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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

The Three Johns

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And back and forth, back and forth, in the dimness swayed the body of the woman, hushing her babe.

Almost as suddenly as the darkness had fallen, it lifted. The lightning ceased to threaten, and almost frolicked, -- little wayward flashes of white and yellow dancing in mid-air. The wind wailed less frequently, like a child who sobs in its sleep. And at last Henderson could make his voice heard.

"Is there anything to build a fire with?" he shouted. "The children are shivering so."

The woman pointed to a basket of buffalo chips in the corner, and he wrapped his little companions up in a blanket while he made a fire in the cooking-stove. The baby was sleeping by this time, and the woman began tidying the cabin, and when the fire was burning brightly, she put some coffee on.

"I wish I had some clothes to offer you," she said, when the wind had subsided sufficiently to make talking possible. "I'm afraid you'll have to let them get dry on you."

"Oh, that's of no consequence at all! We're lucky to get off with our lives. I never saw anything so terrible. Fancy! half an hour ago it was summer; now it is winter!"

"It seems rather sudden when you're not used to it," the woman admitted. "I've lived in the West six years now; you can't frighten me any more. We never die out here before our time comes."

"You seem to know that I haven't been here long," said Henderson, with some chagrin.

"Yes," admitted the woman; "you have the ear-marks of a man from the East."

She was a tall woman, with large blue eyes, and a remarkable quantity of yellow hair braided on top of her head. Her gown was of calico, of such a pattern as a widow might wear.

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"I haven't been out of town a week yet," she said. "We're not half settled. Not having any one to help makes it harder; and the baby is rather fretful."

"But you're not alone with all these little codgers?" cried Henderson, in dismay.

The woman turned toward him with a sort of defiance. "Yes, I am," she said; "and I'm as strong as a horse, and I mean to get through all right. Here were the three children in my arms, you may say, and no way to get in a cent. I wasn't going to stand it just to please other folk. I said, let them talk if they want to, but I'm going to hold down a claim, and be accumulating something while the children are getting up a bit. Oh, I'm not afraid!"

In spite of this bold assertion of bravery, there was a sort of break in her voice. She was putting dishes on the table as she talked, and turned some ham in the skillet, and got the children up before the fire, and dropped some eggs in water, -- all with a rapidity that bewildered Henderson.

"How long have you been alone?" he asked, softly.

"Three months before baby was born, and he's five months old now. I -- I -- you think I can get on here, don't you? There was nothing else to do."

She was folding another blanket over the sleeping baby now, and the action brought to her guest the recollection of a thousand tender moments of his dimly remembered youth.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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