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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Mebby Jase hes done come ter grief


The

half hour became an hour, then doubled itself to a full two--in oppressive silence.

"What be ye awaitin' fer?" Alexander demanded in a taunting voice, though inwardly she felt that the peril was pregnant and immediate. The only satisfaction she could deny them now was that of any confessed fear.

This time the speaker snarled his answer back at her angrily, without any consistent attempt at holding the ritualistic impressiveness of manner.

"Mebby we're waitin' fer midnight--twell ther black cat comes."

Alexander could not guess that all these malefactors were on tenterhooks of misgiving because the arrangement entered into as a concession to the vanity of Jase Mallows had failed; the fictitious rescue which was to re-establish him in the eyes of the girl and give to them the chance to practice highway robbery, still stopping short of murder. The whole scheme had been cut to that pattern and it was now too late to evolve a new strategy. The trial was to have seemed genuine. It was to have been followed by a fictitious battle in which the alleged regulators were to have been put to flight by the victorious entry of Jase himself with his underlings. The girl, snatched from the jaws of death by his valor would henceforth rest under such obligations as could be recompensed only by her favor--but in the melee, her money would disappear.

style="text-align: justify;">Jase had not come--and the captive whom he was to take off their hands must either be done to death or liberated with a wagging tongue.

Eventually the masked head-highwayman led two of his men aside. He recognized that having compacted with Jase they could not ignore him. In a whisper he ventured the suggestion, "Mebby Jase hes done come ter grief. Mebby we'd better kill ther gal atter all an' git away. But if we does we've got ter git Jase afore he has time ter blab an' hang us all."

Halloway spending a long and dreary day bound to his chair in the baggage-room at Viper had succeeded in wriggling his lips free of the bandage. As yet that was only an academic victory. Unless there stood in the room where the instrument ticked a sufficiently strong force of his friends to wage a successful battle, any sound from his lips would mean only death for them and himself--without material advantage to his cause.

Twice during his long inactivity the raucous sound of a telephone bell jangled and he heard a voice replying to some inquiry, "No, he hain't been here." The question so answered, he guessed, had come from Brent seeking to locate him and confer with him as he came along the road between Coal City and Viper. He thought very grimly and with bitter futility of the force waiting so near and so eagerly keyed to action under O'Keefe, which one minute of private speech would launch into a hurricane effectiveness. In mad moments he had even tried to break the chain between the steel bracelets that bit into his wrists. His Samson strength had strained until the arteries swelled in his temples and it has been almost enough--but not quite. A link had stretched a bit, but the wrists had been so lacerated that the effort had to be abandoned.

Then when the day was spent towards late afternoon he caught the chatter of the key again, somewhat confused by the intervening wall, but though he missed part of the message he caught a few words which were pregnant with meaning . . . "got her . . . in mine shaft . . . back of Gap."


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