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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Brent recognized Bud Sellers and Jerry O'Keefe


He

dismounted at the stile to find ministering neighbors gathered there and, as never before, the unrelieved and almost biblical antiquity of this life impressed itself on his realization. Here was no undertaker, treading softly with skilled and considerately silent helpers. No mourning wreath hung on the door. The rasping whine of the saw and clatter of the hammer were in no wise muted as men who lived nearby fashioned from undressed boards the box which was to be old Aaron's casket. Noisy sympathy ran in a high tide where doubtless the bereaved sought only privacy.

Alexander's face, as she met Brent at the door, was pale with the waxen softness of a magnolia petal and though the vividness of her lips and eyes were emphasized by contrast, suffering seemed to have endowed her remarkable beauty with a sort of nobility--an exquisite delicacy that was a paradox for one so tall and strong.

The appeal of her wistfully sad eyes struck at his heart as she greeted him in a still voice.

"I heard--and I wanted to come over," he said and her reply was simple. "I'm obleeged ter ye. I wants ye ter look at him. He war a godly man an' a right noble one. Somehow his face----" she spoke slowly and with an effort, "looks like he'd done already talked with God--an' war at rest."

At once she led him into the room where, upon the four-poster bed lay the sheeted

figure, and with a deeply reverent hand, lifted the covering.

To Brent it seemed that he was looking into features exemplifying all the wholesome virtues of those men who built the Republic. It was a face of rugged strength and unassuming simplicity. Its lines bespoke perils faced without fear and privations endured without complaint. Here in a pocket of wilderness which the nation had forgotten survived many others of those unaltered pioneers. But in the expression that death had made fixed, as well as in facial pattern, Brent recognized that simple kindliness to which courtesy had been a matter of instinct and not of ceremony and the rude nobility of the man to whom others had brought their tangled disputes, in all confidence, for adjustment.

"I understand what you mean," he declared as his eyes traveled from the father to the daughter, "and I'm glad you let me see him."

Moving unobtrusively about, engaged in many small matters of consideration, Brent recognized Bud Sellers and Jerry O'Keefe. He himself remained until the burial had taken place, and was one of those who lowered the coffin into the grave. But when those rites had been concluded and another day had come Brent sought for Alexander to make his adieus.

She was nowhere about the house and he went in search of her. He could not bear to remain longer where he must endure the pain of her stricken face. Of all the women he had ever known she stood forth as the most unique--and in some ways the most impressive. She was undoubtedly the most beautiful. He realized now that, though they were of different and irreconcilable planes of life, there had never been a moment since he had first seen her when he would not, save for his dragging on the steady curb of reason, have fallen into a headlong infatuation. Now he wished only to prove himself a serviceable friend.

When he had vainly sought her about the farm, it occurred to him to go to the ragged "buryin' ground" and though he found her there he did not obtrude upon her solitary vigil.

For Alexander was abandoning herself to one of those wild and nerve-wracking tempests of weeping that come occasionally in a lifetime to those who weep little. She had thrown herself face-down on the ground beneath which Aaron McGivins slept, with arms outflung as though seeking to reach into the grave and embrace him. As she had been both son and daughter to him, he had been, to her, both father and mother. Spasmodically her hands clenched and unclenched, and her fingers dug wildly into the earth.


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