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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Lady of Yesterday

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She had given them little confidences in return.

"I make my bread," she said, with childish pride, "pray see if you do not think it excellent!" And she cut a flaky loaf to display its whiteness. One guest summoned the bravado to inquire, --

"Then you are not used to doing housework?" "I?" she said, with a slow smile, "I have never got used to anything, -- not even living." And so she baffled them all, yet won them.

The weeks went by. Elizabeth Astrado attended to her bees, milked her cow, fed her fowls, baked, washed, and cleaned, like the simple women about her, saving that as she did it a look of ineffable content lighted up her face, and she sang for happiness. Sometimes, amid the ballads that she hummed, a strain slipped in of some great melody, which she, singing unaware, as it were, corrected, shaking her finger in self-reproval, and returning again to the ballads and the hymns. Nor was she remiss in neighborly offices; but if any were ailing, or had a festivity, she was at hand to assist, condole, or congratulate, carrying always some simple gift in her hand, appropriate to the occasion.

She had her wider charities too, for all she kept close to her home. When, one day, a story came to her of a laborer struck down with heat in putting in a culvert on the railroad, and gossip said he could not speak English, she hastened to him, caught dying words from his lips, whispered a reply, and then what seemed to be a prayer, while he held fast her hand, and sank to coma with wistful eyes upon her face. Moreover 'twas she who buried him, raising a cross above his grave, and she who planted rose-bushes about the mound.

"He spoke like an Italian," said the physician to her warily.

"And so he was," she had replied.

"A fellow-countryman of yours, no doubt?"

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"Are not all men our countrymen, my friend?" she said, gently. "What are little lines drawn in the imagination of men, dividing territory, that they should divide our sympathies? The world is my country -- and yours, I hope. Is it not so?"

Then there had also been a hapless pair of lovers, shamed before their community, who, desperate, impoverished, and bewildered at the war between nature and society, had been helped by her into a new part of the world. There had been a widow with many children, who had found baskets of cooked food and bundles of well-made clothing on her step. And as the days passed, with these pleasant offices, the face of the strange woman glowed with an ever-increasing content, and her dark, delicate beauty grew.

John Hartington spent his vacation at Des Moines, having a laudable desire to see something of the world before returning to his native town, with his college honors fresh upon him. Swiftest of the college runners was John Hartington, famed for his leaping too, and measuring widest at the chest and waist of all the hearty fellows at the university. His blond curls clustered above a brow almost as innocent as a child's; his frank and brave blue eyes, his free step, his mellow laugh, bespoke the perfect animal, unharmed by civilization, unperplexed by the closing century's fallacies and passions. The wholesome oak that spreads its roots deep in the generous soil, could not be more a part of nature than he. Conscientious, unimaginative, direct, sincere, industrious, he was the ideal man of his kind, and his return to town caused a flutter among the maidens which they did not even attempt to conceal. They told him all the chat, of course, and, among other things, mentioned the great sensation of the year, -- the coming of the woman with her mystery, the purchase of the sunny upland, the planting it with clover and with mignonette, the building of the house of logs, the keeping of the bees, the barren rooms, the busy, silent life, the charities, the never-ending wonder of it all. And then the woman -- kind, yet different from the rest, with the foreign trick of tongue, the slow, proud walk, the delicate, slight hands, the beautiful, beautiful smile, the air as of a creature from another world.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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