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Painted Windows Elia W. Peattie


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We had been out two weeks without failing once to eat at a proper table or to sleep in a comfortable bed. Sometimes we put up at the stark-looking hotels that loomed, raw and uninviting, in the larger towns; sometimes we had the pleasure of being welcomed at a little inn, where the host showed us a personal hospitality; but oftener we were forced to make ourselves "paying guests" at some house. We cared nothing whether we slept in the spare rooms of a fine frame "residence" or crept into bed beneath the eaves of the attic in a log cabin. I had begun to feel that our journey would be almost too tame and comfortable, when one night something really happened.

Father lost his bearings. He was hoping to reach the town of Gratiot by nightfall, and he attempted to make a short cut. To do this he turned into a road that wound through a magnificent forest, at first of oak and butternut, ironwood and beech, then of densely growing pines. When we entered the wood it was twilight, but no sooner were we well within the shadow of these sombre trees than we were plunged in darkness, and within half an hour this darkness deepened, so that we could see nothing -- not even the horse.

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"The sun doesn't get in here the year round," said father, trying his best to guide the horse through the mire. So deep was the mud that it seemed as if it literally sucked at the legs of the horse and the wheels of the buggy, and I began to wonder if we should really be swallowed, and to fear that we had met with a difficulty that even my father could not overcome. I can hardly make plain what a tragic thought that was! The horse began to give out sighs and groans, and in the intervals of his struggles to get on, I could feel him trembling. There was a note of anxiety in father's voice as he called out, with all the authority and cheer he could command, to poor Sheridan. The wind was rising, and the long sobs of the pines made cold shivers run up my spine. My teeth chattered, partly from cold, but more from fright.

"What are we going to do?" I asked, my voice quivering with tears.

"Well, we aren't going to cry, whatever else we do!" answered father, rather sharply. He snatched the lighted lantern from its place on the dashboard and leaped out into the road. I could hear him floundering round in that terrible mire and soothing the horse. The next thing I realised was that the horse was unhitched, that father had -- for the first time during our journey -- laid the lash across Sheridan's back, and that, with a leap of indignation, the horse had reached the firm ground of the roadside. Father called out to him to stand still, and a moment later I found myself being swung from the buggy into father's arms. He staggered along, plunging and almost falling, and presently I, too, stood beneath the giant pines.

"One journey more," said father, "for our supper, and then we'll bivouac right here."

Now that I was away from the buggy that was so familiar to me, and that seemed like a little movable piece of home, I felt, as I had not felt before, the vastness of the solitude. Above me in the rising wind tossed the tops of the singing trees; about me stretched the soft blackness; and beneath the dense, interlaced branches it was almost as calm and still as in a room. I could see that the clouds were breaking and the stars beginning to come out, and that comforted me a little.

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Painted Windows
Elia W. Peattie

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