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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

If she had not succeeded in driving Halloway away


"Yestiddy

I seemed crazed--but terday I hain't. Ye 'pears ter be right sartain thet I loves ye. I don't know, but I either loves ye or I hates ye like all hell. Ef I loves ye I kain't kill ye--an' ef I hates ye thar's time enough."

"But Alexander, you do love me! I know----"

"Wa'al, I don't--an' thet's a right pithy point ter my manner of thinking! Ye're a right masterful sort of feller, an' ye likes ter plow yore way through life gloryin' in yore strength an' forcin' your will on weaker folks." She paused an instant then added significantly: "But I'm a right masterful sort of woman myself--an' I hain't ter be nowise driv. Ef you an' me kain't consort peaceable I reckon we'll jest erbout rake hell afore we finishes up our warfare."

As he looked at her his admiration was flaming. Possibly it was best, just now, to advance slowly.

"I'm willin' ter wait," he conceded slowly. "Ye're wuth hit."

"Ye says I loves ye. If I finds thet out fer myself, in due course I'll wed with ye. Ef I don't, I won't, but----" Her voice broke so suddenly out of the quiet plane in which it had been pitched, that her climax of words came like a sharp thunder clap on still air. "But ef ye seeks ter fo'ce me, or ef ever ergin ye lays a hand on me or teches me, 'twell I tells ye ye kin, afore God in Heaven, one of us has got ter die!

An' I won't never be with ye unarmed, nuther."

Halloway did not judge it a good time to mention that her allusion to marriage left a rather wide territory of debate open. One thing at a time seemed enough and more than enough.

Alexander had not asked him in, and he inquired calmly: "Now thet ye've stated yore terms an' I've done agreed ter 'em, hain't ye goin' ter invite me in?"

"No," she said shortly. "I makes ther laws in my own household. Ye air goin' away an' ye hain't comin' back hyar fer one week. I aims ter be left alone fer a spell now. Ef them terms don't suit ye, ye needn't come back at all."

And in that week of reprieved decision Alexander took her life to pieces and searchingly examined it, item by item. Some strange reactions were taking place in the laboratory of her life. She was no more seen in breeches and boots. She had self-contemptuously decided that if she could not hold undeviatingly to her strongest tenet, but became a palpitant woman when a man seized her in his arms, she would throw overboard the whole sorry pretense.

She would henceforth be frankly and avowedly a woman, but a woman different from those about her, giving up none of the leadership that was in her blood or the self-pride that was her birthright.

One afternoon she met Jerry O'Keefe on the road, and with the old unabashed twinkle in his eye he accosted her.

"I heer tell ther big feller's back," he began and the girl flushed. "Hev ye done run him offen yore place, too?"

"Thet's my business."

"Yes _thet_ is, but yore runnin' me off's right severely _mine_."

"Mebby I've got a rather who comes thar."

"So hev I." There was a lurking, somewhat engaging impertinence even in Jerry's quietest rejoinders, a humorous boldness and self-confidence.

"Howsomever, I reckon ye're kinderly skeered thet I'd mek ye think too towerin' much of me. I reckon ye dar'sn't trust yoreself."

Alexander looked at him, and for all her attempted severity she could not keep the twinkle out of her own pupils. If she had not succeeded in driving Halloway away, why should she stand out for the subterfuge of banishing Jerry? It reminded her of Joe's picking an easy man to whip. There was even a faint challenge of coquetry in her manner as she disdainfully announced: "Ef thet's ther way I'm feedin' yore vanity, come over whenever ye feels like hit. I'll strive ter endure ye, ef ye don't tarry too long."


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