Dwellers in the Hills (Chapter 2, page 1 of 4)


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Chapter 2

Not least among the things which the devil's imps ought to know from watching the world is this: that hatred is always big when one is young. Then, if the heart is bitter, it is bitter through and through. It is terribly just, and terribly vindictive against the stranger who hurts us with a cruel word, against our brother when we have misunderstood his heart, against the traitor who owes us love because we loaned him love. It is strange, too, how that hatred becomes a great force, pressing out the empty places of the heart, and making the weak, strong, and the simple, crafty.

El Mahdi ran with his jaws set on the bit, jumping high and striking the earth with his legs half stiff, the meanest of all the mean whims of this eccentric horse. On the level it was a hard enough gait; and on the hill road none could have stood the intolerable jamming but one long schooled in the ugly ways of the False Prophet. Along the skirts of the saddle, running almost up to the horn, were round, quilted pads of leather prepared against this dangerous habit. I rode with my knees doubled and wedged in against the pads, catching the terrible jar where there was bone and tendon and leather to meet and break it, and from long custom I rode easily, unconscious of my extraordinary precautions against the half-bucking jump.

The fence rushed past. The trees, as they always do, seemed to wait until we were almost upon them, and then jump by. Still the horse was not running fast. He wasted the value of his legs by jumping high in the air like a goat, instead of running with his belly against the earth like every other sensible horse whose business is to shorten distance.

He swept around the bare curves with the most reckless, headlong plunges, and I caught the force of the great swing, now with the right, and now with the left knee, throwing the whole weight of my body against the horse's shoulder next to the hill. Once in a while the red nose of the Cardinal showed by my stirrup and dropped back, but Jud was holding his horse well and riding with his whole weight in the stirrups and the strain on the back-webbed girth of his saddle where it ought to be. It was a dangerous road if the horse fell, only El Mahdi never fell, although he sometimes blundered like a cow; and the Cardinal never fell when he ran, and the Bay Eagle, who knew all that a horse ever learned in the world,--we would as soon have expected to see her fly up in the air as to fall in the road.

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