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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Its door was closed but Halloway


"Ther

key ter them things is lost," he deprecated. "Ther best I kin do fer ye air ter file ther chain. Ye kin stick yore hands in yore pockets, though, an' nobody won't see 'em."

"Thet's good enough fer ther present time," assented Halloway. "Ef ye'll loan me thet file, I'll git 'em off myself--later on."

So while the giant stood with outstretched hands, the other filed through a link at the middle of the chain, and together the four men left the baggage room and went into the outer office. Its door was closed but Halloway, who walked ahead, laid a hand on the knob and paused to inquire, without rancor, "I reckon ye aims ter give me back my gun, don't ye?"

The operator promptly produced the weapon from the drawer of his table and Halloway made no examination to see whether it came back to him full-chambered or empty.

He had his own guess on that score, but he wished to appear unsuspicious just now, so he thrust the thing into its holster.

Then deliberately he turned the key in the door and that was, for a time, his last deliberate act. Seizing the fellow who stood nearest him, he swung him forward and held him as a partial shield before his own body.

"Thar's three of ye hyar," he announced in an abruptly ominous voice, "and one of me. Ef any man makes a move ter draw a gun,

I aims straightway ter break this feller's neck. Don't let no man move from where he stands at!"

Astonishment enforced a momentary obedience, save that the man upon whose shoulders the gigantic hands lay--not as yet heavily--attempted to squirm away. Iron-like fingers bit into his flesh and, wincing with a smothered yell of pain, he stood trembling. Halloway passed one hand over his hostage's shoulder and drew the pistol from its holster--then he sent the fellow spinning from him like a top, and covered the others, who huddled close together. "Yore guns--grip-fust--an' speedily," he directed, in that still voice that carried terror, and brought immediate obedience.

"Ye promised us--thet ye wouldn't hold us accountable," whined the operator, and Halloway laughed, as he unloaded the captured pistols and tossed them into a corner.

"What I promised war not ter visit no revengeance on ther wrong fellers," he corrected. "Never mind how I knows hit--but I does know thet no message ever come from ther Coal City town marshal. Ther one that did come told about a plot ter lay-way an' rob a woman--an' ther three of ye war in on hit."

The terror of the unaccountable and wholly mystifying situation held them now in its paralysis. In no conceivable way could he have learned these things--yet he knew them and fears crowded as they wondered what else he might know as well.

But Halloway allowed them little leisure for abstract reflection.

"I've done throwed away them guns. I reckon ye knows whether mine's loaded or not--I don't. Now ther four of us air going ter hev a leetle frolic, right hyar an' now--a leetle four-cornered fight--jest fist an' skull fashion."

He walked across and locked the baggage-room door, though it was shuttered from the outside, and dropped the key within his pocket.

"Come on boys, let's start right in," he invited. "Fer yore own sakes hit's kinderly a pity ye couldn't git these irons offen me . . . they're right apt ter scar somebody up."


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