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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Alexander had never seen such a spectacle before


About

a red hot stove hung a crew of as dirty and disorderly men as ever came out of coal mine or lumber camp. Those who remained sober remained also somewhat aloof against the walls and kept their mouths shut. From the ceiling downward hung the thick, stale cloud of smoke from many strong pipes and the rancid poison of air discharged from many lungs had become a stench in the nostrils. Occasional figures walked with an unsteady lurch, while through the whole chaotic pandemonium others slept heavily in their chairs--or even on the floor.

But just before Alexander reached the porch and hesitated on the threshold Jase Mallows had been there. Now he was gone but he had first imparted the information that the "'he-woman' from ther head of Shoulderblade branch" was coming hither. So it was likely that she would have a noisy welcome. On the outskirts of the crowd sat a giant who seemed a shade rougher of guise than those about him. When he stood, this man topped six feet by as many inches. His shoulders had such a spread that one thought of them as of an eagle's wings--from tip to tip. His face, now bristling with dark stubble, was none the less clear-chiseled and arrestingly featured. At first sight a stranger would be apt to exclaim, "What a magnificent figure of a man he would make, if he were only clean-shaven and well dressed." This fellow was not drinking but looking on from a table at which no one ventured to challenge his sole occupancy

or his evident preference for his own society.

A somewhat amused and indulgent gleam dwelt in his eye, tinged, it is true, with a certain unveiled contempt--but it was not the disgust that might have been expected in a sober man looking on at such a loathsomeness of debauchery.

There were women present too,--coarse and vicious creatures who lacked even the sort of tawdry finery that their sisters in western mining camps affect. There was here no shimmer of even the slaziest satin. In dress as in character they were drab.

So was the stage set when the door opened and Alexander stepped in, dropping her pack to the floor and standing speechless for a moment or two as her amazed eyes took in the composition of the picture. Alexander had never seen such a spectacle before, and as she looked about for someone who appeared to have authority here, her fine eyes and lips fell into an unmasked scorn.

She had not closed the door and through it, close on her heels, slipped Brent. For, a little space the confusion took no account of her coming but the city man was standing directly behind her and he saw the pliancy of her attitude stiffen and then across her shoulder he recognized in a rear door the tense figure of Bud Sellers.

Sellers stood looking through a lane which chance had left open and Brent thought that his posture was the electrically expectant one of a man poised for instant action. He remembered that when Bud went on a spree he was known as the "mad dog."

That same insanity which had attacked the father might now even forget that the daughter's assumption of being a man was only a pretense. He might act as though she were a man bent on avenging a mortal injury. There was no leisure then to speculate on how Bud had gotten here--that he was here with his gaze fixed in that galvanized fashion on the girl was a sufficient cause for apprehension.


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