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 had lapsed

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 of

a hoof in the thick carpet of dust and desiccated leaves. Then a

voice, which in spite of its matter-of-factreality the obscurity lent

a certain mystery to, said:--

"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

cadence, said:--

"Be careful where you throw that. You were careless last time. With

this wind and the leaves like tinder, you might send a furnace blast

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 continued:--

"I reckon 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

to illuminate 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 surface--the profile 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

speaker emphatically.

"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

remained unchanged.

"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

round here!"

"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 joyfully.

"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 of the

horseman with the pleasant voice seemed to be occasionally turned

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 that I

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."

"I reckon 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 ignis fatuus

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 effect of

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

more stationary!"

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 are apt

to overlook. Hence there was no hesitation or indecision communicated

to the nervous creatures they bestrode, who swept over crumbling stones

and slippery 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,

and holding each other well up, became one irresistible wedge-shaped

mass. At times they yelled, not from consciousness nor bravado, but

from the purely animal instinct of warning and to combat the

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 drawn

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 anywhere."

"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 the picnic 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

companion listlessly.

"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] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.谷;河谷;流域   (初中英语单词)
  • proportion [prə´pɔ:ʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.比率 vt.使成比例   (初中英语单词)
  • saddle [´sædl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.鞍子 v.装鞍(于)   (初中英语单词)
  • plunge [plʌndʒ] 移动到这儿单词发声  v.插进 n.投入;冲击   (初中英语单词)
  • carpet [´kɑ:pit] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.地毯 vt.铺地毯   (初中英语单词)
  • reality [ri´æliti] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.现实(性);真实;逼真   (初中英语单词)
  • mystery [´mistəri] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.神秘;秘密;故弄玄虚   (初中英语单词)
  • rustle [´rʌsl] 移动到这儿单词发声  v.&n.(使)沙沙作响   (初中英语单词)
  • careless [´keəlis] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.粗心的;草率的   (初中英语单词)
  • furnace [´fə:nis] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.熔炉;火炉   (初中英语单词)
  • speaker [´spi:kə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.演讲人;代言人   (初中英语单词)
  • reckon [´rekən] 移动到这儿单词发声  v.计算;认为;估计   (初中英语单词)
  • anywhere [´eniweə] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.无论何处;任何地方   (初中英语单词)
  • distinct [di´stiŋkt] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.清楚的;独特的   (初中英语单词)
  • interval [´intəvəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.间隙;(工间)休息   (初中英语单词)
  • distinctly [di´stiŋktli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.清楚地,明晰地   (初中英语单词)
  • slightly [´slaitli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.轻微地;细长的   (初中英语单词)
  • nevertheless [,nevəðə´les] 移动到这儿单词发声  conj.&ad.然而;不过   (初中英语单词)
  • occasionally [ə´keiʒənəli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.偶然地;非经常地   (初中英语单词)
  • sharply [´ʃɑ:pli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.锋利地;剧烈地   (初中英语单词)
  • spoken [´spəukən] 移动到这儿单词发声  speak的过去分词   (初中英语单词)
  • california [,kæli´fɔ:njə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.加利福尼亚   (初中英语单词)
  • artificial [,ɑ:ti´fiʃəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.人工的;模拟的   (初中英语单词)
  • civilization [,sivilai´zeiʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.文明,文化   (初中英语单词)
  • overlook [,əuvə´luk] 移动到这儿单词发声  vt.&n.俯瞰;忽略;观察   (初中英语单词)
  • nervous [´nə:vəs] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.神经的;神经过敏的   (初中英语单词)
  • stumble [´stʌmbəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  v.摔倒;失足;弄错   (初中英语单词)
  • purely [´pjuəli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.仅仅;简单地   (初中英语单词)
  • instinct [´instiŋkt] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.本能;直觉;天资   (初中英语单词)
  • evidently [´evidəntli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.明显地   (初中英语单词)
  • hunger [´hʌŋgə] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.饥饿;渴望   (初中英语单词)
  • barrel [´bærəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.(琵琶)桶;圆筒   (初中英语单词)
  • equally [´i:kwəli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.相等地;平等地   (初中英语单词)
  • unusual [ʌn´ju:ʒuəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.不平常的;异常的   (初中英语单词)
  • circle [´sə:kəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.圆圈 v.环绕;盘旋   (初中英语单词)
  • indication [,indi´keiʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.指示;征兆,迹象   (初中英语单词)
  • presently [´prezəntli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.不久;目前   (初中英语单词)
  • mexican [´meksikən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&a.墨西哥人(语)的   (初中英语单词)
  • scientific [,saiən´tifik] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.科学(上)的   (初中英语单词)
  • wilderness [´wildənis] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.荒地,荒野   (初中英语单词)
  • illuminate [i´lju:mineit] 移动到这儿单词发声  vt.照明;阐明   (高中英语单词)
  • radiant [´reidiənt] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.发光的 n.光源(体)   (高中英语单词)
  • response [ri´spɔns] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.回答;响应   (高中英语单词)
  • angrily [´æŋgrili] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.生气地;愤怒地   (高中英语单词)
  • deliberately [di´libərətli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.故意地;慎重地   (高中英语单词)
  • horseman [´hɔ:smən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.骑手,马术师   (高中英语单词)
  • saying [´seiŋ, ´sei-iŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.言语;言论;格言   (高中英语单词)
  • casual [´kæʒuəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.偶然的;临时的   (高中英语单词)
  • eldest [´eldist] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.最年长的   (高中英语单词)
  • streak [stri:k] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.纹理 v.用线条(条纹)   (高中英语单词)
  • singular [´siŋgjulə] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.单一的;非凡的   (高中英语单词)
  • surrounding [sə´raundiŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.周围的事物   (高中英语单词)
  • landscape [´lændskeip] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.风景;景色;风景画   (高中英语单词)
  • seeing [si:iŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  see的现在分词 n.视觉   (高中英语单词)
  • hesitation [,hezi´teiʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.犹豫,踌躇   (高中英语单词)
  • slippery [´slipəri] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.滑的;不稳固的   (高中英语单词)
  • consciousness [´kɔnʃəsnis] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.意识;觉悟;知觉   (高中英语单词)
  • combat [´kɔmbæt] 移动到这儿单词发声  v.&n.斗争;战斗;争斗   (高中英语单词)
  • descent [di´sent] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.出身,家世   (高中英语单词)
  • shelves [ʃelvz] 移动到这儿单词发声  shelf的复数   (高中英语单词)
  • comfortably [´kʌmfətəbli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.舒适地   (高中英语单词)
  • fireplace [´faiəpleis] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.壁炉,炉灶   (高中英语单词)
  • picnic [´piknik] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.郊游 vi.(去)野餐   (高中英语单词)
  • ominous [´ɔminəs] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.不祥的;预示的   (英语四级单词)
  • tinkle [´tiŋkəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  v.&n.(使发)叮当声   (英语四级单词)
  • obscurity [əb´skjuəriti] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.暗(淡);朦胧;含糊   (英语四级单词)
  • corpse [kɔ:ps] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.尸体   (英语四级单词)
  • mustache [mə´stɑ:ʃ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.髭,小胡子   (英语四级单词)
  • californian [,kæli´fɔ:njən] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.加利福尼亚州的   (英语四级单词)
  • energetic [,enə´dʒetik] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.精力旺盛的;有力的   (英语四级单词)
  • irresistible [,iri´zistəbəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.不可抵抗的   (英语四级单词)
  • warning [´wɔ:niŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.警告;前兆 a.预告的   (英语四级单词)
  • diversion [dai´və:ʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.转移;消遣   (英语四级单词)
  • monotonous [mə´nɔtənəs] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.单(音)调的   (英语四级单词)
  • buckle [´bʌkəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.带扣 v.(用…)扣住   (英语四级单词)
  • silvery [´silvəri] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.银一般的   (英语四级单词)
  • volcanic [vɔl´kænik] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.(象)火山的;爆发的   (英语四级单词)
  • matter-of-fact [mætərɔv´fækt] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.实事求是的   (英语六级单词)
  • squall [skwɔ:l] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.&v.啼哭 n.暴风,飑   (英语六级单词)
  • profile [´prəufail] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.侧面 vt.画…侧面   (英语六级单词)
  • infernal [in´fə:nəl] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.地狱的,恶魔似的   (英语六级单词)
  • individuality [,individʒu´æləti] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.个性;特征   (英语六级单词)
  • holding [´həuldiŋ] 移动到这儿单词发声  n.保持,固定,存储   (英语六级单词)
  • genuinely [´dʒenjuinli] 移动到这儿单词发声  ad.由衷地   (英语六级单词)
  • unchanged [ʌn´tʃeindʒd] 移动到这儿单词发声  a.不变的;依然如故的   (英语六级单词)

  • 上传人 欢乐鱼 分享于 2017-06-26 18:27:15
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