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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

The Three Johns

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"What if he should be gone?" he said, under his breath.

"Oh, come off!" said Catherine, angrily. "He's not gone. You make me tired!"

But she was trembling when she stopped just before the door to compose herself for a moment. Indeed, she trembled so very much that Waite put out his sprawling hand to steady her. She gently felt the pressure tightening, and Waite whispered in her ear:

"I guess I'd stand by him as well as anybody, excep' you, Mis' Ford. He's been my bes' friend. But I guess you like him better, eh?"

Catherine raised her finger. She could hear Henderson's voice within; it was pitiably querulous. He was half sitting up in his bunk, and Gillispie had just handed him a plate on which two cakes were swimming in black molasses and pork gravy. Henderson looked at it a moment; then over his face came a look of utter despair. He dropped his head in his arms and broke into uncontrolled crying.

"Oh, my God, Gillispie," he sobbed, "I shall die out here in this wretched hole! I want my mother. Great God, Gillispie, am I going to die without ever seeing my mother?"

Gillispie, maddened at this anguish, which he could in no way alleviate, sought comfort by first lighting his pipe and then taking his revolver out of his hip-pocket and playing with it. Henderson continued to shake with sobs, and Catherine, who had never before in her life heard a man cry, leaned against the door for a moment to gather courage. Then she ran into the house quickly, laughing as she came. She took Henderson's arms away from his face and laid him back on the pillow, and she stooped over him and kissed his forehead in the most matter-of-fact way.

"That's what your mother would do if she were here," she cried, merrily. "Where's the water?"

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She washed his face and hands a long time, till they were cool and his convulsive sobs had ceased. Then she took a slice of thin bread from her basket and a spoonful of amber jelly. She beat an egg into some milk and dropped a little liquor within it, and served them together on the first clean napkin that had been in the cabin of the three Johns since it was built

At this the great fool on the bed cried again, only quietly, tears of weak happiness running from his feverish eyes. And Catherine straightened the disorderly cabin. She came every day for two weeks, and by that time Henderson, very uncertain as to the strength of his legs, but once more accoutred in his native pluck, sat up in a chair, for which she had made clean soft cushions, writing a letter to his mother. The floor was scrubbed; the cabin had taken to itself cupboards made of packing-boxes; it had clothes-presses and shelves; curtains at the windows; boxes for all sort of necessaries, from flour to tobacco; and a cook-book on the wall, with an inscription within which was more appropriate than respectful.

The day that she announced that she would have no further call to come back, Waite, who was looking after the house while Gillispie was afield, made a little speech.

"After this here," he said, "we four stands er falls together. Now look here, there's lots of things can happen to a person on this cussed praira, and no one be none th' wiser. So see here, Mis' Ford, every night one of us is a-goin' to th' roof of this shack. From there we can see your place. If anything is th' matter -- it don't signify how little er how big -- you hang a lantern on th' stick that I'll put alongside th' house to-morrow. Yeh can h'ist th' light up with a string, and every mornin' before we go out we'll look too, and a white rag'll bring us quick as we can git there. We don't say nothin' about what we owe yeh, fur that ain't our way, but we sticks to each other from this on."

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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