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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

When thet message come from ther town marshal at Coal City


He

did not relish the thought of being left there over night, yet he strongly doubted whether they would venture to take him out on the streets in the sight of possible friends.

He fell to wondering what they would do with him. Except in extremity, they would hardly murder him out of hand, and yet to explain to him why they had treated him so hardly, would be a delicate matter. But the answer lay in the operator's total freedom from suspicion that his captive had read the wire. So far as that backwoods Machiavelli divined, there was no link establishing himself with the conspiracy to rob, and when the time came he thought he could clear his skirts by a simple means.

Night had fallen when at last the prisoner heard the door open and saw the Agent enter, accompanied by the two gunmen who had been his companions that morning. They came with a lantern and the telegraph man held a heavy rasp in his hand. Halting before the bound figure, he spoke slowly and with a somewhat shamefaced note of apology.

"I reckon I've got ter pray yore forgiveness, Stranger," he began. "A right mean sort of mistake 'pears ter hev took place--but hit war one I couldn't help without I defied ther law."

"How's thet?" demanded Halloway shortly, and his informant went on.

"When thet message come from ther town marshal at Coal City,

he warned us 'Violent man--take no chances.' Thet's why we fell on ye so severe an' tied ye up so tight."

"Wa'al," Halloway was schooling his demeanor warily into the middle course between a too ready forgiveness and a too bellicose resentment, "wa'al what air ye cravin' my pardon fer, then?"

"We've done heered ergin from Coal City--an' ther town marshal says thet hit war all a fool mistake--thar hain't no sufficient grounds ter hold ye on. He bids me set ye free forthwith."

"Go on, then, and do hit. I've done hed a belly-full of settin' here strapped ter this cheer."

But the operator hesitated.

"Afore I turns ye loose, I'd like ter feel plum sartin thet ye hain't holdin' no grudge."

Halloway knew that, should he seem easily placated, he would not be believed, so he spoke with a voice of stern yet just determination.

"So holp me God, I aims ter demand full payment fer this hyar day--but I aims ter punish ther right man. Ye says ye only acted on orders from an officer, don't ye?"

"Thet's true es text."

"All right then, ye hain't ther man I'm atter, ef that's so. Mistakes will happen. As ter ther other feller, I kin bide my time fer a spell. I reckon my wrath won't cool none."

The Station Agent heaved a sigh of relief. "Hit's a right unfortunate thing," he declared sympathetically. "I've been studyin' erbout hit an' I said ter myself, 'what ef some enemy of his'n sent both them messages?'"

This seemingly innocent suggestion was by way of discounting the future when Halloway learned that the town marshal knew nothing of the matter.

The operator bent and unfastened the binders about the ankles and waist. That left only the handcuffs, and when he came to them once more a note of apologetic anxiety crept into his voice.


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