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0100_005E A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

Two Pioneers

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Yet it was not the sinner that Father de Smet meant to crush. He always supplemented his acts of physical prowess with that explanation. It was the sin that he struck at from the shoulder -- and may not even an anointed one strike at sin?

Father de Smet could draw a fine line, too, between the things which were bad in themselves, and the things which were only extrinsically bad. For example, there were the soups of Mademoiselle Ninon. Mam'selle herself was not above reproach, but her soups were. Mademoiselle Ninon was the only Parisian thing in the settlement. And she was certainly to be avoided -- which was perhaps the reason that no one avoided her. It was four years since she had seen Paris. She was sixteen then, and she followed the fortunes of a certain adventurer who found it advisable to sail for Montreal. Ninon had been bored back in Paris, it being dull in the mantua-making shop of Madame Guittar. If she had been a man she would have taken to navigation, and might have made herself famous by sailing to some unknown part of the New World. Being a woman, she took a lover who was going to New France, and forgot to weep when he found an early and violent death. And there were others at hand, and Ninon sailed around the cold blue lakes, past Sault St. Marie, and made her way across the portages to the Mississippi, and so down to the sacred rock of St. Louis. That was a merry place. Ninon had fault to find neither with the wine nor the dances. They were all that one could have desired, and there was no limit to either of them. But still, after a time, even this grew tiresome to one of Ninon's spirit, and she took the first opportunity to sail up the Missouri with a certain young trapper connected with the great fur company, and so found herself at Cainsville, with the blue bluffs rising to the east of her, and the low white stretches of the river flats undulating down to where the sluggish stream wound its way southward capriciously.

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Ninon soon tired of her trapper. For one thing she found out that he was a coward. She saw him run once in a buffalo fight. That was when the Pawnee stood still with a blanket stretched wide in a gaudy square, and caught the head of the mad animal fairly in the tough fabric; his mustang's legs trembled under him, but he did not move, -- for a mustang is the soul of an Indian, and obeys each thought; the Indian himself felt his heart pounding at his ribs; but once with that garment fast over the baffled eyes of the struggling brute, the rest was only a matter of judicious knife-thrusts. Ninon saw this. She rode past her lover, and snatched the twisted bullion cord from his hat that she had braided and put there, and that night she tied it on the hat of the Pawnee who had killed the buffalo.

The Pawnees were rather proud of the episode, and as for the Frenchmen, they did not mind. The French have always been very adaptable in America. Ninon was universally popular.

And so were her soups.

Every man has his price. Father de Smet's was the soups of Mademoiselle Ninon. Fancy! If you have an educated palate and are obliged to eat the strong distillation of buffalo meat, cooked in a pot which has been wiped out with the greasy petticoat of a squaw! When Ninon came down from St. Louis she brought with her a great box containing neither clothes, furniture, nor trinkets, but something much more wonderful! It was a marvellous compounding of spices and seasonings. The aromatic liquids she set before the enchanted men of the settlement bore no more relation to ordinary buffalo soup than Chateaubrand's Indian maidens did to one of the Pawnee girls, who slouched about the settlement with noxious tresses and sullen slavish coquetries.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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