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A Mountain Europa(Chapter5)

2006-08-29 01:17

  Chapter V

  Thereafter Clayton saw the girl whenever possible. If she came to the camp, he walked up the mountain with her. No idle day passed that he did not visit the cabin, and it was not long before he found himself strangely interested. Her beauty and fearlessness had drawn him at first; her indifference and stolidity had piqued him; and now the shyness that displaced these was inconsistent and puzzling. This he set himself deliberately at work to remove, and the conscious effort gave a peculiar piquancy to their intercourse. He had learned the secret of association with the mountaineers-to be as little unlike them as possible-and he put the knowledge into practice. He discarded coat and waistcoat, wore a slouched hat, and went unshaven for weeks. He avoided all conventionalities, and was as simple in manner and speech as possible. Often when talking with Easter, her face was blankly unresponsive, and a question would sometimes leave her in confused silence. He found it necessary to use the simplest Anglo-Saxon words, and he soon fell into many of the quaint expressions of the mountaineers and their odd, slow way of speech. This course was effective, and in time the shyness wore away and left between them a comradeship as pleasant as unique. Sometimes they took long walks together on the mountains. This was contrary to mountain etiquette, but they were remote even from the rude conventionalities of the life below them. They even went hunting together, and Easter had the joy of a child when she discovered her superiority to Clayton in woodcraft and in the use of a rifle. If he could tell her the names of plants and flowers they found, and how they were akin, she could show him where they grew. If he could teach her a little more about animals and their habits than she already knew, he had always to follow her in the search for game. Their fellowship was, in consequence, never more complete than when they were roaming the woods. In them Easter was at home, and her ardent nature came to the surface like a poetic glow from her buoyant health and beauty. Then appeared all that was wayward and elfin-like in her character, and she would be as playful, wilful, evanescent as a wood-spirit. Sometimes, when they were separated, she would lead him into a ravine by imitating a squirrel or a wild-turkey, and, as he crept noiselessly along with bated breath and eyes peering eagerly through the tree-tops or the underbrush, she would step like a dryad from behind some tree at his side, with a ringing laugh at his discomfiture. Again, she might startle him by running lightly along the fallen trunk of a tree that lay across a torrent, or, in a freak of wilfulness, would let herself down the bare face of some steep cliff. If he scolded her, she laughed. If he grew angry, she was serious instantly, and once she fell to weeping and fled home. He followed her, but she barricaded herself in her room in the loft, and would not be coaxed down. The next day she had forgotten that she was angry.

  Her mother showed no surprise at any of her moods. Easter was not like other " gals," she said; she had always been" quar," and she reckoned would" al'ays be that way." She objected in no wise to Clayton's intimacy with her. The furriner," she told Raines, was the only man who had ever been able to manage her, and if she wanted Easter to do anything " ag'in her will, she went to him fust "-a simple remark that threw the mountaineer into deep thoughtfulness.

  Indeed, this sense of power that Clayton felt over the wilful, passionate creature thrilled him with more pleasure than he would have been willing to admit; at the same time it suggested to him a certain responsibility. Why not make use of it, and a good use? The girl was perhaps deplorably ignorant, could do but little more than read and write; but she was susceptible of development, and at times apparently conscious of the need of it and desirous for it. Once he had carried her a handful of violets, and thereafter an old pitcher that stood on a shelf blossomed every day with wild-flowers. He had transplanted a vine from the woods and taught her to train it over the porch, and the first hint of tenderness he found in her nature was in the care of that plant. He had taken her a book full of pictures and fashion-plates, and he had noticed a quick and ingenious adoption of some of its hints in her dress.

  One afternoon, as he lay on his bed in a darkened corner of his room, a woman's shadow passed across the wall, returned, and a moment later he saw Easter's face at the window. He had lain quiet, and watched her while her wondering eyes roved from one object to another, until they were fastened with a long, intent look on a picture that stood upon a table near the window. He stirred, and her face melted away instantly. A few days later he was sitting with Easter and Raines at the cabin. The mother was at the other end of the porch, talking to a neighbor who had stopped to rest on his way across the mountains.

  Easter air a-gettin' high notions," she was saying, " 'n' she air a-spendin' her savin 's, 'n' all mine she kin git hold of, to buy fixin's at the commissary. She must hev white crockery, 'n' towels, 'n' newfangled forks, 'n' sichlike." A conscious flush came into the girl's face, and she rose hastily and went into the house.

  "I was afeard," continued the mother, " that she would hev her hair cut short, 'n' be a-flyin' with ribbons, 'n' spangled out like a rainbow, like old 'Lige Hicks's gal, ef I hadn't heerd the furriner tell her it was ' beastly.' Thar ain't no fear now, fer what that furriner don't like, Easter don't nother."

  For an instant the mountaineer's eyes had flashed on Clayton, but when the latter, a trifle embarrassed, looked up, Raines apparently had heard nothing. Easter did not reappear until the mountaineer was gone.

  There were othcr hopeful signs. Whenever Clayton spoke of his friends, she always listened eagerly, and asked innumerable questions about them. If his attention was caught by any queer custom or phrase of the mountain dialect, she was quick to ask in return how he would say the same thing, and what the custom was in the settlemints." She even made feeble attempts to model her own speech after his.

  In a conscious glow that he imagined was philanthropy, Clayton began his task of elevation. She was not so ignorant as he had supposed. Apparently she had been taught by somebody, but when asked by whom, she hesitated answering; and he had taken it for granted that what she knew she had puzzled out alone. He was astonished by her quickness, her docility, and the passionate energy with which she worked. Her instant obedience to every suggestion, her trust in every word he uttered, made him acutely and at times uncomfortably conscious of his responsibility. At the same time there was in the task something of the pleasure that a young sculptor feels when, for the first time, the clay begins to yield obedience to his fingers, and something of the delight that must have thrilled Pygmalion when he saw his statue tremulous with conscious life.

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