MoboReader> Literature > A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life.

   Chapter 3 EYESTONES.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 21819

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The road left the flat farming country now, and turned northward, up the beautiful river valley. There was plenty to enjoy outside; and it was growing more and more lovely with almost every mile. They left the great towns gradually behind; each succeeding one seemed more simply rural. Young girls were gathered on the platforms at the little stations where they stopped sometimes; it was the grand excitement of the place,-the coming of the train,-and to these village lasses was what the piazzas or the springs are to gay dwellers at Saratoga.

By dinner-time they steamed up to the stately back staircase of the "Pemigewasset." In the little parlor where they smoothed their hair and rested a moment before going to the dining-hall, they met again the lady of the grass-grown bonnet. She took this off, making herself comfortable, in her primitive fashion, for dinner; and then Leslie noticed how little it was from any poverty of nature that the fair and abundant hair, at least, had not been made use of to take down the severe primness of her outward style. It did take it down in spite of all, the moment the gray straw was removed. The great round coil behind was all real and solid, though it was wound about with no thought save of security, and fastened with a buffalo-horn comb. Hair was a matter of course; the thing was, to keep it out of the way; that was what the fashion of this head expressed, and nothing more. Where it was tucked over the small ears,-and native refinement or the other thing shows very plainly in the ears,-it lay full, and shaped into a soft curve. She was only plain, not ugly, after all; and they are very different things,-there being a beauty of plainness in men and women, as there is in a rich fabric, sometimes.

While Leslie was noticing these things, Elinor Hadden stood by a window with her back to the others. She did not complain at first; one doesn't like to allow, at once, that the toothache, or a mischance like this that had happened to her, is an established fact,-one is in for it the moment one does that. But she had got a cinder in her eye; and though she had winked, and stared, and rolled her eyelid under, and tried all the approved and instinctive means, it seemed persistent; and she was forced at last, just as her party was going in to dinner, to acknowledge that this traveler's misery had befallen her, and to make up her mind to the pain and wretchedness and ugliness of it for hours, if not even for days. Her face was quite disfigured already; the afflicted eye was bloodshot, and the whole cheek was red with tears and rubbing; she could only follow blindly along, her handkerchief up, and, half groping into the seat offered her, begin comfortlessly to help herself to some soup with her left hand. There was leaning across to inquire and pity; there were half a dozen things suggested, to which she could only reply, forlornly and impatiently, "I've tried it." None of them could eat much, or with any satisfaction; this atom in the wrong place set everything wrong all at once with four people who, till now, had been so cheery.

The spinster lady was seated at some little distance down, on the opposite side. She began to send quick, interested glances over at them; to make little half-starts toward them, as if she would speak; and at last, leaving her own dinner unfinished, she suddenly pushed back her chair, got up, and came round. She touched Elinor Hadden on the shoulder, without the least ado of ceremony. "Come out here with me," she said. "I can set you right in half a minute;" and, confident of being followed, moved off briskly out of the long hall.

Elinor gave a one-sided, questioning glance at her sisters before she complied, reminding Leslie comically of the poor, one-eyed man in the cars; and presently, with a little hesitation, Mrs. Linceford and Jeannie compromised the matter by rising themselves and accompanying Elinor from the room. Leslie, of course, went also.

The lady had her gray bonnet on when they got back to the little parlor; there is no time to lose in mere waiting for anything at a railway dining-place; and she had her bag-a veritable, old-fashioned, home-made carpet thing-open on a chair before her, and in her hand a long, knit purse with steel beads and rings. Out of this she took a twisted bit of paper, and from the paper a minute something which she popped between her lips as she replaced the other things. Then she just beckoned, hastily, to Elinor.

"It's only an eyestone; did you ever have one in? Well, you needn't be afraid of it; I've had 'em in hundreds of times. You wouldn't know 't was there, and it'll just ease all the worry; and by and by it'll drop out of itself, cinder and all. They're terribly teasing things, cinders; and somebody's always sure to get one. I always keep three eyestones in my purse. You needn't mind my not having it back; I've got a little glass bottle full at home, and it's wonderful the sight of comfort they've been to folks."

Elinor shrunk; Mrs. Linceford showed a little high-bred demur about accepting the offered aid of their unknown traveling companion; but the good woman comprehended nothing of this, and went on insisting.

"You'd better let me put it in right off; it's only just to drop it under the eyelid, and it'll work round till it finds the speck. But you can take it and put it in yourself, when you've made up your mind, if you'd rather." With which she darted her head quickly from side to side, looking about the room, and, spying a scrap of paper on a table, had the eyestone twisted in it in an instant, and pressed it into Elinor's hand. "You'll be glad enough of it, yet," said she, and then took up her bag, and moved quickly off among the other passengers descending to the train.

"What a funny woman, to be always carrying eyestones about, and putting them in people's eyes!" said Jeannie.

"It was quite kind of her, I'm sure," said Mrs. Linceford, with a mingling in her tone of acknowledgment and of polite tolerance for a great liberty. When elegant people break their necks or their limbs, common ones may approach and assist; as, when a house takes fire, persons get in who never did before; and perhaps a suffering eye may come into the catalogue of misfortunes sufficient to equalize differences for the time being. But it is queer for a woman to make free to go without her own dinner to offer help to a stranger in pain. Not many people, in any sense of the word, go about provided with eyestones against the chance cinders that may worry others. Something in this touched Leslie Goldthwaite with a curious sense of a beauty in living that was not external.

If it had not been for Elinor's mishap and inability to enjoy, it would have been pure delight from the very beginning, this afternoon's ride. They had their seats upon the "mountain side," where the view of the thronging hills was like an ever-moving panorama; as, winding their way farther and farther up into the heart of the wild and beautiful region, the horizon seemed continually to fill with always vaster shapes, that lifted themselves, or emerged, over and from behind each other, like mustering clans of giants, bestirred and curious, because of the invasion among their fastnesses of this sprite of steam.

"Where you can come down, I can go up," it seemed to fizz, in its strong, exulting whisper, to the river; passing it always, yet never getting by; tracking, step by step, the great stream backward toward its small beginnings.

"See, there are real blue peaks!" cried Leslie joyously, pointing away to the north and east where the outlines lay faint and lovely in the far distance.

"Oh, I wish I could see! I'm losing it all!" said Elinor, plaintively and blindfold.

"Why don't you try the eyestone?" said Jeannie.

But Elinor shrunk, even yet, from deliberately putting that great thing in her eye, agonized already by the presence of a mote.

There came a touch on her shoulder, as before. The good woman of the gray bonnet had come forward from her seat farther down the car.

"I'm going to stop presently," she said, "at East Haverhill; and I should feel more satisfied in my mind if you'd just let me see you easy before I go. Besides, if you don't do something quick, the cinder will get so bedded in, and make such an inflammation, that a dozen eyestones wouldn't draw it out."

At this terror, poor Elinor yielded, in a negative sort of way. She ceased to make resistance when her unknown friend, taking the little twist of paper from the hand still fast closed over it with the half-conscious grasp of pain, dexterously unrolled it, and produced the wonderful chalky morsel.

"Now, 'let's see, says the blind man;'" and she drew down hand and handkerchief with determined yet gentle touch. "Wet it in your own mouth,"-and the eyestone was between Elinor's lips before she could refuse or be aware. Then one thumb and finger was held to take it again, while the other made a sudden pinch at the lower eyelid, and, drawing it at the outer corner before it could so much as quiver away again, the little white stone was slid safely under.

"Now 'wink as much as you please,' as the man said that took an awful-looking daguerreotype of me once. Good-by. Here's where I get out. And there they all are to meet me." And then, the cars stopping, she made her way, with her carpet-bag and parasol and a great newspaper bundle, gathered up hurriedly from goodness knows where, along the passage, and out upon the platform.

"Why, it's the strangest thing! I don't feel it in the least! Do you suppose it ever will come out again, Augusta?" cried Elinor, in a tone greatly altered from any in which she had spoken for two hours.

"Of course it will," cried "Gray-bonnet" from beneath the window. "Don't be under the least mite of concern about anything but looking out for it when it does, to keep it against next time."

Leslie saw the plain, kindly woman surrounded in a minute by half a dozen eager young welcomers and claimants, and a whole history came out in the unreserved exclamations of the few instants for which the train delayed.

"Oh, it's such a blessing you've come! I don't know as Emma Jane would have been married at all if you hadn't!"

"We warn't sure you'd get the letter."

"Or as Aunt Nisby would spare you."

"'Life wanted to come over on his crutches. He's just got his new ones, and he gets about first-rate. But we wouldn't let him beat himself out for to-morrow."

"How is 'Life?"

"Hearty as would anyway be consistent-with one-leggedness. He'd never 'a' got back, we all know, if you hadn't gone after him." It was a young man's voice that spoke these last sentences, and it grew tender at the end.

"You're to trim the cake," began one of the young girls again, crowding up. "She says nobody else can. Nobody else ever can. And

"-with a little more mystery-"there's the veil to fix. She says you're used to wedd'n's and know about veils; and you was down to Lawrence at Lorany's. And she wants things in real style. She's dreadful pudjicky, Emma Jane is; she won't have anything without it's exactly right."

The plain face was full of beaming sympathy and readiness. The stiff-looking spinster woman, with the "grass in the eaves of her bonnet,"-grass grown, also, over many an old hope in her own life, may be,-was here in the midst of young joy and busy interest, making them all her own; had come on purpose, looked for and hailed as the one without whom nothing could ever be done,-more tenderly yet, as one but for whom some brave life and brother love would have gone down. In the midst of it all she had had ear and answer, to the very last, for the stranger she had comforted on her way. What difference did it make whether she wore an old bonnet with green grass in it, or a round hat with a gay feather? whether she were fifteen or forty-five, but for the good she had had time to do? whether Lorany's wedding down at Lawrence had been really a stylish festival or no? There was a beauty here which verily shone out through all; and such a life should have no time to be tempted.

The engine panted, and the train sped on. She never met her fellow-traveler again, but these things Leslie Goldthwaite had learned from her,-these things she laid by silently in her heart. And the woman in the gray bonnet never knew the half that she had done.

After taking one through wildernesses of beauty, after whirling one past nooks where one could gladly linger whole summers, it is strange at what commonplace and graceless termini these railroads contrive to land one. Lovely Wells River, where the road makes its sharp angle, and runs back again until it strikes out eastward through the valley of the Ammonoosuc; where the waters leap to each other, and the hills bend round in majestic greeting; where our young party cried out, in an ignorance at once blessed and pathetic, "Oh, if Littleton should only be like this, or if we could stop here!"-yet where one cannot stop, because here there is no regular stage connection, and nothing else to be found, very probably, that travelers might want, save the outdoor glory,-Wells River and Woodsville were left behind, lying in the evening stillness of June,-in the grand and beautiful disregard of things greater than the world is rushing by to seek,-and for an hour more they threaded through fair valley sweeps and reaches, past solitary hillside clearings and detached farms and the most primitive of mountain hamlets, where the limit and sparseness of neighborhood drew forth from a gentleman sitting behind them-come, doubtless, from some suburban home, where numberless household wants kept horse and wagon perpetually on the way for city or village-the suggestive query, "I wonder what they do here when they're out of saleratus?"

They brought them up, as against a dead wall of dreariness and disappointment, at the Littleton station. It had been managed as it always is: the train had turned most ingeniously into a corner whence there was scarcely an outlook upon anything of all the magnificence that must yet be lying close about them; and here was only a tolerably well-populated country town, filled up to just the point that excludes the picturesque and does not attain to the highly civilized. And into the heart of this they were to be borne, and to be shut up there this summer night, with the full moon flooding mountain and river, and the woods whispering up their peace to heaven.

It was bad enough, but worse came. The hotel coach was waiting, and they hastened to secure their seats, giving their checks to the driver, who disappeared with a handful of these and others, leaving his horses with the reins tied to the dash-board, and a boy ten years old upon the box.

There were heads out anxiously at either side, between concern for safety of body and of property. Mrs. Linceford looked uneasily toward the confused group upon the platform, from among whom luggage began to be drawn out in a fashion regardless of covers and corners. The large russet trunk with the black "H,"-the two linen-cased ones with "Hadden" in full;-the two square bonnet-boxes,-these, one by one, were dragged and whirled toward the vehicle and jerked upon the rack; but the "ark," as they called Mrs. Linceford's huge light French box, and the one precious receptacle that held all Leslie's pretty outfit, where were these?

"Those are not all, driver! There is a high black French trunk, and a russet leather one."

"Got all you give me checks for,-seb'm pieces;" and he pointed to two strange articles of luggage waiting their turn to be lifted up,-a long, old-fashioned gray hair trunk, with letters in brass nails upon the lid, and as antiquated a carpet-bag, strapped and padlocked across the mouth, suggestive in size and fashion of the United States mail.

"Never saw them before in my life! There's some dreadful mistake! What can have become of ours?"

"Can't say, ma'am, I'm sure. Don't often happen. But them was your checks."

Mrs. Linceford leaned back for an instant in a breathless despair. "I must get out and see."

"If you please, ma'am. But 't ain't no use. The things is all cleared off." Then, stooping to examine the trunk, and turning over the bag, "Queer, too. These things is chalked all right for Littleton. Must ha' been a mistake with the checks, and somebody changed their minds on the way,-Plymouth, most likely,-and stopped with the wrong baggage. Wouldn't worry, ma'am; it's as bad for one as for t' other, anyhow, and they'll be along to-morrow, no kind o' doubt. Strays allers turns up on this here road. No danger about that. I'll see to havin' these 'ere stowed away in the baggage-room." And shouldering the bag, he seized the trunk by the handle and hauled it along over the rough embankment and up the steps, flaying one side as he went.

"But, dear me! what am I to do?" said Mrs. Linceford piteously. "Everything in it that I want to-night,-my dressing-box and my wrappers and my air-cushion; they'll be sure not to have any bolsters on the beds, and only one feather in each corner of the pillows!"

But this was only the first surprise of annoyance. She recollected herself on the instant, and leaned back again, saying nothing more. She had no idea of amusing her unknown stage companions at any length with her fine-lady miseries. Only, just before they reached the hotel, she added low to Jeannie, out of the unbroken train of her own private lamentation, "And my rose-glycerine! After all this dust and heat! I feel parched to a mummy, and I shall be an object to behold!"

Leslie sat upon her right hand. She leaned closer, and said quickly, glad of the little power to comfort, "I have some rose-glycerine here in my bag."

Mrs. Linceford looked round at her; her face was really bright. As if she had not lost her one trunk also! "You are a phoenix of a traveling companion, you young thing!" the lady thought, and felt suddenly ashamed of her own unwonted discomfiture.

Half an hour afterward Leslie Goldthwaite flitted across the passage between the two rooms they had secured for their party, with a bottle in her hand and a pair of pillows over her arm. "Ours is a double-bedded room, too, Mrs. Linceford, and neither Elinor nor I care for more than one pillow. And here is the rose-glycerine."

These essential comforts, and the instinct of good-breeding, brought the grace and the smile back fully to Mrs. Linceford's face. More than that, she felt a gratefulness, and the contagion and emulation of cheerful patience under a common misfortune. She bent over and kissed Leslie as she took the bottle from her hand. "You're a dear little sunbeam," she said. "We'll send an imperative message down the line, and have all our own traps again to-morrow."

The collar that Elinor Hadden had lent Leslie was not very becoming, the sleeves had enormous wristbands, and were made for double sleeve-buttons, while her own were single; moreover, the brown silk net, which she had supposed thoroughly trustworthy, had given way all at once into a great hole under the waterfall, and the soft hair would fret itself through and threaten to stray untidily.

She had two such pretty nets in reserve in her missing trunk, and she did hate so to be in any way coming to pieces! Yet there was somehow a feeling that repaid it all, and even quieted the real anxiety as to the final "turning up" of their fugitive property,-not a mere self-complacence, hardly a self-complacence at all, but a half-surprised gladness, that had something thankful in it. If she might not be all leaves, perhaps, after all! If she really could, even in some slight thing, care most for the life and spirit underneath, to keep this sweet and pleasant, and the fruit of it a daily good, and not a bitterness; if she could begin by holding herself undisturbed, though obliged to wear a collar that stood up behind and turned over in front with those lappet corners she had always thought so ugly,-yes, even though the waterfall should leak out and ripple over stubbornly,-though these things must go on for twenty-four hours at least, and these twenty-four hours be spent unwillingly in a dull country tavern, where the windows looked out from one side into a village street, and from the other into stable and clothes yards! There would be something for her to do: to keep bright and help to keep the others bright. There was a hope in it; the life was more than raiment; it was better worth while than to have only got on the nice round collar and dainty cuffs that fitted and suited her, or even the little bead net that came over in a Marie Stuart point so prettily between the small crimped puffs of her hair.

A little matter, nothing to be self-applauding about,-only a straw; but-if it showed the possible way of the wind, the motive power that might be courted to set through her life, taking her out of the trade-currents of vanity? Might she have it in her, after all? Might she even be able to come, if need be, to the strength of mind for wearing an old gray straw bonnet, and bearing to be forty years old, and helping to adorn the young and beautiful for looks that never-just so-should be bent again on her?

Leslie Goldthwaite had read of martyr and hero sufferance all her life, as she had looked upon her poor one-eyed fellow-traveler to-day; the pang of sympathy had always been: "These things have been borne, are being borne, in the world; how much of the least of them could I endure,-I, looking for even the little things of life to be made smooth?" It depended, she began faintly and afar off to see, upon where the true life lay; how far behind the mere outer covering vitality withdrew itself.

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