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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

Jim Lancy's Waterloo

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"Mr. Lancy! Mr. Lancy! You're not going to drive away without introducing me to your wife!"

She was a thin little woman, with movements as nervous and as graceless as those of a grasshopper. Her dun-colored garments seemed to have all the hue bleached out of them with wind and weather. Her face was brown and wrinkled, and her bright eyes flashed restlessly, deep in their sockets. Two front teeth were conspicuously missing; and her faded hair was blown in wisps about her face. Jim performed the introduction, and Annie held out her hand. It was a pretty hand, delicately gloved in dove color. The woman took it in her own, and after she had shaken it, held it for a silent moment, looking at it. Then she almost threw it from her. The eyes which she lifted to scan the bright young face above her had something like agony in them. Annie blushed under this fierce scrutiny, and the woman, suddenly conscious of her demeanor, forced a smile to her lips.

"I'll come out an' see yeh," she said, in cordial tones. "May be, as a new housekeeper, you'll like a little advice. You've a nice place, an' I wish yeh luck."

"Thank you. I'm sure I'll need advice," cried Annie, as they drove off. Then she said to Jim, "Who is that old woman?"

"Old woman? Why, she ain't a day over thirty, Mis' Dundy ain't."

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Annie looked at her husband blankly. But he was already talking of something else, and she asked no more about the woman, though all the way along the road the face seemed to follow her. It might have been this that caused the tightening about her heart. For some way her vivacity had gone; and the rest of the ride she asked no questions, but sat looking straight before her at the northward stretching road, with eyes that felt rather than saw the brown, bare undulations, rising every now and then clean to the sky; at the side, little famished-looking houses, unacquainted with paint, disorderly yards, and endless reaches of furrowed ground, where in summer the corn had waved.

The horses needed no indication of the line to make them turn up a smooth bit of road that curved away neatly 'mid the ragged grasses. At the end of it, in a clump of puny scrub oaks, stood a square little house, in uncorniced simplicity, with blank, uncurtained windows staring out at Annie, and for a moment her eyes, blurred with the cold, seemed to see in one of them the despairing face of the woman with the wisps of faded hair blowing about her face.

"Well, what do you think of it?" Jim cried, heartily, swinging her down from her high seat, and kissing her as he did so. "This is your home, my girl, and you are as welcome to it as you would be to a palace, if I could give it to you."

Annie put up her hands to hide the trembling of her lips; and she let Jim see there were tears in her eyes as an apology for not replying. The young man with the red hair took away the horses, and Jim, with his arm around his wife's waist, ran toward the house and threw open the door for her to enter. The intense heat of two great stoves struck in their faces; and Annie saw the big burner, erected in all its black hideousness in the middle of the front room, like a sort of household hoodoo, to be constantly propitiated, like the gods of Greece; and in the kitchen, the new range, with a distracted tea-kettle leaping on it, as if it would like to loose its fetters and race away over the prairie after its cousin, the locomotive.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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