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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

She murmured incredulously and Halloway made prompt answer


"Where's

Brent?" asked Halloway, and Bud Sellers, whose manner had fallen into the stillness of one chafing against delay, replied tersely, "He hain't come back yit."

Soon, though, he arrived, and by now the west was reddening toward sunset.

In a situation calling for absolute parsimony in the economy of time it would have meant moments salvaged for the trio of men, who must act as commanders of the rest, to have gone at once into a discussion of the results of their several investigations. Yet that was impossible, since for Halloway to tell his story to both would mean revealing his knowledge of telegraphy. So while he and Brent talked first alone, Bud Sellers stood apart, and into that fertile soil of mountain suspicion crept a vague questioning as to why full confidence was denied him--a suspicion which was later to bear fruit.

When he had been told all, save of Halloway's eavesdropping, he made his own report.

"Myself, I hain't found out much, save thet I've got ther men ready, an' thet I seed Lute Brown talkin' with Jase Mallows a spell back."

It was arranged that half of the force should proceed at top speed to Crabapple post office and mobilize there; that Halloway himself should push through to Viper and eavesdrop on the telegraph key, and that the others should loaf about Coal City watching the suspects

and gleaning what information they could. The men of the last named contingent were to play hounds on the heels of the plotters and seek to follow them without being discovered.

While the three were still in council at one end of the raft, Bud came suddenly to his feet and his jaw dropped in amazement. There striding down the bank to the boom, with a face as freshly pink as a wild rose, was Alexander herself, with her pack on her back.

She saw the gathering of men, some with faces that were unfamiliar to her, and halted to inspect them. Into her eyes came something like a smoulder as though in resentment of unwarranted trespassing, then seeing Bud and Halloway and Brent she came aboard and demanded curtly, "What be all these men doin' hyar?"

For an instant no one responded to her question. The reaction of unexpected relief from driving anxiety left them wordless. Finally Brent laughed nervously.

"It would appear that they are here for no reason whatsoever," he said, "though a few minutes ago we thought it a matter of life and death." Her nonplussed expression was sufficiently full of interrogation to cue a fuller explanation and Brent embarked upon the summarized recital of what they had discovered.

Alexander's eyes widened into amazement, and she caught one lip between her white teeth. She stood very straight and indignant, and the men acknowledged to themselves that she had never seemed so beautiful before, nor so militant.

"So they aimed ter lay-way me," she murmured incredulously and Halloway made prompt answer. "Yes, and ye mighty nigh walked right into th'ar dead-fall. Don't ye see now how plum reckless yore plan is? Whar was ye at anyhow?"


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