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In a Hollow of the Hills Bret Harte

Chapter V.

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"Why?" demanded Chivers sharply.

"Why?--why, it makes a flare in the sky that any scout can see, and a scent for him to follow."

"We're four miles from any traveled road," returned Chivers contemptuously, "and the man who could see that glare and smell that smoke would be on his way here already."

"That reminds me that that chap you've tied up--that Collinson-- allows he wants to see you," continued French Pete.

"To see ME!" repeated Chivers. "You mean the Captain?"

"I reckon he means YOU," returned French Pete; "he said the man who talked so purty."

The men looked at each other with a smile of anticipation, and put down their cards. Chivers walked towards the door; one or two rose to their feet as if to follow, but Riggs stopped them peremptorily. "Sit down," he said roughly; then, as Chivers passed him, he added to him in a lower tone, "Remember."

Slightly squaring his shoulders and opening his coat, to permit a rhetorical freedom, which did not, however, prevent him from keeping touch with the butt of his revolver, Chivers stepped into the open air. Collinson had been moved to the shelter of an overhang of the roof, probably more for the comfort of the guard, who sat cross-legged on the ground near him, than for his own. Dismissing the man with a gesture, Chivers straightened himself before his captive.

"We deeply regret that your unfortunate determination, my dear sir, has been the means of depriving US of the pleasure of your company, and YOU of your absolute freedom; but may we cherish the hope that your desire to see me may indicate some change in your opinion?"

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By the light of the sentry's lantern left upon the ground, Chivers could see that Collinson's face wore a slightly troubled and even apologetic expression.

"I've bin thinkin'," said Collinson, raising his eyes to his captor with a singularly new and shy admiration in them, "mebbee not so much of WOT you said, ez HOW you said it, and it's kinder bothered me, sittin' here, that I ain't bin actin' to you boys quite on the square. I've said to myself, 'Collinson, thar ain't another house betwixt Bald Top and Skinner's whar them fellows kin get a bite or a drink to help themselves, and you ain't offered 'em neither. It ain't no matter who they are or how they came: whether they came crawling along the road from the valley, or dropped down upon you like them rocks from the grade; yere they are, and it's your duty, ez long ez you keep this yer house for your wife in trust, so to speak, for wanderers.' And I ain't forgettin' yer ginerel soft style and easy gait with me when you kem here. It ain't every man as could walk into another man's house arter the owner of it had grabbed a gun, ez soft-speakin', ez overlookin', and ez perlite ez you. I've acted mighty rough and low-down, and I know it. And I sent for you to say that you and your folks kin use this house and all that's in it ez long ez you're in trouble. I've told you why I couldn't sell the house to ye, and why I couldn't leave it. But ye kin use it, and while ye're here, and when you go, Collinson don't tell nobody. I don't know what ye mean by 'binding myself' to keep your secret; when Collinson says a thing he sticks to it, and when he passes his word with a man, or a man passes his word with him, it don't need no bit of paper."

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In a Hollow of the Hills
Bret Harte

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