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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Ef hit hed been erbout any other gal


But

Joe had been bitterly accusing himself of timidity and he needed sustenance for his waning faith in his own temerity. It was characteristic of him that he should pick an easy beginning, as a timid swimmer seeks proficiency in shallow water. Sol Breck had the unenviable reputation of one who never declined battle--and never emerged from one crowned with victory. Joe hurled at him the challenge of the fighting epithet and after a brief but animated combat had him down and defeated. Then he returned home with a swelling breast, and just enough marks of conflict upon his own person to bear out his report of counsel heeded and resolution put to the touch.

Alexander listened without interruption to the end, for Joe had told her all but the name of his adversary and the exact words that had precipitated battle.

But when the narrative came to its conclusion she inquired quietly, "What did he say erbout me?"

"Oh, hit wasn't so much what he said es ther way he said hit," was Joe's somewhat shame-faced reply. "Ef hit hed been erbout any other gal, I reckon I mout of looked over it."

"What was it?" The demand was insistent.

"He jest 'lowed that if 'stid of warin' pants an' straddlin' hosses, ye'd pick ye out an upstandin' man an' wed him, thar mout come ter be some _real_ men in ther fam'ly."

justify;">The girl's face crimsoned.

"I thought ye said hit war me ye fought erbout, Joe."

"I did say so, Alexander."

"An' ye didn't see no aspersion thet called fer a fight--in ther way them words teched _you_?"

That phase of the matter had not occurred to Joe at all. He was used to being overlooked.

"He warn't thinkin' erbout me," he lamely exculpated. "I reckon he hed hit in head thet I hain't quite twenty-one yit."

For a while Alexander stood looking at him with a slowly gathering tempest of anger in her eyes, under which the boy fidgeted, and finally she spoke in that ominously still manner that marked moments of dang'er.

"What he said erbout me war true enough--an' ef ye admits what he all but said erbout you--thet ye hain't no man--then _thet's_ true too."

The boy was crestfallen and a little impatient now. He had come to recount an achievement which had plumed and reappareled a limping self-respect and he had expected congratulation.

"What's ther use of faultin' me by mincin' words? I licked him, didn't I? Set hit down ter anything ye likes."

Her voice still held that cold note of inflexible but quiet anger. "Yes, ye licked him but hit looks like ter me ye picked yore man plum keerful an' got ye an easy one. Wait hyar, I'm goin' atter my hat."


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