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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Halloway had forgotten the others


Brent

leaped promptly to the task but Alexander looked at the huge body which blocked the window frame and a smile curled her lips. "You on a rope o' sheets!" She even laughed. "Ye mout es well entrust yourself ter a strand of flax thread!"

Through the floor licked a tongue of flame.

"Kain't you men jump--an' catch ther limb of thet thar sycamore," she added. "Hit hain't fur away--an' thet's how I'm aimin' ter leave myself."

Halloway turned an eager gaze upon the girl and even in the press of moments he remembered the role he was playing. "I reckon," he suggested, "I'd better lead off--ef thet flyin' limb holds me, it'll hold ther balance of ye."

What was genuinely in his mind was to be there to catch her if she missed her grip, but to forestall objection he thrust his body through the opening, measured the distance with a brief glance and launched himself outward. To use that fire escape one must catch the branch, and hold it without slipping, while he swung and groped with his feet for another limb below.

For Halloway the matter was done without doubt or wavering. It must be so done or result in a three-storied drop, but when he turned and looked back, bracing himself to catch Alexander, he saw her turn again into the room, out of his range of vision. He could see Brent and Bud vociferously arguing with

her and then she reappeared and lifted her pack and rifle over the sill. As she played out the improvised line of bedding her eyes were angry and Halloway guessed that it was because the two men had refused to leave without waiting for her. Eventually when the room showed red beyond the frame she slipped through, poised herself as the man had done, and came outward as smoothly as an exhibition diver. She landed so close to Halloway that her hands clasped over his own and her breath fluttered against his cheek. For a fraction of an instant, he thought she might fail to hold her grip and one arm swept around her pressing her close to him. Even when he knew that she was safe he did not release her and his veins were pounding with the wild exaltation of contact.

Somewhat pantingly but coolly she commanded: "Move back. Give me room ter stand on--them others kain't foller whilst we're blockin' ther way."

Halloway had forgotten the others, and when Bud Sellers jumped, the last of all, it was only just in time. A shower of sparks puffed out of the window and inside sounded a crash of collapsing timbers.

"Well, where do we go now?" inquired Brent a quarter of an hour later and the girl turned on her heel. "As fer me," she replied, "I'm goin' back ter my rafts of timber. I've done had a lavish of this town."

"May we go too?" inquired Halloway. "We hain't got no roof over us neither--now."

"I reckon ye kin all come save only----" she paused a moment and added in hardened voice, "save only ther man thet sought ter slay my paw."

Bud's head drooped. He was still sweating, for when he left the sill, the place had been a furnace, but he said nothing, and instantly Alexander wheeled again and spoke impulsively.


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