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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Lady of Yesterday

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Hartington, strolling beyond the village streets, up where the sunset died in daffodil above the upland, saw the little cot of logs, and out before it, among blood-red poppies, the woman of whom he had heard. Her gown of white gleamed in that eerie radiance, glorified, her sad great eyes bent on him in magnetic scrutiny. A peace and plenitude of power came radiating from her, and reached him where he stood, suddenly, and for the first time in his careless life, struck dumb and awed. She, too, seemed suddenly abashed at this great bulk of youthful manhood, innocent and strong. She gazed on him, and he on her, both chained with some mysterious enchantment. Yet neither spoke, and he, turning in bewilderment at last, went back to town, while she placed one hand on her lips to keep from calling him. And neither slept that night, and in the morning when she went with milking pail and stool out to the grassy field, there he stood at the bars, waiting. Again they gazed, like creatures held in thrall by some magician, till she held out her hand and said, --

"We must be friends, although we have not met. Perhaps we ARE old friends. They say there have been worlds before this one. I have not seen you in these habiliments of flesh and blood, and yet -- we may be friends?"

John Hartington, used to the thin jests of the village girls, and all their simple talk, rose, nevertheless, enlightened as he was with some strange sympathy with her, to understand and answer what she said.

"I think perhaps it may be so. May I come in beside you in the field? Give me the pail. I'll milk the cow for you."

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She threw her head back and laughed like a girl from school, and he laughed too, and they shook hands. Then she sat near him while he milked, both keeping silence, save for the p-rring noise he made with his lips to the patient beast. Being through, she served him with a cupful of the fragrant milk; but he bade her drink first, then drank himself, and then they laughed again, as if they both had found something new and good in life.

Then she, --

"Come see how well my bees are doing." And they went. She served him with the lucent syrup of the bees, perfumed with the mignonette, -- such honey as there never was before. He sat on the broad doorstep, near the scarlet poppies, she on the grass, and then they talked -- was it one golden hour -- or two? Ah, well, 'twas long enough for her to learn all of his simple life, long enough for her to know that he was victor at the races at the school, that he could play the pipe, like any shepherd of the ancient days, and when he went he asked her if he might return.

"Well," laughed she, "sometimes I am lonely. Come see me -- in a week."

Yet he was there that day at twilight, and he brought his silver pipe, and piped to her under the stars, and she sung ballads to him, -- songs of Strephon and times when the hills were young, and flocks were fairer than they ever be these days.

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow," and still the intercourse, still her dark loveliness waxing, still the weaving of the mystic spell, still happiness as primitive and as sweet as ever Eden knew.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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