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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Halloway in his counterfeited sleep cursed to himself


Halloway's

head had fallen forward on his chest and soon his heavy breathing became that of a man who is napping.

Finally the other opened his key and sounded the call for Viper, a hamlet ten miles away, though in practical effect it was more distant since the road between twisted painfully over ridge and through gorge. It was on an infrequently used freight spur but it boasted communication with the world by wire--and it was important now because it was a town through which Alexander must pass on her way from Coal City to the mouth of Shoulder-blade Creek.

The metallic voice of the telegraph key subsided, and shortly came the response. Halloway still breathed heavily on--a sleeping giant whose ears were very much awake. This was no official message paying toll, but a private conversation between operators bent on whiling away dull moments. Moreover it was evidently the continuation of talk previously commenced so that to the eavesdropper it was like a continued story of which he had missed the opening chapters.

"Upward of four thousand dollars," tapped out Wicks. "That's big money, but the more men that split it the less each feller gets, so they don't want too many from Viper."

Halloway realized at once that this lantern-jawed operator had a swift and sure sending finger, and when the answer came it was, in contrast, labored and ragged. It was

as if two men talked, one in rapid and clear-clipped syllables--the other in a stutter.

Said Viper, "There might be neck-stretching too if too many tongues make talk. Jess will have the boys ready at the place soon in the morning. They will wait for orders there."

"At the place!" Halloway in his counterfeited sleep cursed to himself. If instead of those indefinite words the point had been named he would have gained something tangible. He knew now however beyond a doubt that both operators were conspirators and he had gleaned one comforting assurance--the plans contemplated no joining of forces until to-morrow. Those at the far end were still uninstructed. If it came to a race to-night that gave a better chance.

Then Viper cut off and Wicks, with a sigh of boredom, settled back in his chair once more and gave himself over to silence.

Finally Halloway stirred out of his slumber and stretched himself.

"I reckon," he admitted shamefacedly, "I must hev fell asleep. That damn fire broke up my rest last night." With which comment he slouched, still sleepily, out of the place, rubbing his eyes as he went, with ham-like fists.

At the rafts he found Bud Sellers, and a round dozen men of Bud's selection. Looking them over, Halloway privately approved. There was not an eye in the number that was not hawk-clear; or a figure that was not nail-hard. These were fellows cut to a pattern of action, but even in their excellent average, one stood out with an individualism which immediately struck the observer.

He was introduced as Jerry O'Keefe, but Halloway would not have needed the name, once he had seen the lazy challenging twinkle in the gray-blue eyes, to spot him as a man of Irish blood. O'Keefe had need to look up to meet the glance of the giant, but that was for him unusual. Into most eyes he looked down, for when he stood in his socks he was six feet two inches of hard-bitten sinew and man-flesh.


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