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“ I wish you were dead and in your grav-ies !” 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, is n'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 sidecombs. 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 could n't help the tumble-down fence; she had no “men-folks” round, and she could n't have paid for a hundred pickets and a day's carpentering, to have saved her life. She could n'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 Aung 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 would n't keep it if 't warn't for her,” said Aunt Hoskins, apologeti
cally. 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 out-doors to her, and I haint 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 aint 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, - à wonderful big book, — Grimm's Tales; and some little papers fell to the floor. These were flower-seeds, – bags labelled “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 fouro'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 air 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, and stories ; but, lor, I could n'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 ’ud 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," would n'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 awantin' 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 need n'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 tableaux you have been making, – you and Dakie, with that old woman and the blowsy child !”
“Why not?” said Jeannie. “It's only a pity, I think, that you could n'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. “O, will you show us where?”
“Well, 't ain't nowhers in partickler," replied Jim. “ It's jest as you light on 'em. And you would n'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.” “ O, 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 gaining not 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 mid-day 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 Aitted 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 FeatherCap. 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 VOL. II. — NO. VII.