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secrets of yours ? For I know what to think when a young girl shivers by a warm hearth, and complains of lonesomeness at her mother's side. Shall I put these feelings into words ?”
“They would not be a girl's feelings any longer if they could be put into words,” replied the mountain nymph, laughing, but avoiding his eye.
All this was said apart. Perhaps a germ of love was springing in their hearts, so pure that it might blossom in Paradise, since it could not be matured on earth; for women worship such gentle dignity as his; and the proud, contemplative, yet kindly soul is oftenest captivated by simplicity like hers. But while they spoke softly, and he was watching the happy sadness, the lightsome shadows, the shy yearnings of a maiden's nature, the wind through the Notch took a deeper and drearier sound. It seemed, as the fanciful stranger said, like the choral strain of the spirits of the blast, who in old Indian times had their dwelling among these mountains, and made their heights and recesses a sacred region. There was a wail along the road, as if a funeral were passing. To chase away the gloom, the family threw pine branches on their fire, till the dry leaves crackled and the flame arose, discovering once again a scene of peace and humble happiness. The light hovered about them fondly, and caressed them all. There were the little faces of the children, peeping from their bed apart, and here the father's frame of strength, the mother's subdued and careful mien, the high-browed youth, the budding girl, and the good old grandma, still knitting in the warmest place. The aged woman looked up from her task, and, with fingers ever busy, was the next to speak.
"Old folks have their notions," said she, "as well as young ones. You've been wishing and planning; and letting your heads run on one thing and another, till you've set my mind a wandering too. Now what should an old woman
H. & B. READINGS - 16
wish for, when she can go but a step or two before she comes to her grave? Children, it will haunt me night and day till I tell you.”
“What is it, mother?” cried the husband and wife at once.
Then the old woman, with an air of mystery which drew the circle closer round the fire, informed them that she had provided her grave-clothes some years before – a nice linen shroud, a cap with a muslin ruff, and everything of a finer sort than she had worn since her wedding day. But this evening an old superstition had strangely recurred to her. It used to be said, in her younger days, that if anything were amiss with a corpse, if only the ruff were not smooth, or the cap did not set right, the corpse in the coffin and beneath the clods would strive to put up its cold hands and arrange it. The bare thought made her nervous.
“Don't talk so, grandmother!” said the girl, shuddering.
“Now," - continued the old woman, with singular earnestness, yet smiling strangely at her own folly, — “I want one of you, my children when
mother is dressed and in the coffin I want one of you to hold a lookingglass over my face. Who knows but I may take a glimpse at myself, and see whether all's right?”
“Old and young, we dream of graves and monuments,” murmured the stranger youth. “I wonder how mariners feel when the ship is sinking, and they, unknown and undistinguished, are to be buried together in the ocean that wide and nameless sepulcher?”
For a moment, the old woman's ghastly conception so engrossed the minds of her hearers that a sound abroad in the night, rising like the roar of a blast, had grown broad, deep, and terrible, before the fated group were conscious of it. The house and all within it trembled; the foundations of the earth seemed to be shaken, as if this awful sound
were the peal of the last trump. Young and old exchanged one wild glance, and remained an instant, pale, affrighted, without utterance, or power to move. Then the shriek burst simultaneously from all their lips.
“The slide! The slide!”
The simplest words must intimate, but not portray, the unutterable horror of the catastrophe. The victims rushed from their cottage, and sought refuge in what they deemed a safer spot — where, in contemplation of such an emergency, a sort of barrier had been reared. Alas! they had quitted their security, and fled right into the pathway of destruction. Down came the whole side of the mountain, in a cataract of ruin. Just before it reached the house, the stream broke into two branches shivered not a window there, but overwhelmed the whole vicinity, blocked up the road, and annihilated everything in its dreadful course. Long ere the thunder of the great slide had ceased to roar among the mountains, the mortal agony had been endured, and the victims were at peace. Their bodies were never found.
The next morning, the light smoke was seen stealing from the cottage chimney up the mountain side. Within, the fire was yet smoldering on the hearth, and the chairs in a circle round it, as if the inhabitants had but gone forth to view the devastation of the slide, and would shortly return, to thank heaven for their miraculous escape. All had left separate tokens, by which those who had known the family were made to shed a tear for each. Who has not heard their name? The story has been told far and wide, and will forever be a legend of these mountains. Poets have sung their fate.
There were circumstances which led some to suppose that a stranger had been received into the cottage on this awful night, and had shared the catastrophe of all its inmates.
Others denied that there were sufficient grounds for such a conjecture. Woe for the high-souled youth, with his dream of earthly immortality! His name and person utterly unknown; his history, his way of life, his plans, a mystery never to be solved, his death and his existence equally a doubt! Whose was the agony of that death moment?
[This story is founded upon an actual occurrence as related in J. H. Spaulding's Historical Relics of the White Mountains. "Some time in June, before the great slide in August, 1826, there came a great storm, and the old veteran Abel Crawford, coming down the Notch, noticed the trees slipping down standing upright, and as he was passing Mr. Willey's he called and informed him of the wonderful fact. Immediately, in a less exposed place, Mr. Willey prepared a shelter to which to flee in case of immediate danger, and in the night of August 28 in that year he was, with his whole family, awakened by the thundering crash of the coming avalanche. Attempting to escape, that family, nine in number, rushed from the house and were overtaken and buried alive under a vast pile of rocks, earth, and water. By a remarkable coincidence the house remained uninjured, as the slide divided about four rods back of the house, against a high flat rock, and came down on either side with overwhelming power.”]
Study the spelling and meaning of these words:
Does the family seem real to you? What does Hawthorne mean in the sentence, “They had found the herb, hearts'-ease, in the bleakest spot of New England”? How do the occupants of the cottage impress the stranger? What is the topic of their conversation around the fire? Tell in your own words the ambition of each person. What contrast do you find between the interior of the cottage and its setting? What hints are given the reader that there will be a catastrophe? Does the appearance of the cottage afterwards add to your feeling of horror at their fate, or not? Is the ending as unexpected as that of The Chaparral Prince?
SUGGESTIONS FOR ORAL AND WRITTEN ENGLISH
THEME SUBJECTS Write for a newspaper in the town where they were known, an account of the fate of the family (their name was Willey). As the public usually reads news hur dly, put the most important item in the first sentence. Follow with details in the order of their importance, beginning with the most important. How does this method differ from the one you have been following? The newspaper account should answer very near the beginning these questions : Who? When? Where? Why?
Write in a letter to a friend an account of this catastrophe, as if you had remained in the cottage.
Imagine that you have had a lucky escape of some kind, and write a telegram to your mother, assuring her of your safety. Follow the telegram with a letter giving fuller details.
Explain your idea of the term, “Home.”
Read Robert Burns's The Cotter's Saturday Night, and report to the class what is Burns's idea of "home.”
Think over an unexpectedly pleasant ending of an adventure that you have had and tell it to the class. Be careful not to hint too strongly that the ending will be pleasant.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ADDITIONAL READINGS
Rappaccini's Daughter (Mosses from an Old Manse). Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The White Old Maid (Twice-Told Tales). Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The Cause of the Difficulty (in Tales of the Home Folks). Joel Chandler Harris.
Back Home. Irvin Cobb.
The Remarkable Wreck of the Thomas Hyde (in A Chosen Few). Frank R. Stockton.
Tales of New England. Sarah Orne Jewett.