Elia Peattie, an Uncommon Woman


Omaha World-Herald | Short Stories of the West | Ghost Stories | Short Novels | Children's Stories | Miscellaneous


(Elia W. Peattie.)

In the Chicago Tribune of last Sunday there were three beautiful Nebraska sketches written by a Nebraska woman, Mrs. Kate McPhelim Cleary. Since the readers of this column must grow very weary of the same pen, by way of happy variety one of Mrs. Cleary's sketches is printed below:


"Thou Art Mated with a Clown."

The old man's grim face was full of amazement when his son finished speaking. It was not often that the boy talked out, not often, indeed, that he exchanged an avoidable word with his father. The latter was gaunt, leathern-skinned, hook-nosed, a tuft of yellowish gray whiskers on his chin, and a crafty sparkle in his narrow eyes.

"So," he said, in a voice of irritation, "you're a-goin' to git married! I notice ye didn't ask if ye kin."

The young man, his brown, clean-shaven, straight-featured face set with reserve and resolution, looked at the elder.

"I am of age—and I have talked it over with mother."

"Yer mother!"

The contempt in the tone stung him who heard.

"Yes," very quietly. "Have you anything to say?"

"Not 'less I give you a bit of advice," the old man replied, with a chuckle. "See here, now. Don't let her git enny nonsense in her head in the beginning.' Squelch it then an' thar, an' ye'll have peace in yer life, an' prosper like I've done. It's Alty Greaves ye're wantin'—a girl that has been to boardin' school and hes got a pianny, an' ben set up by her folks, as it were. Ye'll have to git the whip hand of her at first—that's what I done with yer mother."

There was silence in the room. It was a disagreeable silence, and a decidedly unpleasant room. The "best room" to be sure, but not on that account less—perhaps more—repellant and ugly. The floor was covered with yellow and red oil cloth, the walls were "alabastined" an underdone pink, the heater stood in its accustomed place, although the August dust was sifting in at the loose casement, the shelf over the organ held some framed photographs and hymn books, wooden chairs were ranged rigidly against the wall; a picture on the wall, framed in silver gilt, represented a horse belonging to the master of the house, a horse that had once won third money at a country fair, another picture represented adamantine fruit, the original fervent tones of which had been reduced to a mellow monotone by years. Looking through the small window on the north one's gaze collided with a huge red barn, through that on the east one looked on a barren tract of sunbaked earth.

"Yer mother had lots of queer notions when she come here," continued the old man. "Her folks were well off. She'd been brought up in a city and eddicated. One thing, she'd a hankerin' fer pretty clothes. Not that she wanted silk and velvet like Hawkin's wife, an' their farm ain't but a quarter section, but she'd be fer havin' white stuff at her neck of a mornin', an' puttin' on another gownd by the time it come evenin', an' sech ridicklous notions. Then she wanted to take a magazine. What'd we want a magazine fer? I was a-takin' the Gilead Register—the paper of the place I come from—the Farmer's Friend, an' the Police Enterprise, so I didn't see no need fer a magazine. That was one of the first differences. Then she wanted to have her ma come an' stay a spell the winter you were born. But, law, I says, they's old Sally Tankles, who'll be glad to come for a dollar an' a half a week. What's the use of bein' at the expense of havin' yer ma, fer I expect she'd look to you to pay her way out. Her ma took bad not long after. They telegrapht yer ma—sech waste! She wanted to go. But I joked her out of it. Never said a word to rile her, but jest 'lowed as how she couldn't hold death back, and folks had to go when their creator called 'em, an' she'd better remember her ma like she'd seen her last. Her ma died. Yet mother didn't git over that for a long spell—seems sometimes like she never got over it plum, ye know. But she ain't made much fuss. She knows a man's got to run his own house an' his own folks. Once she got an idea she wanted a carpet in the best room, but I told her ez how oilcloth 'ud wash. She'd not have had the alabastine ef I hadn't vowed I thought it kinder, cheerful. Them pictures, too! I made her swallow the fac' they was good enough for me! That settled it."

His voice, coarse in self-adulation, jarred harshly on the harsh silence.

"'Nother time," he went on retrospectively, "she set her heart on gettin' a pianny. She'd been in foreign parts with her folks when she was a girl an' had studied music. But I set my foot down on that. She might git a organ, I told her, if she could manage to make the price of it out'n her butter an' egg money. That wouldn't cost sech a heap. We did git one—but she ain't never teched it. One thing she did git ter have her way in—that was eddicatin' you. I didn't hold out agin that after we'd had more'n a couple o'talks. Eddicatin', I say, don't hurt a man, but a woman ain't got no use fer it. All her'n never done yer mother no good. 'Twas only after she quit talkin' of readin' an' goin' back east some time an' havin' a flower garding an' sech fool talk ez that, I begun to feel right comfortable. You want to break in Alty well at the first. We git along right pleasant now—don't we, mother?"

A woman who had been beautiful, a woman with a twitching, nervous face, sunken, glittering eyes, and tremulous, toil-worn hands, rose stiffly from her chair at the window—the window that looked out on the stretch of arid earth. She laughed a bitter, fleeting laugh.

"I haven't gone mad," she said, though I feared I would. I haven't died—though I hoped I might. Yes, I've been broken in. I hope you're proud of it. As for my son's wife"—

The boy met her glance flashingly. "Never fear, mother!" that look said. She left the room. Her husband gazed uneasily after her. "Mother," he remarked, "seems a bit upset. But she ain't got nothin' to complain on. She's allus had shelter an' enough to eat."

"Your cattle have had that."

"See here! You be goin' to take my advice about Alty, ain't you? You be goin' to treat her foolish notions like I done mother's?"

The young man clenched his hands hard. Words of fierce indignation sprang to his lips, but trembled there unuttered. He turned abruptly and went out. He found his mother in the kitchen. She looked up at him timidly. He bent and kissed her with passionate reverence. Her answering smile was almost one of happiness.

Omaha World-Herald, 3 June 1895, 8

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