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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter32)

2006-08-29 01:41

  Chapter XXXII

  In June, Gray Pendleton closed his college career as he had gone through it——like a meteor——and Jason went for the summer to the mountains, while Mavis stayed with his mother, for again Steve Hawn had been tried and convicted and returned to jail to await a new trial. In the mountains Jason got employment at some mines below the county-seat, and there he watched the incoming of the real "furriners," Italians, "Hunks," and Slavs, and the uprising of a mining town. He worked, too, in every capacity that was open to him, and he kept his keen eyes and keen mind busy that he might know as much as possible of the great machine that old Morton Sanders would build and set to work on his mother's land. And more than ever that summer he warmed to his uncle Arch Hawn for the fight that Arch was making to protect native titles to mountain lands——a fight that would help the achievement of the purpose that, though faltering at last, was still deep in the boy's heart.

  In the autumn, when he went back to college, Gray had set off to some Northern college for a post-graduate course in engineering and Marjorie had gone to some fashionable school in the great city of the nation for the finishing touches of hats and gowns, painting and music, and for a wider knowledge of her own social world. That autumn the tobacco trouble was already pointing to a crisis for Colonel Pendleton. The whip and lash and the destruction of seed-beds had been ineffective, and as the trust had got control of the trade, the raisers must now get control of the raw leaf in the field and in the barn. That autumn Jason himself drifted into a mass-meeting of growers in the court-house one day on his way home from college. An orator from the Far West with a shock of black hair and gloomy black brows and eyes urged a general and permanent alliance of the tillers of the soil. An old white-bearded man with cane and spectacles and a heavy goatee working under a chew of tobacco tremulously pleaded for a pooling of the crops. The answer was that all would not pool, and the question was how to get all in. A great-shouldered, red-faced man and a bull-necked fellow with gray, fearless eyes, both from the southern part of the State, openly urged the incendiary methods that they were practising at home——the tearing up of tobacco-beds, burning of barns, and the whipping of growers who refused to go into the pool. And then Colonel Pendleton rose, his face as white as his snowy shirt, and bowed courteously to the chairman.

  "These gentlemen, I think, are beside themselves," he said quietly, "and I must ask your permission to withdraw."

  Jason followed him out to the court-house door and watched him, erect as a soldier, march down the street, and he knew the trouble that was in store for the old gentleman, for already he had heard similar incendiary talk from the small farmers around his mother's home.

  The following June Marjorie and Gray Pendleton brought back finishing touches of dress, manner, and atmosphere to the dazzled envy of the less fortunate, in spite of the fact that both bore their new claims to distinction with a modesty that would have kept a stranger from knowing that they had ever been away from home. Jason and Mavis were still at the old university when the two arrived. To the mountaineers all four had once seemed almost on the same level, such had once been the comradeship between them, but now the old chasm seemed to yawn wider than ever between them, and there was no time for it to close, if closing were possible, for again Jason went back to the hills——this time to Morton Sanders' opening mines——and, this time, Mavis went with him to teach Hawns and Honeycutts in a summer school on the outskirts of the little mining town. Again for Jason the summer was one of unflagging work and learning——learning all he could, all the time. He had discovered that to get his land back through the law, he must prove that Arch Hawn or Colonel Pendleton not only must have known about the big seam of coal, not only must have concealed the fact of their knowledge from his mother and Steve Hawn, but, in addition, must have told one or both, with the purpose of fraud, that the land was worth no more than was visible to the eye in timber and seams of coal that were known to all. That Colonel Pendleton could have been guilty of such underhandedness was absurd. Moreover, Jason's mother said that no such statement had been made to her by either, though Steve had sworn readily that Arch had said just that thing to him. But Jason began to believe that Steve had lied, and Arch Hawn laughed when he heard of Jason's investigations.

  "Son, if you want that land back, or, ruther, the money it's worth, you git right down to work, learn the business, and dig it back in another way."

  And that was what Jason, half unconsciously, was doing. And yet, with all the ambition that was in him, his interest in the work, his love for the hills, his sense of duty to his people and his wish to help them, the boy was sorely depressed that summer, for the talons with which the fate of birth and environment clutched him seemed to be tightening now again.

  The trials of Steve Hawn and of Hiram Honeycutt for the death of the autocrat were bringing back the old friction. Charges and counter-charges of perjury among witnesses had freshened the old enmity between the Hawns and the Honeycutts. Jason himself had once to go back to the Blue-grass as witness, and when he returned he learned that the charge whispered against him, particularly by little Aaron, was that he had sworn falsely for Steve Hawn and falsely against Hiram Honeycutt. Again Babe Honeycutt had come back from the West and had quietly slipped out of the mountains again, and Jason was led to believe it was on his account. So once more the old oath began to weigh heavily upon him, for everybody seemed to take it as much for granted that he would some day fulfil that oath as that, after the dark of the moon, that moon would rise again. Moreover, fate was inexorably pushing him and little Aaron into the same channels that their fathers had followed and putting on each the duty and responsibility of leadership. And Jason, though shirking nothing, turned sick and faint of heart and was glad when the summer neared its close.

  Through all his vacation he and Mavis had seen but little of each other, though Mavis lived with the old circuit rider and Jason in a little shack on the spur above her, for the boy was on the night shift and through most of the day was asleep. Moreover, both were rather morose and brooding, each felt the deep trouble of the other, and to it each paid the mutual respect of silence. How much Mavis knew, Jason little guessed, though he was always vaguely uneasy under the constant search of her dark eyes, and often he would turn toward her expecting her to speak. But not until the autumn was at hand and they were both making ready to go back to the Blue-grass did she break her silence. The news had just reached them that Steve Hawn had come clear at last and was at home——and Mavis heard it with little elation and no comment. Next day she announced calmly that she was not going back with Jason, but would stay in the hills and go on with her school. Jason stared questioningly, but she would not explain——she only became more brooding and silent than ever, and only when they parted one drowsy day in September was the thought within her betrayed:

  "I reckon maybe you won't come back again."

  Jason was startled. She knew then——knew his discontent, his new longing to break the fetters of the hills, knew even that in his dreams Marjorie's face was still shining like a star. "Course I'm comin' back," he said, with a little return of his old boyish roughness, but his eyes fell before hers as he turned hurriedly away. He was rolling away from the hills, and his mind had gone back to her seated with folded hands and unseeing eyes in the old circuit rider's porch, dreaming, thinking——thinking, dreaming—— before he began fully to understand. He remembered his mother telling him how unhappy Mavis had been the summer the two were alone in the Blue-grass, and how she had kept away from Marjorie and Gray and all to herself. He recalled Mavis telling him bitterly how she had once overheard some girl student speak of her as the daughter of a jail-bird. He began to see that she had stayed in the Blue-grass that summer on his mother's account and on her account would have gone back with him again. He knew that there was no disloyalty to her father in her decision, for he knew that she would stick to him, jail-bird or whatever he was, till the end of time. But now neither her father nor Jason's mother needed her. Through eyes that had gained a new vision in the Blue- grass Mavis had long ago come to see herself as she was seen there; and now to escape wounds that any malicious tongue could inflict she would stay where the sins of fathers rested less heavily on the innocent. There was, to be sure, good reason for Jason to feel as Mavis felt——he had been a jail-bird himself——but not to act like her——no. And then as he rolled along he began to wonder what part Gray might be playing in her mind and heart. The vision of her seated in the porch thinking——thinking——would not leave him, and a pang of undefined remorse for leaving her behind started within him. She, too, had outgrown his and her people as he had——perhaps she was as rebellious against her fate as he was against his own, but, unlike him, utterly helpless. And suddenly the boy's remorse merged into a sympathetic terror for the loneliness that was hers.

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