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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

Two Pioneers

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"The Virgin will wear no fresh laces," said the priest, with some bitterness; but he was mistaken. An hour later, Ninon was back, not only with a box of laces, but also with a collection of cosmetics, with which she proceeded to make startling the scratched and faded face of the wooden Virgin, who wore, after the completion of Ninon's labors, a decidedly piquant and saucy expression. The very manner in which the laces were draped had a suggestion of Ninon's still unforgotten art as a maker of millinery, and was really a very good presentment of Paris fashions four years past. Pierre, meantime, amused himself by filling up the chinks in the logs with fresh mud, -- a commodity of which there was no lack, -- and others of the neighbors, incited by these extraordinary efforts, washed the dirt from seats, floor, and windows, and brought furs with which to make presentable the floor about the pulpit.

Father de Smet worked harder than any of them. In his happy enthusiasm he chose to think this energy on the part of the others was prompted by piety, though well he knew it was only a refuge from the insufferable ennui that pervaded the place. Ninon suddenly came up to him with a white face.

"I am not well," she said. Her teeth were chattering, and her eyes had a little blue glaze over them. "I am going home. In the morning I will send the lilies."

The priest caught her by the hand.

"Ninon," he whispered, "it is on my soul not to let you go to-night. Something tells me that the hour of your salvation is come. Women worse than you, Ninon, have come to lead holy lives. Pray, Ninon, pray to the Mother of Sorrows, who knows the sufferings and sins of the heart." He pointed to the befrilled and highly fashionable Virgin with her rouge-stained cheeks.

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Ninon shrank from him, and the same convulsive rigidity he had noticed before, held her immovable. A moment later, she was on the street again, and the priest, watching her down the street, saw her enter her cabin with Pierre.


It was past midnight when the priest was awakened from his sleep by a knock on the door. He wrapped his great buffalo-coat about him, and answered the summons. Without in the damp darkness stood Pierre.

"Father," he cried, "Ninon has sent for you. Since she left you, she has been very ill. I have done what I could; but now she hardly speaks, but I make out that she wants you." Ten minutes later, they were in Ninon's cabin. When Father de Smet looked at her he knew she was dying. He had seen the Indians like that many times during the winter. It was the plague, but driven in to prey upon the system by the exposure. The Parisienne's teeth were set, but she managed to smile upon her visitor as he threw off his coat and bent over her. He poured some whiskey for her; but she could not get the liquid over her throat.

"Do not," she said fiercely between those set white teeth, "do not forget the lilies." She sank back and fixed her glazing eyes on the antlers, and kept them there watching those dangling silken scarves, while the priest, in haste, spoke the words for the departing soul.

The next morning she lay dead among those half barbaric relics of her coquetry, and two white lilies with hearts of gold shed perfume from an altar in a wilderness.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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