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Maruja Bret Harte

Chapter IX

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"Allow me. Perhaps I have more patience, even if I have less time," he said, stooping down. Their ungloved hands touched. Maruja stopped in her efforts and stood up. He continued until he had freed the luckless flounce, conscious of the soft fire of her eyes on his head and neck.

"There," he said, rising, and encountering her glance. As she did not speak, he continued: "You are thinking, Miss Saltonstall, that you have seen me before, are you not? Well--you HAVE; I asked you the road to San Jose one morning when I was tramping by your hedge."

"And as you probably were looking for something better--which you seem to have found--you didn't care to listen to MY directions," said Maruja, quickly.

"I found a man--almost the only one who ever offered me a gratuitous kindness--at whose grave I afterwards met you. I found another man who befriended me here--where I meet you again."

She was beginning to be hysterically nervous lest any one should return and find them together. She was conscious of a tingling of vague shame. Yet she lingered. The strange fascination of his half-savage melancholy, and a reproachfulness that seemed to arraign her, with the rest of the world, at the bar of his vague resentment, held the delicate fibres of her sensitive being as cruelly and relentlessly as the thorns of the cactus had gripped her silken lace. Without knowing what she was saying, she stammered that she "was glad he connected her with his better fortune," and began to move away. He noticed it with his sidelong lids, and added, with a slight bitterness:--

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"I don't think I should have intruded here again, but I thought you had gone. But I--I--am afraid you have not seen the last of me. It was the intention of my employer, Mr. Prince, to introduce me to you and your mother. I suppose he considers it part of my duties here. I must warn you that, if you are here when he returns, he will insist upon it, and upon your meeting me with these ladies at dinner."

"Perhaps so--he is my mother's friend," said Maruja; "but you have the advantage of us--you can always take to the road, you know."

The smile with which she had intended to accompany this speech did not come as readily in execution as it had in conception, and she would have given worlds to have recalled her words. But he said, "That's so," quietly, and turned away, as if to give her an opportunity to escape. She moved hesitatingly towards the passage and stopped. The sound of the returning voices gave her a sudden courage.


"Guest," said the young man.

"If we do conclude to stay to dinner as Mr. Prince has said nothing of introducing you to my sister, you must let ME have that pleasure."

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