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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Resuscitation

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There was the office, bare and clean, where the young stoop-shouldered clerks sat writing. In their faces was a strange resemblance, just as there was in the backs of the ledgers, and in the endless bills on the spindles. If one of them laughed, it was not with gayety, but with gratification at the discomfiture of another. None of them ate well. None of them were rested after sleep. All of them rode on the stuffy one-horse cars to and from their work. Sundays they lay in bed very late, and ate more dinner than they could digest. There was a certain fellowship among them, -- such fellowship as a band of captives among cannibals might feel, each of them waiting with vital curiosity to see who was the next to be eaten. But of that fellowship that plans in unison, suffers in sympathy, enjoys vicariously, strengthens into friendship and communion of soul they knew nothing. Indeed, such camaraderie would have been disapproved of by the Head Clerk. He would have looked on an emotion with exactly the same displeasure that he would on an error in the footing of the year's accounts. It was tacitly understood that one reached the proud position of Head Clerk by having no emotions whatever.

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Culross did not remember having been born with a pen in his hand, or even with one behind his ear; but certainly from the day he had been let out of knickerbockers his constant companion had been that greatly overestimated article. His father dying at a time that cut short David's school-days, he went out armed with his new knowledge of double-entry, determined to make a fortune and a commercial name. Meantime, he lived in a suite of three rooms on West Madison Street with his mother, who was a good woman, and lived where she did that she might be near her favorite meeting-house. She prayed, and cooked bad dinners, principally composed of dispiriting pastry. Her idea of house-keeping was to keep the shades down, whatever happened; and when David left home in the evening for any purpose of pleasure, she wept. David persuaded himself that he despised amusement, and went to bed each night at half-past nine in a folding bedstead in the front room, and, by becoming absolutely stolid from mere vegetation, imagined that he was almost fit to be a Head Clerk.

Walking down the street now after the twenty years, thinking of these dead but innocent days, this was the picture he saw; and as he reflected upon it, even the despoiled and desolate years just passed seemed richer by contrast.

He reached the station thus dreaming, and found, as he had been told when the warden bade him good-by, that a train was to be at hand directly bound to the city. A few moments later he was on that train. Well back in the shadow, and out of sight of the other passengers, he gave himself up to the enjoyment of the comfortable cushion. He would willingly have looked from the window, -- green fields were new and wonderful; drifting clouds a marvel; men, houses, horses, farms, all a revelation, -- but those haunting visions were at him again, and would not leave brain or eye free for other things.

But the next scene had warmer tints. It was the interior of a rich room, -- crimson and amber fabrics, flowers, the gleam of a statue beyond the drapings; the sound of a tender piano unflinging a familiar melody, and a woman. She was just a part of all the luxury.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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