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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter VIII.

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"Alas! we fear she is already far away from here. If she went at once to San Luis, she could have easily taken a train to San Francisco before we discovered her flight. We believe that it was the poor child's intent to join her brother, so as to intercede for her friend--or, perhaps, alas! to seek her."

"And this friend left yesterday morning?" he said quickly, yet concealing a feeling of relief. "Well, you may depend on me! And now, as there is no time to be lost, I will make my arrangements to take the next train." He held out his hand, paused, and said in almost boyish embarrassment: "Bid me God speed, Sister Seraphina!"

"May the Holy Virgin aid you," she said gently. Yet, as she passed out of the door, with a grateful smile, a characteristic reaction came over Key. His romantic belief in the interposition of Providence was not without a tendency to apply the ordinary rules of human evidence to such phenomena. Sister Seraphina's application to him seemed little short of miraculous interference; but what if it were only a trick to get rid of him, while the girl, whose escapade had been discovered, was either under restraint in the convent, or hiding in Santa Luisa? Yet this did not prevent him from mechanically continuing his arrangements for departure. When they were completed, and he had barely time to get to the station at San Luis, he again lingered in vague expectation of some determining event.

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The appearance of a servant with a telegraphic message at this moment seemed to be an answer to this instinctive feeling. He tore it open hastily. But it was only a single line from his foreman at the mine, which had been repeated to him from the company's office in San Francisco. It read, "Come at once--important."

Disappointed as it left him, it determined his action; and as the train steamed out of San Luis, it for a while diverted his attention from the object of his pursuit. In any event, his destination would have been Skinner's or the Hollow, as the point from which to begin his search. He believed with Sister Seraphina that the young girl would make her direct appeal to her brother; but even if she sought Mrs. Barker, it would still be at some of the haunts of the gang. The letter to the Lady Superior had been postmarked from "Bald Top," which Key knew to be an obscure settlement less frequented than Skinner's. Even then it was hardly possible that the chief of the road agents would present himself at the post-office, and it had probably been left by some less known of the gang. A vague idea, that was hardly a suspicion, that the girl might have a secret address of her brother's, without understanding the reasons for its secrecy, came into his mind. A still more vague hope, that he might meet her before she found her brother, upheld him. It would be an accidental meeting on her part, for he no longer dared to hope that she would seek or trust him again. And it was with very little of his old sanguine quality that, travel-worn and weary, he at last alighted at Skinner's. But his half careless inquiry if any lady passengers had lately arrived there, to his embarrassment produced a broad smile on the face of Skinner.

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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