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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Ye're ther only man hyar I kin plum


Suddenly

she laid both her hands on his shoulders and under her touch a tremor raced through his arteries. The mountains seemed to grow unsteady. "Ye're ther only man hyar I kin plum, teetotally depend on. When the bank opens termorrer, I wants ye ter be thar. I don't want ye ter go with me on ther trip back home. I hain't goin' ter suffer nobody ter do that--but thar's a thing I may need ye ter do."

"Es God's lookin' down on us, ef a man kin do hit----" he swore in an emotion-shaken voice, "hit'll be done."

Later that evening Alexander announced her decision and from it she refused to depart. As soon as she could transact business at the bank the next day she would set out on a hired mule, with the money in her saddle-bags. She would tolerate no escort, because one person could travel secretly where several could not. However when she had progressed a certain distance she would turn the mule back. The only reason for its use, at all, would be to make it appear that she was going by the route which the robbers assumed.

Then, depending upon a woodcraft which she trusted, she would swing out at a circle on foot, holding to the laurel thickets and pass, not through but around and above the Gap, which seemed the logical place for a holdup. She consented that her assembled body-guard should, if they insisted, push on and mobilize at Viper, where if suspicious circumstances warranted,

they might be near enough to take emergency action. If she came through safely to Perry Center, she would be secure in the house of a kinsman and from there on would have little to fear.

At ten o'clock the next morning Alexander came out of the bank, followed by Bud Sellers, who carried his own saddle-bags over his arm, as if he too contemplated a journey. Brent, in order to avoid the appearance of too close a participation in her affairs, did not accompany her--nor was Halloway anywhere in evidence.

As the girl went out to where her hired mule stood hitched, various observers along the ragged street noted that her rifle was strapped under the saddle skirt in such a way that it could not be speedily loosened. They also watched as, with no pretense of concealment, she stuffed into her saddle-hags a parcel done up in heavy brown paper, and made conspicuous by the bank's red sealing wax. Then, still scornful of evasion, she mounted and rode away as straight-shouldered and militant a figure as Jeanne d'Arc herself.

Bud Sellers, looking after her from the door of the bank, was gloomy of countenance beyond his wont.

CHAPTER IX

As the mule ambled along the mired streets of the wretched hamlet there were eyes following its course that masked an interest beyond the usual. If certain men who had attended yesterday's caucus still loafed inactively about the sidewalks, it was not because they were indifferent to possible developments, but in obedience to a settled plan. Last night a party had set forth ahead. Its members were now stationed at appointed posts in spots so lonely and so silent that one might have passed them at a stone's throw without suspecting their presence. They had gone singly and by different ways--at the start. Others had come to cooperate from Viper and the net was spread with meticulous care and completeness. For communication and signaling the voices of forest things were available; the caw of the crow in the timber, the bark of the fox in the thicket, the note of those birds that the winter had not driven south.


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