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A Pagan of the Hills by Charles Neville Buck

Jase had recently returned from Coal City


"I'm

a woman, now, Bud," she reminded him. "A woman don't need ter be told some things."

"I knowed hit warn't no use." He only repeated the words, dully, and Alexander laid a hand on his trembling arm.

"Bud, Bud," she exclaimed self-accusingly. "I wisht I'd stayed a man. I don't seem ter do nothin' at this woman-game but jest stir up trouble. I loves ye right dearly, Bud, but hit's ther same fashion thet I loves my brother Joe--an' I reckon--that hain't what ye're a-seekin'."

But Bud drew back his shoulders and spoke with a brave assumption of restored cheerfulness.

"I'm a-seekin' whatever I kin hev," he staunchly declared. "More'n anything else, 'though, I'm seeking ter see ye happy." He paused then with a forced smile that, for all his effort, was stiff-lipped, and said slowly, "I reckon hit'll be either Halloway or Jerry . . . they're both right upstanding men."

"Sometimes I thinks hit won't be nobody," she declared. "I'd done been raised up a boy so long thet since I turned back into a gal ergin, ther only thing I've been plum sartain of air thet I hain't been sartain of nuthin'. Sometimes I thinks a heap of Jerry, but more times Jack Halloway seems ter pintedly sot me on fire."

Jerry was tramping along the high-road, whistling an old ballad of lugubrious tune when

a sharp turn brought him face to face with Jase Mallows. Jerry himself was for passing on with a brief salutation, but the other halted him and fell into voluble talk.

Jase complained that his wound had left certain after-effects which still gave him trouble.

"Hit's hell ter pay, when a law-abidin' man kain't travel ther highway withouten he's shot down like I was thet night," lamented Mallows virtuously. "I misdoubts ef I ever feels plum right inside me ergin. I wisht I knowed who thet feller war."

"Mebby he mistook ye fer somebody else," suggested Jerry. "Thet war ther same night them highwaymen sought ter lay-way Alexander--thar war right smart shootin' goin' on hyar an' thar."

"Did ye ever gain any knowledge of who them fellers war?" Mallows sought to couch his question in the manner of interest for the wrongs of another, but just a shade too much eagerness on his own part marred the effect.

Jerry smiled. He had caught that note and it piqued his curiosity, so with mountain secretiveness he became cryptic in his response. "Wa'al, mebby we hain't tellin' all we knows--jest yit. Mebby we're kinderly bidin' our time for a leetle spell."

It was not a comprehensive announcement. It was nine-tenths inspired by a spirit of teasing gossip-hunger into fuller revealment, but it happened to start a train of serious thought in the hearer.

Jase had recently returned from Coal City, and there he had talked with men who were watching with alarm the possibilities of an impending trial. The man who had shot his neighbor over a fence-line dispute was to face his prosecutors at the next term of court, and if he talked too much, large and portentous results might ensue.

The Commonwealth would know nothing of its potential leverage on the accused unless Halloway, O'Keefe or Alexander broke silence, and it followed that their silencing was highly important.

Through Jase's thoughts ran, in a threatening refrain, the words, "Mebby hit won't be long now."


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