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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

I reckon ef a gal kin undertake hit


"Ye says Alexander aims ter ride one of them rafts, ef hit gets carried out o' thar?" inquired a tall young man, whose eyes were reckless and dissipated, as a wearied kinsman stumbled into a cabin and threw himself down limply in a chair.

The tall young man was accounted handsome in a crude, back-country way and fancied himself the devil of a fellow with the ladies. "Wa'al," he drawled, "I reckon ef a gal kin undertake hit, I hain't none more timorous then what she air." And to that frankly spoken sentiment he added an inward after-word. "Folks 'lows thet she hain't got no time o' day fer men--but when we ends up this hyar trip, I'll know more erbout thet fer myself." He turned and began making his rough preparations for the voyage.

And as Jase Mallows rose to the bait of that unusual call, so others like him rose and each of them was a man conspicuous for recklessness and wildness among a people where these qualities do not elicit comment until they become extreme.

An hour or two later Brent, eying the fresh arrivals, frowned a bit dubiously as he compared them with the human beavers who had moiled there through the night. It was, he reflected, as though the sheep had gone and the goats had come in their stead.

Then as the newcomers fell to their task of throwing up rough shanties for shelter upon the rafts it seemed to Will Brent as safe a proposition to embark with them as to be shipwrecked with a crew of pirates.

He had himself entertained no intention of boarding any of these three rafts, but he was not craven, and if a girl was going to trust herself to those chances of flood and human passion he told himself that he could do no less than stand by.

The river was already creeping above the gnarled sycamore roots that jutted out of the precipice, marking the highest stage of previous flood tides.

The two neighbor women had come back into the room where Aaron McGivins lay wounded. The man himself, reassured by the presence of his daughter, had fallen at last into an undisturbed sleep and the doctor delivered himself of the first encouragement that had crossed his sternly honest lips. "I reckon now he's got a right even chanst ter git well ef he kin contrive ter rest a-plenty."

The girl's head came back, with a spasmodic jerk. It was the sudden relaxing of nerves that had been held taut to the snapping point. With a step suddenly grown unsteady she made her way to a chair by the hearth and sat gazing fixedly at the dying embers.

She had not let herself hope too much, and now a sudden rush of repressed tears threatened a flood like the one which had come outdoors from the broken tightness of the ice.

But she felt upon her the critical eyes of the neighbor women and refused to surrender to emotion. After a little period of respite she let herself out of the door into the rain that had begun falling with a sobbing fitfulness, and went through the starkness of the woods.

Back of the house was the "spring-branch" of which she had spoken as a gauge to the stage of the flood. By some freakish law of co-ordination, which no one had ever been able to explain, that small stream gave a reading of conditions across the ridge, as a pulse-beat gives the tempo of the blood's current. One could look at it and estimate with fair accuracy how fast and how high the river was rising. When a rotting stump beside the basin of the spring had water around its roots it meant that the arteries of the hills were booming into torrential fury. When the basin overflowed, the previous maximum of the river's rise had been equaled. It was overflowing now.


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