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In The Carquinez Woods Bret Harte

Chapter VIII

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"I reckon that wasn't much like either you or me," said Dunn slowly, "was it? But if you'd let me drop then you'd have stretched out the biggest fool in the Sierras." He paused, and looked at her curiously. "What's come over you; blessed if I seem to know you now."

She was very pale again, and quiet; that was all.

"Teresa! d--n it, look here! When I was laid up yonder in Excelsior I said I wanted to get well for only two things. One was to hunt you down, the other to marry Nellie Wynn. When I came here I thought that last thing could never be. I came here expecting to find her here with Low, and kill him--perhaps kill her too. I never once thought of you; not once. You might have risen up before me--between me and him--and I'd have passed you by. And now that I find it's all a mistake, and it was you, not her, I was looking for, why--"

"Why," she interrupted bitterly, "you'll just take me, of course, to save your time and earn your salary. I'm ready."

"But I'M not, just yet," he said faintly. "Help me up."

She mechanically assisted him to his feet.

"Now stand where you are," he added, "and don't move beyond this tree till I return."

He straightened himself with an effort, clenched his fists until the nails were nearly buried in his palms, and strode with a firm, steady step in the direction he had come. In a few moments he returned and stood before her.

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"I've sent away my deputy--the man who brought me here, the fool who thought you were Nellie. He knows now he made a mistake. But who it was he mistook for Nellie he does not know, nor shall ever know, nor shall any living being know, other than myself. And when I leave the wood to-day I shall know it no longer. You are safe here as far as I am concerned, but I cannot screen you from others prying. Let Low take you away from here as soon as he can."

"Let him take me away? Ah, yes. For what?"

"To save you," said Dunn. "Look here, Teresa! Without knowing it, you lifted me out of hell just now, and because of the wrong I might have done her--for HER sake, I spare you and shirk my duty."

"For her sake!" gasped the woman--"for her sake! Oh, yes! Go on."

"Well," said Dunn gloomily, "I reckon perhaps you'd as lieve left me in hell, for all the love you bear me. And may be you've grudge enough agin me still to wish I'd found her and him together."

"You think so?" she said, turning her head away.

"There, d--n it! I didn't mean to make you cry. May be you wouldn't, then. Only tell that fellow to take you out of this, and not run away the next time he sees a man coming."

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In The Carquinez Woods
Bret Harte

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