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that the house was free from dust, the one most obtrusive and penetrating visitor of Five Forks. The floors and carpets had been recently swept, the chairs and furniture carefully wiped and dusted. If the house was haunted, it was possessed by a spirit who had none of the usual indifference to decay and mould. And yet the beds had evidently never been slept in, the very springs of the chair in which she sat creaked stiffly at the novelty, the closet doors opened with the reluctance of fresh paint and varnish, and in spite of the warmth, cleanliness, and cheerfulness of furniture and decoration there was none of the ease of tenancy and occupation. As Miss Nelly afterwards confessed, she longed to “ tumble things around,” and when she reached the parlor or drawing-room again she could hardly resist the desire. Particularly was she tempted by a closed piano, that stood mutely against the wall. She thought she would open it just to see who was the maker. That done, it would be no harm to try its tone. She did so, with one little foot on the soft pedal. But Miss Nelly was too good a player and too enthusiastic a musician to stop at half measures. She tried it again, — this time 80 sincerely that the whole house seemed to spring into voice. Then she stopped and listened. There was no response; the empty rooms seemed to have relapsed into their old stillness. She stepped out on the veranda ; a woodpecker recommenced his tapping on an adjacent tree, the rattle of a cart in the rocky gulch below the hill came faintly up. No one was to be seen, far or near. Miss Nelly, reassured, returned. She again ran her fingers over the keys, stopped, caught at a melody running in her mind, half played it, and then threw away all caution. Before five minutes had elapsed she had entirely forgotten herself, and, with her linen duster thrown aside, her straw hat flung on the piano, her white hands bared, and a black loop of her braided hair hanging upon her shoulder, was fairly embarked upon a flowing sea of musical recollection.
She had played perhaps half an hour, when, having just finished an elaborate symphony and resting her hands on the keys, she heard very distinctly and unmistakably the sound of applause from without. In an instant the fires of shame and indignation leaped into her cheeks, and she rose from the instrument and ran to the window, only
in time to catch sight of a dozen figures in blue and red flannel shirts vanishing hurriedly through the trees below.
Miss Nelly's mind was instantly made up. I think I have already intimated that under the stimulus of excitement she was not wanting in courage, and as she quietly resumed her gloves, hat, and duster she was not, perhaps, exactly the young person that it would be entirely safe for the timid, embarrassed, or inexperienced of my sex to meet alone. She shut down the piano, and have ing carefully reclosed all the windows and doors, and restored the house to its former desolate condition, she stepped from the veranda and proceeded directly to the cabin of the unintellectual Hawkins, that reared its adobe chimney above the umbrage, a quarter of a mile below.
The door opened instantly to her impulsive knock, and the Fool of Five Forks stood before her. Miss Nelly had never before seen the man designated by this infelicitous title, and as he stepped backward, in half courtesy and half astonishment, she was for the moment disconcerted. He was tall, finely formed, and dark-bearded. Above cheeks a little hollowed by care and ill health
shone a pair of hazel eyes, very large, very gentle, but inexpressibly sad and mournful. This was certainly not the kind of man Miss Nelly had expected to see, yet, after her first embarrassment had passed, the very circumstance, oddly enough, added to her indignation and stung her wounded pride still more deeply. Nevertheless, the arch hypocrite instantly changed her tactics, with the swift intuition of her sex.
“I have come,” she said, with a dazzling smile, infinitely more dangerous than her former dignified severity, “I have come to ask your pardon for a great liberty I have just taken. I believe the new house above us on the hill is yours. I was so much pleased with its exterior that I left my friends for a moment below here," she continued artfully, with a slight wave of the hand, as if indi. cating a band of fearless Amazons without, and waiting to avenge any possible insult offered to one of their number, “and ventured to enter it. Finding it unoccupied, as I had been told, I am afraid I had the audacity to sit down and amuse myself for a few moments at the piano, while waiting for my friends.”
Hawkins raised his beautiful eyes to hers
He saw a very pretty girl, with frank gray eyes glistening with excitement, with two red, slightly freckled cheeks, glowing a little under his eyes, with a short scarlet upper lip turned back, like a rose leaf, over a little line of white teeth, as she breathed somewhat hurriedly in her nervous excitement. He saw all this calmly, quietly, and, save for the natural uneasiness of a shy, reticent man, I fear without a quickening of his pulse.
“I knowed it," he said simply. “I heerd ye as I kem up.”
Miss Nelly was furious at his grammar, his dialect, his coolness, and still more at the suspicion that he was an active member of her invisible claque.
Ah,” she said, still smiling, “then I think I heard you"
“I reckon not,” he interrupted gravely. “I did n't stay long. I found the boys hanging round the house, and I allowed at first I'd go in and kinder warn you; but they promised to keep still, and you looked so comfortable and wrapped up in your music that I had n't the heart to disturb you, and kem away. I hope,” he added earnestly, " they did n't let on ez they heerd you. They aint a bad lot, — them Blazin' Star boys,