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A Mountain Woman and Other Stories

the western tribes, which was quite the most civilized place for hundreds of miles, life
was uncertain when the boats came from St. Louis with bad whiskey in their holds. But
no one dared take liberties with the holy father. The thrust from his shoulder was straight
and sure, and his fist was hard.
Yet it was not the sinner that Father de Smet meant to crush. He always supplemented his
acts of physical prowess with that explanation. It was the sin that he struck at from the
shoulder -- and may not even an anointed one strike at sin?
Father de Smet could draw a fine line, too, between the things which were bad in
themselves, and the things which were only extrinsically bad. For example, there were
the soups of Mademoiselle Ninon. Mam'selle herself was not above reproach, but her
soups were. Mademoiselle Ninon was the only Parisian thing in the settlement. And she
was certainly to be avoided -- which was perhaps the reason that no one avoided her. It
was four years since she had seen Paris. She was sixteen then, and she followed the
fortunes of a certain adventurer who found it advisable to sail for Montreal. Ninon had
been bored back in Paris, it being dull in the mantua-making shop of Madame Guittar. If
she had been a man she would have taken to navigation, and might have made herself
famous by sailing to some unknown part of the New World. Being a woman, she took a
lover who was going to New France, and forgot to weep when he found an early and
violent death. And there were others at hand, and Ninon sailed around the cold blue lakes,
past Sault St. Marie, and made her way across the portages to the Mississippi, and so
down to the sacred rock of St. Louis. That was a merry place. Ninon had fault to find
neither with the wine nor the dances. They were all that one could have desired, and there
was no limit to either of them. But still, after a time, even this grew tiresome to one of
Ninon's spirit, and she took the first opportunity to sail up the Missouri with a certain
young trapper connected with the great fur company, and so found herself at Cainsville,
with the blue bluffs rising to the east of her, and the low white stretches of the river flats
undulating down to where the sluggish stream wound its way southward capriciously.
Ninon soon tired of her trapper. For one thing she found out that he was a coward. She
saw him run once in a buffalo fight. That was when the Pawnee stood still with a blanket
stretched wide in a gaudy square, and caught the head of the mad animal fairly in the
tough fabric; his mustang's legs trembled under him, but he did not move, -- for a
mustang is the soul of an Indian, and obeys each thought; the Indian himself felt his heart
pounding at his ribs; but once with that garment fast over the baffled eyes of the
struggling brute, the rest was only a matter of judicious knifethrusts. Ninon saw this. She
rode past her lover, and snatched the twisted bullion cord from his hat that she had
braided and put there, and that night she tied it on the hat of the Pawnee who had killed
the buffalo.
The Pawnees were rather proud of the episode, and as for the Frenchmen, they did not
mind. The French have always been very adaptable in America. Ninon was universally
popular.
And so were her soups.
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