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

   Chapter 9 I DON'T SEE WHY.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 13378

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The "little red" was at the door of the Green Cottage. Frank Scherman had got the refusal of it the night before, and early in the morning Madam Routh's compliments had come to Mrs. Linceford, with the request, in all the form that mountain usage demanded, that she and the young ladies would make part of the expedition for the day.

Captain Jotham Green, host and proprietor, himself stood at the horses' heads. The Green Cottage, you perceive, had double right to its appellation. It was both baptismal and hereditary, surname and given name,-given with a coat of fresh, pale, pea-green paint that had been laid on it within the year, and had communicated a certain tender, newly-sprouted, May-morning expression to the old centre and its outshoots.

Mrs. Green, within, was generously busy with biscuits, cold chicken, doughnuts fried since sunrise, and coffee richly compounded with cream and sugar, which a great tin can stood waiting to receive and convey, and which was at length to serve as cooking utensil in reheating upon the fire of coals the picnickers would make up under the very tassel of Feather-Cap.

The great wagons were drawn up also before the piazza of the hotel; and between the two houses flitted the excursionists, full of the bright enthusiasm of the setting off, which is the best part of a jaunt, invariably.

Leslie Goldthwaite, in the hamadryad costume, just aware-which it was impossible for her to help-of its exceeding prettiness, and of glances that recognized it, pleased with a mixture of pleasures, was on the surface of things once more, taking the delight of the moment with a young girl's innocent abandonment. It was nice to be received so among all these new companions; to be evidently, though tacitly, voted nice, in the way girls have of doing it; to be launched at once into the beginning of apparently exhaustless delights,-all this was superadded to the first and underlying joy of merely being alive and breathing, this superb summer morning, among these forests and hills.

Sin Saxon, whatever new feeling of half sympathy and respect had been touched in her toward Miss Craydocke the night before, in her morning mood was all alive again to mischief. The small, spare figure of the lady appeared at the side-door, coming out briskly toward them along the passage, just as the second wagon filled up and was ready to move.

I did not describe Miss Craydocke herself when I gave you the glimpse into her room. There was not much to describe; and I forgot it in dwelling upon her surroundings and occupations. In fact, she extended herself into these, and made you take them involuntarily and largely into the account in your apprehension of her. Some people seem to have given them at the outset a mere germ of personality like this, which must needs widen itself out in like fashion to be felt at all. Her mosses and minerals, her pressed leaves and flowers, her odds and ends of art and science and prettiness which she gathered about her, her industries and benevolences,-these were herself. Out of these she was only a little elderly thread-paper of a woman, of no apparent account among crowds of other people, and with scarcely enough of bodily bulk or presence to take any positive foothold anywhere.

What she might have seemed, in the days when her hair was golden, and her little figure plump, and the very unclassical features rounded and rosy with the bloom and grace of youth, was perhaps another thing; but now, with her undeniable "front," and cheeks straightened into lines that gave you the idea of her having slept all night upon both of them, and got them into longitudinal wrinkles that all day was never able to wear out; above all, with her curious little nose (that was the exact expression of it), sharply and suddenly thrusting itself among things in general from the middle plane of her face with slight preparatory hint of its intention,-you would scarcely charge her, upon suspicion, with any embezzlement or making away of charms intrusted to her keeping in the time gone by.

This morning, moreover, she had somehow given herself a scratch upon the tip of this odd, investigating member; and it blushed for its inquisitiveness under a scrap of thin pink adhesive plaster.

Sin Saxon caught sight of her as she came. "Little Miss Netticoat!" she cried, just under her breath, "with a fresh petticoat, and a red nose!" Then, changing her tone with her quotation,-

"'Wee, modest, crimson-tippèd flower,

Thou'st met me in a luckless hour!'

Thou always dost! What hast thou gone and got thyself up so for, just as I was almost persuaded to be good? Now-can I help that?" And she dropped her folded hands in her lap, exhaled a little sigh of vanquished goodness, and looked round appealingly to her companions.

"It's only," said Miss Craydocke, reaching them a trifle out of breath, "this little parcel,-something I promised to Prissy Hoskins,-and would you just go round by the Cliff and leave it for me?"

"Oh, I'm afraid of the Cliff!" cried Florrie Arnall. "Creggin's horses backed there the other day. It's horribly dangerous."

"It's three quarters of a mile round," suggested the driver.

"The 'little red' might take it. They'll go faster than we, or can, if they try," said Mattie Shannon.

"The 'little red' 's just ready," said Sin Saxon. "You needn't laugh. That wasn't a pun. But oh, Miss Craydocke!"-and her tone suggested the mischievous apropos-"what can you have been doing to your nose?"

"Oh, yes!"-Miss Craydocke had a way of saying "Oh, yes!"-"It was my knife slipped as I was cutting a bit of cord, in a silly fashion, up toward my face. It's a mercy my nose served, to save my eyes."

"I suppose that's partly what noses are for," said Sin Saxon gravely. "Especially when you follow them, and 'go it blind.'"

"It was a piece of good luck, too, after all," said Miss Craydocke, in her simple way, never knowing, or choosing to know, that she was snubbed or quizzed. "Looking for a bit of plaster, I found my little parcel of tragacanth that I wanted so the other day. It's queer how things turn up."

"Excessively queer," said Sin solemnly, still looking at the injured feature. "But, as you say, it's all for the best, after all. 'There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.' Hiram, we might as well drive on. I'll take the parcel, Miss Craydocke. We'll get it there somehow, going or coming."

The wagon rolled off, veils and feathers taking the wind bravely, and making a gay moving picture against the dark pines and gray ledges as it glanced along. Sin Saxon tossed Miss Craydocke's parcel into the "little red"

as they passed it by, taking the road in advance, giving a saucy word of command to Jim Holden, which transferred the charge of its delivery to him, and calling out a hurried explanation to the ladies over her shoulder that "it would take them round the Cliff,-the most wonderful point in all Outledge; up and down the whole length of New Hampshire they could see from there, if their eyes were good enough!" And so they were away.

Miss Craydocke turned back into the house, not a whit discomfited, and with not so much as a contrasting sigh in her bosom or a rankle in her heart. On the contrary, a droll twinkle played among the crow's-feet at the corners of her eyes. They could not hurt her, these merry girls, meaning nothing but the moment's fun, nor cheat her of her quiet share of the fun either.

Up above, out of a window over the piazza roof, looked two others,-young girls, one of them at least,-also, upon the scene of the setting-off.

I cannot help it that a good many different people will get into my short story. They get into a short time, in such a summer holiday, and so why not? At any rate, I must tell you about these Josselyns.

These two had never in all their lives been away pleasuring before. They had nobody but each other to come with now. Susan had been away a good deal in the last two years, but it had not been pleasuring. Martha was some five or six years the younger. She had a pretty face, yet marked, as it is so sad to see the faces of the young, with lines and loss-lines that tell of cares too early felt, and loss of the first fresh, redundant bloom that such lines bring.

They sat a great deal at this window of theirs. It was a sort of instinct and habit with them, and it made them happier than almost anything else,-sitting at a window together. It was home to them because at home they lived so: life and duty were so framed in for them,-in one dear old window-recess. Sometimes they thought that it would he heaven to them by and by: that such a seat, and such a quiet, happy outlook, they should find kept for them together, in the Father's mansion, up above.

At home, it was up three flights of stairs, in a tall, narrow city house, of which the lower floors overflowed with young, boisterous half brothers and sisters,-the tide not seldom rising and inundating their own retreat,-whose delicate mother, not more than eight years older than her eldest step-daughter, was tied hand and foot to her nursery, with a baby on her lap, and the two or three next above with hands always to be washed, disputes and amusements always to be settled, small morals to be enforced, and clean calico tiers to be incessantly put on.

And Susan and Martha sat upstairs and made the tiers.

Mr. Josselyn was a book-keeper, with a salary of eighteen hundred dollars, and these seven children. And Susan and Martha were girls of fair culture, and womanly tastes, and social longings. How does this seem to you, young ladies, and what do you think of their upstairs life together, you who calculate, if you calculate at all, whether five hundred dollars may carry you respectably through your half-dozen city assemblies, where you shine in silk and gossamer, of which there will not be "a dress in the room that cost less than seventy-five dollars," and come home, after the dance, "a perfect rag"?

Two years ago, when you were perhaps performing in tableaux for the "benefit of the Sanitary," these two girls had felt the great enthusiasm of the time lay hold of them in a larger way. Susan had a friend-a dear old intimate of school-days, now a staid woman of eight-and-twenty-who was to go out in yet maturer companionship into the hospitals. And Susan's heart burned to go. But there were all the little tiers, and the ABC's, and the faces and fingers.

"I can do it for a while," said Martha, "without you." Those two words held the sacrifice. "Mamma is so nicely this summer, and by and by Aunt Lucy may come, perhaps. I can do quite well."

So Martha sat, for months and months, in the upstairs window alone. There were martial marchings in the streets beneath; great guns thundered out rejoicings; flags filled the air with crimson and blue, like an aurora; she only sat and made little frocks and tiers for the brothers and sisters. God knew how every patient needle thrust was really also a woman's blow for her country.

And now, pale and thin with close, lonely work, the time had come to her at last when it was right to take a respite; when everybody said it must be; when Uncle David, just home from Japan, had put his hand in his pocket and pulled out three new fifty-dollar bills, and said to them in his rough way, "There, girls! Take that, and go your lengths." The war was over, and among all the rest here were these two women-soldiers honorably discharged, and resting after the fight. But nobody at Outledge knew anything of the story.

There is almost always at every summer sojourn some party of persons who are to the rest what the mid-current is to the stream; who gather to themselves and bear along in their course-in their plans and pleasures and daily doings-the force of all the life of the place. If any expedition of consequence is afoot, they are the expedition; others may join in, or hold aloof, or be passed by; in which last cases, it is only in a feeble, rippling fashion that they go their ways and seek some separate pleasure in by-nooks and eddies, while the gay hum of the main channel goes whirling on. At Outledge this party was the large and merry schoolgirl company with Madam Routh.

"I don't see why," said Martha Josselyn, still looking out, as the "little red" left the door of the Green Cottage,-"I don't see why those new girls who came last night should have got into everything in a minute, and we've been here a week and don't seem to catch to anything at all. Some people are like burrs, I think, or drops of quicksilver, that always bunch or run together. We don't stick, Susie. What's the reason?"

"Some of these young ladies have been at Madam Routh's; they were over here last evening. Sin Saxon knows them very well."

"You knew Effie Saxon at school, too."

"Eight years ago. And this is the little one. That's nothing."

"You petted her, and she came to the house. You've told her stories hundreds of times. And she sees we're all by ourselves."

"She don't see. She doesn't think. That's just the whole of it."

"People ought to see, then. You would, Sue, and you know it."

"I've been used to seeing-and thinking."

"Used! Yes, indeed! And she's been used to the other. Well, it's queer how the parts are given out. Shall we go to the pines?"

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