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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Ye'd better ask Number Thirteen


"Thar's

means of liftin' spells, but nothin' save death hitself cures ther witches."

"Number Thirteen, how does ye go about hit, ter slay a witch?"

"By shootin' with a silver bullet run outen a mould thet's done been rubbed with willow-sprigs."

"Number Thirteen, in the event of need, hev ye got sich a bullet hyar?"

"Each one of us hes got one."

Once more the apparent head of the clan turned to the girl. "Woman, air ye guilty or not guilty?"

"I reckon," suggested Alexander coolly, "ye'd better ask Number Thirteen. He 'pears ter know 'most everything."

But the spokesman declined to be lured by frivolous taunt from his vantage ground of solemnity. He turned his head and gravely inquired: "Number Thirteen, how does ye det'armine ther guilt of a witch?"

"Ef a preacher comes nigh, she kain't help turnin' her back."

"I reckon we hain't skeercely got no preacher handy ter test her with," interrupted the master of ceremonies drily, and the other went on.

"Ef she stays hyar 'twell midnight a sperit in ther guise of a black cat'll appear ter do her biddin'."

On the ground lay the saddle-bags and the rifle; as yet unmolested.

Before they had loosened the blindfold from her eyes she had been subjected to the needless indignity of bound wrists and now she was entirely helpless.

Her coat hung on her tattered during the struggle and her flannel shirt had been rent until both garments sagged from her shoulders, leaving bare the white curves of their flesh. The circle had fallen silent again. It remained silent for a half hour, then the man who had acted as chief inquisitor drew aside that other whom Alexander knew only as Number Thirteen, and, apart, they conferred in lowered voices. In the manner of these two, the captive recognized indications of anxiety. Palpably some detail of their plans had gone awry and that miscarriage, whatever its nature, was troubling their peace of mind. Had she understood more fully it would likewise have troubled her.

The conventional and successful course of highway robbery runs in the channel of a swift accomplishment and a rapid getaway. Yet this crew, leaving the saddle-bags uninvestigated at their feet, were solemnly playing out their farce at the expense of valuable time--time which should have stood for miles put between themselves and pursuit.

Was the difficulty that of disposing of her? If so, she stood face to face with a stark and grim extremity. Murder and concealment of a lifeless body, here, would be easy enough. These men were desperadoes, and if dire enough need pressed them they would not, she thought, balk overlong at the idea of killing a woman.

Yet the leader, studiously maintaining his Ku-Klux masquerade, parleyed with his underlings and consulted a heavy nickel-cased watch. His gesture showed a petulant impatience. The men in the silent circle stirred uneasily and from time to time low growls broke from their muffled lips. Obviously they were awaiting some development which though overdue had not materialized.


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