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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter VIII.

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So profound was the impression upon Key and his human passion that it at first seemed an ironical and eternal ending of his quest. It was with difficulty that he reasoned that the catastrophe occurred before Alice's flight, and that even Collinson might have had time to escape. He slowly skirted the edge of the chasm, and made his way back through the empty woods behind the old mill-site towards the place where he had dismounted. His horse seemed to have strayed into the shadows of this covert; but as he approached him, he was amazed to see that it was not his own, and that a woman's scarf was lying over its side saddle. A wild idea seized him, and found expression in an impulsive cry:--


The woods echoed it; there was an interval of silence, and then a faint response. But it was HER voice. He ran eagerly forward in that direction, and called again; the response was nearer this time, and then the tall ferns parted, and her lithe, graceful figure came running, stumbling, and limping towards him like a wounded fawn. Her face was pale and agitated, the tendrils of her light hair were straying over her shoulder, and one of the sleeves of her school-gown was stained with blood and dust. He caught the white and trembling hands that were thrust out to him eagerly.

"It is YOU!" she gasped. "I prayed for some one to come, but I did not dream it would be YOU. And then I heard YOUR voice--and I thought it could be only a dream until you called a second time."

"But you are hurt," he exclaimed passionately. "You have met with some accident!"

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"No, no!" she said eagerly. "Not I--but a poor, poor man I found lying on the edge of the cliff. I could not help him much, I did not care to leave him. No one WOULD come! I have been with him alone, all the morning! Come quick, he may be dying."

He passed his arm around her waist unconsciously; she permitted it as unconsciously, as he half supported her figure while they hurried forward.

"He had been crushed by something, and was just hanging over the ledge, and could not move nor speak," she went on quickly. "I dragged him away to a tree, it took me hours to move him, he was so heavy,--and I got him some water from the stream and bathed his face, and blooded all my sleeve."

"But what were you doing here?" he asked quickly.

A faint blush crossed the pallor of her delicate cheek. She looked away quickly. "I--was going to find my brother at Bald Top," she replied at last hurriedly. "But don't ask me now--only come quick, do."

"Is the wounded man conscious? Did you speak with him? Does he know who you are?" asked Key uneasily.

"No! he only moaned a little and opened his eyes when I dragged him. I don't think he even knew what had happened."

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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