Dwellers in the Hills (Chapter 3, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 3

El Mahdi wanted to run, and I let him go. The swing of the horse and the rush of fresh, cool air was good. Nothing in all the world could have helped me so well. The tears were mastered, but I had a sense of tremendous loss. I had jousted with the first windmill, riding up out of youth's golden country, and I had lost one of the splendid illusions of that enchanted land. I was cruelly hurt. How cruelly, any man will know when he recalls his first jamming against the granite door-posts of the world.

Of love and all its mysterious business, I knew nothing. But of good faith and fair dealing I had a child's conception, the terrible justness of which is but dimly understood. The new point of view was ugly and painful. From the time when I toddled about in little dresses and Ward carried me on his shoulder in among the cattle or hoisted me up on the broad horn of his saddle, I had looked upon him as a big, considerate Providence. I did not understand how there could be anything that he could not do, nor anything in the world worth having at all that he could not get, if he tried. So when he told me of Cynthia, I considered that she belonged to us, and passed on to the next matter claiming my youthful attention. It never occurred to me that Cynthia could be other than happy to pass under the suzerainty of my big brother. True, I never thought very much about it, since it was so plainly a glorious privilege. Still, why had she made her promise, if she could not keep her shoulder to it like a man? We did not like it when Ward told us. We did not think much of women, Ump and Jud and I, except old Liza, who was another of those splendid Providences. Now it was clear that we were right.

It all went swimmingly when Ward was by, but no sooner was he stretched out with a dislocated shoulder from that mysterious blunder of the Black Abbot, than here was Cynthia trailing over the country with Hawk Rufe.

I stopped at the old Alestock mill where Ben's Run goes trickling into the Stone Coal, climbed down from El Mahdi and washed my face in the water, and then passed the rein under my arm and sat down in the road to await the arrival of my companions. The echo of the horses' feet was already coming, carried downward across the pasture land, and soon the head of the Cardinal arose above the little hill behind me, and then the Bay Eagle, and in a moment more Ump and Jud were sitting with me in the road.

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