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   Chapter 15 QUICKSILVER AND GOLD.

A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life. By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 16951

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"If I could only remember the chemicals!" said Sin Saxon. She was down among the outcrops and fragments at the foot of Minster Rock. Close in around the stones grew the short, mossy sward. In a safe hollow between two of them, against a back formed by another that rose higher with a smooth perpendicular, she had chosen her fireplace, and there she had been making the coffee. Quite intent upon the comfort of her friends she was to-day; something really to do she had: "in better business," as Leslie Goldthwaite phrased it to herself once, she found herself, than only to make herself brilliant and enchanting after the manner of the day at Feather-Cap. And let me assure you, if you have not tried it, that to make the coffee and arrange the feast at a picnic like this is something quite different from being merely an ornamental. There is the fire to coax with chips and twigs, and a good deal of smoke to swallow, and one's dress to disregard. And all the rest are off in scattered groups, not caring in the least to watch the pot boil, but supposing, none the less, that it will. To be sure, Frank Scherman and Dakie Thayne brought her firewood, and the water from the spring, and waited loyally while she seemed to need them; indeed, Frank Scherman, much as he unquestionably was charmed with her gay moods, stayed longest by her in her quiet ones; but she herself sent them off, at last, to climb with Leslie and the Josselyns again into the Minster, and see thence the wonderful picture that the late sloping light made on the far hills and fields that showed to their sight between framing tree-branches and tall trunk-shafts as they looked from out the dimness of the rock.

She sat there alone, working out a thought; and at last she spoke as I have said: "If I could only remember the chemicals!"

"My dear! What do you mean? The chemicals? For the coffee?" It was Miss Craydocke who questioned, coming up with Mr. Wharne.

"Not the coffee,-no," said Sin Saxon, laughing rather absently, as too intent to be purely amused. "But the-assaying. There,-I've remembered that word, at least!"

Miss Craydocke was more than ever bewildered. "What is it, my dear? An experiment?"

"No; an analogy. Something that's been in my head these three days. I can't make everything quite clear, Mr. Wharne, but I know it's there. I went, I must tell you, a little while ago, to see some Colorado specimens-ores and things-that some friends of ours had, who are interested in the mines; and they talked about the processes, and somebody explained. There were gold and silver and iron, and copper and lead and sulphur, that had all been boiled up together some time, and cooled into rock. And the thing was to sort them out. First, they crushed the whole mass into powder, and then did something to it-applied heat, I believe-to drive away the sulphur. That fumed off, and left the rest as promiscuous as before. Then they-oxidized the lead, however they managed it, and got that out. You see I'm not quite sure of the order of things, or of the chemical part. But they got it out, and something took it. Then they put in quicksilver, and that took hold of the gold. Then there were silver and copper and iron. So they had to put back the lead again, and that grappled the silver. And what they did with the copper and iron is just what I can't possibly recollect, but they divided them somehow, and there was the great rock riddle all read out. Now, haven't we been just like that this summer? And I wonder if the world isn't like it, somehow? And ourselves, too, all muddled up, and not knowing what we are made of, till the right chemicals touch us? There's so much in it, Mr. Wharne, I can't put it in clear order. But it is there,-isn't it?"

"Yes, it is there," answered Mr. Wharne, with the briefest gravity. For Miss Craydocke, there were little shining drops standing in her eyes, and she tried not to wink lest they should fall out, pretending they had been really tears. And what was there to cry about, you know?

"Here we have been," Sin Saxon resumed, "all crushed up together, and the characters coming out little by little, with different things. Sulphur's always the first,-heats up and flies off,-it don't take long to find that; and common oxygen gets at common lead, and so on; but, dear Miss Craydocke, do you know what comforts me? That you must have the quicksilver to discover the gold!"

Miss Craydocke winked. She had to do it then, and the two little round drops fell. They went down, unseen, into the short pasture-grass, and I wonder what little wild-flowers grew of their watering some day afterward.

It was getting a little too quiet between them now for people on a picnic, perhaps; and so in a minute Sin Saxon said again: "It's good to know there is a way to sort everything out. Perhaps the tares and wheat mean the same thing. Mr. Wharne, why is it that things seem more sure and true as soon as we find out we can make an allegory to them?"

"Because we do not make the allegory. It is there, as you have said. 'I will open my mouth in parables. I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.' These things are that speech of God that was in the beginning. The Word made flesh,-it is He that interpreteth."

That was too great to give small answer to. Nobody spoke again till Sin Saxon had to jump up to attend to her coffee, that was boiling over, and then they took up their little cares of the feast, and their chat over it.

Cakes and coffee, fruits and cream,-I do not care to linger over these. I would rather take you to the cool, shadowy, solemn Minster cavern, the deep, wondrous recess in the face of solid rock, whose foundation and whose roof are a mountain; or above, upon the beetling crag that makes but its porch-lintel, and looks forth itself across great air-spaces toward its kindred cliffs, lesser and more mighty, all around, making one listen in one's heart for the awful voices wherewith they call to each other forevermore.

The party had scattered again, after the repast, and Leslie and the Josselyns had gone back into the Minster entrance, where they never tired of standing, and out of whose gloom they looked now upon all the flood of splendor, rosy, purple, and gold, which the royal sun flung back-his last and richest largess-upon the heights that looked longest after him. Mr. Wharne and Miss Craydocke climbed the cliff. Sin Saxon, on her way up, stopped short among the broken crags below. There was something very earnest in her gaze, as she lifted her eyes, wide and beautiful with the wonder in them, to the face of granite upreared before her, and then turned slowly to look across and up the valley, where other and yet grander mountain ramparts thrust their great forbiddance on the reaching vision. She sat down, where she was, upon a rock.

"You are very tired?" Frank Scherman said, inquiringly.

"See how they measure themselves against each other," Sin Saxon said, for answer. "Look at them, Leslie and the rest, inside the Minster that arches up so many times their height above their heads,-yet what a little bit, a mere mousehole, it is out of the cliff itself; and then look at the whole cliff against the Ledges, that, seen from anywhere else, seem to run so low along the river; and compare the Ledges with Feather-Cap, and Feather-Cap with Giant's Cairn, and Giant's Cairn with Washington, thirty miles away!"

"It is grand surveying," said Frank Scherman.

"I think we see things from the little best," rejoined Sin Saxon. "Washington is the big end of the telescope."

"Now you have made me look at it," said Frank Scherman, "I don't think I have been in any other spot that has given me such a real idea of the mountains as this. One must have steps to climb by, even in imagination. How impertinent we are, rushing at the tremendousness of Washington in the way we do; scaling it in little pleasure-wagons, and never taking in the thought of it at all!"

Something suddenly brought a flush to Sin Saxon's face, and almost a quiver to her lips. She was sitting with her hands clasped across her knees, and her head a little bent with a downward look, after that long, wondering mountain gaze, that had filled itself and then withdrawn for thought. She lifted her face suddenly to her companion. The impetuous look was in her eyes. "There's other measuring too, Frank. What a fool I've been!"

Frank Scherman wa

s silent. It was a little awkward for him, scarcely comprehending what she meant. He could by no means agree with Sin Saxon when she called herself a fool; yet he hardly knew what he was to contradict.

"We're well placed at this minute. Leslie Goldthwaite and Dakie Thayne and the Josselyns half way up above there, in the Minster. Mr. Wharne and Miss Craydocke at the top. And I down here, where I belong. Impertinence! To think of the things I've said in my silliness to that woman, whose greatness I can no more measure! Why didn't somebody stop me? I don't answer for you, Frank, and I won't keep you; but I think I'll just stay where I am, and not spoil the significance!"

"I'm content to rank beside you; we can climb together," said Frank Scherman. "Even Miss Craydocke has not got to the highest, you see," he went on, a little hurriedly.

Sin Saxon broke in as hurriedly as he, with a deeper flush still upon her face. "There's everything beyond. That's part of it. But she helps one to feel what the higher-the Highest-must be. She's like the rock she stands on. She's one of the steps."

"Come, Asenath, let's go up." And he held out his hand to her till she took it and rose. They had known each other from childhood, as I said; but Frank Scherman hardly ever called her by her name. "Miss Saxon" was formal, and her school sobriquet he could not use. It seemed to mean a great deal when he did say "Asenath."

And Sin Saxon took his hand and let him lead her up, notwithstanding the "significance."

They are young, and I am not writing a love-story; but I think they will "climb together;" and that the words that wait to be said are mere words,-they have known and understood each other so long.

"I feel like a camel at a fountain, drinking in what is to last through the dry places," said Martha Josselyn, as they came up. "Miss Saxon, you don't know what you have given us to-day. I shall take home the hills in my heart."

"We might have gone without seeing this," said Susan.

"No, you mightn't," said Sin Saxon. "It's my good luck to see you see it, that's all. It couldn't be in the order of things, you know, that you should be so near it, and want it, and not have it, somehow."

"So much is in the order of things, though!" said Martha. "And there are so many things we want, without knowing them even to be!"

"That's the beauty of it, I think," said Leslie Goldthwaite, turning back from where she stood, bright in the sunset glory, on the open rock. Her voice was like that of some young prophet of joy, she was so full of the gladness and loveliness of the time. "That's the beauty of it, I think. There is such a worldful, and you never know what you may be coming to next!"

"Well, this is our last-of the mountains. We go on Tuesday."

"It isn't your last of us, though, or of what we want of you," rejoined Sin Saxon. "We must have the tableaux for Monday. We can't do without you in Robin Gray or Consolation. And about Tuesday,-it's only your own making up of minds. You haven't written, have you? They don't expect you? When a week's broken in upon, like a dollar, the rest is of no account. And there'll be sure to be something doing, so many are going the week after."

"We shall have letters to-night," said Susan. "But I think we must go on Tuesday."

Everybody had letters that night. The mail was in early, and Captain Green came up from the post-office as the Minster party was alighting from the wagons. He gave Dakie Thayne the bag. It was Dakie's delight to distribute, calling out the fortunate names as the expectant group pressed around him, like people waiting the issue of a lottery venture.

"Mrs. Linceford, Miss Goldthwaite, Mrs. Linceford, Mrs. Linceford! Master-hm!-Thayne," and he pocketed a big one like a dispatch. "Captain Jotham Green. Where is he? Here, Captain Green; you and I have got the biggest, if Mrs. Linceford does get the most. I believe she tells her friends to write in hits, and put one letter into three or four envelopes. When I was a very little boy, I used to get a dollar changed into a hundred coppers, and feel ever so much richer."

"That boy's forwardness is getting insufferable!" exclaimed Mrs. Thoresby, sitting apart, with two or three others who had not joined the group about Dakie Thayne. "And why Captain Green should give him the bag always, I can't understand. It is growing to be a positive nuisance."

Nobody out of the Thoresby clique thought it so. They had a merry time together,-"you and I and the post," as Dakie said. But then, between you and me and that confidential personage, Mrs. Thoresby and her daughters hadn't very many letters.

"That is all," said Dakie, shaking the bag. "They're only for the very good, to-night." He was not saucy: he was only brimming-over glad. He knew "Noll's" square handwriting, and his big envelopes.

There was great news to-night at the Cottage. They were to have a hero, perhaps two or three, among them. General Ingleside and friends were coming, early in the week, the Captain told them with expansive face. There are a great many generals and a great many heroes now. This man had been a hero beside Sheridan, and under Sherman. Colonel Ingleside he was at Stone River and Chattanooga,-leading a brave Western regiment in desperate, magnificent charges, whose daring helped to turn that terrible point of the war and made his fame.

But Leslie, though her heart stirred at the thought of a real, great commander fresh from the field, had her own news that half neutralized the excitement of the other: Cousin Delight was coming, to share her room with her for the last fortnight.

The Josselyns got their letters. Aunt Lucy was staying on. Aunt Lucy's husband had gone away to preach for three Sundays for a parish where he had a prospect of a call. Mrs. Josselyn could not leave home immediately, therefore, although the girls should return; and their room was the airiest for Aunt Lucy. There was no reason why they should not prolong their holiday if they chose, and they might hardly ever get away to the mountains again. More than all, Uncle David was off once more for China and Japan, and had given his sister two more fifties,-"for what did a sailor want of greenbacks after he got afloat?" It was "a clover summer" for the Josselyns. Uncle David and his fifties wouldn't be back among them for two years or more. They must make the most of it.

Sin Saxon sat up late, writing this letter to her mother:-

DARLING MAMMA,-I've just begun to find out really what to do here. Cream doesn't always rise to the top. You remember the Josselyns, our quiet neighbors in town, that lived in the little house in the old-fashioned block opposite,-Sue Josselyn, Effie's schoolmate? And how they used to tell me stories and keep me to nursery-tea? Well, they're the cream; they and Miss Craydocke. Sue has been in the hospitals,-two years, mamma!-while I've been learning nocturnes, and going to Germans. And Martha has been at home, sewing her face sharp; and they're here now to get rounded out. Well now, mamma, I want so-a real dish of mountains and cream, if you ever heard of such a thing! I want to take a wagon, and invite a party as I did my little one to Minster Rock, and go through the hills,-be gone as many days as you will send me money for. And I want you to take the money from that particular little corner of your purse where my carpet and wall-paper and curtains, that were to new-furnish my room on my leaving school, are metaphorically rolled up. There's plenty there, you know; for you promised me my choice of everything, and I had fixed on that lovely pearl-gray paper at --'s, with the ivy and holly pattern, and the ivy and scarlet-geranium carpet that was such a match. I'll have something cheaper, or nothing at all, and thank you unutterably, if you'll only let me have my way in this. It will do me so much good, mamma! More than you've the least idea of. People can do without French paper and Brussels carpets, but everybody has a right to mountain and sea and cloud glory,-only they don't half of them get it, and perhaps that's the other half's lookout!

I know you'll understand me, mamma, particularly when I talk sense; for you always understood my nonsense when nobody else did. And I'm going to do your faith and discrimination credit yet.

Your bad child,-with just a small, hidden savor of grace in her, being your child,-

ASENATH SAXON.

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