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|In The Carquinez Woods||Bret Harte|
|Page 2 of 11||
The woman's voice again broke into a hoarse, contemptuous laugh. The man resumed angrily:--
"If you know anything, why in h-ll don't you say so, instead of cackling like a d--d squaw there? P'raps you reckon you ken find the trail too."
"Take this rope off my wrist," said the woman's voice, "untie my hands, let me down, and I'll find it." She spoke quickly and with a Spanish accent.
It was the men's turn to laugh. "And give you a show to snatch that six-shooter and blow a hole through me, as you did to the Sheriff of Calaveras, eh? Not if this court understands itself," said the first speaker dryly.
"Go to the devil, then," she said curtly.
"Not before a lady," responded the other. There was another laugh from the men, the spurs jingled again, the three torches reappeared from behind the tree, and then passed away in the darkness.
For a time silence and immutability possessed the woods; the great trunks loomed upwards, their fallen brothers stretched their slow length into obscurity. The sound of breathing again became audible; the shape reappeared in the aisle, and recommenced its mystic dance. Presently it was lost in the shadow of the largest tree, and to the sound of breathing succeeded a grating and scratching of bark. Suddenly, as if riven by lightning, a flash broke from the center of the tree-trunk, lit up the woods, and a sharp report rang through it. After a pause the jingling of spurs and the dancing of torches were revived from the distance.
"Who fired that shot?"
But there was no reply. A slight veil of smoke passed away to the right, there was the spice of gunpowder in the air, but nothing more.
The torches came forward again, but this time it could be seen they were held in the hands of two men and a woman. The woman's hands were tied at the wrist to the horse-hair reins of her mule, while a riata, passed around her waist and under the mule's girth, was held by one of the men, who were both armed with rifles and revolvers. Their frightened horses curveted, and it was with difficulty they could be made to advance.
"Ho! stranger, what are you shooting at?"
The woman laughed and shrugged her shoulders. "Look yonder at the roots of the tree. You're a d--d smart man for a sheriff, ain't you?"
The man uttered an exclamation and spurred his horse forward, but the animal reared in terror. He then sprang to the ground and approached the tree. The shape lay there, a scarcely distinguishable bulk.
"A grizzly, by the living Jingo! Shot through the heart."
It was true. The strange shape lit up by the flaring torches seemed more vague, unearthly, and awkward in its dying throes, yet the small shut eyes, the feeble nose, the ponderous shoulders, and half-human foot armed with powerful claws were unmistakable. The men turned by a common impulse and peered into the remote recesses of the wood again.
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|In The Carquinez Woods
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