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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Pagan Of The Hills - Chapter 2
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A Pagan Of The Hills - Chapter 2 Post by :ramg529 Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :May 2012 Read :1311

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A Pagan Of The Hills - Chapter 2


Through the tree tops came a confusion of voices, but none of them human. A wind was racing to almost gale-like violence and with it came the inrush of warm air to peaks and valleys that had been tight-frozen. Between precipices echoed the crash of ice sliding loose and splintering as it fell in ponderous masses. Men sweating in the glare of collossal bonfires toiled at the work of re-inforcing the dam.

They had been faithful; they were still faithful, but the stress of exhaustion was beginning to sap their morale; to drive them into irritability so that, under the strain of almost superhuman exertion, they threatened to break. Brent was not of their blood and knew little of how to handle them, and though Parson Acup was indefatigable, his face became more and more apprehensive.

"Ef we kin hold 'em at hit till ther crack of day, we've got a right gay chanst ter save them big sticks," he announced bluntly to Brent near midnight. "But hit hain't in reason ter expect men ter plum kill themselves off fer ther profit of somebody else--an' him likely ter be dead by termorrer."

"Could McGivins have kept them in line himself?" demanded Brent and the Parson scratched his head. "Wa'al he mout. Thar's somethin' masterful in thet breed thet kinderly drives men on. I don't know es I could name what it air though."

Then even as he spoke a group of humanity detached itself from the force on the dam and moved away as men do who are through with their jobs. They halted before Acup and one of them spoke somewhat shame-facedly: "I disgusts ter quit on a man in sore need, Parson, but us fellers kain't hold up no longer. We're plum fagged ter death--mebby termorrer mornin'----"

He broke off and Acup answered in a heavy-hearted voice: "So fur as this hyar job's consarned most likely thar won't be no termorrer. Old man McGivins lays over thar, mebby a-dyin' an' this means a master lot to him----"

"If it's a matter of pay," began Brent and left his suggestion unfinished. A quick glance of warning from Acup cautioned him that this was a tactless line and one of the men answered shortly, "Pay hain't skeercely ergoin' ter hold a man up on his legs when them legs gives out under him, stranger."

"No, Lige, pay won't do it, but upstandin' nerve _will_--an' I knows ye've got hit. Ef anybody quits now, they're all right apt ter foller suit."

At the sound of the first words, Brent had pivoted as suddenly as though a bolt had struck him. They came in a voice so out of keeping with the surroundings, so totally different from any he had heard that day, that it was a paradox of sound. In the first place it was a woman's voice and here were only sweating men. In the second, although full and clear as if struck from well cast bell metal, it had a rich sweetness and just now the thrill of deep emotion.

In the red flare of the bonfire that sent up a shower of sparks into the wet darkness, he saw a figure that brought fresh astonishment.

The woman stood there with a long rubber slicker tight-buttoned from collar to hem. Below that Brent saw rubber boots. She stood with a lance-like straightness, very tall, very pliant, and as he stared with a fixity which would have amounted to impertinence had it not been disarmed by amazement she looked past him and through him as if he were himself without substance.

Then she took off the heavy Nor'wester that had shaded her face, and the firelight fell on masses of hair deeply and redly gold; upon features exquisitely modeled, in no wise masculine or heavy, yet full of dominance. Duskily-lashed eyes of dark violet were brimming with a contagious energy and her rounded chin was splendidly atilt. A sculptor might have modeled her as she stood, and entitled his bronze "Victory."

Her coloring too was rich, almost dazzling, and Brent thought that he had never seen such arresting beauty or such an unusual though harmonious blending of feminine allurement--and masculine spirit. Though in height she approached the heroic of scale, the first summary of impression which he drew from feature and coloring was "delicately gorgeous."

The girl vouchsafed him no attention of any kind but remained silent for a moment with her eyes raining so resolute a fire that those of the exhausted workers kindled into faint responsiveness.

Then the vibrant clarity of the voice sounded again--and the voice too had that strangely hypnotic quality that one felt in the glance. "You boys have all worked here hour on hour, till ye're nigh dead. My paw an' me are already powerful beholden to ye all but----" She paused and under just such an emotion the ordinary woman's throat would have caught with a sob and her eyes would have filled with tears. It was not so with Alexander. Her note only softened into a deeper gravity. "But he lays over thar an' I mistrusts he's a-dyin' ternight. He wouldn't suffer me ter tarry by his bed-side because he 'lowed thet you boys needed a man ter work along with ye in his place. If ye quits now all the labor ye've done spent goes fer naught." She paused a moment and then impulsively she broke out: "An' I couldn't hardly endure ter go back thar an' tell him that we'd failed."

As she paused the hollow-eyed men shuffled their feet but none of them spoke. They had given generously, prodigally even, of their effort and it had not been for hire. Yet under the burning appeal of her eyes they flushed as though they had been self-confessed malingerers.

"But as fer me," went on Alexander, "I've got ter git ter work."

She unbuttoned and cast off the long rubber coat and Brent felt as if he had seen the unveiling of a sculptured figure which transcended mediocrity. A flannel shirt, open on a splendidly rounded throat, emphasized shoulders that fell straight and, for a woman unusually broad, though not too broad for grace. She was an Amazon in physique yet so nicely balanced of proportion that one felt more conscious of delicate litheness than of size. As her breath came fast with excitement the fine arch of her heaving bosom was that of a Diana. Belted about a waist that had never known the cramp of stays, she wore a pair of trousers thrust into her boot tops and no man there was more unself-conscious.

The exhausted men stirred restlessly as they watched her go down to the dam, and one of those who had dropped to a sitting posture came lumberingly to his feet again.

"I reckon I've got my second wind now," he lamely announced. "Mebby thar's a leetle mite more work left in me yit atter all," and he started back, stumbling with the ache of tired bones, to the task he had renounced, while his fellows grumbled a little and followed his lead.

Throughout the day Brent had felt himself an ineffective. He had done what he could but his activities had always seemed to be on the less strenuous fringe of things like a bee who works on the edge of a honey comb.

Now as the replenished fire leaped high and the hills resounded to an occasional peal of unseasonable thunder the figure of the woman who had assumed a man's responsibility became a pattern of action. In the flare and the shadow he watched it, fascinated. It was always in the forefront, frequently in actual but unconsidered peril, leading like the white plume of Navarre.

It was all as lurid and as turgid a picture as things seen in nightmare or remembered from mythology--this turmoil of emergency effort through a fire-lit night of storm and flood; figures thrown into exaggeration as the flames leaped or dwindled--faces haggard with weariness.

To Brent came a new and keener spirit of combat. The outskirts of action no longer sufficed, but with an elemental ardor and elation his blood glowed in his veins.

When at last all that could be done had been done, the east was beginning to take on a sort of ashen light--the forerunner of dawn. Alexander had held to the sticking-point the quailing energies of spent men for more than six agonized hours. Below them the river bed that had been almost dry forty-eight hours ago was a madly howling torrent.

Men with faces gray and hollow-eyed laid down their crow-bars and pike-poles. Brent, reeling unsteadily as he walked, looked about him in a dazed fashion out of giddy eyes. He saw Alexander wiping the steaming moisture from her brow with the sleeve of her shirt and heard her speak through a confused pounding upon eardrums that still seemed full of cumulative din.

"Unless ther flood carries ther river five foot higher then hit's ever gone afore, we've done saved thet timber," she said slowly. "An' no men ever worked more plum slavish ner faithful then what you men have ternight."

"That hain't nothin' more left ter do now," said Parson Acup, "unless hit be ter go home an' pray."

But Alexander shook her head with a vigorous and masculine determination.

"No, thar's still one thing more ter do. I want thet when you men goes home ye send me back a few others--fresh men. I'm goin' back ter see how my daddy's farin' an' whether he's got a chanst ter live, but----" she paused abruptly and her voice fell, "thar's a spring-branch over thar by my house. Ye kin mighty nigh gauge how ther water's risin' or fallin' hyar by notin' ther way hit comes up or goes down over yon. I aims ter keep a watchin' hit, whilst I'm over thar."

The parson nodded his head. "That's a right good idee, Alexander, but wharfore does ye seek ter hev us send more men over hyar? All thet kin be done, has been done."

The girl's eyes snapped. In them were violet fires, quick-leaping and hot.

"I hain't gone this fur only ter quit now," she passionately declared. "Them logs is rafted. Ef they goes out on this flood-tide, I aims ter ride 'em down-stream 'twell I kin land 'em in a safe boom."

"But my God Almighty, gal," Parson Acup, wrenched out of his usual placidity by the effrontery of the project, spoke vehemently. "Any tide thet would bust thet dam would sartain shore rip them rafts inter fragments. Ef they goes out a-tall they goes out ter destruction and splinters an' sure death, I fears me. Hit's like ridin' a runaway hoss without no bit in his mouth."

"Thet's a thing I've done afore now," the girl assured him. "An' I aims ter undertake hit ergin."

She turned and, taking the rubber coat from a tree crotch, went striding away with her face toward the pale east and despite fatigue she went high-headed and with elasticity in her step.

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