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The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

VII Night And A Voice

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As my horse settled down to work, picking his way, now here and now there, sometimes over the brown earth, hard and baked as in a thousand furnaces, and sometimes over the stunted grass whose needle-like stalks seemed never to have known moisture, I let my eyes roam to such peaks as were not cut off from view by the nearer hillsides, and wondered whether the snow which capped them was whiter than any other or the blue of the sky bluer, that the two together had the effect upon me of cameo work on a huge and unapproachable scale.

Certainly the effect of these grand mountains, into which you leap without any preparation from the streets and market-places of America's oldest city, is such as is not easily described.

We struck water now and then,--narrow water--courses which my horse followed in mid stream, and, more interesting yet, goatherds with their flocks, Mexicans all, who seemed to understand no English, but were picturesque enough to look at and a welcome break in the extreme lonesomeness of the way.

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I had been told that they would serve me as guides if I felt at all doubtful of the trail, and in one or two instances they proved to be of decided help. They could gesticulate, if they could not speak English, and when I tried them with the one word Placide they would nod and point out which of the many side canyons I was to follow. But they always looked up as they did so, up, up, till I took to looking up, too, and when, after miles multiplied indefinitely by the winding of the trail, I came out upon a ledge from which a full view of the opposite range could be had, and saw fronting me, from the side of one of its tremendous peaks, the gap of a vast hole not two hundred feet from the snowline, I knew that, inaccessible as it looked, I was gazing up at the opening of Abner Fairbrother's new mine, the Placide.

The experience was a strange one. The two ranges approached so nearly that it seemed as if a ball might be tossed from one to the other. But the chasm between was stupendous. I grew dizzy as I looked downward and saw the endless zigzags yet to be traversed step by step before the bottom of the canyon could be reached, and then the equally interminable zigzags up the acclivity beyond, all of which I must trace, still step by step, before I could hope to arrive at the camp which, from where I stood, looked to be almost within hail of my voice.

I have described the mine as a hole. That was all I saw at first--a great black hole in the dark brown earth of the mountain-side, from which ran down a still darker streak into the waste places far below it. But as I looked longer I saw that it was faced by a ledge cut out of the friable soil, on which I was now able to descry the pronounced white of two or three tent-tops and some other signs of life, encouraging enough to the eye of one whose lot it was to crawl like a fly up that tremendous mountain-side.

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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