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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

Up the Gulch

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After they got beyond the timber country and rode hour after hour on a tract smooth as a becalmed ocean, she gave herself up to the feeling of immeasurable vastness which took possession of her. The sun rolled out of the sky into oblivion with a frantic, headlong haste. Nothing softened the aspect of its wrath. Near, red, familiar, it seemed to visibly bowl along the heavens. In the morning it rose as baldly as it had set. And back and forth over the awful plain blew the winds, -- blew from east to west and back again, strong as if fresh from the chambers of their birth, full of elemental scents and of mighty murmurings.

"This is the West!" Kate cried, again and again.

The major listened to her unsmilingly. It always seemed to him a waste of muscular energy to smile. He did not talk much. Conversation had never appealed to him in the light of an art. He spoke when there was a direction or a command to be given, or an inquiry to be made. The major, if the truth must be known, was material. Things that he could taste, touch, see, appealed to him. He had been a volunteer in the civil war, -- a volunteer with a good record, -- which he never mentioned; and, having acquitted himself decently, let the matter go without asking reprisal or payment for what he had freely given. He went into business and sold cereal foods.

"I believe in useful things," the major expressed himself. "Oatmeal, wheat, -- men have to have them. God intended they should. There's Jack -- my son -- Jack Shelly -- lawyer. What's the use of litigation? God didn't design litigation. It doesn't do anybody any good. It isn't justice you get. It's something entirely different, -- a verdict according to law. They say Jack's clever. But I'm mighty glad I sell wheat."

He didn't sell it as a speculator, however. That wasn't his way.

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"I earn what I make," he often said; and he had grown rich in the selling of his wholesome foods.

. . . . . . .

Helena lies among round, brown hills. Above it is a sky of deep and illimitable blue. In the streets are crumbs of gold, but it no longer pays to mine for these; because, as real estate, the property is more valuable. It is a place of fictitious values. There is excitement in the air. Men have the faces of speculators. Every laborer is patient at his task because he cherishes a hope that some day he will be a millionnaire. There is hospitality, and cordiality and good fellowship, and an undeniable democracy. There is wealth and luxurious living. There is even culture, -- but it is obtruded as a sort of novelty; it is not accepted as a matter of course.

Kate and the major were driven over two or three miles of dusty, hard road to a distant hotel, which stands in the midst of greenness, -- in an oasis. Immediately above the green sward that surrounds it the brown hills rise, the grass scorched by the sun.

Kate yielded herself to the almost absurd luxury of the place with ease and complacency. She took kindly to the great verandas. She adapted herself to the elaborate and ill-assorted meals. She bathed in the marvellous pool, warm with the heat of eternal fires in mid-earth. This pool was covered with a picturesque Moorish structure, and at one end a cascade tumbled, over which the sun, coming through colored windows, made a mimic prism in the white spray. The life was not unendurable. The major was seldom with her, being obliged to go about his business; and Kate amused herself by driving over the hills, by watching the inhabitants, by wondering about the lives in the great, pretentious, unhomelike houses with their treeless yards and their closed shutters. The sunlight, white as the glare on Arabian sands, penetrated everywhere. It seemed to fairly scorch the eye-balls.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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