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Snow-Bound at Eagle's Bret Harte

Chapter VI

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For an instant Hale gave himself up to the delicious flattery of unexpected, unintended, and apparently uninterested compliment. Becoming at last a little embarrassed under the frank curiosity of the girl's dark eyes, he changed the subject.

"Do you always come up here through the stables?" he asked, glancing round the room, which was evidently her own.

"I reckon," she answered half abstractedly. "There's a ladder down thar to Maw's room--"pointing to a trapdoor beside the broad chimney that served as a wall--"but it's handier the other way, and nearer the bosses if you want to get away quick."

This palpable suggestion--borne out by what he remembered of the other domestic details--that the house had been planned with reference to sudden foray or escape reawakened his former uneasy reflections. Zeenie, who had been watching his face, added, "It's no slouch, when b'ar or painters hang round nights and stampede the stock, to be able to swing yourself on to a boss whenever you hear a row going on outside."

"Do you mean that YOU--"

"Paw USED, and I do NOW, sense I've come into the room." She pointed to a nondescript garment, half cloak, half habit, hanging on the wall. "I've been outer bed and on Pitchpine's back as far ez the trail five minutes arter I heard the first bellow."

Hale regarded her with undisguised astonishment. There was nothing at all Amazonian or horsey in her manners, nor was there even the robust physical contour that might have been developed through such experiences. On the contrary, she seemed to be lazily effeminate in body and mind. Heedless of his critical survey of her, she beckoned him to draw his chair nearer, and, looking into his eyes, said--

"Whatever possessed YOU to take to huntin' men?"

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Hale was staggered by the question, but nevertheless endeavored to explain. But he was surprised to find that his explanation appeared stilted even to himself, and, he could not doubt, was utterly incomprehensible to the girl. She nodded her head, however, and continued--

"Then you haven't anythin' agin' George?"

"I don't know George," said Hale, smiling. "My proceeding was against the highwayman."

"Well, HE was the highwayman."

"I mean, it was the principle I objected to--a principle that I consider highly dangerous."

"Well HE is the principal, for the others only HELPED, I reckon," said Zeenie with a sigh, "and I reckon he IS dangerous."

Hale saw it was useless to explain. The girl continued--

"What made you stay here instead of going on with the Kernel? There was suthin' else besides your wanting to make that Stanner take water. What is it?"

A light sense of the propinquity of beauty, of her confidence, of their isolation, of the eloquence of her dark eyes, at first tempted Hale to a reply of simple gallantry; a graver consideration of the same circumstances froze it upon his lips.

"I don't know," he returned awkwardly.

"Well, I'll tell you," she said. "You didn't cotton to the Kernel and Rawlins much more than you did to Stanner. They ain't your kind."

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Snow-Bound at Eagle's
Bret Harte

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