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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Jase Mallows reddened to his temples


A

half hour later the man from town drew a freer breath. It was still a wild enough ride, but after the lurching dash out of the cauldron, it seemed a peaceful voyage. Now down the center of the river they swept at tide-speed. At either end of each raft men bent to the sweeps in the task of their crude piloting. Tree tops brushed under them as they went and far out on either side were wide-reaching lagoons that had been high ground three days ago.

Alexander herself was standing a little apart and Brent was of a mind to draw her into conversation but as he approached her he decided that this was not the time to improve acquaintanceship. Her air of detachment amounted to aloofness and Brent remembered that she had, weighing upon her, the anxiety of her father's condition.

Jase Mallows, however, just then relieved from duty at the steering sweep, was less subtle of deduction. With his eye on Alexander, whose back was turned to him, he jauntily straightened his shoulders and gave his long mustache a twirl. Brent thought of the turkey-gobbler's strut as, with amused eyes, he watched the backwoods lady-killer. Jase had heard many of the old wives' tales of Alexander and thought of her as one, ambitious of amorous conquest, may think of a famous and much discussed beauty. Had she been another woman, Jase would before now have gone over to the house on a "sparking" expedition, but Old Man McGivins had discouraged

such aspirations--and his daughter had been no less definite of attitude. Here, however, he had the girl on neutral ground and meant to seize his opportunity.

So he strolled over to her with an ingratiating smile.

"Aleck," he began in the drawling voice which he himself rather fancied, "we hed a right norrer squeak of hit back thar didn't we?"

There should have been discouragement in the coolness of the glance that she turned upon him, but Jase had the blessing of self-confidence.

"Ye war thar yerself--ye ought ter know," said Alexander curtly. Then she added, "An' don't call me Aleck--my name's Alexander."

Jase Mallows reddened to his temples. There had been moments, even in the straining activity of these hours, for him to boast to his fellows that it would be interesting to watch the progress of his campaign for the affections of Alexander. Now they were watching.

So Jase laughed awkwardly. "Wa'al, thet's reasonable enough," he handsomely conceded. "A gal's got a rather es ter what name she's ter be called by an' ef she's es purty es you be she kin afford ter be high-headed too."

Alexander stood looking the man over from head to foot as though studying a new species--possibly a species of insect-life. Under that embarrassing scrutiny Jase fidgeted his hands. Eventually he drew out a flask and having uncorked it he ceremoniously wiped the bottle's mouth with the palm of his hand. "Let's take a leetle dram ter better acquaintances," he suggested. "Thet thar's licker I wouldn't offer ter nobody but a reg'lar man. Hit's got a kick like a bob-tailed mule."

With features that had not altered their expression, the girl reached out her hand and accepted the bottle.


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