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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Holding close to the walls of the cavern as she went


Instantly, too, three others spoke, aimed at her flash and she heard the spatter of lead against stone nearby. In the confined space the fusillade bellowed blatantly, and slowly diminishing echoes lingered after the firing itself ceased. Then once more the silence which was more trying than gunnery settled.

Slowly an idea dawned in the girl's mind, and strengthened into conviction. If the main group who had trailed out with torches had been anywhere nearby, that crescendo of noise must have recalled them in hot haste. That they had not come back must indicate that they had never meant to return. They had permanently departed, leaving her in the hands of a quartette selected as a robbing party, and an execution squad. With that realization the matter resolved itself into a new phase. She would eventually be murdered here in this rat-hole unless she could, one by one, shoot to death the four unseen men who were her companions there. Four enemies stood between herself and freedom--and four cartridges were left in her weapon.

At last she crept cautiously out and made her tedious way to the center of the place again. She must do something and the audacious plan born of necessity involved the need of a light. If her hand felt flesh instead, her pistol was ready.

But after much noiseless groping she came upon the overturned lantern and she had encountered nothing else.

Back in the lee of the rock she boldly struck a match, kindled the wick--and still as she reached up and set the thing on the boulder's top the unbroken silence held.

She had hoped to draw their fire and account for some of them at least, but now as she peeped cautiously out she found to her astonishment that except for herself the cavern was empty.

She also became sure of another thing. Her saddle-bags were gone.

She came out then and having repossessed herself of her rifle took up a position well to one side of the shaft's opening where anyone who entered must pass her muzzle, but she did not venture into the passage itself because she was sure that that way lay an ambuscade.

Then, beside the sickly illumination within, she recognized a new waver of kerosene rays from beyond the entrance.

There was no sound, except that of very stealthy feet, and the light came slowly.

Alexander hastened hack to her rock, holding close to the walls of the cavern as she went, then ensconcing herself there, almost invisible in the shadow, she waited with parted lips and a cocked rifle.

CHAPTER XII

Time had hung heavy on Jack Halloway's hands after he had heard Brent announce his departure. The chair scraped on the floor, had been his only assurance that the other had understood him and that might, within possibility, have been a coincidence. Still Brent's promptness in cutting him off on the arrival of the operator had seemed a hopeful sign indicating team-work.

Halloway had declared himself a man who took joy in the savage strain which that civilization had failed to quench out of his nature. Now that strain was mounting into volcano stirrings presaging an eruption. If he could free himself there would ensue a tempest of wreckage about that railroad station such as Samson brought down between the pillars of the temple--but no chances had been taken in his binding.


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