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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

An' ef them fellers undertakes ter harm her


my limited acquaintance," he objected, "how in God's name am I to pick such men?"

"No man who looked into the dog-like eyes of young Bud Sellers," asserted Halloway, "could doubt that he'd give his life for that girl. He can also keep his mouth tight. Tell him the whole story and take his orders. I'm off now to sit on my shoulder blades in the telegraph office."

About the post office loitered a small crowd drawn together by the instinct for companionship and to that gathering place Brent turned first in search of Bud.

It proved a happy choice and when he had, with a seeming of casualness, led his man into a quieter spot he demanded, "What has become of Alexander?"

He thought that the young mountaineer stiffened a bit and that his face became mask-like. But this may have been the jealous tendency of a hopeless passion, and when Brent swiftly narrated all that he and Halloway had learned, the secretiveness of guise fell away from the listening face and the body trembled as if stricken with a chill, but a chill of rage and indignation which had no kinship with timorousness.

"Hit looks like hit would hev been safer an' handier fer Alexander jest ter ride on back home with ther same crowd thet come down-river with her--they're all got ter make ther same journey," was his first comment, but after a moment he

shook his head. "Howsomever, I reckon thet they don't aim ter hasten back so damn fast. They hain't been in a town fer a long spell an' they seeks ter tarry--an' quite several of 'em air fellers I mistrusts anyhow."

"Can't you pick out enough dependable men for an immediate start if need be?"

Bud laughed shortly. "Did ye 'low, atter hearin' what ye jest narrated that I'd be liable ter stand hitched fer long? I'll pick 'em out all right--an' speedily."

Into his suddenly narrowing eye shot a menacing gleam. "An' ef them fellers undertakes ter harm her, afore God, thar's goin' ter be some shovelin' of grave-yard dirt, too."

Brent sought out the bank president who lived in town and put his terse question as to whether Alexander had withdrawn from the safe, her package of money.

"She hadn't been there again up to the time of my leaving," the banker replied, "but, I came away before closing."

The telegraph office in the railway station was a dingy place of cobwebbed murk. It was also the express office, and in helter-skelter disarray lay a litter of uncalled-for plow-shares and such articles as go from the end of the rails into that hinterland where lies an isolated world of crag and loneliness.

Except for the operator--who was also ticket-agent and general factotum--it was now empty and dull of light with its smeared window glasses between its interior and the dispirited grayness of the outer skies. The dust-covered papers and miscellany which cumbered the table long undisturbed, spoke of an idle office and of hours unedged with interest.

As Halloway's great bulk shadowed the door, Wicks glanced up, and nodded with a somewhat surly unwelcome.

"Did ye want anything," he asked shortly.

"No, just loafin' 'round," drawled the visitor as he settled indolently into a chair which creaked its complaint under his weight.

For a short while the two kept up a perfunctory semblance of conversation, but between these interchanges of comment, lengthening intervals elapsed.

Wicks sat inertly gazing at those familiar stains on the wall which long familiarity had made hateful to him. His expression was moody and only occasionally did he turn to glance at his unbidden guest.

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