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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

Up the Gulch

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It was the melancholy man with the new clothes. This morning he was dressed in a suit of the lightest gray, with a white marseilles waistcoat, over which his glittering chain shone ostentatiously. White tennis-shoes, a white rose in his buttonhole, and a white straw hat in his hand completed a toilet over which much time had evidently been spent. Kate noted these details as she held out her hand.

"I may have been alarmed without cause," she said; "but I was horribly frightened. Thank you so much for coming to my rescue. And I think, if you would add to your kindness by getting me a glass of water --"

When he came back, his hand was trembling a little; and as Kate looked up to learn the cause, she saw that his face was flushed. He was embarrassed. She decided that he was not accustomed to the society of ladies. "Brutes like that dog ain't no place in th' world -- that's my opinion. There are some bad things we can't help havin' aroun'; but a bull-dog ain't one of 'em."

"I quite agree with you," Kate acquiesced, as she drank the water. "But as this is the first unpleasant experience of any kind that I have had since I came here, I don't feel that I have any right to complain."

"You're here fur yur health?"

"Yes. And I am getting it. You're not an invalid, I imagine?"

"No -- no-op. I'm here be -- well, I've thought fur a long time I'd like t' stay at this here hotel."


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"Yes. I've been up th' gulch these fifteen years. Bin livin' on a shelf of black rock. Th' sun got 'round 'bout ten. Couldn't make a thing grow." The man was looking off toward the hills, with an expression of deep sadness in his eyes. "Didn't never live in a place where nothin' 'd grow, did you? I took geraniums up thar time an' time agin. Red ones. Made me think of mother; she's in Germany. Watered 'em mornin' an' night. Th' damned things died."

The oath slipped out with an artless unconsciousness, and there was a little moisture in his eyes. Kate felt she ought to bring the conversation to a close. She wondered what Jack would say if he saw her talking with a perfect stranger who used oaths! She would have gone into the house but for something that caught her eye. It was the hand of the man; that hand was a bludgeon. All grace and flexibility had gone out of it, and it had become a mere instrument of toil. It was seamed and misshapen; yet it had been carefully manicured, and the pointed nails looked fantastic and animal-like. A great seal-ring bore an elaborate monogram, while the little finger displayed a collection of diamonds and emeralds truly dazzling to behold. An impulse of humanity and a sort of artistic curiosity, much stronger than her discretion, urged Kate to continue her conversation.

"What were you doing up the gulch?" she said.

The man leaned back in his chair and regarded her a moment before answering. He realized the significance of her question. He took it as a sign that she was willing to be friendly. A look of gratitude, almost tender, sprang into his eyes, -- dull gray eyes, they were, with a kindliness for their only recommendation.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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