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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Mountain Woman

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Mrs. Brainard looked so happy that night when she came in the parlor, after the music had begun, that I felt a moisture gather in my eyes just because of the beauty of her joy, and the forced vivacity of the women about me seemed suddenly coarse and insincere. Some wonderful red stones, brilliant as rubies, glittered in among the diaphanous black driftings of her dress. She asked me if the stones were not very pretty, and said she gathered them in one of her mountain river-beds.

"But the gown?" I said. "Surely, you do not gather gowns like that in river-beds, or pick them off mountain-pines?"

"But you can get them in Denver. Father always sent to Denver for my finery. He was very particular about how I looked. You see, I was all he had --" She broke off, her voice faltering.

"Come over by the window," I said, to change her thought. "I have something to repeat to you. It is a song of Sydney Lanier's. I think he was the greatest poet that ever lived in America, though not many agree with me. But he is my dear friend anyway, though he is dead, and I never saw him; and I want you to hear some of his words."

I led her across to an open window. The dancers were whirling by us. The waltz was one of those melancholy ones which speak the spirit of the dance more eloquently than any merry melody can. The sound of the sea booming beyond in the darkness came to us, and long paths of light, now red, now green, stretched toward the distant light-house. These were the lines I repeated: --

"What heartache -- ne'er a hill! Inexorable, vapid, vague, and chill The drear sand levels drain my spirit low. With one poor word they tell me all they know; Whereat their stupid tongues, to tease my pain, Do drawl it o'er and o'er again. They hurt my heart with griefs I cannot name; Always the same -- the same."

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But I got no further. I felt myself moved with a sort of passion which did not seem to come from within, but to be communicated to me from her. A certain unfamiliar happiness pricked through with pain thrilled me, and I heard her whispering, --

"Do not go on, do not go on! I cannot stand it to-night!"

"Hush," I whispered back; "come out for a moment!" We stole into the dusk without, and stood there trembling. I swayed with her emotion. There was a long silence. Then she said: "Father may be walking alone now by the black cataract. That is where he goes when he is sad. I can see how lonely he looks among those little twisted pines that grow from the rock. And he will be remembering all the evenings we walked there together, and all the things we said." I did not answer. Her eyes were still on the sea.

"What was the name of the man who wrote that verse you just said to me?"

I told her.

"And he is dead? Did they bury him in the mountains? No? I wish I could have put him where he could have heard those four voices calling down the canyon."

"Come back in the house," I said; "you must come, indeed," I said, as she shrank from re-entering.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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