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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter V.

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There was an unmistakable start of sensation in the room, followed by a silence so profound that the moaning of the wind on the mountain-side was distinctly heard. A well-built man, with a mask that scarcely concealed his heavy mustachios, who had been standing with his back to the orator in half contemptuous patience, faced around suddenly and made a step forward as if to come between the questioner and questioned. A voice from the corner ejaculated, "By G--d!"

"Silence," said the orator sharply. Then still more harshly he turned to the others "Pick him up, and stand him outside with a guard; and then clear out, all of you!"

The prisoner was lifted up and carried out; the room was instantly cleared; only the orator and the man who had stepped forward remained. Simultaneously they drew the masks from their faces, and stood looking at each other. The orator's face was smooth and corrupt; the full, sensual lips wrinkled at the corners with a sardonic humor; the man who confronted him appeared to be physically and even morally his superior, albeit gloomy and discontented in expression. He cast a rapid glance around the room, to assure himself that they were alone; and then, straightening his eyebrows as he backed against the chimney, said:--

"D--d if I like this, Chivers! It's your affair; but it's mighty low-down work for a man!"

"You might have made it easier if you hadn't knocked up Bryce's gun. That would have settled it, though no one guessed that the cur was her husband," said Chivers hotly.

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"If you want it settled THAT WAY, there's still time," returned the other with a slight sneer. "You've only to tell him that you're the man that ran away with his wife, and you'll have it out together, right on the ledge at twelve paces. The boys will see you through. In fact," he added, his sneer deepening, "I rather think it's what they're expecting."

"Thank you, Mr. Jack Riggs," said Chivers sardonically. "I dare say it would be more convenient to some people, just before our booty is divided, if I were drilled through by a blundering shot from that hayseed; or it would seem right to your high-toned chivalry if a dead-shot as I am knocked over a man who may have never fired a revolver before; but I don't exactly see it in that light, either as a man or as your equal partner. I don't think you quite understand me, my dear Jack. If you don't value the only man who is identified in all California as the leader of this gang (the man whose style and address has made it popular--yes, POPULAR, by G--d!--to every man, woman, and child who has heard of him; whose sayings and doings are quoted by the newspapers; whom people run risks to see; who has got the sympathy of the crowd, so that judges hesitate to issue warrants and constables to serve them),--if YOU don't see the use of such a man, I do. Why, there's a column and a half in the 'Sacramento Union' about our last job, calling me the 'Claude Duval' of the Sierras, and speaking of my courtesy to a lady! A LADY!--HIS wife, by G--d! our confederate! My dear Jack, you not only don't know business values, but, 'pon my soul, you don't seem to understand humor! Ha, ha!"

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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