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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

The Three Johns

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These two ladies had not, as may be surmised, any particular attraction for John Henderson. Truth to tell, Henderson had not come West with the intention of liking women, but rather with a determination to see and think as little of them as possible. Yet even the most confirmed misogynist must admit that it is a good thing to see a woman now and then, and for this reason Henderson found it amusing to converse with the amiable Misses O'Neal. At twenty-five one cannot be unyielding in one's avoidance of the sex.

Henderson, with his pony at a fine lope, was on his way to town one day, in that comfortable frame of mind adduced by an absence of any ideas whatever, when he suddenly became conscious of a shiver that seemed to run from his legs to the pony, and back again. The animal gave a startled leap, and lifted his ears. There was a stirring in the coarse grasses; the sky, which a moment before had been like sapphire, dulled with an indescribable grayness.

Then came a little singing afar off, as if from a distant convocation of cicadæ, and before Henderson could guess what it meant, a cloud of dust was upon him, blinding and bewildering, pricking with sharp particles at eyes and nostrils. The pony was an ugly fellow, and when Henderson felt him put his forefeet together, he knew what that meant, and braced himself for the struggle. But it was useless; he had not yet acquired the knack of staying on the back of a bucking bronco, and the next moment he was on the ground, and around him whirled that saffron chaos of dust. The temperature lowered every moment. Henderson instinctively felt that this was but the beginning of the storm. He picked himself up without useless regrets for his pony, and made his way on.

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The saffron hue turned to blackness, and then out of the murk shot a living green ball of fire, and ploughed into the earth. Then sheets of water, that seemed to come simultaneously from earth and sky, swept the prairie, and in the midst of it struggled Henderson, weak as a little child, half bereft of sense by the strange numbness of head and dullness of eye. Another of those green balls fell and burst, as it actually appeared to him, before his horrified eyes, and the bellow and blare of the explosion made him cry out in a madness of fright and physical pain. In the illumination he had seen a cabin only a few feet in front of him, and toward it he made frantically, with an animal's instinctive desire for shelter.

The door did not yield at once to his pressure, and in the panic of his fear he threw his weight against it. There was a cry from within, a fall, and Henderson flung himself in the cabin and closed the door.

In the dusk of the storm he saw a woman half prostrate. It was she whom he had pushed from the door. He caught the hook in its staple, and turned to raise her. She was not trembling as much as he, but, like himself, she was dizzy with the shock of the lightning. In the midst of all the clamor Henderson heard a shrill crying, and looking toward the side of the room, he dimly perceived three tiny forms crouched in one of the bunks. The woman took the smallest of the children in her arms, and kissed and soothed it; and Henderson, after he had thrown a blanket at the bottom of the door to keep out the drifting rain, sat with his back to it, bracing it against the wind, lest the frail staple should give way. He managed some way to reach out and lay hold of the other little ones, and got them in his arms, -- a boy, so tiny he seemed hardly human, and a girl somewhat sturdier. They cuddled in his arms, and clutched his clothes with their frantic little hands, and the three sat so while the earth and the heavens seemed to be meeting in angry combat.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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