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In The Carquinez Woods Bret Harte

Chapter V

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"Naturally," suggested Curson.

"And turned himself out of his only shelter to give me a roof and covering," she continued mechanically, struggling with the new and horrible fancy that his words awakened.

"And thlept every night at Indian Thpring to save your reputation," said Curson. "Of courthe."

Teresa turned very white. Curson was prepared for an outburst of fury--perhaps even another attack. But the crushed and beaten woman only gazed at him with frightened and imploring eyes. "For God's sake, Dick, don't say that!"

The amiable cynic was staggered. His good-humor and a certain chivalrous instinct he could not repress got the better of him. He shrugged his shoulders. "What I thay, and what you DO, Teretha, needn't make us quarrel. I've no claim on you--I know it. Only--" a vivid sense of the ridiculous, powerful in men of his stamp, completed her victory--"only don't thay anything about my coming down here to cut you out from the--the--THE SHERIFF." He gave utterance to a short but unaffected laugh, made a slight grimace, and turned to go.

Teresa did not join in his mirth. Awkward as it would have been if he had taken a severer view of the subject, she was mortified even amidst her fears and embarrassment at his levity. Just as she had become convinced that his jealousy had made her over-conscious, his apparent good-humored indifference gave that over-consciousness a guilty significance. Yet this was lost in her sudden alarm as her companion, looking up, uttered an exclamation, and placed his hand upon his revolver. With a sinking conviction that the climax had come, Teresa turned her eyes. From the dim aisles beyond, Low was approaching. The catastrophe seemed complete.

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She had barely time to utter an imploring whisper: "In the name of God, not a word to him." But a change had already come over her companion. It was no longer a parley with a foolish woman; he had to deal with a man like himself. As Low's dark face and picturesque figure came nearer, Mr. Curson's proposed method of dealing with him was made audible.

"Ith it a mulatto or a Thircuth, or both?" he asked, with affected anxiety.

Low's Indian phlegm was impervious to such assault. He turned to Teresa, without apparently noticing her companion. "I turned back," he said quietly, "as soon as I knew there were strangers here; I thought you might need me." She noticed for the first time that, in addition to his rifle, he carried a revolver and hunting knife in his belt.

"Yeth," returned Curson, with an ineffectual attempt to imitate Low's phlegm; "but ath I didn't happen to be a sthranger to this lady, perhaps it wathn't nethethary, particularly ath I had two friends--"

"Waiting at the edge of the wood with a led horse," interrupted Low, without addressing him, but apparently continuing his explanation to Teresa. But she turned to Low with feverish anxiety.

"That's so--he is an old friend--" she gave a quick, imploring glance at Curson--"an old friend who came to help me away--he is very kind," she stammered, turning alternately from the one to the other; "but I told him there was no hurry--at least to-day-- that you--were--very good--too, and would hide me a little longer, until your plan--you know YOUR plan," she added, with a look of beseeching significance to Low--"could be tried." And then, with a helpless conviction that her excuses, motives, and emotions were equally and perfectly transparent to both men, she stopped in a tremble.

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In The Carquinez Woods
Bret Harte

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