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   Chapter 7 DOWN AT OUTLEDGE.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 16524

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Among the mountains, somewhere between the Androscoggin and the Saco,-I don't feel bound to tell you precisely where, and I have only a story-teller's word to give you for it at all,-lies the little neighborhood of Outledge. An odd corner of a great township such as they measure off in these wilds; where they take in, with some eligible "locations" of intervale land, miles also of pathless forest where the bear and the moose are wandering still, a pond, perhaps, filling up a basin of acres and acres in extent, and a good-sized mountain or two, thrown in to keep off the north wind; a corner cut off, as its name indicates, by the outrunning of a precipitous ridge of granite, round which a handful of population had crept and built itself a group of dwellings,-this was the spot discovered and seized to themselves some four or five years since by certain migratory pioneers of fashion.

An old two-story farmhouse, with four plain rooms of generous dimensions on each floor, in which the first delighted summer party had divided itself, glad and grateful to occupy them double and even treble bedded, had become the "hotel," with a name up across the gable of the new wing,-"Giant's Cairn House,"-and the eight original rooms made into fourteen. The wing was clapped on by its middle; rushing out at the front toward the road to meet the summer tide of travel as it should surge by, and hold up to it, arrestively, its titular sign-board; the other half as expressively making its bee-line toward the river and the mountain view at back,-just as each fresh arrival, seeking out the preferable rooms, inevitably did. Behind, upon the other side, an L provided new kitchens; and over these, within a year, had been carried up a second story, with a hall for dancing, tableaux, theatricals, and traveling jugglers.

Up to this hostelry whirled daily, from the southward, the great six-horse stage; and from the northward came thrice a week wagons or coaches "through the hills," besides such "extras" as might drive down at any hour of day or night.

Round the smooth curve of broad, level road that skirted the ledges from the upper village pranced four splendid bays; and after them rollicked and swayed, with a perfect delirium of wheels and springs, the great black and yellow bodied vehicle, like a huge bumble-bee buzzing back with its spoil of a June day to the hive. The June sunset was golden and rosy upon the hills and cliffs, and Giant's Cairn stood burnished against the eastern blue. Gay companies, scattered about piazzas and greenswards, stopped in their talk, or their promenades, or their croquet, to watch the arrivals.

"It's stopping at the Green Cottage."

"It's the Haddens. Their rooms have been waiting since the twenty-third, and all the rest are full." And two or three young girls dropped mallets and ran over.

"Maud Walcott!" "Mattie Shannon!"

"Jeannie!" "Nell!"

"How came you here?"

"We've been here these ten days,-looking for you the last three."

"Why, I can't take it in! I'm so surprised!"

"Isn't it jolly, though?"

"Miss Goldthwaite-Miss Walcott; Miss Shannon-Miss Goldthwaite;-my sister, Mrs. Linceford."

"Me voici!" And a third came up suddenly, laying a hand upon each of the Haddens from behind.

"You, Sin Saxon! How many more?"

"We're coming, Father Abraham! All of us, nearly, three hundred thousand more-or less; half the Routh girls, with Madam to the fore!"

"And we've got all the farther end of the wing downstairs,-the garden bedrooms; you've no idea how scrumptious it is! You must come over after tea, and see."

"Not all, Mattie; you forget the solitary spinster."

"No, I don't; who ever does? But can't you ignore her for once?"

"Or let a fellow speak in the spirit of prophecy?" said Sin Saxon. "We're sure to get the better of Graywacke, and why not anticipate?"

"Graywacke?" said Jeannie Hadden. "Is that a name? It sounds like the side of a mountain."

"And acts like one," rejoined Sin Saxon. "Won't budge. But it isn't her name, exactly, only Saxon for Craydocke; suggestive of obstinacy and the Old Silurian,-an ancient maiden who infests our half the wing. We've got all the rooms but hers, and we're bound to get her out. She's been there three years, in the same spot,-went in with the lath and plaster,-and it's time she started. Besides, haven't I got manifest destiny on my side? Ain't I a Saxon?" Sin Saxon tossed up a merry, bewitching, saucy glance out of her blue, starlike eyes, that shone under a fair, low brow touched and crowned lightly with the soft haze of gold-brown locks frizzed into a delicate mistiness after the ruling fashion of the hour.

"What a pretty thing she is!" said Mrs. Linceford, when, seeing her busy with her boxes, and the master of the house approaching to show the new arrivals to their rooms, Sin Saxon and her companions flitted away as they had come, with a few more sentences of bright girl-nonsense flung back at parting. "And a witty little minx as well. Where did you know her, Jeannie? And what sort of a satanic name is that you call her by?"

"Just suits such a mischief, doesn't it? Short for Asenath,-it was always her school-name. She's just finished her last year at Madam Routh's; she came there soon after we did. It's a party of the graduates, and some younger ones left with Madam for the long holidays, that she's traveling with. I wonder if she isn't sick of her life, though, by this time! Fancy those girls, Nell, with a whole half-wing of the hotel to themselves, and Sin Saxon in the midst!"

"Poor 'Graywacke' in the midst, you mean," said Nell.

"Like a respectable old grimalkin at the mercy of a crowd of boys and a tin kettle," added Jeannie, laughing.

"I've no doubt she's a very nice person, too. I only hope, if I come across her, I mayn't call her Graywacke to her face," said Mrs. Linceford.

"Just what you'll be morally sure to do, Augusta!"

With this, they had come up the staircase and along a narrow passage leading down between a dozen or so of small bedrooms on either side,-for the Green Cottage also had run out its addition of two stories since summer guests had become many and importunate,-and stood now where three open doors, one at the right and two at the left, invited their entrance upon what was to be their own especial territory for the next two months. From one side they looked up the river along the face of the great ledges, and caught the grandeur of far-off Washington, Adams, and Madison, filling up the northward end of the long valley. The aspect of the other was toward the frowning glooms of Giant's Cairn close by, and broadened then down over the pleasant subsidence of the southern country to where the hills grew less, and fair, small, modest peaks lifted themselves just into blue height and nothing more, smiling back with a contented deference toward the mightier majesties, as those who might say: "We do our gentle best; it is not yours; yet we, too, are mountains, though but little ones." From underneath spread the foreground of green, brilliant intervale, with the river flashing down between margins of sand and pebbles in the midst.

Here they put Leslie Goldthwaite; and here, somehow, her first sensation, as she threw back her blinds to let in all the twilight for her dressing, was a feeling of half relief from the strained awe and wonder of the last few days. Life would not seem so petty here as in the face of all that other solemn stateliness. There was a reaction of respite and repose. And why not? The great emotions are not meant to come to us daily in their unqualified strength. God knows how to dilute his elixirs for the soul. His fine, impalpable air, spread round the earth, is not more cunningly mixed from pungent gases for our hourly breath, than life itself is thinned and toned that we may receive and bear it.

Leslie wondered if it were wrong that the high mountain fervor let itself go from her so soon and easily; that the sweet pleasantness of this new resting-place should come to her as a rest; that the laughter and frolic of the schoolgirls made her glad with such sudden sympathy and foresight of enjoyment; that she should have "come down" all the way from Jefferson in

Jeannie's sense, and that she almost felt it a comfortable thing herself not to be kept always "up in the clouds."

Sin Saxon, as they called her, was so bright and odd and fascinating; was there any harm-because no special, obvious good-in that? There was a little twinge of doubt, remembering poor Miss Craydocke; but that had seemed pure fun, not malice, after all, and it was, hearing Sin Saxon tell it, very funny. She could imagine the life they led the quiet lady; yet, if it were quite intolerable, why did she remain? Perhaps, after all, she saw through the fun of it. And I think, myself, perhaps she did.

The Marie Stuart net went on to-night; and then such a pretty muslin, white, with narrow, mode-brown stripes, and small, bright leaves dropped over them, as if its wearer had stood out under a maple-tree in October and all the tiniest and most radiant bits had fallen and fastened themselves about her. And, last of all, with her little hooded cape of scarlet cashmere over her arm, she went down to eat cream biscuit and wood strawberries for tea. Her summer life began with a charming freshness and dainty delight.

There were pleasant voices of happy people about them in hall and open parlor, as they sat at their late repast. Everything seemed indicative of abundant coming enjoyment; and the girls chatted gayly of all they had already discovered or conjectured, and began to talk of the ways of the place and the sojourners in it, quite like old habituées.

It was even more delightful yet, strolling out when tea was over, and meeting the Routh party again half way between the cottage and the hotel, and sauntering on with them, insensibly, till they found themselves on the wide wing-piazza, upon which opened the garden bedrooms, and being persuaded after all to sit down, since they had got there, though Mrs. Linceford had demurred at a too hasty rushing over, as new comers, to begin visits.

"Oh, nobody knows when they are called upon here, or who comes first," said Mattie Shannon. "We generally receive half way across the green, and it's a chance which turns back, or whether we get near either house again or not. Houses don't signify, except when it rains."

"But it just signifies that you should see how magnificently we have settled ourselves for nights, and dressing, and when it does rain," said Sin Saxon, throwing back a door behind her, that stood a little ajar. It opened directly into a small apartment, half parlor and half dressing-room, from which doors showed others, on either side, furnished as sleeping-rooms.

"It was Maud Walcott's, between the Arnalls' and mine; but, what with our trunks, and our beds, and our crinolines, and our towel-stands, we wanted a Bowditch's Navigator to steer clear of the reefs, and something was always getting knocked over; so, one night, we were seized simultaneously with an idea. We'd make a boudoir of this for the general good, and forthwith we fell upon the bed, and amongst us got it down. It was the greatest fun! We carried the pieces and the mattresses all off ourselves up to the attic, after ten o'clock, and we gave the chambermaid a dollar next morning, and nobody's been the wiser since. And then we walked to the upper village and bought that extraordinary chintz, and frilled and cushioned our trunks into ottomans, and curtained the dress-hooks; and Lucinda got us a rocking-chair, and Maud came in with me to sleep, and we kept our extra pillows, and we should be comfortable as queens if it wasn't for Graywacke."

"Now, Sin Saxon, you know Graywacke is just the life of the house. What would such a parcel of us do, if we hadn't something to run upon?"

"Only I'm afraid I shall get tired of it at last. She bears it so. It isn't exactly saintliness, nor Graywackeiness, but it seems sometimes as if she took a quiet kind of fun out of it herself,-as if she were somehow laughing at us, after all, in her sleeve; and if she is, she's got the biggest end. She's bright enough."

"Don't we tree-toad her within an inch of her life, though, when we come home in the wagons at night? I shouldn't think she could stand that long. I guess she wants all her beauty-sleep. And Kate Arnall can tu-whit, tu-whoo! equal to Tennyson himself, or any great white American owl."

"Yes, but what do you think? As true as I live, I heard her answer back the other night with such a sly little 'Katy-did! she did! she did!' I thought at first it actually came from the great elm-trees. Oh, she's been a girl once, you may depend; and hasn't more than half got over it either. But wait till we have our 'howl'!"

What a "howl" was, superlative to "tree-toading," "owl-hooting," and other divertisements, did not appear at this time; for a young man did, approaching from the front of the hotel, and came up to the group on the piazza with the question, "At what time do we set off for Feather-Cap to-morrow?"

"Oh, early, Mr. Scherman; by nine o'clock."

"Earlier than you'll be ready," said Frank Scherman's sister, one of the "Routh" girls also.

"I shan't have any crimps to take down, that's one thing," Frank answered. And Sin Saxon, glancing at his handsome waving hair, whispered saucily to Jeannie Hadden, "I don't more than half believe that, either;"-then, aloud, "You must join the party too, girls, by the way. It's one of the nicest excursions here. We've got two wagons, and they'll be full; but there's Holden's 'little red' will take six, and I don't believe anybody has spoken for it. Mr. Scherman! wouldn't it make you happy to go and see?"

"Most intensely!" and Frank Scherman bowed a low graceful bow, settling back into his first attitude, however, as one who could quite willingly resign himself to his present comparative unhappiness awhile longer.

"Where is Feather-Cap?" asked Leslie Goldthwaite.

"It's the mountain you see there, peeping round the shoulder of Giant's Cairn; a comfortable little rudiment of a mountain, just enough for a primer-lesson in climbing. Don't you see how the crest drops over on one side, and that scrap of pine-which is really a huge gaunt thing a hundred years old-slants out from it with just a tuft of green at the very tip, like an old feather stuck in jauntily?"

"And the pine woods round the foot of the Cairn are lovely," said Maud.

"Oh!" cried Leslie, drawing a long breath, as if their spicy smell were already about her, "there is nothing I delight in so as pines!"

"You'll have your fill to-morrow, then; for it's ten miles through nothing else, and the road is like a carpet with the soft brown needles."

"I hope Augusta won't be too tired to feel like going," said Elinor.

"We had better ask her soon, then; she is looking this way now. We ought to go, Sin; we've got all our settling to do for the night."

"We'll walk over with you," said Sin Saxon. "Then we shall have done up all the preliminaries nicely. We called on you-before you were off the stage-coach; you've returned it; and now we'll pay up and leave you owing us one. Come, Mr. Scherman; you'll be so far on your way to Holden's, and perhaps inertia will carry you through."

But a little girl presently appeared, running from the hotel portico at the front, as they came round to view from thence. Madam Routh was sitting in the open hall with some newly arrived friends, and sent one of her lambs, as Sin called them, to say to the older girls that she preferred they should not go away again to-night.

"'Ruin seize thee, Routh-less king!'" quoted Sin Saxon, with an absurd air of declamation. "'Twas ever thus from childhood's hour;' and now, just as we thought childhood's hour was comfortably over,-that the clock had struck one, and down we might run, hickory, dickory, dock,-behold the lengthened sweetness long drawn out of school rule in vacation, even before the very face and eyes of Freedom on her mountain heights! Well, we must go, I suppose. Mr. Scherman, you'll have to represent us to Mrs. Linceford, and persuade her to join us to Feather-Cap. And be sure you get the 'little red'!"

"It'll be all the worse for Graywacke, if we're kept in and sent off early," she continued, sotto voce, to her companions, as they turned away. "My! what has that boy got?"

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