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|In a Hollow of the Hills||Bret Harte|
|Page 6 of 9||
"He was off agin!"
"Thinkin' of that wife of his."
"What about his wife?" asked Key, lowering his voice also.
The three men's heads were close together.
"When Collinson fixed up this mill he sent for his wife in the States," said Uncle Dick, in a half whisper, "waited a year for her, hanging round and boarding every emigrant wagon that came through the Pass. She didn't come--only the news that she was dead." He paused and nudged his chair still closer--the heads were almost touching. "They say, over in the Bar"--his voice had sunk to a complete whisper--"that it was a lie! That she ran away with the man that was fetchin' her out. Three thousand miles and three weeks with another man upsets some women. But HE knows nothing about it, only he sometimes kinder goes off looney-like, thinking of her." He stopped, the heads separated; Collinson had appeared at the doorway, his melancholy patience apparently unchanged.
"Grub's on, gentlemen; sit by and eat."
The humble meal was dispatched with zest and silence. A few interjectional remarks about the uncertainties of prospecting only accented the other pauses. In ten minutes they were out again by the fireplace with their lit pipes. As there were only three chairs, Collinson stood beside the chimney.
"Collinson," said Uncle Dick, after the usual pause, taking his pipe from his lips, "as we've got to get up and get at sun-up, we might as well tell you now that we're dead broke. We've been living for the last few weeks on Preble Key's loose change--and that's gone. You'll have to let this little account and damage stand over."
Collinson's brow slightly contracted, without, however, altering his general expression of resigned patience.
"I'm sorry for you, boys," he said slowly, "and" (diffidently) "kinder sorry for myself, too. You see, I reckoned on goin' over to Skinner's to-morrow, to fill up the pork bar'l and vote for Mesick and the wagon-road. But Skinner can't let me have anything more until I've paid suthin' on account, as he calls it."
"D'ye mean to say thar's any mountain man as low flung and mean as that?" said Uncle Dick indignantly.
"But it isn't HIS fault," said Collinson gently; "you see, they won't send him goods from Sacramento if he don't pay up, and he CAN'T if I DON'T. Sabe?"
"Ah! that's another thing. They ARE mean--in Sacramento," said Uncle Dick, somewhat mollified.
The other guests murmured an assent to this general proposition. Suddenly Uncle Dick's face brightened.
"Look here! I know Skinner, and I'll stop there-- No, blank it all! I can't, for it's off my route! Well, then, we'll fix it this way. Key will go there and tell Skinner that I say that I'LL send the money to that Sacramento hound. That'll fix it!"
Collinson's brow cleared; the solution of the difficulty seemed to satisfy everybody, and the close-shaven man smiled.
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|In a Hollow of the Hills
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