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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

One of them was Brent and the other was Bud Sellers


right," assented Brent, "but he's been there all day, I guess."

"Wa'al then a leetle more hain't goin' ter hurt him none."

Fifteen minutes later, leaving separately but timed to come to a rendezvous near the point of attack a good dozen men were on the trail to the Gap.

Through wet and chilly thickets O'Keefe led Brent at a gait that made his heart pound. There was a battle-joy in the mountaineer's eyes and in them too, was something else inspired by certain dreams of the girl he had seen only once and whom he had told himself he meant to marry.

Over broken gulches, along precipitous paths he led the way buoyantly and now and then he broke into low almost inaudible crooning of an ancient love song.

Vainly the crew of highwaymen in the mine awaited the arrival of the seeming rescuer who was to take their captive off their hands and relieve them of the necessity of murder. It had been understood that Jase was to employ only a few attackers in the accomplishment of this knightly deed. Few men could be spared from other duties, and the smaller the force which he led to victory the more lustrous would be his glory of achievement. There was to be a great deal of shooting and shouting through the narrow entrance to the place--and the exaggerating echoes of the rocky confines would multiply it into a convincing

din of battle.

The alleged Ku-Klux clansmen would fight their way out, leaving their prisoner behind--and in the confusion--but not until then--the saddle-bags would disappear.

It was all very simple, and prettily adjusted, but the difficulty was that Jase had failed to arrive and the act was lagging without its climax.

He failed because of unforeseen events. Pending the cue for his entrance he and his fellow heroes were being employed as sentries guarding the approaches to the place against invasion by outsiders.

Jase himself had for several hours been lying as flat as a lizard under a matted clump of laurel on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a ford which could not be rapidly crossed. His function was to see to it that no one passed there whose coming might prove an embarrassment.

The rawness of the air caused his bones to ache and his muscles to cramp, but he had been steadfast. He was playing for high stakes. Finally two horsemen had appeared--and they were two who must not pass. One of them was Brent and the other was Bud Sellers.

So Jase had opened fire and Bud had returned it--returned it and fled.

That left the sentinel with a result half successful and half disastrous, and made it necessary for him to make a hurried short-cut to another point past which Brent must shortly ride. There he would finish the matter of disputing the road.

Mallows drew himself out of his cramped ambuscade and started for his new point, to the completion of his business--but before he had taken many steps a sudden and violent distress assailed him. He pressed his hand to his side with a feeling of vague surprise and it came away blood-covered. He stopped and took account of his condition--and found himself shot in the chest. In the excitement of the moment he had not felt the sting, but now he was becoming rapidly and alarmingly weak. He stumbled on, but several times he fell, and each time it was with a greater burden of effort that he regained his feet. He clamped his teeth and pressed doggedly forward, but the ranges began to swim in giddy circles and a thickening fog clouded his eyes. When he dropped down next time he did not rise again.

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