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   Chapter 8 SIXTEEN AND SIXTY.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 16577

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


After all this, I wonder if you wouldn't just like to look in at Miss Craydocke's room with me, who can give you a pass anywhere within the geography of my story?

She came in here "with the lath and plaster," as Sin Saxon had said. She had gathered little comforts and embellishments about her from summer to summer, until the room had a home-cheeriness, and even a look of luxury, contrasted with the bare dormitories around it. Over the straw matting, that soon grows shabby in a hotel, she had laid a large, nicely-bound square of soft, green carpet, in a little mossy pattern, that covered the middle of the floor, and was held tidily in place by a foot of the bedstead and two forward ones each of the table and washstand. On this little green stood her Shaker rocking-chair and a round white-pine light-stand with her work-basket and a few books. Against the wall hung some white-pine shelves with more books,-quite a little circulating library they were for invalids and read-out people, who came to the mountains, like foolish virgins, with scant supply of the oil of literature for the feeding of their brain-lamps. Besides these, there were engravings and photographs in passe-partout frames, that journeyed with her safely in the bottoms of her trunks. Also, the wall itself had been papered, at her own cost and providing, with a pretty pale-green hanging; and there were striped muslin curtains to the window, over which were caught the sprays of some light, wandering vine that sprung from a low-suspended terra-cotta vase between.

She had everything pretty about her, this old Miss Craydocke. How many people do, that have not a bit of outward prettiness themselves! Not one cubit to the stature, not one hair white or black, can they add or change; and around them grow the lilies in the glory of Solomon, and a frosted leaf or a mossy twig, that they can pick up from under their feet and bring home from the commonest walk, comes in with them, bearing a brightness and a grace that seems sometimes almost like a satire! But in the midst grows silently the century-plant of the soul, absorbing to itself hourly that which feeds the beauty of the lily and the radiance of the leaf,-waiting only for the hundred years of its shrouding to be over!

Miss Craydocke never came in from the woods and rocks without her trophies. Rare, lovely mosses and bits of most delicate ferns, maidenhair and lady-bracken, tiny trails of wintergreen and arbutus, filled a great shallow Indian china dish upon her bureau top, and grew, in their fairy fashion, in the clear, soft water she kept them freshened with.

Shining scraps of mountain minerals-garnets and bright-tinted quartz and beryls, heaped artistically, rather than scientifically, on a base of jasper and malachite and dark basalt and glistening spar and curious fossils; these not gathered by any means in a single summer or in ordinary ramblings, but treasured long, and standing, some of them, for friendly memories-balanced on the one side a like grouping of shells and corals and sea-mosses on the other, upon a broad bracket-mantel put up over a little corner fireplace; for Miss Craydocke's room, joining the main house, took the benefit of one of its old chimneys.

Above or about the pictures lay mossy, gnarled, and twisted branches, gray and green, framing them in a forest arabesque; and great pine cones, pendent from their boughs, crowned and canopied the mirror.

"What do you keep your kindling wood up there for?" Sin Saxon had asked, with a grave, puzzled face, coming in, for pure mischief, on one of her frequent and ingenious errands.

"Why, where should I put a pile of wood or a basket? There's no room for things to lie round here; you have to hang everything up!" was Miss Craydocke's answer, quick as a flash, her eyes twinkling comically with appreciation of the fun.

And Sin Saxon had gone away and told the girls that the old lady knew how to feather her nest better than any of them, and was sharp enough at a peck, too, upon occasion.

She found her again, one morning, sitting in the midst of a pile of homespun, which she was cutting up with great shears into boys' blouses.

"There! that's the noise that has disturbed me so!" cried the girl. "I thought it was a hay-cutter or a planing-machine, or that you had got the asthma awfully. I couldn't write my letter for listening to it, and came round to ask what was the matter!-Miss Craydocke, I don't see why you keep the door bolted on your side. It isn't any more fair for you than for me; and I'm sure I do all the visiting. Besides, it's dangerous. What if anything should happen in the night? I couldn't get in to help you. Or there might be a fire in our room,-I'm sure I expect nothing else. We boiled eggs in the Etna the other night, and got too much alcohol in the saucer; and then, in the midst of the blaze and excitement, what should Madam Routh do but come knocking at the door! Of course we had to put it in the closet, and there were all our muslin dresses,-that weren't hanging on the hooks in Maud's room! I assure you I felt like the man sitting on the safety-valve, standing with my back against the door, and my clothes spread out for fear she would see the flash under the crack. For we'd nothing else but moonlight in the room.-But now tell me, please, what are all these things? Meal-bags?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"Of course I do. Now that I've got over my fright about your strangling with the asthma-those shears did wheeze so!-my curiosity is all alive again."

"I've a cousin down in North Carolina teaching the little freedmen."

"And she's to have all these sacks to tie the naughty ones up in? What a bright idea! And then to whip them with rods as the Giant did his crockery, I suppose? Or perhaps-they can't be petticoats! Won't she be warm, though?"

"May be, if you were to take one and sew up the seams, you would be able to satisfy yourself."

"I? Why, I never could put anything together! I tried once, with a pair of hospital drawers, and they were like Sam Hyde's dog, that got cut in two, and clapped together again in a hurry, two legs up and two legs down. Miss Craydocke, why don't you go down among the freedmen? You haven't half a sphere up here. Nothing but Hobbs's Location, and the little Hoskinses."

"I can't organize and execute. Letitia can. It's her gift. I can't do great things. I can only just carry round my little cup of cold water."

"But it gets so dreadfully joggled in such a place as this! Don't we girls disturb you, Miss Craydocke? I should think you'd be quieter in the other wing, or upstairs."

"Young folks are apt to think that old folks ought to go a story higher. But we're content, and they must put up with us, until the proprietor orders a move."

"Well, good-by. But if ever you do smell smoke in the night, you'll draw your bolt the first thing, won't you?"

This evening,-upon which we have offered you your pass, reader,-Miss Craydocke is sitting with her mosquito bar up, and her candle alight, finishing some pretty thing that daylight has not been long enough for. A flag basket at her feet holds strips and rolls of delicate birch-bark, carefully split into filmy thinness, and heaps of star-mosses, cup-mosses, and those thick and crisp with clustering brown spires, as well as sheets of lichen silvery and pale green; and on the lap-board across her knees lies her work,-a graceful cross in perspective, put on card-board in birch shaded from faint buff to bistre, dashed with the detached lines that seem to have quilted the tree-teguments together. Around the foot of the cross rises a mound of lovely moss-work in relief, with feathery filaments creeping up and wreathing about the shaft and thwart-beam. Miss Craydocke is just dotting in some bits of slender coral-headed stems among little brown mushrooms and chalices, as there comes a sudden, imperative knocking at the door of communication, or defense, between her and Sin Saxon.

"You must just open this time, if you please! I've got my arms full, and I couldn't come round."

Miss Craydocke slipped her lap-board-work and all-under her bureau, upon the floor, for safety; and then with her quaint, queer expression, in which curiosity,

pluckiness, and a foretaste of amusement mingled so as to drive out annoyance, pushed back her bolt, and presented herself to the demand of her visitor, much as an undaunted man might fling open his door at the call of a mob.

Sin Saxon stood there, in the light of the good lady's candle, making a pretty picture against the dim background of the unlighted room beyond. Her fair hair was tossed, and her cheeks flushed; her blue eyes bright with sauciness and fun. In her hands, or across her arms, rather, she held some huge, uncouth thing, that was not to the last degree dainty-smelling, either; something conglomerated rudely upon a great crooked log or branch, which, glanced at closer, proved to be a fragment of gray old pine. Sticks and roots and bark, straw and grass and locks of dirty sheep's-wool, made up its bulk and its untidiness; and this thing Sin held out with glee, declaring she had brought a real treasure to add to Miss Craydocke's collection.

"Such a chance!" she said, coming in. "One mightn't have another in a dozen years. I have just given Jimmy Wigley a quarter for it, and he'd just all but broken his neck to get it. It's a real crow's nest. Corvinus something-else-us, I suppose. Where will you have it? I'm going to nail it up for you myself. Won't it make a nice contrast to the humming-bird's? Over the bed, shall I? But then, if it should drop down on your nose, you know! I think the corner over the fireplace will be best. Yes, we'll have it right up perpendicular, in the angle. The branch twists a little, you see, and the nest will run out with its odds and ends like an old banner. Might I push up the washstand to get on to?"

"Suppose you lay it in the fireplace? It will just rest nicely across those evergreen boughs, and-be in the current of ventilation outward."

"Well, that's an idea, to be sure.-Miss Craydocke!"-Sin Saxon says this in a sudden interjectional way, as if it were with some quite fresh idea,-"I'm certain you play chess!"

"You're mistaken. I don't."

"You would, then, by intuition. Your counter-moves are-so-triumphant. Why, it's really an ornament!" With a little stress and strain that made her words interjectional, she had got it into place, thrusting one end up the throat of the chimney, and lodging the crotch that held the nest upon the stems of fresh pine that lay across the andirons; and the "odds and ends," in safe position, and suggesting neither harm nor unsuitableness, looked unique and curious, and not so ugly.

"It's really an ornament!" repeated Sin, shaking the dust off her dress.

"As you expected, of course," replied Miss Craydocke.

"Well, I wasn't-not to say-confident. I was afraid it mightn't be much but scientific. But now-if you don't forget and light a fire under it some day, Miss Craydocke!"

"I shan't forget; and I'm very much obliged, really. Perhaps by and by I shall put it in a rough box and send it to a nephew of mine, with some other things, for his collection."

"Goodness, Miss Craydocke! They won't express it. They'll think it's an infernal machine, or a murder. But it's disposed of for the present, anyway. The truth was, you know, twenty-five cents is a kind of cup of cold water to Jimmy Wigley, and then there was the fun of bringing it in, and I didn't know anybody but you to offer it to; I'm so glad you like it; the girls thought you wouldn't. Perhaps I can get you another, or something else as curious, some day,-a moose's horns, or a bear-skin; there's no knowing. But now, apropos of the nest, I've a crow to pick with you. You gave me horrible dreams all night, the last time I came to see you. I don't know whether it was your little freedmen's meal-bags, or Miss Letitia's organizing and executive genius, or the cup of cold water you spoke of, or-it's just occurred to me-the fuss I had over my waterfall that day, trying to make it into a melon; but I had the most extraordinary time endeavoring to pay you a visit. Down South it was, and there you were, organizing and executing, after all, on the most tremendous scale, some kind of freedmen's institution. You were explaining to me and showing me all sorts of things, in such enormous bulk and extent and number! First I was to see your stables, where the cows were kept. A trillion of cows!-that was what you told me. And on the way we went down among such wood-piles!-whole forests cut up into kindlings and built into solid walls that reached up till the sky looked like a thread of blue sewing-silk between. And presently we came to a kind of opening and turned off to see the laundry (Mrs. Lisphin had just brought home my things at bedtime); and there was a place to do the world's washing in, or bleach out all the Ethiopians! Tubs like the hold of the Great Eastern, and spouts coming into them like the Staubbach! Clothes-lines like a parade-ground of telegraphs, fields like prairies, snow-patched, as far as you could see, with things laid out to whiten! And suddenly we came to what was like a pond of milk, with crowds of negro women stirring it with long poles; and all at once something came roaring behind and you called to me to jump aside,-that the hot water was let on to make the starch; and down it rushed, a cataract like Niagara, in clouds of steam! And then-well, it changed to something else, I suppose; but it was after that fashion all night long, and the last I remember, I was trying to climb up the Cairn with a cup of cold water set on atilt at the crown of my head, which I was to get to the sky parlor without spilling a drop!"

"Nobody's brain but yours would have put it together like that," said Miss Craydocke, laughing till she had to feel for her pocket-handkerchief to wipe away the tears.

"Don't cry, Miss Craydocke," said Sin Saxon, changing suddenly to the most touching tone and expression of regretful concern. "I didn't mean to distress you. I don't think anything is really the matter with my brain!"

"But I'll tell you what it is," she went on presently, in her old manner, "I am in a dreadful way with that waterfall, and I wish you'd lend me one of your caps, or advise me what to do. It's an awful thing when the fashion alters, just as you've got used to the last one. You can't go back, and you don't dare to go forward. I wish hair was like noses, born in a shape, without giving you any responsibility. But we do have to finish ourselves, and that's just what makes us restless."

"You haven't come to the worst yet," said Miss Craydocke significantly.

"What do you mean? What is the worst? Will it come all at once, or will it be broken to me?"

"It will be broken, and that's the worst. One of these years you'll find a little thin spot coming, may be, and spreading, over your forehead or on the top of your head; and it'll be the fashion to comb the hair just so as to show it off and make it worse; and for a while that'll be your thorn in the flesh. And then you'll begin to wonder why the color isn't so bright as it used to be, but looks dingy, all you can do to it; and again, after a while, some day, in a strong light, you'll see there are white threads in it, and the rest is fading; and so by degrees, and the degrees all separate pains, you'll have to come to it and give up the crown of your youth, and take to scraps of lace and muslin, or a front, as I did a dozen years ago."

Sin Saxon had no sauciness to give back for that; it made her feel all at once that this old Miss Craydocke had really been a girl too, with golden hair like her own, perhaps,-and not so very far in the past, either, but that a like space in her own future could picture itself to her mind; and something, quite different in her mood from ordinary, made her say, with even an unconscious touch of reverence in her voice: "I wonder if I shall bear it, when it comes, as well as you!"

"There's a recompense," said Miss Craydocke. "You'll have got it all then. You'll know there's never a fifty or a sixty years that doesn't hold the tens and the twenties."

"I've found out something," said Sin Saxon, as she came back to the girls again. "A picked-up dinner argues a fresh one some time. You can't have cold roast mutton unless it has once been hot!" And never a word more would she say to explain herself.

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