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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Lady of Yesterday

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"A LIGHT wind blew from the gates of the sun," the morning she first walked down the street of the little Iowa town. Not a cloud flecked the blue; there was a humming of happy insects; a smell of rich and moist loam perfumed the air, and in the dusk of beeches and of oaks stood the quiet homes. She paused now and then, looking in the gardens, or at a group of children, then passed on, smiling in content.

Her accent was so strange, that the agent for real estate, whom she visited, asked her, twice and once again, what it was she said.

"I want," she had repeated smilingly, "an upland meadow, where clover will grow, and mignonette."

At the tea-tables that night, there was a mighty chattering. The brisk village made a mystery of this lady with the slow step, the foreign trick of speech, the long black gown, and the gentle voice. The men, concealing their curiosity in presence of the women, gratified it secretly, by sauntering to the tavern in the evening. There the keeper and his wife stood ready to convey any neighborly intelligence.

"Elizabeth Astrado" was written in the register, -- a name conveying little, unaccompanied by title or by place of residence.

"She eats alone," the tavern-keeper's wife confided to their eager ears, "and asks for no service. Oh, she's a curiosity! She's got her story, -- you'll see!"

In a town where every man knew every other man, and whether or not he paid his taxes on time, and what his standing was in church, and all the skeletons of his home, a stranger alien to their ways disturbed their peace of mind.

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"An upland meadow where clover and mignonette will grow," she had said, and such an one she found, and planted thick with fine white clover and with mignonette. Then, while the carpenters raised her cabin at the border of the meadow, near the street, she passed among the villagers, mingling with them gently, winning their good-will, in spite of themselves.

The cabin was of unbarked maple logs, with four rooms and a rustic portico. Then all the villagers stared in very truth. They, living in their trim and ugly little homes, accounted houses of logs as the misfortune of their pioneer parents. A shed for wood, a barn for the Jersey cow, a rustic fence, tall, with a high swinging gate, completed the domain. In the front room of the cabin was a fireplace of rude brick. In the bedrooms, cots as bare and hard as a nun's, and in the kitchen the domestic necessaries; that was all. The poorest house-holder in the town would not have confessed to such scant furnishing. Yet the richest man might well have hesitated before he sent to France for hives and hives of bees, as she did, setting them up along the southern border of her meadow.

Later there came strong boxes, marked with many marks of foreign transportation lines, and the neighbor-gossips, seeing them, imagined wealth of curious furniture; but the man who carted them told his wife, who told her friend, who told her friend, that every box to the last one was placed in the dry cemented cellar, and left there in the dark.

"An' a mighty ridic'lous expense a cellar like that is, t' put under a house of that char'cter," said the man to his wife -- who repeated it to her friend.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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