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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Mountain Woman

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We went to speak to our hostess. She stood beside her husband, looking taller than ever; and her face was white. Her long red gown of clinging silk was so peculiar as to give one the impression that she was dressed in character. It was easy to tell that it was one of Leroy's fancies. I hardly heard what she said, but I know she reproached me gently for not having been to see them. I had no further word with her till some one led her to the piano, and she paused to say, --

"That poet you spoke of to me -- the one you said was a friend of yours -- he is my friend now too, and I have learned to sing some of his songs. I am going to sing one now." She seemed to have no timidity at all, but stood quietly, with a half smile, while a young man with a Russian name played a strange minor prelude. Then she sang, her voice a wonderful contralto, cold at times, and again lit up with gleams of passion. The music itself was fitful, now full of joy, now tender, and now sad:

"Look off, dear love, across the sallow sands,
    And mark yon meeting of the sun and sea,
How long they kiss in sight of all the lands,
    Ah! longer, longer we."

"She has a genius for feeling, hasn't she?" Leroy whispered to me.

"A genius for feeling!" I repeated, angrily. "Man, she has a heart and a soul and a brain, if that is what you mean! I shouldn't think you would be able to look at her from the standpoint of a critic."

Leroy shrugged his shoulders and went off. For a moment I almost hated him for not feeling more resentful. I felt as if he owed it to his wife to take offence at my foolish speech.

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It was evident that the "mountain woman" had become the fashion. I read reports in the papers about her unique receptions. I saw her name printed conspicuously among the list of those who attended all sorts of dinners and musicales and evenings among the set that affected intellectual pursuits. She joined a number of women's clubs of an exclusive kind.

"She is doing whatever her husband tells her to," said Jessica. "Why, the other day I heard her ruining her voice on 'Siegfried'!"

But from day to day I noticed a difference in her. She developed a terrible activity. She took personal charge of the affairs of her house; she united with Leroy in keeping the house filled with guests; she got on the board of a hospital for little children, and spent a part of every day among the cots where the sufferers lay. Now and then when we spent a quiet evening alone with her and Leroy, she sewed continually on little white night-gowns for these poor babies. She used her carriage to take the most extraordinary persons riding.

"In the cause of health," Leroy used to say, "I ought to have the carriage fumigated after every ride Judith takes, for she is always accompanied by some one who looks as if he or she should go into quarantine."

One night, when he was chaffing her in this way, she flung her sewing suddenly from her and sprang to her feet, as if she were going to give way to a burst of girlish temper. Instead of that, a stream of tears poured from her eyes, and she held out her trembling hands toward Jessica.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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