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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter VIII.

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"I am afraid I have taken you by surprise; but there was no time to arrange for a meeting, and the Lady Superior thought that I, who knew all the facts, had better see you confidentially. Father Cipriano gave us your address."

Amazed and wondering, Key bowed her to a seat.

"You will remember," she went on softly, "that the Lady Superior failed to get any information from you regarding the brother of one of our dear children, whom he committed to our charge through a--a companion or acquaintance--a Mrs. Barker. As she was armed with his authority by letter, we accepted the dear child through her, permitted her as his representative to have free access to his sister, and even allowed her, as an unattended woman, to pass the night at the convent. We were therefore surprised this morning to receive a letter from him, absolutely forbidding any further intercourse, correspondence, or association of his sister with this companion, Mrs. Barker. It was necessary to inform the dear child of this at once, as she was on the point of writing to this woman; but we were pained and shocked at her reception of her brother's wishes. I ought to say, in justice to the dear child, that while she is usually docile, intelligent, and tractable to discipline, and a devote in her religious feelings, she is singularly impulsive. But we were not prepared for the rash and sudden step she has taken. At noon to-day she escaped from the convent!"

Key, who had been following her with relief, sprang to his feet at this unexpected culmination.

"Escaped!" he said. "Impossible! I mean," he added, hurriedly recalling himself, "your rules, your discipline, your attendants are so perfect."

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"The poor impulsive creature has added sacrilege to her madness--a sacrilege we are willing to believe she did not understand, for she escaped in a religious habit--my own."

"But this would sufficiently identify her," he said, controlling himself with an effort.

"Alas, not so! There are many of us who go abroad on our missions in these garments, and they are made all alike, so as to divert rather than attract attention to any individuality. We have sent private messengers in all directions, and sought her everywhere, but without success. You will understand that we wish to avoid scandal, which a more public inquiry would create."

"And you come to me," said Key, with a return of his first suspicion, in spite of his eagerness to cut short the interview and be free to act,--"to me, almost a stranger?"

"Not a stranger, Mr. Key," returned the religieuse gently, "but to a well-known man--a man of affairs in the country where this unhappy child's brother lives--a friend who seems to be sent by Heaven to find out this brother for us, and speed this news to him. We come to the old pupil of Father Cipriano, a friend of the Holy Church; to the kindly gentleman who knows what it is to have dear relations of his own, and who only yesterday was seeking the convent to"--

"Enough!" interrupted Key hurriedly, with a slight color. "I will go at once. I do not know this man, but I will do my best to find him. And this--this--young girl? You say you have no trace of her? May she not still be here? I should have some clue by which to seek her--I mean that I could give to her brother."

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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