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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Lady of Yesterday

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"But that ain't all," the carpenter's wife had said when she heard about it all, "Hank says there is one little room, not fit for buttery nor yet fur closit, with a window high up -- well, you ken see yourself -- an' a strong door. Jus' in passin' th' other day, when he was there, hangin' some shelves, he tried it, an' it was locked!"

"Well!" said the women who listened.

However, they were not unfriendly, these brisk gossips. Two of them, plucking up tardy courage, did call one afternoon. Their hostess was out among her bees, crooning to them, as it seemed, while they lighted all about her, lit on the flower in her dark hair, buzzed vivaciously about her snow-white linen gown, lighted on her long, dark hands. She came in brightly when she saw her guests, and placed chairs for them, courteously, steeped them a cup of pale and fragrant tea, and served them with little cakes. Though her manner was so quiet and so kind, the women were shy before her. She, turning to one and then the other, asked questions in her quaint way.

"You have children, have you not?"

Both of them had.

"Ah," she cried, clasping those slender hands, "but you are very fortunate! Your little ones, -- what are their ages?"

They told her, she listening smilingly.

"And you nurse your little babes -- you nurse them at the breast?"

The modest women blushed. They were not used to speaking with such freedom. But they confessed they did, not liking artificial means.

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"No," said the lady, looking at them with a soft light in her eyes, "as you say, there is nothing like the good mother Nature. The little ones God sends should lie at the breast. 'Tis not the milk alone that they imbibe; it is the breath of life, -- it is the human magnetism, the power, -- how shall I say? Happy the mother who has a little babe to hold!"

They wanted to ask a question, but they dared not -- wanted to ask a hundred questions. But back of the gentleness was a hauteur, and they were still.

"Tell me," she said, breaking her reverie, "of what your husbands do. Are they carpenters? Do they build houses for men, like the blessed Jesus? Or are they tillers of the soil? Do they bring fruits out of this bountiful valley?"

They answered, with a reservation of approval. "The blessed Jesus!" It sounded like popery.

She had gone from these brief personal matters to other things.

"How very strong you people seem," she had remarked. "Both your men and your women are large and strong. You should be, being appointed to subdue a continent. Men think they choose their destinies, but indeed, good neighbors, I think not so. Men are driven by the winds of God's will. They are as much bidden to build up this valley, this storehouse for the nations, as coral insects are bidden to make the reefs with their own little bodies, dying as they build. Is it not so?"

"We are the creatures of God's will, I suppose," said one of her visitors, piously.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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