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|Snow-Bound at Eagle's||Bret Harte|
|Page 2 of 9||
She turned away with a sigh. The sun was shining brilliantly outside. Through the half-open blinds its long shafts seemed to be searching the house for the lost guests, and making the hollow shell appear doubly empty. What a contrast to the dear dark days of mysterious seclusion and delicious security, lit by Lee's laughter and the sparkling hearth, which had passed so quickly! The forgotten outer world seemed to have returned to the house through those open windows and awakened its dwellers from a dream.
The morning seemed interminable, and it was past noon, while they were deep in a sympathetic conference with Mrs. Scott, who had drawn a pathetic word-picture of the two friends perishing in the snow-drift, without flannels, brandy, smelling-salts, or jelly, which they had forgotten, when they were startled by the loud barking of "Spot" on the lawn before the house. The women looked hurriedly at each other.
"They have returned," said Mrs. Hale.
Kate ran to the window. A horseman was approaching the house. A single glance showed her that it was neither Falkner, Lee, nor Hale, but a stranger.
"Perhaps he brings some news of them," said Mrs. Scott quickly. So complete had been their preoccupation with the loss of their guests that they could not yet conceive of anything that did not pertain to it.
The stranger, who was at once ushered into the parlor, was evidently disconcerted by the presence of the three women.
"I reckoned to see John Hale yer," he began, awkwardly.
A slight look of disappointment passed over their faces. "He has not yet returned," said Mrs. Hale briefly.
"Sho! I wanter know. He's hed time to do it, I reckon," said the stranger.
"I suppose he hasn't been able to get over from the Summit," returned Mrs. Hale. "The trail is closed."
"It ain't now, for I kem over it this mornin' myself."
"You didn't--meet--anyone?" asked Mrs. Hale timidly, with a glance at the others.
A long silence ensued. The unfortunate visitor plainly perceived an evident abatement of interest in himself, yet he still struggled politely to say something. "Then I reckon you know what kept Hale away?" he said dubiously.
"Oh, certainly--the stage robbery."
"I wish I'd known that," said the stranger reflectively, "for I ez good ez rode over jist to tell it to ye. Ye see John Hale, he sent a note to ye 'splainin' matters by a gentleman; but the road agents tackled that man, and left him for dead in the road."
"Yes," said Mrs. Hale impatiently.
"Luckily he didn't die, but kem to, and managed to crawl inter the brush, whar I found him when I was lookin' for stock, and brought him to my house--"
"YOU found him? YOUR house?" interrupted Mrs. Hale.
"Inter MY house," continued the man doggedly. "I'm Thompson of Thompson's Pass over yon; mebbe it ain't much of a house; but I brought him thar. Well, ez he couldn't find the note that Hale had guv him, and like ez not the road agents had gone through him and got it, ez soon ez the weather let up I made a break over yer to tell ye."
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