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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter VIII.

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"You're the second man that asked that question, Mr. Key," he said.

"The second man?" ejaculated Key nervously.

"Yes the first was the sheriff of Sierra. He wanted to find a tall, good-looking woman, about thirty, with black eyes. I hope that ain't the kind o' girl you're looking arter--is it? for I reckon she's gin you both the slip."

Key protested with a forced laugh that it was not, yet suddenly hesitated to describe Alice; for he instantly recognized the portrait of her friend, the assumed Mrs. Barker. Skinner continued in lazy confidence:--

"Ye see they say that the sheriff had sorter got the dead wood on that gang o' road agents, and had hemmed 'em in somewhar betwixt Bald Top and Collinson's. But that woman was one o' their spies, and spotted his little game, and managed to give 'em the tip, so they got clean away. Anyhow, they ain't bin heard from since. But the big shake has made scoutin' along the ledges rather stiff work for the sheriff. They say the valley near Long Canyon's chock full o' rock and slumgullion that's slipped down."

"What do you mean by the big shake?" asked Key in surprise.

"Great Scott! you didn't hear of it? Didn't hear of the 'arthquake that shook us up all along Galloper's the other night? Well," he added disgustedly, "that's jist the conceit of them folks in the bay, that can't allow that ANYTHIN' happens in the mountains!"

The urgent telegrams of his foreman now flashed across Key's preoccupied mind. Possibly Skinner saw his concern, "I reckon your mine is all right, Mr. Key. One of your men was over yere last night, and didn't say nothin'."

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But this did not satisfy Key; and in a few minutes he had mounted his horse and was speeding towards the Hollow, with a remorseful consciousness of having neglected his colleagues' interests. For himself, in the utter prepossession of his passion for Alice, he cared nothing. As he dashed down the slope to the Hollow, he thought only of the two momentous days that she had passed there, and the fate that had brought them so nearly together. There was nothing to recall its sylvan beauty in the hideous works that now possessed it, or the substantial dwelling-house that had taken the place of the old cabin. A few hurried questions to the foreman satisfied him of the integrity of the property. There had been some alarm in the shaft, but there was no subsidence of the "seam," nor any difficulty in the working. "What I telegraphed you for, Mr. Key, was about something that has cropped up way back o' the earthquake. We were served here the other day with a legal notice of a claim to the mine, on account of previous work done on the ledge by the last occupant."

"But the cabin was built by a gang of thieves, who used it as a hoard for their booty," returned Key hotly, "and every one of them are outlaws, and have no standing before the law." He stopped with a pang as he thought of Alice. And the blood rushed to his cheeks as the foreman quietly continued:--

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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