Dwellers in the Hills (Chapter 6, page 2 of 8)

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Chapter 6

El Mahdi, if beyond the stars somewhere in those other Hills of the Undying I am not to find you, I shall not care so very greatly if the last sleep be as dreamless as the wise have sometimes said it is.

I spread the thick saddle-blanket and pulled it out until it touched his grey withers, and taking the saddle by the horn swung it up on his back, straightened the skirts and drew the two girths tight, one of leather and one of hemp web. Then I climbed into the saddle, and we rode out under the apple trees.

Simon Betts stood in his door as we went by, and called us a "God speed." Straight, honourable old man. He was a lantern in the Hills. He was good to me when I was little, and he was good to Ward. In the place where he is gone, may the Lord be good to him!

We stopped to open the old gate, an ancient landmark of the early time, made of locust poles, and swinging to a long beam that rested on a huge post in perfect balance. Easily pushed open, it closed of its own weight. A gate of striking artistic fitness, now long crumbled with the wooden plough and the quaint pack-saddles of the tall grandsires.

We rode south in the early daylight. Jud whistled some old song the words of which told about a jolly friar who could not eat the fattest meat because his stomach was not first class, but believed he could drink with any man in the Middle Ages,--a song doubtless learned at Roy's tavern when the Queens and the Alkires and the Coopmans of the up-country got too much "spiked" cider under their waistbands. I heard it first, and others of its kidney, on the evening that old Hiram Arnold bet his saddle against a twenty-dollar gold piece, that he could divide ninety cattle so evenly that there would not be fifty pounds difference in weight between the two droves, and did it, and with the money bought the tavern dry. And the crowd toasted him: "Here's to those who have half joes, and have a heart to spend 'em; But damn those who have whole joes, and have no heart to spend 'em."

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