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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

There one must risk an ambuscade


But

when she had gone down into the cloistered shadows of the valley her spirits descended too and when she slipped through the thickets and reached a certain point, something like despair tightened about her heart. Across the line of her march boiled a freshet which might as well have been a river. To swim it with her impediments was impossible and though it might carry her dangerously close to the road which she sought to avoid, she had no choice. She must follow it until a crossing developed.

As a woodsman, Alexander acknowledged few peers but this was to her, unfamiliar country. She was moreover pitting her skill against one who was her equal if not her superior, and who knew every trail and by-way hereabouts. He was a youth with a vacuous, almost idiotic face, whom she had that same day encountered. He had left her sight, but had never been too remote to follow or gauge her course and what he learned he relayed to others. In due time he had known without going further just where she must bring up--for he knew the condition of that stream--and its crossings.

The girl came, in due course, upon a broken litter of giant boulders, each the size of a small house, which lay scattered where at last the water grew shallow. She could even make out a point where one might cross dryshod by leaping from rock to rock.

It was in a fashion a place of mystery and foreboding, for each

of those titanic rocks, with its age-long smoothness and greenness was a screen whose other side might harbor things only to be guessed. There one must risk an ambuscade, trusting to one's star, and Alexander loosened her pistol and shifted her saddle-bags to her left shoulder and her rifle to her left hand.

Then she started forward---and one by one left the boulders behind her until she came to the last. As she rounded the final shoulder of sandstone her hand was knocked up and her pistol fell clattering.

Her ambuscaders had known a thing which she had not--that for all the roomy freedom of the woods she must come out at last through this one passage--as wine must come out through the neck of the bottle.

About her closed a tightly grouped handful of men whose faces were masked and whose bodies were covered by the uniformity of black rubber coats.

Alexander did not surrender tamely. With the strength and the desperation of a tigress she gave them battle, until the sheer force of their numbers had smothered her into helplessness. Her coat was ripped and her shirt hung in tatters from one curved shoulder before they pinioned her and silenced her lips with a bandage.

After that they blind-folded her and carried her up and down hill, twisting beyond all chance of guessing the course, to a place where the air was cool with that freshness of quality that characterizes a cavern. There they stood her upright and removed the bandage.

About her was a flare of torches and the grotesque play of shadows between the grotto-like walls of an abandoned coal mine. About her too ranged in the spectral formality of masked faces and black rubber coats; of peaked hats with low turned brims, stood the circle of her captors.


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