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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Cussin' ther Almighty each separate time


don't ye say somethin'," she demanded. "I've got friends thet'll be s'archin' these hills fer me right vigorous ef I don't git ter Viper in good time."

It was a bold and provocative speech, but it failed to tempt the silent men out of the pose they had assumed. They knew the effect of protracted silence and impending danger to sap even an assertive courage and for five other minutes they stood wordless and motionless. Only their shadows moved under the torch-light, wavering fitfully from small to large, from light to dark like draperies in a wind.

Finally the man at the center who appeared to exercise a sort of command moved a step forward and raised both hands. The others lifted high their right arms and in a sepulchral voice the spokesman demanded, "Does ye all solemnly sw'ar, by ther dreadful oath ye've done tuck, with yore lives forfeit fer disloyalty or disobedience, ter try this wench on ther charge of outragin' decorum--an' practicin' ther foul charms of witchcraft? Does ye all sw'ar ter deal with her in full an' unmitigated jestice despite thet she s'arves Satan with a comely face and a comely body? Does ye all sw'ar?"

The raised hands, with a unanimous and solemn gesture, fell over the hearts of the questioned and then came aloft once more, still as if with a single nerve impulse. In a unison out of which no separate voice emerged sounded the reply: "We does!"

style="text-align: justify;">Alexander laughed, but it must be confessed that that was pure bravado. She knew that on the backwaters of many creeks were cabins where simple folks invoked charms against witchcraft and did so with genuine dread. She knew that many others, less candid, laughed at old superstitions yet acknowledged them in their hearts. In her case the witchcraft charge was of course a cloak for subterfuge, but it was a jest which might bear bitterly serious results.

"Alexander McGivins," began the spokesman afresh, "we charges ye with these weighty matters; thet ye glories in callin' yoreself a he-woman--refusin' ter accept God's mandate an' castin' mortification on yore own sex by holdin' on ter shameless notions. We charges ye with settin' ther example of unwomanly behavior before ther eyes of young gals, an' we aims ter make a sample of ye.

"We furthermore charges ye with practicin' witchcraft; with castin' spells an' performin' devil's work." He wheeled and demanded suddenly; "Number Thirteen, I calls on ye ter step forward an' testify. How does witches gain thar black powers?"

The answering voice, was plainly disguised, and it came with the lugubrious quality of calculated awesomeness.

"By compact with Satan."

"Number Thirteen, how is sich-like compacts made?"

"Thar's ways an' ways. A body kin go up ter a mounting top fer nine nights an' shoot through a kerchief at ther moon, cussin' ther Almighty each separate time, an' ownin' Satan fer master."

"Number Thirteen, what powers does Satan give these hyar sarvants of his'n?"

"They gains ther baleful power ter kill folks with witch balls, rolled tight outen ther hair of a cow or a varmint. By runnin' a hand over a rifle gun they kin make hit shoot crooked. They kin spell a houn' dog so thet he back-tracks 'stid of trailin' for'ards. They kin bring on all manner of pestilence an' make cows go dry an' hosses fling their riders. They kin----"

"Thet's enough, Number Thirteen," announced the spokesman. "Thet's a lavish of evil. How kin they be hindered from this deviltry?"

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