alive; she heard it with a dull, smothering sense of suffocation. That question to be raised!—and about one, too, for whom she could have given her own soul! At this moment she felt how idle is the mere hope or promise of personal salvation made to one who has passed beyond the life of self, and struck deep the roots of his existence in others. She did not utter a word—how could she? A doubt—the faintest shadow of a doubt—in such a case, falls on the soul with the weight of mountain certainty, and in that short ride she felt what an infinite pain may be locked in one small, silent breast.

The waggon drew up to the house of mourning. Cato stood at the gate, and came forward, officiously, to help them out. ‘Mass’r and Missis will be glad to see you,’ he said. ‘It’s a drefful stroke has come upon ’em.’

Candace appeared at the door. There was a majesty of sorrow in her bearing as she received them. She said not a word, but pointed with her finger towards the inner room; but as Mary lifted up her faded, weary face to hers, her whole soul seemed to heave towards her like a billow, and she took her up in her arms and broke forth into sobbing, and, carrying her in, as if she had been a child, set her down in the inner room and sat down beside her.

Mrs. Marvyn and her husband sat together, holding each other’s hands, the open Bible between them. For a few moments nothing was to be heard but sobs and unrestrained weeping, and then all kneeled down while the Doctor prayed.

After they rose up, Mr. Zebedee Marvyn stood for a moment thoughtfully, and then said: ‘If it had pleased the Lord to give me a sure evidence of my son’s salvation, I could have given him up with all my heart; but now, whatever there may be, I have seen none.’ He stood in an attitude of hopeless, heart-smitten dejection, which contrasted painfully with his usual upright carriage and the firm lines of his face.

Mrs. Marvyn started as if a sword had pierced her, passed her arm round Mary’s waist, with a strong, nervous clasp, unlike her usual calm self, and said, ‘Stay with me, daughter, to-day!—stay with me!’

‘Mary can stay as long as you wish, cousin,’ said Mrs. Scudder; ‘we have nothing to call her home.’

Come with me!’ said Mrs. Marvyn to Mary, opening an adjoining door into her bedroom, and drawing her in with a sort of suppressed vehemence, ‘I want you!—I must have you!’

‘Mrs. Marvyn’s state alarms me,’ said her husband, looking apprehensively after her when the door was closed; ‘she has not shed any tears nor slept any since she heard this news. You know that her mind has been in a peculiar and unhappy state with regard to religious things for many years. I was in hopes she might feel free to open her exercises of mind to the Doctor.’

‘Perhaps she will feel more freedom with Mary,’ said the Doctor. ‘There is no healing for such troubles except in unconditional submission to Infinite Wisdom and Goodness. The Lord reigneth, and will at last bring infinite good out of evil, whether our small portion of existence be included or not.’

After a few moments more of conference, Mrs. Scudder and the Doctor departed, leaving Mary alone in the house of mourning.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook