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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

I don't tek off my hat ter no man


As he turned and saw her, he started impulsively forward, but recovered himself and also adopted the matter-of-fact demeanor, which she had, herself, assumed.

"Howdy, Jack," said the girl carelessly. "I didn't know ye war hyarabouts. I'd jest erbout forgot ye altogether."

"I reckon thet would be a right easy thing ter do," he handsomely admitted, then each having indulged in the thrust and parry of an introductory lie, they stood there in the sunset, eying each other in silence.

But Alexander recognized a transformation in the man's appearance, and if she seemed tepid of interest, the semblance belied her throbbing pulses. Halloway was too accomplished an actor to have abandoned his pose or makeup. He must remain in character and dress the part, but he had used a consummate skill in doing so. In every detail of clothing he remained the mountaineer, yet there was no longer any trace of the slovenly or unclean.

He was close shaven and trim of hair. His flannel shirt, still open on his throat, was of good quality. The trousers that were thrust into high laced boots were not so new as to attract undue attention, but they fitted him. The note of carelessness was maintained--but with artistry to accentuate the extraordinary effect of physique and feature. He was eye-filling and rather splendid.

Alexander felt that some recognition of this metamorphosis was expected of her, but she had no intent of admitting the true force of its impression.

"Hit's a right smart wonder I knowed ye a-tall, ye've done spruced up so," was the dubious compliment with which she favored him after a deliberate scrutiny. "I hain't nuver seed ye with yore face washed afore."

"I 'lowed I'd seek ter make a killin' with ye," he bantered easily, and she sniffed her simulated disdain. They had moved together up the steps of the porch, and he stood there looking at her, quelling the up-rush of admiration and avid hunger in his eyes. Then she said curtly, for in these days she was always on the defensive, and meant to be doubly so with him whom she secretly feared, "Ye're in ther house now. Ef ye wants ter mek a killin' with me, tek off yore hat. Don't folks hev no manners whar ye comes from?"

Halloway shook his head, not forgetful that one playing a part must remain in character.

"I don't tek off my hat ter no man," he replied, stressing the final word ever so lightly.

"I'm a man when I wants ter be, an' when I wants manners I aims ter hev 'em," she declared, but her visitor stood, still covered, in her presence, and after a moment she said curtly--yet rather breathlessly, "Wait hyar," and turning, disappeared into the house.

Floods begin slowly with trickles, but they break suddenly with torrents. A flood had seized Alexander at that moment. Perhaps she did not herself pause to recognize or analyze her motive. She merely acted on an impulse that had come with an onsweep of conscious and subconscious tides. It was a motive that had to do with her activities that day when she had gone to the nearby town.

Halloway remained there, frankly puzzled. Unless she was like himself acting, her interest in his arrival was pallid and lukewarm. He had counted much on appearing suddenly before her at his best--and the impression seemed to have been negligible.


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