IN A HOLLOW OF THE HILLS
Bret Bret Harte
It was very dark, and the wind was increasing. The last gust had been
preceded by an ominous
roaring down the whole mountain-side, which
continued for some time after the trees in the little valley
into silence. The air was filled with a faint, cool, sodden odor, as
of stirred forest depths. In those intervals of silence the darkness
seemed to increase in proportion
and grow almost palpable. Yet out of
this sightless and soundless void now came the tinkle
of a spur's
rowels, the dry crackling of saddle
leathers, and the muffled plunge
a hoof in the thick carpet
of dust and desiccated leaves. Then a
voice, which in spite of its matter-of-factreality
a certain mystery
"I can't make out anything! Where the devil have we got to, anyway?
It's as black as Tophet, here ahead!"
"Strike a light and make a flare with something," returned a second
voice. "Look where you're shoving to--now--keep your horse off, will
There was more muffled plunging, a silence, the rustle
of paper, the
quick spurt of a match, and then the uplifting of a flickering flame.
But it revealed only the heads and shoulders of three horsemen, framed
within a nebulous ring of light, that still left their horses and even
their lower figures in impenetrable shadow. Then the flame leaped up
and died out with a few zigzagging sparks that were falling to the
ground, when a third voice, that was low but somewhat pleasant in its
"Be careful where you throw that. You were careless
last time. With
this wind and the leaves like tinder, you might send a furnace
through the woods."
"Then at least we'd see where we were."
Nevertheless, he moved his horse, whose trampling hoofs beat out the
last fallen spark. Complete darkness and silence again followed.
Presently the first speaker
we'll have to wait here till the next squall
clears away the
scud from the sky? Hello! What's that?"
Out of the obscurity
before them appeared a faint light,--a dim but
perfectly defined square of radiance,--which, however, did not appear
anything around it. Suddenly it disappeared.
"That's a house--it's a light in a window," said the second voice.
"House be d--d!" retorted the first speaker. "A house with a window on
Galloper's Ridge, fifteen miles from anywhere? You're crazy!"
Nevertheless, from the muffled plunging and tinkling that followed,
they seemed to be moving in the direction where the light had appeared.
Then there was a pause.
"There's nothing but a rocky outcrop here, where a house couldn't
stand, and we're off the trail again," said the first speaker
"Stop!--there it is again!"
The same square of light appeared once more, but the horsemen had
evidently diverged in the darkness, for it seemed to be in a different
direction. But it was more distinct, and as they gazed a shadow
appeared upon its radiant
of a human face. Then
the light suddenly went out, and the face vanished with it.
"It IS a window, and there was some one behind it," said the second
"It was a woman's face," said the pleasant voice.
"Whoever it is, just hail them, so that we can get our bearings. Sing
out! All together!"
The three voices rose in a prolonged shout, in which, however, the
distinguishing quality of the pleasant voice was sustained. But there
was no response
from the darkness beyond. The shouting was repeated
after an interval
with the same result: the silence and obscurity
"Let's get out of this," said the first speaker
angrily; "house or no
house, man or woman, we're not wanted, and we'll make nothing waltzing
"Hush!" said the second voice. "Sh-h! Listen."
The leaves of the nearest trees were trilling audibly. Then came a
sudden gust that swept the fronds of the taller ferns into their faces,
and laid the thin, lithe whips of alder over their horses' flanks
sharply. It was followed by the distant sea-like roaring of the
"That's a little more like it!" said the first speaker
"Another blow like that and we're all right. And look! there's a
lightenin' up over the trail we came by."
There was indeed a faint glow in that direction, like the first
suffusion of dawn, permitting the huge shoulder of the mountain along
whose flanks they had been journeying to be distinctly
seen. The sodden
breath of the stirred forest depths was slightly
tainted with an acrid
"That's the match you threw away two hours ago," said the pleasant
voice deliberately. "It's caught the dry brush in the trail round the
"Anyhow, it's given us our bearings, boys," said the first speaker,
with satisfied accents. "We're all right now; and the wind's lifting
the sky ahead there. Forward now, all together, and let's get out of
this hell-hole while we can!"
It was so much lighter that the bulk of each horseman
could be seen as
they moved forward together. But there was no thinning of the
obscurity on either side of them. Nevertheless the profile
horseman with the pleasant voice seemed to be occasionally
backward, and he suddenly checked his horse.
"There's the window again!" he said. "Look! There--it's gone again."
"Let it go and be d--d!" returned the leader. "Come on."
They spurred forward in silence. It was not long before the wayside
trees began to dimly show spaces between them, and the ferns to give
way to lower, thick-set shrubs, which in turn yielded to a velvety
moss, with long quiet intervals of netted and tangled grasses. The
regular fall of the horses' feet became a mere rhythmic throbbing.
Then suddenly a single hoof rang out sharply
on stone, and the first
speaker reined in slightly.
"Thank the Lord we're on the ridge now! and the rest is easy. Tell you
what, though, boys, now we're all right, I don't mind saying
didn't take no stock in that blamed corpse
light down there. If there
ever was a will-o'-the-wisp on a square up mountain, that was one. It
wasn't no window! Some of ye thought ye saw a face too--eh?"
"Yes, and a rather pretty one," said the pleasant voice meditatively.
"That's the way they'd build that sort of thing, of course. It's lucky
ye had to satisfy yourself with looking. Gosh! I feel creepy yet,
thinking of it! What are ye looking back for now like Lot's wife?
Blamed if I don't think that face bewitched ye."
"I was only thinking about that fire you started," returned the other
quietly. "I don't see it now."
"Well--if you did?"
"I was wondering whether it could reach that hollow."
that hollow could take care of any casual
nat'rel fire that
came boomin' along, and go two better every time! Why, I don't believe
there was any fire; it was all a piece of that infernal
phantasmagoriana that was played upon us down there!"
With the laugh that followed they started forward again, relapsing into
the silence of tired men at the end of a long journey. Even their few
remarks were interjectional, or reminiscent of topics whose freshness
had been exhausted with the day. The gaining light which seemed to
come from the ground about them rather than from the still, overcast
sky above, defined their individuality
more distinctly. The man who
had first spoken, and who seemed to be their leader, wore the virgin
unshaven beard, mustache, and flowing hair of the Californian pioneer,
and might have been the eldest; the second speaker
was close shaven,
thin, and energetic; the third, with the pleasant voice, in height,
litheness, and suppleness of figure appeared to be the youngest of the
party. The trail had now become a grayish streak
along the level
table-land they were following, which also had the singular
appearing lighter than the surrounding
landscape, yet of plunging into
utter darkness on either side of its precipitous walls. Nevertheless,
at the end of an hour the leader rose in his stirrups with a sigh of
"There's the light in Collinson's Mill! There's nothing gaudy and
spectacular about that, boys, eh? No, sir! it's a square, honest
beacon that a man can steer by. We'll be there in twenty minutes." He
was pointing into the darkness below the already descending trail.
Only a pioneer's eye could have detected the few pin-pricks of light in
the impenetrable distance, and it was a signal proof of his leadership
that the others accepted it without seeing
it. "It's just ten o'clock,"
he continued, holding
a huge silver watch to his eye; "we've wasted an
hour on those blamed spooks yonder!"
"We weren't off the trail more than ten minutes, Uncle Dick," protested
the pleasant voice.
"All right, my son; go down there if you like and fetch out your Witch
of Endor, but as for me, I'm going to throw myself the other side of
Collinson's lights. They're good enough for me, and a blamed sight
The grade was very steep, but they took it, California fashion, at a
gallop, being genuinely
good riders, and using their brains as well as
their spurs in the understanding of their horses, and of certain
natural laws, which the more artificial
riders of civilization
to overlook. Hence there was no hesitation
or indecision communicated
to the nervous
creatures they bestrode, who swept over crumbling stones
ledges with a momentum that took away half their weight,
and made a stumble
or false step, or indeed anything but an actual
collision, almost impossible. Closing together they avoided the latter,
each other well up, became one irresistible
mass. At times they yelled, not from consciousness
nor bravado, but
from the purely
and to combat
breathlessness of their descent, until, reaching the level, they
charged across the gravelly bed of a vanished river, and pulled up at
Collinson's Mill. The mill itself had long since vanished with the
river, but the building that had once stood for it was used as a rude
hostelry for travelers, which, however, bore no legend or invitatory
sign. Those who wanted it, knew it; those who passed it by, gave it no
Collinson himself stood by the door, smoking a contemplative pipe. As
they rode up, he disengaged himself from the doorpost listlessly,
walked slowly towards them, said reflectively to the leader, "I've been
thinking with you that a vote for Thompson is a vote thrown away," and
prepared to lead the horses towards the water tank. He had parted with
them over twelve hours before, but his air of simply renewing a
recently interrupted conversation was too common a circumstance to
attract their notice. They knew, and he knew, that no one else had
passed that way since he had last spoken; that the same sun had swung
silently above him and the unchanged
landscape, and there had been no
interruption nor diversion
to his monotonous
thought. The wilderness
annihilates time and space with the grim pathos of patience.
Nevertheless he smiled. "Ye don't seem to have got through coming down
yet," he continued, as a few small boulders, loosened in their rapid
descent, came more deliberately
rolling and plunging after the
travelers along the gravelly bottom. Then he turned away with the
horses, and, after they were watered, he reentered the house. His
guests had evidently
not waited for his ministration. They had already
taken one or two bottles from the shelves
behind a wide bar and helped
themselves, and, glasses in hand, were now satisfying the more imminent
cravings of hunger
with biscuits from a barrel
and slices of smoked
herring from a box. Their equallysingular
host, accepting their
conduct as not unusual, joined the circle
they had comfortably
round the fireplace, and meditatively kicking a brand back at the fire,
said, without looking at them:--
"Well!" returned the leader, leaning back in his chair after carefully
unloosing the buckle
of his belt, but with his eyes also on the
fire,--"well! we've prospected every yard of outcrop along the Divide,
and there ain't the ghost of a silver indication
"Not a smell," added the close-shaven guest, without raising his eyes.
They all remained silent, looking at the fire, as if it were the one
thing they had taken into their confidence. Collinson also addressed
himself to the blaze as he said presently: "It allus seemed to me that
thar was something shiny about that ledge just round the shoulder of
the spur, over the long canyon."
The leader ejaculated a short laugh. "Shiny, eh? shiny! Ye think THAT
a sign? Why, you might as well reckon
that because Key's head, over
thar, is gray and silvery
that he's got sabe and experience." As he
spoke he looked towards the man with a pleasant voice. The fire
shining full upon him revealed the singular
fact that while his face
was still young, and his mustache
quite dark, his hair was perfectly
gray. The object of this attention, far from being disconcerted by the
comparison, added with a smile:--
"Or that he had any silver in his pocket."
Another lapse of silence followed. The wind tore round the house and
rumbled in the short, adobe chimney.
"No, gentlemen," said the leader reflectively, "this sort o' thing is
played out. I don't take no more stock in that cock-and-bull story
about the lost Mexican mine. I don't catch on to that Sunday-school
yarn about the pious, scientific
sharp who collected leaves and
vegetables all over the Divide, all the while he scientifically knew
that the range was solid silver, only he wouldn't soil his fingers with
God-forsaken lucre. I ain't saying
anything agin that fine-spun theory
that Key believes in about volcanic
upheavals that set up on end
argentiferous rock, but I simply say that I don't see it--with the
naked eye. And I reckon
it's about time, boys, as the game's up, that
we handed in our checks, and left the board."
There was another silence around the fire, another whirl and turmoil
without. There was no attempt to combat
the opinions of their leader;
possibly the same sense of disappointed hopes was felt by all, only
they preferred to let the man of greater experience voice it. He went
"We've had our little game, boys, ever since we left Rawlin's a week
ago; we've had our ups and downs; we've been starved and parched,
snowed up and half drowned, shot at by road-agents and horse-thieves,
kicked by mules and played with by grizzlies. We've had a heap o' fun,
boys, for our money, but I reckon
is about over. So we'll
shake hands to-morrow all round and call it square, and go on our ways
"And what do you think you'll do, Uncle Dick?" said his close-shaven
"I'll make tracks for a square meal, a bed that a man can comfortably
take off his boots and die in, and some violet-scented soap.
Civilization's good enough for me! I even reckon
I wouldn't mind 'the
sound of the church-going bell' ef there was a theatre handy, as there
likely would be. But the wilderness
is played out."
valley [´væli] n.谷；河谷；流域 (初中英语单词)proportion [prə´pɔ:ʃən] n.比率 vt.使成比例 (初中英语单词)saddle [´sædl] n.鞍子 v.装鞍(于) (初中英语单词)plunge [plʌndʒ] v.插进 n.投入；冲击 (初中英语单词)carpet [´kɑ:pit] n.地毯 vt.铺地毯 (初中英语单词)reality [ri´æliti] n.现实(性)；真实；逼真 (初中英语单词)mystery [´mistəri] n.神秘；秘密；故弄玄虚 (初中英语单词)rustle [´rʌsl] v.&n.(使)沙沙作响 (初中英语单词)careless [´keəlis] a.粗心的；草率的 (初中英语单词)furnace [´fə:nis] n.熔炉；火炉 (初中英语单词)speaker [´spi:kə] n.演讲人；代言人 (初中英语单词)reckon [´rekən] v.计算；认为；估计 (初中英语单词)anywhere [´eniweə] ad.无论何处；任何地方 (初中英语单词)distinct [di´stiŋkt] a.清楚的；独特的 (初中英语单词)interval [´intəvəl] n.间隙；(工间)休息 (初中英语单词)distinctly [di´stiŋktli] ad.清楚地，明晰地 (初中英语单词)slightly [´slaitli] ad.轻微地；细长的 (初中英语单词)nevertheless [,nevəðə´les] conj.&ad.然而；不过 (初中英语单词)occasionally [ə´keiʒənəli] ad.偶然地；非经常地 (初中英语单词)sharply [´ʃɑ:pli] ad.锋利地；剧烈地 (初中英语单词)spoken [´spəukən] speak的过去分词 (初中英语单词)california [,kæli´fɔ:njə] n.加利福尼亚 (初中英语单词)artificial [,ɑ:ti´fiʃəl] a.人工的；模拟的 (初中英语单词)civilization [,sivilai´zeiʃən] n.文明，文化 (初中英语单词)overlook [,əuvə´luk] vt.&n.俯瞰；忽略；观察 (初中英语单词)nervous [´nə:vəs] a.神经的；神经过敏的 (初中英语单词)stumble [´stʌmbəl] v.摔倒；失足；弄错 (初中英语单词)purely [´pjuəli] ad.仅仅；简单地 (初中英语单词)instinct [´instiŋkt] n.本能；直觉；天资 (初中英语单词)evidently [´evidəntli] ad.明显地 (初中英语单词)hunger [´hʌŋgə] n.饥饿；渴望 (初中英语单词)barrel [´bærəl] n.(琵琶)桶；圆筒 (初中英语单词)equally [´i:kwəli] ad.相等地；平等地 (初中英语单词)unusual [ʌn´ju:ʒuəl] a.不平常的；异常的 (初中英语单词)circle [´sə:kəl] n.圆圈 v.环绕；盘旋 (初中英语单词)indication [,indi´keiʃən] n.指示；征兆，迹象 (初中英语单词)presently [´prezəntli] ad.不久；目前 (初中英语单词)mexican [´meksikən] n.&a.墨西哥人(语)的 (初中英语单词)scientific [,saiən´tifik] a.科学(上)的 (初中英语单词)wilderness [´wildənis] n.荒地，荒野 (初中英语单词)illuminate [i´lju:mineit] vt.照明；阐明 (高中英语单词)radiant [´reidiənt] a.发光的 n.光源(体) (高中英语单词)response [ri´spɔns] n.回答；响应 (高中英语单词)angrily [´æŋgrili] ad.生气地；愤怒地 (高中英语单词)deliberately [di´libərətli] ad.故意地；慎重地 (高中英语单词)horseman [´hɔ:smən] n.骑手，马术师 (高中英语单词)saying [´seiŋ, ´sei-iŋ] n.言语；言论；格言 (高中英语单词)casual [´kæʒuəl] a.偶然的；临时的 (高中英语单词)eldest [´eldist] a.最年长的 (高中英语单词)streak [stri:k] n.纹理 v.用线条(条纹) (高中英语单词)singular [´siŋgjulə] a.单一的；非凡的 (高中英语单词)surrounding [sə´raundiŋ] n.周围的事物 (高中英语单词)landscape [´lændskeip] n.风景；景色；风景画 (高中英语单词)seeing [si:iŋ] see的现在分词 n.视觉 (高中英语单词)hesitation [,hezi´teiʃən] n.犹豫，踌躇 (高中英语单词)slippery [´slipəri] a.滑的；不稳固的 (高中英语单词)consciousness [´kɔnʃəsnis] n.意识；觉悟；知觉 (高中英语单词)combat [´kɔmbæt] v.&n.斗争；战斗；争斗 (高中英语单词)descent [di´sent] n.出身，家世 (高中英语单词)shelves [ʃelvz] shelf的复数 (高中英语单词)comfortably [´kʌmfətəbli] ad.舒适地 (高中英语单词)fireplace [´faiəpleis] n.壁炉，炉灶 (高中英语单词)picnic [´piknik] n.郊游 vi.(去)野餐 (高中英语单词)ominous [´ɔminəs] a.不祥的；预示的 (英语四级单词)tinkle [´tiŋkəl] v.&n.(使发)叮当声 (英语四级单词)obscurity [əb´skjuəriti] n.暗(淡)；朦胧；含糊 (英语四级单词)corpse [kɔ:ps] n.尸体 (英语四级单词)mustache [mə´stɑ:ʃ] n.髭，小胡子 (英语四级单词)californian [,kæli´fɔ:njən] a.加利福尼亚州的 (英语四级单词)energetic [,enə´dʒetik] a.精力旺盛的；有力的 (英语四级单词)irresistible [,iri´zistəbəl] a.不可抵抗的 (英语四级单词)warning [´wɔ:niŋ] n.警告；前兆 a.预告的 (英语四级单词)diversion [dai´və:ʃən] n.转移；消遣 (英语四级单词)monotonous [mə´nɔtənəs] a.单(音)调的 (英语四级单词)buckle [´bʌkəl] n.带扣 v.(用…)扣住 (英语四级单词)silvery [´silvəri] a.银一般的 (英语四级单词)volcanic [vɔl´kænik] a.(象)火山的；爆发的 (英语四级单词)matter-of-fact [mætərɔv´fækt] a.实事求是的 (英语六级单词)squall [skwɔ:l] n.&v.啼哭 n.暴风，飑 (英语六级单词)profile [´prəufail] n.侧面 vt.画…侧面 (英语六级单词)infernal [in´fə:nəl] a.地狱的，恶魔似的 (英语六级单词)individuality [,individʒu´æləti] n.个性；特征 (英语六级单词)holding [´həuldiŋ] n.保持，固定，存储 (英语六级单词)genuinely [´dʒenjuinli] ad.由衷地 (英语六级单词)unchanged [ʌn´tʃeindʒd] a.不变的；依然如故的 (英语六级单词)