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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Mountain Woman

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"She has seen them often."

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"Oh, she told me. But I don't mean those pretty green hills such as we saw coming here. They are not like my mountains. I like mountains that go beyond the clouds, with terrible shadows in the hollows, and belts of snow lying in the gorges where the sun cannot reach, and the snow is blue in the sunshine, or shining till you think it is silver, and the mist so wonderful all about it, changing each moment and drifting up and down, that you cannot tell what name to give the colors. These mountains of yours here in the East are so quiet; mine are shouting all the time, with the pines and the rivers. The echoes are so loud in the valley that sometimes, when the wind is rising, we can hardly hear a man talk unless he raises his voice. There are four cataracts near where I live, and they all have different voices, just as people do; and one of them is happy -- a little white cataract -- and it falls where the sun shines earliest, and till night it is shining. But the others only get the sun now and then, and they are more noisy and cruel. One of them is always in the shadow, and the water looks black. That is partly because the rocks all underneath it are black. It falls down twenty great ledges in a gorge with black sides, and a white mist dances all over it at every leap. I tell father the mist is the ghost of the waters. No man ever goes there; it is too cold. The chill strikes through one, and makes your heart feel as if you were dying. But all down the side of the mountain, toward the south and the west, the sun shines on the granite and draws long points of light out of it. Father tells me soldiers marching look that way when the sun strikes on their bayonets. Those are the kind of mountains I mean, Mr. Grant."

She was looking at me with her face transfigured, as if it, like the mountains she told me of, had been lying in shadow, and waiting for the dazzling dawn.

"I had a terrible dream once," she went on; "the most terrible dream ever I had. I dreamt that the mountains had all been taken down, and that I stood on a plain to which there was no end. The sky was burning up, and the grass scorched brown from the heat, and it was twisting as if it were in pain. And animals, but no other person save myself, only wild things, were crouching and looking up at that sky. They could not run because there was no place to which to go."

"You were having a vision of the last man," I said. "I wonder myself sometimes whether this old globe of ours is going to collapse suddenly and take us with her, or whether we will disappear through slow disastrous ages of fighting and crushing, with hunger and blight to help us to the end. And then, at the last, perhaps, some luckless fellow, stronger than the rest, will stand amid the ribs of the rotting earth and go mad."

The woman's eyes were fixed on me, large and luminous. "Yes," she said; "he would go mad from the lonesomeness of it. He would be afraid to be left alone like that with God. No one would want to be taken into God's secrets."

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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