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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Halloway and finally against Bud Sellers


Yet

instead of alarm, a smile came to Brent's eyes, for he had recognized Bud Sellers and he no longer distrusted the boy's purposes.

In Alexander's room the lamp had long been blown out but to the eyes of the girl sleep did not come at once. She gazed at the window where occasional flashes of lightning woke and died. She was wondering what had happened back there at the house where her father lay wounded. Of Bud Sellers she thought only as of a man she had promised not to kill, though against him, as an instrumentality of her grief, resentment burned hot. She could not guess that he stood at that moment in the hallway, guarding her door and nursing in his contrite heart an unexpressed and hopeless worship of her.

For Bud, save when the liquor conquered him, was a kindly soul; even lovable as a faithful dog might be, though of that canine virtue people thought less than of his occasional rabies.

He had talked with Alexander--always impersonally--a scant half dozen times in his life--but since boyhood he had dreamed of her as a peasant may dream of exalted nobility--and his life had never known any other dream.

But if Alexander thought of Bud only as the author of her present anxiety, her thoughts strayed before she fell asleep, to another man.

The face and figure of that Colossus who had swung men right and

left, rose before her and her worship of masculine strength and courage paid smiling tribute.

"I reckon he don't never hev ter use more'n half ther strength he's got in them arms an' shoulders of his'n," she told herself. It did not enter troublesomely into her reflections that she had marked also the infectious quality of his smile and the clear brightness of his eye with an interest that was purely feminine.

As her lids finally grew heavy she murmured to herself: "Ef I was like other gals I reckon I'd git sort of crazy erbout thet big feller. He's like a pine tree standin' up amongst saplin's--but I don't reckon a body could hardly ever git him clean, even ef they soaked him in hot suds fer a week of Sundays."

With that reflection--also fastidiously feminine--she turned on her side and slept.

It was into a room below that Lute Johnson stumbled long after midnight on most unsteady legs. Lute was not satisfied with his evening. He had been actuated in his attempted hazing of Alexander by Jase Mallows, who thought her pride should be humbled, yet sought to accomplish that end vicariously in order that the doors of future conquest might not be closed against himself. Lute's undertaking had not been a success and he sought his bed, sodden and bloodshot of eye. He was nursing grudges of varying degrees against Jase Mallows, Alexander, Halloway and finally against Bud Sellers.

He kicked off his brogans and as he leaned to blow out the light, he stumbled, sprawling headlong and carrying the lamp down with him. For a moment he lay where he had fallen, too dazed and befuddled to rise, but presently he clambered up, his eyes wide and terrified, for his rising was Phoenix-like--mantled in flame. With incredible swiftness the flimsy coverings of his bed had burst into a crimson glare and even his clothing was afire.


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