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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter VI.

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Who was she, what was she, and what meant her joyous recognition of him? It is to be feared that it was the last question that affected him most, now that he felt that he must have really loved her from the first. Had she really seen him before, and had been as mysteriously impressed as he was? It was not the reflection of a conceited man, for Key had not that kind of vanity, and he had already touched the humility that is at the base of any genuine passion. But he would not think of that now. He had established the identity of the other woman, as being her companion in the house in the hollow on that eventful night; but it was HER profile that he had seen at the window. The mysterious brother Rivers might have been one of the robbers,--perhaps the one who accompanied Mrs. Barker to San Jose. But it was plain that the young girl had no complicity with the actions of the gang, whatever might have been her companion's confederation. In the prescience of a true lover, he knew that she must have been deceived and kept in utter ignorance of it. There was no look of it in her lovely, guileless eyes; her very impulsiveness and ingenuousness would have long since betrayed the secret. Was it left for him, at this very outset of his passion, to be the one to tell her? Could he bear to see those frank, beautiful eyes dimmed with shame and sorrow? His own grew moist. Another idea began to haunt him. Would it not be wiser, even more manly, for him--a man over twice her years--to leave her alone with her secret, and so pass out of her innocent young life as chancefully as he had entered it? But was it altogether chanceful? Was there not in her innocent happiness in him a recognition of something in him better than he had dared to think himself? It was the last conceit of the humility of love.

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He reached his hotel at last, unresolved, perplexed, yet singularly happy. The clerk handed him, in passing, a business-looking letter, formally addressed. Without opening it, he took it to his room, and throwing himself listlessly on a chair by the window again tried to think. But the atmosphere of his room only recalled to him the mysterious gift he had found the day before on his pillow. He felt now with a thrill that it must have been from HER. How did she convey it there? She would not have intrusted it to Mrs. Barker. The idea struck him now as distastefully as it seemed improbable. Perhaps she had been here herself with her companion-- the convent sometimes made that concession to a relative or well-known friend. He recalled the fact that he had seen Mrs. Barker enter the hotel alone, after the incident of the opening door, while he was leaning over the balustrade. It was SHE who was alone THEN, and had recognized his voice; and he had not known it. She was out again to-day with the procession. A sudden idea struck him. He glanced quickly at the letter in his hand, and hurriedly opened it. It contained only three lines, in a large formal hand, but they sent the swift blood to his cheeks.

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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