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   Chapter 14 FRIENDS OF MAMMON.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 15726

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Sin Saxon came heart and soul into Miss Craydocke's generous and delicate plans. The work was done, to be sure. The third trunk, that had been "full of old winter dresses to be made over," was locked upon the nice little completed frocks and sacks that forestalled the care and hurry of "fall work" for the overburdened mother, and were to gladden her unexpecting eyes, as such store only can gladden the anxious family manager who feels the changeful, shortening days come treading, with their speedy demands, upon the very skirts of long, golden sunshiny August hours.

Susan and Martha Josselyn felt, on their part, as only busy workers feel who fasten the last thread, or dash a period to the last page, and turn around to breathe the breath of the free, and choose for once and for a while what they shall do. The first hour of this freedom rested them more than the whole six weeks that they had been getting half-rest, with the burden still upon their thought and always waiting for their hands. It was like the first half-day to children, when school has closed and books are brought home for the long vacation. All the possible delight of coming weeks is distilled to one delicious drop, and tasted then.

"It's 'none of my funeral,' I know," Sin Saxon said to Miss Craydocke. "I'm only an eleventh-hour helper; but I'll come in for the holiday business, if you'll let me; and perhaps, after all, that's more in my line."

Everything seemed to be in her line that she once took hold of. She had little private consultations with Miss Craydocke. "It's to be your party to Feather-Cap, but it shall be my party to Minster Rock," she said. "Leave that to me, please. Now the howl's off my hands, I feel equal to anything.'"

Just in time for the party to Minster Rock, a great basket and box from home arrived for Sin Saxon. In the first were delicious early peaches, rose-color and gold, wrapped one by one in soft paper and laid among fine sawdust; early pears, also, with the summer incense in their spiciness; greenhouse grapes, white and amber and purple. The other held delicate cakes and confections unknown to Outledge, as carefully put up, and quite fresh and unharmed. "Everything comes in right for me," she exclaimed, running back and forth to Miss Craydocke with new and more charming discoveries as she excavated. Not a word did she say of the letter that had gone down from her four days before, asking her mother for these things, and to send her some money; "for a party," she told her, "that she would rather give here than to have her usual summer fête after her return."

"You quite eclipse and extinguish my poor little doings," said Miss Craydocke, admiring and rejoicing all the while as genuinely as Sin herself.

"Dear Miss Craydocke!" cried the girl; "if I thought it would seem like that, I would send and tip them all into the river. But you,-you can't be eclipsed! Your orbit runs too high above ours."

Sin Saxon's brightness and independence, that lapsed so easily into sauciness, and made it so hard for her to observe the mere conventionalisms of respect, in no way hindered the real reverence that grew in her toward the superiority she recognized, and that now softened her tone to a tenderness of humility before her friend.

There was a grace upon her in these days that all saw. Over her real wit and native vivacity, it was like a porcelain shade about a flame. One could look at it, and be glad of it, without winking. The brightness was all there, but there was a difference in the giving forth. What had been a bit self-centred and self-conscious-bright as if only for being bright and for dazzling-was outgoing and self-forgetful, and so softened. Leslie Goldthwaite read by it a new answer to some of her old questions. "What harm is there in it?" she had asked herself on their first meeting, when Sin Saxon's overflow of merry mischief, that yet did "no special or obvious good," made her so taking, so the centre of whatever group into which she came. Afterward, when, running to its height, this spirit showed in behavior that raised misgivings among the scrupulous and orderly that would not let them any longer be wholly amused; and came near betraying her, or actually did betray her, into indecorums beyond excuse or countenance, Leslie had felt the harm, and begun to shrink away. "Nothing but leaves" came back to her; her summer thought recurred and drew to itself a new illustration. This it was to have no aim but to rustle and flaunt; to grow leaves continually; to make one's self central and conspicuous, and to fill great space. But now among these very leaves gleamed something golden and glorious; something was ripening suddenly out that had lain unseen in its greenness; the time of figs seemed coming. Sin Saxon was intent upon new purpose; something to be done would not let her "stand upon the order" or the fashion of her doing. She forgot her little airs, that had been apt to detract from her very wit, and leave it only smartness; bright things came to her, and she uttered and acted them; but they seemed involuntary and only on the way; she could not help herself, and nobody would have had it helped; she was still Sin Saxon; but she had simply told the truth in her wayward way that morning. Miss Craydocke had done it, with her kindly patience that was no stupidity, her simple dignity that never lowered itself and that therefore could not be lowered, and her quiet continuance in generous well-doing,-and Sin Saxon was different. She was won to a perception of the really best in life,-that which this plain old spinster, with her "scrap of lace and a front," had found worth living for after the golden days were over. The impulse of temperament, and the generosity which made everything instant and entire with her, acted in this also, and carried her full over to an enthusiasm of affectionate co?peration.

There were a few people at Outledge-of the sort who, having once made up their minds that no good is ever to come out of Nazareth, see all things in the light of that conviction-who would not allow the praise of any voluntary amendment to this tempering and new direction of Sin's vivacity. "It was time she was put down," they said, "and they were glad that it was done. That last outbreak had finished her. She might as well run after people now whom she had never noticed before; it was plain there was nothing else left for her; her place was gone, and her reign was over." Of all others, Mrs. Thoresby insisted upon this most strongly.

The whole school-party had considerably subsided. Madam Routh held a tighter rein; but that Sin Saxon had a place and a power still, she found ways to show in a new spirit. Into a quiet corner of the dancing-hall, skimming her way, with the dance yet in her feet, between groups of staid observers, she came straight, one evening, from a bright, spirited figure of the German, and stretched her hand to Martha Josselyn. "It's in your eyes," she whispered,-"come!"

Night after night Martha Josselyn had sat there with the waltz-music in her ears, and her little feet, that had had one merry winter's training before the war, and many a home practice since with the younger ones, quivering to the time beneath her robes, and seen other girls chosen out and led away,-young matrons, and little short-petticoated children even, taken to "excursionize" between the figures,-while nobody thought of her. "I might be ninety, or a cripple," she said to her sister, "from their taking for granted it is nothing to me. How is it that everything goes by, and I only twenty?" There had been danger that Martha Josselyn's sweet, generous temper should get a dash of sour, only because of there lying alongside it a clear common-sense and a pure instinct of justice. Susan's heart longed with a motherly tenderness f

or her young sister when she said such words,-longed to put all pleasant things somehow within her reach. She had given it up for herself, years since. And now, all at once, Sin Saxon came and "took her out."

It was a more generous act than it shows for, written. There is a little tacit consent about such things which few young people of a "set" have thought, desire, or courage to disregard. Sin Saxon never did anything more gracefully. It was one of the moments that came now, when she wist not that she shone. She was dropping, little by little, in the reality of a better desire, that "satisfaction" Jeannie Hadden had spoken of, of "knowing when one is at one's prettiest," or doing one's cleverest. The "leaf and the fruit" never fitted better in their significance than to Sin Saxon. Something intenser and more truly living was taking the place of the mere flutter and flash and grace of effect.

It was the figure in which the dancers form in facing columns, two and two, the girls and the young men; when the "four hands round" keeps them moving in bright circles all along the floor, and under arches of raised and joined hands the girls came down, two and two, to the end, forming their long line face to face against the opposing line of their partners. The German may be, in many respects, an undesirable dance; it may be, as I have sometimes thought, at least a selfish dance, affording pleasure chiefly to the initiated few, and excluding gradually, almost from society itself, those who do not participate in it. I speak of it here neither to uphold nor to condemn,-simply because they did dance it at Outledge as they do everywhere, and I cannot tell my story without it; but I think at this moment, when Sin Saxon led the figure with Martha Josselyn, there was something lovely, not alone in its graceful grouping, but in the very spirit and possibility of the thing that so appeared. There is scope and chance even here, young girls, for the beauty of kindness and generous thought. Even here, one may give a joy, may soothe a neglect, may make some heart conscious for a moment of the great warmth of a human welcome; and, though it be but to a pastime, I think it comes into the benison of the Master's words when, even for this, some spirit gets a feeling like them,-"I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

Some one, standing behind where Leslie Goldthwaite came to her place at the end of the line by the hall-door, had followed and interpreted the whole; had read the rare, shy pleasure in Martha Josselyn's face and movement, the bright, expressive warmth in Sin Saxon's and the half-surprise of observation upon others; and he thought as I do.

"'Friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.' That girl has even sanctified the German!"

There was only one voice like that, only one person who would so speak himself out. Leslie Goldthwaite turned quickly, and found herself face to face with Marmaduke Wharne. "I am so glad you have come!" said she.

He regarded her shrewdly. "Then you can do without me," he said. "I didn't know by this time how it might be."

The last two had taken their places below Leslie while these words were exchanged, and now the whole line moved forward to meet their partners, and the waltz began. Frank Scherman had got back to-day, and was dancing with Sin Saxon. Leslie and Dakie Thayne were together, as they had been that first evening at Jefferson, and as they often were. The four stopped, after their merry whirl, in this same corner by the door where Mr. Wharne was standing. Dakie Thayne shook hands with his friend in his glad boy's way. Across their greetings came Sin Saxon's words, spoken to her companion,-"You're to take her, Frank." Frank Scherman was an old childhood's friend, not a mere mountain acquaintance. "I'll bring up plenty of others first, but you're to wait and take her. And, wherever she got her training, you'll find she's the featest-footed among us." It was among the children-training them-that she had caught the trick of it, but Sin Saxon did not know.

"I'm ready to agree with you, with but just the reservation that you could not make," Frank Scherman answered.

"Nonsense," said Sin Saxon. "But stop! here's something better and quicker. They're getting the bouquets. Give her yours. It's your turn. Go!"

Sin Saxon's blue eyes sparkled like two stars; the golden mist of her hair was tossed into lighter clouds by exercise; on her cheeks a bright rose-glow burned; and the lips parted with their sweetest, because most unconscious, curve over the tiny gleaming teeth. Her word and her glance sent Frank Scherman straight to do her bidding; and a bunch of wild azaleas and scarlet lilies was laid in Martha Josselyn's hand, and she was taken out again into the dance by the best partner there. We may trust her to Sin Saxon and Frank Scherman, and her own "feat-footedness;" everything will not go by her any more, and she but twenty.

Marmaduke Wharne watched it all with that keen glance of his that was like a level line of fire from under the rough, gray brows.

"I am glad you saw that," said Leslie Goldthwaite, watching also, and watching him.

"By the light of your own little text,-'kind, and bright, and pleasant'? You think it will do me good?"

"I think it was good; and I am glad you should really know Sin Saxon-at the first." And at the best; Marmaduke Wharne quite understood her. She gave him, unconsciously, the key to a whole character. It might as easily have been something quite different that he should have first seen in this young girl.

Next morning they all met on the piazza. Leslie Goldthwaite presented Sin Saxon to Mr. Wharne.

"So, my dear," he said, without preface, "you are the belle of the place?"

He looked to see how she would take it. There was not the first twinkle of a simper about eye or lip. Surprised, but quite gravely, she looked up, and met his odd bluntness with as quaint an honesty of her own. "I was pretty sure of it a while ago," she said. "And perhaps I was, in a demoralized sort of a way. But I've come down, Mr. Wharne,-like the coon. I'll tell you presently," she went on,-and she spoke now with warmth,-"who is the real belle,-the beautiful one of this place! There she comes!"

Miss Craydocke, in her nice, plain cambric morning-gown, and her smooth front, was approaching down the side passage across the wing. Just as she had come one morning, weeks ago; and it was the identical "fresh petticoat" of that morning she wore now. The sudden coincidence and recollection struck Sin Saxon as she spoke. To her surprise, Miss Craydocke and Marmaduke Wharne moved quickly toward each other, and grasped hands like old friends.

"Then you know all about it!" Sin Saxon said, a few minutes after, when she got her chance. "But you don't know, sir," she added, with a desperate candor, "the way I took to find it out! I've been tormenting her, Mr. Wharne, all summer. And I'm heartily ashamed of it."

Marmaduke Wharne smiled. There was something about this girl that suited his own vein. "I doubt she was tormented," he said quietly.

At that Sin Saxon smiled, too, and looked up out of her hearty shame which she had truly felt upon her at her own reminder. "No, Mr. Wharne, she never was; but that wasn't my fault. After all, perhaps,-isn't that what the optimists think?-it was best so. I should never have found her thoroughly out in any other way. It's like"-and there she stopped short of her comparison.

"Like what?" asked Mr. Wharne, waiting.

"I can't tell you now, sir," she answered with a gleam of her old fearless brightness. "It's one end of a grand idea, I believe, that I just touched on. I must think it out, if I can, and see if it all holds together."

"And then I'm to have it?"

"It will take a monstrous deal of thinking, Mr. Wharne."

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