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   Chapter 10 GEODES.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 22855

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


A great cliff-side rearing itself up, rough with inaccessible crags, bristling with old, ragged pines, and dark with glooms of close cedars and hemlocks, above a jutting table of rock that reaches out and makes a huge semicircular base for the mountain, and is in itself a precipice-pedestal eighty feet sheer up from the river-bank; close in against the hill front, on this platform of stone, that holds its foot or two of soil, a little, poor unshingled house, with a tumbledown picket-fence about it, attempting the indispensable dooryard of all better country-dwellings here where the great natural dooryard or esplanade makes it such an utter nonsense,-this is the place at which the "little red" drew up, ten minutes later, to leave Prissy Hoskins's parcel.

Dakie Thayne jumped down off the front seat, and held up his arms to help Leslie out over the wheel, upon her declaring that she must go and do the errand herself, to get a nearer look at Hoskins life.

Dakie Thayne had been asked, at Leslie's suggestion, to fill the vacant sixth seat beside the driver, the Thoresbys one and all declining. Mrs. Thoresby was politic: she would not fall into the wake of this schoolgirl party at once. By and by she should be making up her own excursions, and asking whom she would.

"There's nothing like a boy of that age for use upon a picnic, Mrs. Linceford," Leslie had pleaded, with playful parody, in his behalf, when the lady had hinted something of her former sentiment concerning the encroachments and monopolies of "boys of that age." And so he came.

The Haddens got Jim Holden to lift them down on the opposite side, for a run to the verge of the projecting half-circle of rock that, like a gigantic bay-window or balcony in the mighty architecture of the hills, looked up and down the whole perspective of the valley. Jim Holden would readily have driven them round its very edge upon the flat, mossy sward, but for Mrs. Linceford's nerves, and the vague idea of almost an accident having occurred there lately which pervaded the little party. "Creggin's horses had backed," as Florrie Arnall said; and already the new comers had picked up, they scarcely knew how, the incipient tradition, hereafter to grow into an established horror of the "Cliff."

"It was nothing," Jim Holden said; "only the nigh hoss was a res'less crittur, an' contrived to git his leg over the pole; no danger with his cattle." But Mrs. Linceford cried out in utter remonstrance, and only begged Leslie to be quick, that they might get away from the place altogether.

All this bustle of arrival and discussion and alighting had failed, curiously, to turn the head of an odd, unkempt-looking child,-a girl of nine or ten, with an old calico sun-bonnet flung back upon her shoulders, tangled, sunburnt hair tossing above it; gown, innocent of crinoline, clinging to lank, growing limbs, and bare feet, whose heels were energetically planted at a quite safe distance from each other, to insure a fair base for the centre of gravity,-who, at the moment of their coming, was wrathfully "shoo-ing" off from a bit of rude toy-garden, fenced with ends of twigs stuck up-right, a tall Shanghai hen and her one chicken, who had evidently made nothing, morally or physically, of the feeble inclosure.

"I wish you were dead and in your gravies!" cried the child, achieving, between her righteous indignation and her relenting toward her uncouth pets at the last breath, a sufficiently queer play upon her own word. And with this, the enemy being routed, she turned face to face with Dakie Thayne and Leslie Goldthwaite, coming in at the dilapidated gate.

"They've scratched up all my four-o'clocks!" she said. And then her rustic shyness overcame suddenly all else, and she dragged her great toe back and forth in the soft mould, and put her forefinger in her mouth, and looked askance at them from the corners of her eyes.

"Prissy? Prissy Hoskins?" Leslie addressed her in sweet, inquiring tones. But the child stood still with finger in mouth, and toe working in the ground, not a bit harder nor faster, nor changing in the least, for more or less, the shy look in her face.

"That's your name, isn't it? I've got something for you. Won't you come and get it?'" Leslie paused, waiting; fearing lest a further advance on her own part might put Prissy altogether to flight. Nothing answered in the girl's eyes to her words; there was no lighting up of desire or curiosity, however restrained; she stood like one indifferent or uncomprehending.

"She's awful deef!" cried a new voice from the doorway. "She ain't that scared. She's sarcy enough, sometimes."

A woman, middle-aged or more, stood on the rough, slanting door-stone. She had bare feet, in coarse calf-skin slippers, stringy petticoats differing only from the child's in length, sleeves rolled up to the shoulders, no neck garniture,-not a bit of anything white about her. Over all looked forth a face sharp and hard, that might have once been good-looking, in a raw, country fashion, and that had undoubtedly always been, what it now was, emphatically Yankee-smart. An inch-wide stripe of black hair was combed each way over her forehead, and rolled up on her temples in what, years and years ago, used to be called most appropriately "flat curls,"-these fastened with long horn side-combs. Beyond was a strip of desert,-no hair at all for an inch and a half more toward the crown; the rest dragged back and tied behind with the relentless tightness that gradually and regularly, by the persistence of years, had accomplished this peculiar belt of clearing. It completed her expression; it was as a very halo of Yankee saintship crowning the woman who in despite of poverty and every discouragement had always hated, to the very roots of her hair, anything like what she called a "sozzle;" who had always been screwed up and sharp set to hard work. She couldn't help the tumbledown fence; she had no "men-folks" round; and she couldn't have paid for a hundred pickets and a day's carpentering, to have saved her life. She couldn't help Prissy's hair even; for it would kink and curl, and the minute the wind took it "there it was again;" and it was not time yet, thank goodness! to harrow it back and begin in her behalf the remarkable engineering which had laid out for herself that broad highway across all the thrifty and energetic bumps up to Veneration (who knows how much it had had to do with mixing them in one common tingle of mutual and unceasing activity?) and down again from ear to ear. Inside the poor little house you would find all spick and span, the old floor white and sanded, the few tins and the pewter spoons shining upon the shelf, the brick hearth and jambs aglow with fresh "redding," table and chairs set back in rectangular tidiness. Only one thing made a litter, or tried to; a yellow canary that hung in the window and sang "like a house afire," as Aunt Hoskins said, however that is, and flung his seeds about like the old "Wash at Edmonton," "on both sides of the way." Prissy was turned out of doors in all pleasant weather, so otherwise the keeping-room stayed trim, and her curly hair grew sunburnt.

"She's ben deef ever sence she hed the scarlet-fever. Walk in," said the woman, by no means satisfied to let strangers get only the outside impression of her premises, and turning round to lead the way without waiting for a reply. "Come in, Prissy!" she bawled, illustrating her summons with what might be called a beckoning in broad capitals, done with the whole arm from finger-tips to shoulder, twice or thrice.

Leslie followed over the threshold, and Prissy ran by like a squirrel, and perched herself on a stool just under the bird-cage.

"I wouldn't keep it if 't warn't for her," said Aunt Hoskins apologetically. She was Prissy's aunt, holding no other close domestic relation to living thing, and so had come to be "Aunt Hoskins" in the whole region round about, so far as she was known at all. "It's the only bird she can hear sing of a morning. It's as good as all outdoors to her, and I hain't the heart to make her do without it. I've done without most things, but it don't appear to me as if I could do without them. Take a seat, do."

"I thank you, but my friends are waiting. I've brought something for Prissy, from Miss Craydocke at the hotel." And Leslie held out the package which Dakie Thayne, waiting at the door, had put into her hand as she came in.

"Lawful suz, Prissy! if 't ain't another book!" cried the good woman, as Prissy, quick to divine the meaning of the parcel, the like of which she had been made accustomed to before, sprang to her aunt's side within hearing of her exclamation. "If she ain't jest the feelingest and thoughtfullest-Well! open it yourself, child; there's no good of a bundle if you don't."

Poor Prissy was thus far happy that she had not been left in the providence of her little life to utter ignorance of this greatest possible delight-a common one to more outwardly favored children-of a real parcel all one's own. The book, without the brown paper and string, would have been as nothing, comparatively.

Leslie could not but linger to see it untied. There came out a book,-a wonderful big book,-Grimm's Tales; and some little papers fell to the floor. These were flower seeds,-bags labeled "Petunia," "Candytuft," "Double Balsam," "Portulaca."

"Why, Prissy!" shouted Miss Hoskins in her ear as she picked them up, and read the names; "them's elegant things! They'll beat your four-o'clocks all to nothin'. It's lucky the old Shank-high did make a clearin' of 'em. Tell Miss Craydocke," she continued, turning again to Leslie, "that I'm comin' down myself, to-no, I can't thank her! She's made a life for that 'ere child, out o' nothin', a'most!"

Leslie stood hushed and penetrated in the presence of this good deed, and the joy and gratitude born of it.

"This ain't all, you see; nor't ain't nothin' new. She's ben at it these two year; learnin' the child to read, an' tellin' her things, an' settin' her to hunt 'em out, and to do for herself. She was crazy about flowers, allers, an' stories; but, lor, I couldn't stop to tell 'em to her, an' I never knew but one or two; an' now she can read 'em off to me, like a minister. She's told her a lot o' stuff about the rocks,-I can't make head nor tail on't; but it'd please you to see her fetchin' 'em in by the apern-full, an' goin' on about 'em, that is, if there was reely any place to put 'em afterwards. That's the wust on't. I tell you, it is jest makin' a life out o' pieces that come to hand. Here's the girl, an' there's the woods an' rocks; there's all there was to do with, or likely to be; but she found the gumption an' the willingness, an' she's done it!"

Prissy came close over to Leslie with her book in her hand. "Wait a minute," she said, with the effort in her tone peculiar to the deaf. "I've got something to send back."

"If it's convenient, you mean," put in Aunt Hoskins sharply. "She's as blunt as a broomstick, that child is."

But Prissy had sprung away in her squirrel-like fashion, and now came back, bringing with her something really to make one's eyes water, if one happened, at least, to be ever so little of a geologist,-a mass of quartz rock as large as she could grasp with her two hands, shot through at three different angles with three long, superb,

columnar crystals of clear, pale-green beryl. If Professor Dana had known this exact locality, and a more definite name for the "Cliff," wouldn't he have had it down in his Supplement with half a dozen exclamation points after the "beryl"!

"I found it a-purpose!" said Prissy, with the utmost simplicity, putting the heavy specimen out of her own hands into Leslie's. "She's been a-wantin' it this great while, and we've looked for it everywheres!"

"A-purpose" it did seem as if the magnificent fragment had been laid in the way of the child's zealous and grateful search. "There were only the rocks," as Aunt Hoskins said; in no other way could she so joyously have acknowledged the kindness that had brightened now three summers of her life.

"It'll bother you, I'm afeard," said the woman.

"No, indeed! I shall like to take it for you," continued Leslie, with a warm earnestness, stooping down to the little girl, and speaking in her clear, glad tone close to her cheek. "I only wish I could find something to take her myself." And with that, close to the little red-brown cheek as she was, she put the period of a quick kiss to her words.

"Come again, and we'll hunt for some together," said the child, with instant response of cordiality.

"I will come-if I possibly can," was Leslie's last word, and then she and Dakie Thayne hurried back to the wagon.

The Haddens had just got in again upon their side. They were full of exclamations about the wonderful view up and down the long valley-reaches.

"You needn't tell me!" cried Elinor, in high enthusiasm. "I don't care a bit for the geography of it. That great aisle goes straight from Lake Umbagog to the Sound!"

"It is a glorious picture," said Mrs. Linceford. "But I've had a little one, that you've lost. You've no idea, Leslie, what a lovely tableau you have been making,-you and Dakie, with that old woman and the blowzy child!"

Leslie blushed.

"You'll never look prettier, if you try ever so hard."

"Don't, Mrs. Linceford!"

"Why not?" said Jeannie. "It's only a pity, I think, that you couldn't have known it at the time. They say we don't know when we're happiest; and we can't know when we're prettiest; so where's the satisfaction?"

"That's part of your mistake, Jeannie, perhaps," returned her sister. "If you had been there you'd have spoiled the picture."

"Look at that!" exclaimed Leslie, showing her beryl. "That's for Miss Craydocke." And then, when the first utterances of amazement and admiration were over, she told them the story of the child and her misfortune, and of what Miss Craydocke had done. "That's beautiful, I think," said she. "And it's the sort of beauty, may be, that one might feel as one went along. I wish I could find-a diamond-for that woman!"

"Thir garnits on Feather-Cap," put in Jim the driver.

"Oh, will you show us where?"

"Well, 't ain't nowhers in partickler," replied Jim. "It's jest as you light on 'em. And you wouldn't know the best ones when you did. I've seen 'em,-dead, dull-lookin' round stones that'll crack open, chock-full o' red garnits as an egg is o' meat."

"Geodes!" cried Dakie Thayne.

Jim Holden turned round and looked at him as if he thought he had got hold of some new-fashioned expletive,-possibly a pretty hard one.

They came down, now, on the other side of the Cliff, and struck the ford. This diverted and absorbed their thoughts, for none of the ladies had ever forded a river before.

"Are you sure it's safe?" asked Mrs. Linceford.

"Safe as meetin'," returned Jim. "I'd drive across with my eyes shot."

"Oh, don't!" cried Elinor.

"I ain't agoin' ter; but I could,-an' the hosses, too, for that matter."

It was exciting, nevertheless, when the water in mid-channel came up nearly to the body of the wagon, and the swift ripples deluded the eye into almost conviction that horses, vehicle, and all were not gaining an inch in forward progress, but drifting surely down. They came up out of the depths, however, with a tug, and a swash, and a drip all over, and a scrambling of hoofs on the pebbles, at the very point aimed at in such apparently sidelong fashion,-the wheel-track that led them up the bank and into the ten-mile pine woods through which they were to skirt the base of the Cairn and reach Feather-Cap on his accessible side. It was one long fragrance and stillness and shadow.

They overtook the Routh party at the beginning of the mountain-path. The pine woods stretched on over the gradual slope, as far as they would climb before dinner. Otherwise the midday heats would have been too much for them. This was the easy part of the way, and there was breath for chat and merriment.

Just within the upper edge of the woods, in a comparatively smooth opening, they halted. Here they spread their picnic, while up above, on the bare, open rock, the young men kindled their fire and heated the coffee; and here they ate and drank, and rested through the noontide.

Light clouds flitted between the mountains and the heavens, later in the day, and flung bewildering, dreamy shadows on the far-off steeps, and dropped a gracious veil over the bald forehead and sun-bleak shoulders of Feather-Cap. It was "weather just made for them," as fortunate excursionists are wont to say.

Sin Saxon was all life, and spring, and fun. She climbed at least three Feather-Caps, dancing from stone to stone with tireless feet, and bounding back and forth with every gay word that it occurred to her to say to anybody. Pictures? She made them incessantly. She was a living dissolving view. You no sooner got one bright look or graceful attitude than it was straightway shifted into another. She kept Frank Scherman at her side for the first half-hour, and then, perhaps, his admiration or his muscles tired, for he fell back a little to help Madam Routh up a sudden ridge, and afterwards, somehow, merged himself in the quieter group of strangers.

By and by one of the Arnalls whispered to Mattie Shannon,-"He's sidled off with her, at last. Did you ever know such a fellow for a new face? But it's partly the petticoat. He's such an artist's eye for color. He was raving about her all the while she stood hanging those shawls among the pines to keep the wind from Mrs. Linceford. She isn't downright pretty either. But she's got up exquisitely!"

Leslie Goldthwaite, in her lovely mountain dress, her bright bloom from enjoyment and exercise, with the stray light through the pines burnishing the bronze of her hair, had innocently made a second picture, it would seem. One such effects deeper impression, sometimes, than the confusing splendor of incessant changes.

"Are you looking for something? Can I help you?" Frank Scherman had said, coming up to her, as she and her friend Dakie, a little apart from the others, were poising among some loose pebbles.

"Nothing that I have lost," Leslie answered, smiling. "Something I have a very presumptuous wish to find. A splendid garnet geode, if you please!"

"That's not at all impossible," returned the young man. "We'll have it before we go down,-see if we don't!"

Frank Scherman knew a good deal about Feather-Cap, and something of geologizing. So he and Leslie-Dakie Thayne, in his unswerving devotion, still accompanying-"sidled off" together, took a long turn round under the crest, talking very pleasantly-and restfully, after Sin Saxon's continuous brilliancy-all the way. How they searched among loose drift under the cliff, how Mr. Scherman improvised a hammer from a slice of rock; and how, after many imperfect specimens, they did at last "find a-purpose" an irregular oval of dull, dusky stone, which burst with a stroke into two chalices of incrusted crimson crystals,-I ought to be too near the end of a long chapter to tell. But this search and this finding, and the motive of it, were the soul and the crown of Leslie's pleasure for the day. She did not even stop to think how long she had had Frank Scherman's attention all to herself, or the triumph that it was in the eyes of the older girls, among whom he was excessively admired, and not very disguisedly competed for. She did not know how fast she was growing to be a sort of admiration herself among them, in their girls' fashion, or what she might do, if she chose, in the way of small, early belleship here at Outledge with such beginning,-how she was "getting on," in short, as girls express it. And so, as Jeannie Hadden asked, "Where was the satisfaction?"

"You never knew anything like it," said Jeannie to her friend Ginevra, talking it all over with her that evening in a bit of a visit to Mrs. Thoresby's room. "I never saw anybody take so among strangers. Madam Routh was delighted with her; and so, I should think, was Mr. Scherman. They say he hates trouble; but he took her all round the top of the mountain, hammering stones for her to find a geode."

"That's the newest dodge," said Mrs. Thoresby, with a little sarcastic laugh. "Girls of that sort are always looking for geodes." After this, Mrs. Thoresby had always a little well-bred venom for Leslie Goldthwaite.

At the same time Leslie herself, coming out on the piazza for a moment after tea, met Miss Craydocke approaching over the lawn. She had only her errand to introduce her, but she would not lose the opportunity. She went straight up to the little woman, in a frank, sweet way. But a bit of embarrassment underneath, the real respect that made her timid,-perhaps a little nervous fatigue after the excitement and exertion of the day,-did what nerves and embarrassment, and reverence itself will do sometimes,-played a trick with her perfectly clear thought on its way to her tongue.

"Miss Graywacke, I believe?" she said, and instantly knew the dreadful thing that she had done.

"Exactly," said the lady, with an amused little smile.

"Oh, I do beg your pardon," began Leslie, blushing all over.

"No need,-no need. Do you think I don't know what name I go by, behind my back? They suppose because I'm old and plain and single, and wear a front, and don't understand rats and the German, that I'm deaf and blind and stupid. But I believe I get as much as they do out of their jokes, after all." The dear old soul took Leslie by both her hands as she spoke, and looked a whole world of gentle benignity at her out of two soft gray eyes, and then she laughed again. This woman had no self to be hurt.

"We stopped at the Cliff this morning," Leslie took heart to say; "and they were so glad of your parcel,-the little girl and her aunt. And Prissy gave me something to bring back to you; a splendid specimen of beryl that she has found."

"Then my mind's at rest!" said Miss Craydocke, cheerier than ever. "I was sure she'd break her neck, or pull the mountain down on her head some day looking for it."

"Would you like-I've found-I should like you to have that, too,-a garnet geode from Feather-Cap?" Leslie thought she had done it very clumsily, and in a hurry, after all.

"Will you come over to my little room, dear,-number fifteen, in the west wing,-to-morrow sometime, with your stones? I want to see more of you."

There was a deliberate, gentle emphasis upon her words. If the grandest person of whom she had ever known had said to Leslie Goldthwaite, "I want to see more of you," she would not have heard it with a warmer thrill than she felt that moment at her heart.

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