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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Any survival of the Ku Klux in a true sense


"Now,

Alexander McGivins," proclaimed a deep and solemnly pitched voice, "ye stands before ther dread an' awful conclave of ther order of ther Ku-Klux; ther regulators of sich as defies proper an' decorous livin'. We charges ye with unwomanly shamelessness an' with ther practicin' of witchcraft."

CHAPTER X

For a moment as she turned observant eyes about the walls of the place to which she had been brought, Alexander almost hoped that the astonishing statement of the spokesman was a true one--that in store for her, instead of robbery and possible outrage, lay only the judgment of the punitive clan. Such punishment might be brutally severe but she could face it in such fashion as would vindicate her claim of playing a man's game in a man's way.

So she stood there meeting the eyes that glared at her through the slit masks with a splendid assumption of scorn and defiance. She was keyed to that mood which makes it possible for martyrs to acquit themselves, even at the stake, with a victorious disdain.

Through this section of the mountains there had never been, since reconstruction days, any survival of the Ku-Klux in a true sense, but now and then, as in all wild and violent countries, sporadic "regulations" occurred in which masked men took a faltering law into their own less faltering hands. Sometimes it was

a bastard Ku-Klux in the original meaning of the term, a Vigilance Committee operating against abuses which the law failed to check. Oftener it was a masquerade behind which moved designs of personal hatred and vengeance. Sometimes the wife-beater or the harlot was punished. Sometimes the stronger enemy persecuted the weaker.

While Alexander waited for the next development, her captors prolonged the silence in order that the suspense of unguessed things should sap her courage.

The entrance through which they had come showed only as a darker spot in the shadowed vagueness of a far wall of rock, but there was a squareness about it which suggested a mineshaft. The walls themselves were streaked with black seams of coal and dug into tunnels that led in unknown directions.

The place was lighted by several lanterns of feeble power and a number of pine torches, and between the spot where they had stationed her and the crescent of dark figures that stood as silent accusers and judges, ran a trickling rivulet of water. At that detail Alexander smiled, for she knew that it was part and parcel of the absurdity contained in the allegation of witchcraft. The black art is powerless, by mountain tradition, to cross running water.

A bat fluttered zig-zag about the place brushing her cheek, but Alexander was not the sort of woman to be frightened by a bat.

When the calculated silence had held for perhaps five full minutes, the standing men meanwhile remaining as motionless as though they were themselves carved from coal, Alexander spoke.


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