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Painted Windows Elia W. Peattie


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Father was keeping up a stream of cheerful talk.

"Now, sir," he was saying to Sheridan, "stand still while I get this harness off you. I'll tie you and blanket you, and you can lie or stand as you please. Here's your nose-bag, with some good supper in it, and if you don't have drink, it's not my fault. Anyway, it isn't so long since you got a good nip at the creek."

I was watching by the faint light of the lantern, and noticing how unnatural father and Sheridan looked. They seemed to be blocked out in a rude kind of way, like some wooden toys I had at home.

"Here we are," said father, "like Robinson Crusoes. It was hard luck for Robinson, not having his little girl along. He'd have had her to pick up sticks and twigs to make a fire, and that would have been a great help to him."

Father began breaking fallen branches over his knee, and I groped round and filled my arms again and again with little fagots. So after a few minutes we had a fine fire crackling in a place where it could not catch the branches of the trees. Father had scraped the needles of the pines together in such a way that a bare rim of earth was left all around the fire, so that it could not spread along the ground; and presently the coffee-pot was over the fire and bacon was sizzling in the frying-pan. The good, hearty odours came out to mingle with the delicious scent of the pines, and I, setting out our dishes, began to feel a happiness different from anything I had ever known.

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Pioneers and wanderers and soldiers have joys of their own -- joys of which I had heard often enough, for there had been more stories told than read in our house. But now for the first time I knew what my grandmother and my uncles had meant when they told me about the way they had come into the wilderness, and about the great happiness and freedom of those first days. I, too, felt this freedom, and it seemed to me as if I never again wanted walls to close in on me. All my fear was gone, and I felt wild and glad. I could not believe that I was only a little girl. I felt taller even than my father.

Father's mood was like mine in a way. He had memories to add to his emotion, but then, on the other hand, he lacked the sense of discovery I had, for he had known often such feelings as were coming to me for the first time. When he was a young man he had been a colporteur for the American Bible Society among the Lake Superior Indians, and in that way had earned part of the money for his course at the University of Michigan; afterward he had gone with other gold-seekers to Pike's Peak, and had crossed the plains with oxen, in the company of many other adventurers; then, when President Lincoln called for troops, he had returned to enlist with the Michigan men, and had served more than three years with McClellan and Grant.

So, naturally, there was nothing he did not know about making himself comfortable in the open. He knew all the sorrow and all the joy of the homeless man, and now, as he cooked, he began to sing the old songs -- "Marching Through Georgia," and "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie," and "In the Prison Cell I Sit." He had been in a Southern prison after the Battle of the Wilderness, and so he knew how to sing that song with particular feeling.

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Painted Windows
Elia W. Peattie

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