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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Joe McGivins felt that a bitter cup had passed from him


stood for a moment gazing with widened and terrified eyes. She had now no time to lose. The lapping waters of a tiny brook were calling her to prompt and hazardous action. She fell to her knees and clasped her hands in a clutch of desperation. "God, give me strength right now ter ack like a man," she prayed. "Hit seems like ther fust time I'm called on, I'm turnin' plum woman-weak."

Then she rose and pressed her pounding temples. It was not the fear of a runaway river that held her in a tormenting suspense of indecision, but the hard choice between leaving her father or fulfilling a duty to which he had assigned her in his stead.

When she opened the door of the house again she saw an agitated figure kneeling beside the bed. For all its breadth of shoulder and six feet of height; for all its inherited stoicism that had stood through generations, it was shaking with sobs.

As Alexander came into the room her brother rose from his knees with pallid cheeks and woebegone eyes.

"Who shot him?" he demanded in a tense voice. "These hyar folks won't tell me nuthin'."

The girl repressed an impulse of satirical laughter. She knew that Joe McGivins would storm and swear vengeance upon the hand that had been raised to strike his father down and that beyond hysterical vehemence his indignation would come to nothing.

He would believe himself sincere and in the end his resolution would waste away into procrastination and specious excuses.

"Whoever shot him, Joe," she replied, maintaining the complimentary fiction that she must temporize with his just wrath, "Paw he's done exacted a pledge thet neither of us won't seek ter avenge ther deed. Hit's a pledge thet binds us both."

Even while his temples were still hot with his first wave of passionate indignation, Joe McGivins felt that a bitter cup had passed from him.

"Joe," said the girl in a low voice, "I wants thet ye heeds me clost. Ef we fails ter save this timber hit'll jest erbout kill Paw. Ef ther dam busts loose, somebody's got ter ride them rafts."

The boy's face paled abruptly. He was a handsome youth, outwardly cut to as fine a pattern of physical fitness as his sister exemplified, but in his eyes one found none of her dauntlessness of spirit. Hurriedly Alexander swept on.

"I aims ter go back over thar right now. He's got ter be kept quiet an' so I dastn't tell him what I seeks ter do. I hain't fearsome of leavin' ye ter watch after him. I knows ye kin gentle him an' comfort him even better'n I could do hit myself."

She thrust out her hand, boy fashion, and her brother clasped it. Five minutes later she stood looking down on her father's closed eyes, listening to the easy breathing of the man in the bed.

On the floor at her feet lay the pack which she meant to take with her, a rifle leaned against a chair and a pistol was slung in a holster under her left arm-pit--Alexander was accountred for her venture.

Brent watched her swinging down the slope with an easy, space-devouring stride. He had begun to think she would be too late; more than half to hope she would be too late. If she arrived on time there was, of course, no turning back. It should be recorded to his credit that no man had guessed at his inner trepidation. But the sullen swell of the thundering waters had beaten not only on his ears but on his heart as well--and dread had settled over him like a pall.

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