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In the moonlight

 After Jerry Aiken left the camp that night, there was no movement for several minutes; then Dwarf-Pete leisurely raised his broad shoulders and gazed into the treacherous haze of the moon.


"Mack!" she whispered.


Red immediately got up on his elbow.


»I think I meant to make fun.»


»But he will come back.»


They waited.


"No; he's gone for a walk, Mack. Now is our time!»


»What if he comes back before we plan to leave?»


»We kick him in the head and put the muzzle in that dog's mouth. And now to the horses. The Scovil old man doesn't wake up from nothing; he snores like a dog, you see. Strange that a man like him has such a daughter, isn't it?'


»It is impossible to predict what the heirs will be like.»


"So; it is true. Your father was a handsome man too, Red.»


Even the red's irritation was so restrained that there was no need to fear that it would wake up Scovil. Then the partners quickly rose from their beds, led the horses a short distance away, and quickly saddled three of them. But when they returned to pick up Nancy Scovil, the girl was fast asleep. Red Mack knelt down and touched his shoulder.


"Nancy!" she whispered.


No reply.


"Wake up!" The whisper was louder, but no sign of life.


"Hello, Nancy!" No movement at all.


In desperation, not daring to speak louder so as not to wake John Scovil, the Dwarf slipped his arm under the girl's shoulders and sat her up. But Nancy's head tilted back, and her body jerked limply against the Dwarf's side.


"The best sleeper in the world," cried Red Mack. He grabbed the girl's shoulders tightly and squeezed and shook them at the same time. Nancy's eyes finally flickered as her eyelids parted—slowly.


"We're ready," snapped Kääpiö.


"Where?" Nancy yawned earnestly.


»Let's go. What about you?"


"Where? I'm sleeping right now!"


The dwarf grunted.


"Are you going to ride with us tonight?"


"Oh," said the girl, "can't we stay a little longer?" It puts me to sleep so much that it hurts!"


»Let's get him up!» snapped the Dwarf. »Let's help him wake up.»


So they raised him between them to stand, and that movement completely woke him up. He began pulling on his riding boots, yawning horribly as he did so, while the companions waited, nervously blinking at the prone John Scovil and the direction Aiken had disappeared to. Finally, Nancy was ready. They took the girl, who lay between them in the soft, deep sand, to the horses behind the foot of the hill. Even now they would be lost if Aiken came back and spotted them. Scovil sauntered behind them. But he was only troubled by a nightmare. The next moment they had hoisted the girl—a stupendous burden—into the saddle, mounted their mounts themselves, and the horses set off, with only the rustling of the sand around their hooves as the sign of their departure.


They still advanced cautiously some distance from the camp, often flashing nervously behind them, until they had surely reached the soundless ones. In any other way it would have been difficult to track them down, for when they woke Nancy the moon was hidden in a thick cloud, and now they were enveloped in the almost total darkness of the night, so that when they reached the soundless, they were safe from pursuit.


At the same time, they moved from soft sand to firm, hard soil. The horses' hooves clattered echoingly on the ground, and they rode faster.


Around that time, Nancy Scovil began to really wake up.


Until now, sleep had veiled both his eyes and thoughts like blinds. He only knew that he was acting according to other people's instructions — as he had done all his life. Admittedly, he vaguely remembered, an infinitesimal time ago, that he had planned such an escape from the cruel eye of the terrible Jerry Aiken; but that all belonged to the hazy past.


The only vivid impression at the moment was that his will was being controlled by the will of two strangers, forcing him to act according to their wishes. It was so familiar that it couldn't wake him up fully. But when the horses were now on solid ground, the trot shook the sleep from his brain, and only then did he begin to think and feel that night.


It didn't come to him suddenly. But gradually he began to sense something new. Others had always planned his life, his days, all his time. Now he, strangely enough, was independent. He rode at night, according to his own will and in his own desired direction. He sensed it slowly, gradually came to taste it, listened to it almost like distant, enchanting music.


Freedom! But was he free? He could easily find out about that.


He stopped his horse.


»This pace is exhausting,« he grumbled. »Let's ride for a short distance on the toilet leg.»


The partnerships slowed down obediently.


"Indeed," said the Dwarf. "How come that didn't occur to you, Mack? Is your sense so dull as to force a woman to trot on such ground?'


»Don't put the whole blame on me!» snarled Red Mack. »Who rode in the front nose?»


Yes, they rode in the direction she, Nancy, had determined and according to her will. How had this happened? From the French girl, whose finger had first patiently pointed, and whose lips had patiently repeated many times: » Je suis, tu es, il est », to the tutor who had monotonously drummed years and events into her head, to the stable ring who had taught her to ride, and to the nimble little man who had instructed her to dance, all together and each separately had been but expressions of the will of that mighty Overseer, against whom it was useless to strive.


»Your father wants it so.» »Oh, ma'am , that's what Monsieur wants .» "I'm not forcing you to do that, miss, but the master, God bless you!" He had been taken care of like that.


And from his earliest memories, his existence and future were not up to his own will. His father's shadow stood in his path, and in that shadow he must necessarily walk. Yes, even the young people who happened to be with him looked at him with only one eye, the other was unflinchingly directed at the great man and his millions. After a while he had learned that while it was useless to resist father, it was at least possible not to swim with the current.


So he had learned to wait without effort, and his father's will had to both carry and sustain him. If he himself was not allowed to think for himself, at least it gave him some satisfaction not to think about the thoughts of others. And at last he had reached a state approximating the Nirvana of the Hindus; Nancy Scovil didn't think at all. His life was spent in a haze that not even his father's deep voice could dispel. Jerry Aiken's fierce stubbornness had almost torn the gauze, but finally Nancy had found a way to outsmart him too, and if she couldn't outsmart him, she could escape from Aiken's clutches.


How about now?


He looked at the dark figures riding on either side of him. Red Mack's lean, ugly features stood out clearly against the shadows of the night, except when the broad brim of his sombrero rested on his forehead. He rode lightly, his long body swaying with the horse's steps. And the steed, like the master, was tall and lean, cat-like agile.


Pete the Dwarf riding on the other side was completely different. His broad-shouldered horse stomped so that the ground shook, and shook his head as he carried the giant burden that made the saddle straps creak and squeal. The man himself rose big and solid, unshakable as a rock. He seemed rooted to his place and defied time and the shaking influence of the forces of nature. But still—they both kept their heads turned slightly towards him. If he trotted, so did they; if he walked his horse, so did they. Their whole demeanor exuded submission to his will.


Imagine a man who has been kept in irons in the dark hold of a ship and who has not even known which port the ship is from and where it is going. Imagine that man suddenly brought from the hold, his chains untied, him placed at the helm of the ship, with the stars as his guide, and the sinewy sailors waiting ready to obey his smallest commands — then you will have some idea of ​​the feeling which, like a huge, growing tidal wave, roared and swelled in Nancy Scovil's heart. He was free; he had the power to command.


Still, it's not like it all suddenly became clear to him. Little by little, he groped his way to his new position. Both his body and soul were numbed by a lifelong sleep. And the fluttering feeling of happiness was so strange that it downright creeped him out. But he, whose every thought and deed had been watched and directed — now rode alone through the desert towards an unknown destination, accompanied by two almost strange men. That knowledge rolled one wave after another onto the enchanted shore of sleep in his mind.


Now they were sniffing a long, long stilt. And when they reached the top of the hill, a gusty, sweet, cool night wind blew in his face. The same wind drove the cloud from before the moon, and the whole undulating landscape changed — the hollows were filled with pulsating, blue shadows, and all the high places were covered with a silver blanket.


And then something snapped in Nancy Scovil, snapped like a violin string.



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