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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

But it can hardly grasp the pagan chastity of a Diana


his boy--the boy who had given him small strength upon which to lean, was absent. He had gone idly and thoughtlessly before the emergency arose, and the man lying on the four-poster bed tried to argue for him, in extenuation, that he would have returned had he known the need. But in his bruised and doubting heart he knew that had it been Alexander, she would have read the warning in the first brook that she saw creeping into an augmented stream, and would have hastened home.

About the room moved the self-taught doctor, who was also the local Evangelist. Two neighbor women were there too, called from adjacent cabins to take the place of the daughter he had sent away. They were ignorant women, hollow-chested and wrinkled like witches because they had spent lives against dun-colored backgrounds, but they were wise in the matter of "yarbs" and simple nursing.

All night Aaron McGivins had lain there, restive and unable to sleep. With him had been those matters which obtrude themselves, with confusing multiplicity, upon the mind of a man who was yesterday strong and unthreatened and who to-day faces the requirement of readjusting all his scheme from the clear and lighted ways of life to the gathering mists of death. He had seen through a high-placed window the gray of dawn grow into a clearer light, making visible rag-like streamers of wet and scudding clouds. He had a glimpse of mountain-sides sodden with thaw--the

thaw to which he owed his whole sum of sudden perplexities.

Then the door swung open.

Eagerly the bed-ridden man turned his eyes towards it; eagerly, too, the doctor's gaze went that way, but the two women, glancing sidewise, sniffed dubiously and stiffened a little. To them the anxiously awaited daughter was an unsexed creature whom they could neither understand nor approve. They had lived hard and intolerent lives, accepting drudgery and perennial child-bearing as unquestioned mandates of destiny. Accustomed to the curt word and to servile obedience they had no understanding for a woman who asserted herself in positive terms of personality. To them a "he-woman" who "wore pants" and admitted no sex inferiority was at best a "hussy without shame." If such a woman chanced also to be beautiful beyond comparison with her less favored sisters, the conclusion was inescapable. They could read in her self-claimed emancipation only the wildness of a filly turned out to pasture without halter or hobble; the wildness of one who scorns respectability; for primitive morality is pathetically narrow. It may sing piously about the pyre of a burning witch, but it can hardly grasp the pagan chastity of a Diana.

And it was a Diana both chaste and vital who stood in this wide-flung door. Behind her far radiant background was the full light of a young day. For an instant the scowl of storm-laden skies broke into a smile of sunlight as though she had brought the brightness with her. But she stood poised in an attitude of arrested action--halted by the curb of anxiety. The whole vitality and clean vigor of her seemed breathless and questioning. Fear had spurred her into fleetness as she had crossed the hills, yet now she hesitated on the threshold. At first her eyes could make little of the inner murk, where both lamp and fire had guttered low and gray shadows held dominance.

But she herself stood illumined by that transitory flash of morning sun. It played in an aura about the coppery coils of her hair and kindled into vivid color the lips parted in suspense.

After a moment her eyes had reaccommodated themselves to the dispiriting darkness and her bosom heaved to a sigh of relief; of thanksgiving. Under the heaped coverlets of the bed she had seen the movement of feeble hand stirred in a gesture of welcome.

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