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The Cold Girl from Bald Mountain
One day I got a telegram at Tamworth to hurry to Tweed to attend Division Court there on a case I knew all about.
It was in January, and cold. Well, cold ain't no name for it. It was thirty below if a point, and I wrapped up for the occasion. I had one of them old-fashioned Scotch shawls — about twenty feet long an' four wide, you know; lots of people had 'em them days, and this shawl I wrapped 'round my shoulders an' body over my ulster, so that the cold didn't have much chance to get at me. I wore a warm pair of woolen gloves, and over them a heavy pair of fur gloves with big gauntlets, but even then my hands would grow numb if I didn't keep poundin' 'em on my knees. I had a rattlin' good horse for a long, fast trip; as tough a beast an' as brave-hearted as ever drew a cutter out of a pitch-hole without stickin' his heels through the dasher.
But he had one fault: He interfered bad, and whenever he struck, it evidently hurt the poor cuss, for he'd go off on three legs for a spell like a dog. It used to make me awful mad, for he'd be sure to make an exhibition of himself just when we was enterin' a village, and I was sensitive about my rigs always. Pads or nothin' 'ud do him any good, until I hit upon the plan of givin' him one hard swipe with the whip along the back the moment he struck. This did all very well for a time, and then a worse evil resulted. He come to know that a swipe of the whip follered each strike, and to avoid this, the moment his heels knocked together he'd dart into the air like a cannon ball an' run for all he was worth, until he felt certain the whip had been forgotten.
He was a good, game horse, but he did have his faults.
Well, this day I left Tamworth in the early mornin' an' started due north for Tweed. The sun shone round an' yellow as a gold dollar, and with no more warmth in it than a pancake three days old. The snow was very deep an' the road full of pitch-holes, so it kept me well shaken up.
About two miles this side of a little Irish village I come upon a girl walkin' in the same direction I was goin'. She stepped out into the snow to let me pass, but I hauled up, and throwin' down the buffalo robe, said curtly: —
"Jump in if you want a ride."
She wasn't slow in complyin', and I drove on without another word. I had my face wound 'round with a muffler, so that I could only see straight ahead, and I didn't feel much like talkin'.
When we'd left the village behind us, I asked her where she was goin'. She named a settlement some ten miles further along.
"Where've you come from?" I asked again.
"From the Bald Mountings," says she, in a low voice.
"Dum cold place!" says I.
"It is," says she; "very cold at the Mounting."
"Walked?" says I.
"Yessir — all the way," says she.
"Been workin' out?" says I.
"No — goin' to," says she.
"Hard times at the Mountain?" I says.
"Awful hard," says she, and shivered. Then I felt her shake all over. I looked at her in the face. She wasn't bad-lookin' by a jug full, but her lips was blue an' her teeth was chatterin'.
"Great Scott! "says I, "you're freezin' to death!"
" I AM cold," says she.
I unwound the Scotch shawl from about me, and biddin' her stand up, I wrapped that shawl about her from her head to her knees. Then I gave her my inside pair of mittens, and she looked more comfortable.
I drove on for a few miles in silence, and then inquired: —
"Fine an' warm now," says she.
I could see her eyes glistenin' above the shawl. Over the hills we went, the snow cracklin' like breakin' glass. Gosh! it was terrible cold! How that girl had endured to walk all the way from Bald Mountain in a thin calico gown, with a half-worn pair of mittens an' light boots, was more'n I could tell.
"She's good grit," I thought, for she sat there beside me an' would have frozen stiff before sayin' she was cold.
"They grow good stock at the Bald Mountain," I said to myself, and at that moment my horse struck. In a second he sprung forward, crazy with pain an' fear. I saw my companion fly back over the seat like a stone from a catapult. But I had no time to think of her fate, for in a moment more the cutter struck a pitch-hole an' I found myself sprawlin' in the snow.
I quickly pulled myself together an' started back to look up my lady from Bald Mountain. I didn't worry about the horse. He'd prob'ly stop after he got tired.
Now, say! I don't want you to laugh, for it really was no laughin' matter. Remember, the girl was poor an' was goin' to work out. I did laugh, myself, I must own; but I hadn't oughter.
You know, she was all tied up in that shawl, wound 'round an' 'round like a 'Gyptian mummy, her arms close to her sides.
Well, when she was jerked backwards out of the cutter she reversed, so to speak, and come down head on, right into the soft, fleecy snow, sinkin' in almost to her knees. That was the condition in which I found her. One foot hung down kinder helpless like, but the other stuck up in the air there like a signal of distress, and feebly twisted about. Darned if it wasn't one of the comicalest things you ever see! There she was — stuck like a post in the snow, and it didn't take me many seconds to get her out.
I just grabbed her 'bout the legs an' yanked. She came out kerflop, but just about smothered. She'd had on a straw hat with a narrow rim an' one red feather, and now all that was to be seen of this hat was the rim, and this was about her neck.
I stood her up an' dug the snow out of her face an' hair. All the time I could hear her mumblin' behind the shawl. Then I unwound her, and no sooner was her arms free than she grabbed that shawl, and slammin' it down in the road, stamped on it, her eyes flashin'.
"You villain!" she cried. "You did it a-purpose!"
"For the love of Heaven!" says I, "be calm. What in the world is the matter with you?"
"You did it a-purpose!" she fairly yelled again.
"Did what a-purpose?" says I.
"You villain!" she snorted. "Wrappin' me' round an' 'round with that shawl just so I'd be throwed out an' make a show of myself! "
The joke of the thing struck me all of a sudden. She thought I'd deliberately upset her in the snow. I laughed aloud, and this made her so mad that she fairly danced.
"Where is my hat? " she cried — "where is my feather?"
I pointed to the rim about her neck. This fresh disaster made her more furious.
"Find my feather!" she moaned. "Find my pretty feather!"
I crawled into the hole she made in the snow bank, and after a bit rescued the feather. She snatched it from my hand angrily. I tried to pacify her, but she wouldn't have it. She wouldn't wear the shawl. She threw my gloves at me, and swore she'd freeze, but she would go no further with me.
I saw it was no use, so I picked up my poor shawl and gloves, and like the perpetrator of some great crime, slunk away from offended innocence. The girl really was a terrible fool.
I found my horse all right — about a quarter of a mile ahead — he havin' been stopped by a wood-sleigh.
About two years after that I happened to be in Tweed one day, when a woman with a broad grin on her face stopped me on the street an' said: —
"Don't you know who I be?"
"You've got me there," says I.
"I'm the girl from Bald Mountings," says she, showin' her teeth.
Say! It's a caution what wonderful teeth you'll find in the back townships.
"That may be," says I, "but I'm unacquainted with the aristocracy of that locality," I says in a good-natured tone.
"Don't you remember the ride we had that cold winter's day?" says she, and looked fair into my face.
It come to me like a flash. She watched the smile come into my eyes, an' I remembered the occasion.
"I thought you was pretty mad with me," says I, with a grin.
"I was, for a long time," says she, "but I made up my mind, after a bit, it wasn't your fault, and that you was really very kind to me."
"How did you ever get out of there alive ?" says I.
"I did freeze my ears," she says, " but I footed it all the way."
"Workin' here?" I inquired.
"No, I'm married now," says she, without the least bashfulness. "My man runs a livery stable, and he says he knows you real well. When I told him, he says: 'Yes, I know George, — everybody knows George. There ain't the least particle of harm in George. He only likes a good joke.' "
Then I thought of that left foot twistin' about in the air, and I come to the conclusion that her man had sized me up about right.