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The Postmistress Of Laurel Run
by [?]


The mail stage had just passed Laurel Run,–so rapidly that the whirling cloud of dust dragged with it down the steep grade from the summit hung over the level long after the stage had vanished, and then, drifting away, slowly sifted a red precipitate over the hot platform of the Laurel Run post-office.

Out of this cloud presently emerged the neat figure of the postmistress with the mailbag which had been dexterously flung at her feet from the top of the passing vehicle. A dozen loungers eagerly stretched out their hands to assist her, but the warning: “It’s agin the rules, boys, for any but her to touch it,” from a bystander, and a coquettish shake of the head from the postmistress herself–much more effective than any official interdict–withheld them. The bag was not heavy,–Laurel Run was too recent a settlement to have attracted much correspondence,–and the young woman, having pounced upon her prey with a certain feline instinct, dragged it, not without difficulty, behind the partitioned inclosure in the office, and locked the door. Her pretty face, momentarily visible through the window, was slightly flushed with the exertion, and the loose ends of her fair hair, wet with perspiration, curled themselves over her forehead into tantalizing little rings. But the window shutter was quickly closed, and this momentary but charming vision withdrawn from the waiting public.

“Guv’ment oughter have more sense than to make a woman pick mail-bags outer the road,” said Jo Simmons sympathetically. “‘Tain’t in her day’s work anyhow; Guv’mont oughter hand ’em over to her like a lady; it’s rich enough and ugly enough.”

“‘Tain’t Guv’ment; it’s that stage company’s airs and graces,” interrupted a newcomer. “They think it mighty fine to go beltin’ by, makin’ everybody take their dust, just because STOPPIN’ ain’t in their contract. Why, if that expressman who chucked down the bag had any feelin’s for a lady”–but he stopped here at the amused faces of his auditors.

“Guess you don’t know much o’ that expressman’s feelin’s, stranger,” said Simmons grimly. “Why, you oughter see him just nussin’ that bag like a baby as he comes tearin’ down the grade, and then rise up and sorter heave it to Mrs. Baker ez if it was a five-dollar bokay! His feelin’s for her! Why, he’s give himself so dead away to her that we’re looking for him to forget what he’s doin’ next, and just come sailin’ down hisself at her feet.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the partition, Mrs. Baker had brushed the red dust from the padlocked bag, and removed what seemed to be a supplementary package attached to it by a wire. Opening it she found a handsome scent-bottle, evidently a superadded gift from the devoted expressman. This she put aside with a slight smile and the murmured word, “Foolishness.” But when she had unlocked the bag, even its sacred interior was also profaned by a covert parcel from the adjacent postmaster at Burnt Ridge, containing a gold “specimen” brooch and some circus tickets. It was laid aside with the other. This also was vanity and–presumably–vexation of spirit.

There were seventeen letters in all, of which five were for herself–and yet the proportion was small that morning. Two of them were marked “Official Business” and were promptly put by with feminine discernment; but in another compartment than that holding the presents. Then the shutter was opened, and the task of delivery commenced.

It was accompanied with a social peculiarity that had in time become a habit of Laurel Run. As the young woman delivered the letters, in turn, to the men who were patiently drawn up in Indian file, she made that simple act a medium of privileged but limited conversation on special or general topics,–gay or serious as the case might be, or the temperament of the man suggested. That it was almost always of a complimentary character on their part may be readily imagined; but it was invariably characterized by an element of refined restraint, and, whether from some implied understanding or individual sense of honour, it never passed the bounds of conventionality or a certain delicacy of respect. The delivery was consequently more or less protracted, but when each man had exchanged his three or four minutes’ conversation with the fair postmistress,–a conversation at times impeded by bashfulness or timidity, on his part solely, or restricted often to vague smiling,–he resignedly made way for the next. It was a formal levee, mitigated by the informality of rustic tact, great good-humor, and infinite patience, and would have been amusing had it not always been terribly in earnest and at times touching. For it was peculiar to the place and the epoch, and indeed implied the whole history of Mrs. Baker.