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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter VI.

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They certainly looked very cheerful, although they had halted before the gateway with a little of the demureness of young people who know they are overlooked by authority, and had bumped against each other with affected gravity. Somewhat ashamed of his useless deception, and the guileless simplicity of the good Lady Superior, Key hesitated and began: "I am afraid that I am really giving you too much trouble," and suddenly stopped.

For as his voice broke the demure silence, one of the nearest--a young girl of apparently seventeen--turned towards him with a quick and an apparently irresistible impulse, and as quickly turned away again. But in that instant Key caught a glimpse of a face that might not only have thrilled him in its beauty, its freshness, but in some vague suggestiveness. Yet it was not that which set his pulses beating; it was the look of joyous recognition set in the parted lips and sparkling eyes, the glow of childlike innocent pleasure that mantled the sweet young face, the frank confusion of suddenly realized expectancy and longing. A great truth gripped his throbbing heart, and held it still. It was the face that he had seen in the hollow!

The movement of the young girl was too marked to escape the eye of the Lady Superior, though she had translated it differently. "You must not believe our young ladies are all so rude, Don Preble," she said dryly; "though our dear child has still some of the mountain freedom. And this is the Senor Rivers's sister. But possibly--who knows?" she said gently, yet with a sudden sharpness in her clear eyes,--"perhaps she recognized in your voice a companion of her brother."

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Luckily for Key, the shock had been so sudden and overpowering that he showed none of the lesser symptoms of agitation or embarrassment. In this revelation of a secret, that he now instinctively felt was bound up with his own future happiness, he exhibited none of the signs of a discovered intriguer or unmasked Lothario. He said quietly and coldly: "I am afraid I have not the pleasure of knowing the young lady, and certainly have never before addressed her." Yet he scarcely heard his companion's voice, and answered mechanically, seeing only before him the vision of the girl's bewitching face, in its still more bewitching consciousness of his presence. With all that he now knew, or thought he knew, came a strange delicacy of asking further questions, a vague fear of compromising HER, a quick impatience of his present deception; even his whole quest of her seemed now to be a profanation, for which he must ask her forgiveness. He longed to be alone to recover himself. Even the temptation to linger on some pretext, and wait for her return and another glance from her joyous eyes, was not as strong as his conviction of the necessity of cooler thought and action. He had met his fate that morning, for good or ill; that was all he knew. As soon as he could decently retire, he thanked the Lady Superior, promised to communicate with her later, and taking leave of Father Cipriano, found himself again in the street.

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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