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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

The Three Johns

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Yet at Waite she did not laugh much. There had come to be something pathetic in the constant service he rendered her. The beginning of his more particular devotion had started in a particular way. Malaria was very bad in the country. It had carried off some of the most vigorous on the prairie, and twice that summer Catherine herself had laid out the cold forms of her neighbors on ironing-boards, and, with the assistance of Bill Deems of Missourah, had read the burial service over them. She had averted several other fatal runs of fever by the contents of her little medicine-case. These remedies she dealt out with an intelligence that astonished her patients, until it was learned that she was studying medicine at the time that she met her late husband, and was persuaded to assume the responsibilities of matrimony instead of those of the medical profession.

One day in midsummer, when the sun was focussing itself on the raw pine boards of her shanty, and Catherine had the shades drawn for coolness and the water-pitcher swathed in wet rags, East Indian fashion, she heard the familiar halloo of Waite down the road. This greeting, which was usually sent to her from the point where the dipping road lifted itself into the first view of the house, did not contain its usual note of cheerfulness. Catherine, wiping her hands on her checked apron, ran out to wave a welcome; and Waite, his squat body looking more distorted than ever, his huge shoulders lurching as he walked, came fairly plunging down the hill.

"It's all up with Henderson!" he cried, as Catherine approached. "He's got the malery, an' he says he's dyin'."

"That's no sign he's dying, because he says so," retorted Catherine.

"He wants to see yeh," panted Waite, mopping his big ugly head. "I think he's got somethin' particular to say."

"How long has he been down?"

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"Three days; an' yeh wouldn't know 'im."

The children were playing on the floor at that side of the house where it was least hot. Catherine poured out three bowls of milk, and cut some bread, meanwhile telling Kitty how to feed the baby.

"She's a sensible thing, is the little daughter," said Catherine, as she tied on her sunbonnet and packed a little basket with things from the cupboard. She kissed the babies tenderly, flung her hoe -- her only weapon of defence -- over her shoulder, and the two started off.

They did not speak, for their throats were soon too parched. The prairie was burned brown with the sun; the grasses curled as if they had been on a gridiron. A strong wind was blowing; but it brought no comfort, for it was heavy with a scorching heat. The skin smarted and blistered under it, and the eyes felt as if they were filled with sand. The sun seemed to swing but a little way above the earth, and though the sky was intensest blue, around about this burning ball there was a halo of copper, as if the very ether were being consumed in yellow fire.

Waite put some big burdock-leaves on Catherine's head under her bonnet, and now and then he took a bottle of water from his pocket and made her swallow a mouthful. She staggered often as she walked, and the road was black before her. Still, it was not very long before the oddly shaped shack of the three Johns came in sight; and as he caught a glimpse of it, Waite quickened his footsteps.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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