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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

Jim Lancy's Waterloo

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A woman cannot stay long away from her home on a farm at planting time, even if it is a case of life and death. Mrs. Dundy had to go home, and Annie crept about her work with the wailing baby in her arms. The house was often disorderly now; but it could not be helped. The baby had to be cared for. It fretted so much that Jim slept apart in the mow of the barn, that his sleep might not be disturbed. It was a pleasant, dim place, full of sweet scents, and he liked to be there alone. Though he had always been an unusual worker, he worked now more like a man who was fighting off fate, than a mere toiler for bread.

The corn came up beautifully, and far as the eye could reach around their home it tossed its broad green leaves with an ocean-like swelling of sibilant sound. Jim loved it with a sort of passion. Annie loved it, too. Sometimes, at night, when her fatigue was unbearable, and her irritation wearing out both body and soul, she took her little one in her arms and walked among the corn, letting its rustling soothe the baby to sleep.

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The heat of the summer was terrible. The sun came up in that blue sky like a curse, and hung there till night came to comfort the blistering earth. And one morning a terrible thing happened. Annie was standing out of doors in the shade of those miserable little oaks, ironing, when suddenly a blast of air struck her in the face, which made her look up startled. For a moment she thought, perhaps, there was a fire near in the grass. But there was none. Another blast came, hotter this time, and fifteen minutes later that wind was sweeping straight across the plain, burning and blasting. Annie went in the house to finish her ironing, and was working there, when she heard Jim's footstep on the door-sill. He could not pale because of the tan, but there was a look of agony and of anger -- almost brutish anger -- in his eyes. Then he looked, for a moment, at Annie standing there working patiently, and rocking the little crib with one foot, and he sat down on the door-step and buried his face in his brown arms.

The wind blew for three days. At the end of that time every ear was withered in the stalk. The corn crop was ruined.

But there were the other crops which must be attended to, and Jim watched those with the alertness of a despairing man; and so harvest came again, and again the house was filled with men who talked their careless talk, and who were not ashamed to gorge while this one woman cooked for them. The baby lay on a quilt on the floor in the coolest part of the kitchen. Annie fed it irregularly. Sometimes she almost forgot it. As for its wailing, she had grown so used to it that she hardly heard it, any more than she did the ticking of the clock. And yet, tighter than anything else in life, was the hold that little thing had on her heart-strings. At night, after the interminable work had been finished -- though in slovenly fashion -- she would take it up and caress it with fierceness, and worn as she was, would bathe it and soothe it, and give it warm milk from the big tin pail.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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