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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter7)

2006-08-29 01:33

  Chapter VII

  Knowing but little of his brother in the hills, the man from the lowland Blue-grass was puzzled and amazed that all feeling he could observe was directed solely at the deed itself and not at the way it was done. No indignation was expressed at what was to him the contemptible cowardice involved——indeed little was said at all, but the colonel could feel the air tense and lowering with a silent deadly spirit of revenge, and he would have been more puzzled had he known the indifference on the part of the Hawns as to whether the act of revenge should take precisely the same form of ambush. For had the mountain code of ethics been explained to him——that what was fair for one was fair for the other; that the brave man could not fight the coward who shot from the brush and must, therefore, adopt the coward's methods; that thus the method of ambush had been sanctioned by long custom——he still could never have understood how a big, burly, kind-hearted man like Jason Hawn could have been brought even to tolerance of ambush by environment, public sentiment, private policy, custom, or any other influence that moulds the character of men.

  Old Jason would easily get well——the colonel himself was surgeon enough to know that——and he himself dressed and bandaged the ragged wound that the big bullet had made through one of the old man's mighty shoulders. At his elbow all the time, helping, stood little Jason, and not once did the boy speak, nor did the line of his clenched lips alter, nor did the deadly look in his smouldering eyes change. One by one the guests left, the colonel sent Marjorie and Gray to bed, grandmother Hawn sent Mavis, and when all was done and the old man was breathing heavily on a bed in the corner and grandmother Hawn was seated by the fire with a handkerchief to her lips, the colonel heard the back door open and little Jason, too, was gone——gone on business of his own. He had seen Steve Hawn's face at the window, his mother had slipped out on the porch while he was dancing, and neither had appeared again. So little Jason went swiftly through the dark, over the ridge and up the big creek to the old circuit rider's house, where the stream forked. All the way he had seen the tracks of a horse which he knew to be Steve's, for the right forefoot, he knew, had cast a shoe only the day before.

  At the forks the tracks turned up the branch that led to Steve's cabin and not up toward his mother's house. If Steve had his mother behind him, he had taken her to his own home; that, in Mavis's absence, was not right, and, burning with sudden rage, the boy hurried up the branch. The cabin was dark and at the gate he gave a shrill, imperative "Hello!"

  In a few minutes the door opened and the tousled head of his cousin was thrust forth.

  "Is my mammy hyeh?" he called hotly.

  "Yep," drawled Steve.

  "Well, tell her I'm hyeh to take her home!" There was no sound from within.

  "Well, she ain't goin' home," Steve drawled.

  The boy went sick and speechless with fury, but before he could get his breath Steve drawled again:

  "She's goin' to live here now——we got married to-night." The boy dropped helplessly against the gate at these astounding words and his silence stirred Steve to kindness.

  "Now, don't take it so hard, Jason. Come on in, boy, an' stay all night."

  Still the lad was silent and another face appeared at the door.

  "Come on in, Jasie."

  It was his mother's voice and the tone was pleading, but the boy, with no answer, turned, and they heard his stumbling steps as he made his way along the fence and started over the spur. Behind him his mother began to sob and with rough kindness Steve soothed her and closed the door.

  Slowly little Jason climbed the spur and dropped on the old log on which he had so often sat——fighting out the trouble which he had so long feared must come. The moon and the stars in her wake were sinking and the night was very still. His reason told him his mother was her own mistress, and had the right to marry when she pleased and whom she pleased, but she was a Honeycutt, again she had married a Hawn, and the feud was starting again. Steve Hawn would be under suspicion as his own father had been, Steve would probably have to live on the Honeycutt side of the ridge, and Jason's own earlier days of shame he must go through again. That was his first thought, but his second was a quick oath to himself that he would not go through them again. He was big enough to handle a Winchester now, and he would leave his mother and he would fight openly with the Hawns. And then as he went slowly down the spur he began to wonder with fresh suspicion what his mother and Steve might now do, what influence Steve might have over her, and if he might not now encourage her to sell her land. And, if that happened, what would become of him? The old hound in the porch heard him coming and began to bay at him fiercely, but when he opened the gate the dog bounded to him whining with joy and trying to lick his hands. He dropped on the porch and the loneliness of it all clutched his heart so that he had to gulp back a sob in his throat and blink his eyes to keep back the tears. But it was not until he went inside finally and threw himself with his clothes on across his mother's empty bed that he lost all control and sobbed himself to sleep. When he awoke it was not only broad daylight, but the sun was an hour high and streaming through the mud-chinked crevices of the cabin. In his whole life he had never slept so long after daybreak and he sprang up in bed with bewildered eyes, trying to make out where he was and why he was there. The realization struck him with fresh pain, and when he slowly climbed out of the bed the old hound was whining at the door. When he opened it the fresh wind striking his warm body aroused him sharply. He wondered why his mother had not already been over for her things. The chickens were clustered expectantly at the corner of the house, the calf was bawling at the corner of the fence, and the old cow was waiting patiently at the gate. He turned quickly to the kitchen and to a breakfast on the scraps of his last night's supper. He did not know how to make coffee, and for the first time in his life he went without it. Within an hour the cow was milked and fed, bread crumbs were scattered to the chickens, and alone in the lonely cabin he faced the new conditions of his life. He started toward the gate, not knowing where he should go. He drifted aimlessly down the creek and he began to wonder about Mavis, whether she had got home and now knew what had happened and what she thought about it all, and about his grandfather and who it was that had shot him. There were many things that he wanted to know, and his steps quickened with a definite purpose. At the mouth of the creek he hailed the old circuit rider's house, and the old man and his wife both appeared in the doorway.

  "I reckon you couldn't help doin' it?"

  "No," said the old man. "Thar wasn't no reason fer me to deny 'em."

  He looked confused and the old woman gulped, for both were wondering how much the lad knew.

  "How's grandpap?"

  "Right porely I heerd," said the old woman. "The doctor's thar, an' he said that if the bullet had 'a' gone a leetle furder down hit would 'a' killed him."

  "Whar's Mavis?"

  Again the two old people looked confused, for it was plain that Jason did not know all that had happened.

  "I hain't seed her, but somebody said she went by hyeh on her way home about an hour ago. I was thinkin' about goin' up thar right now."

  The boy's eyes were shifting now from one to the other and he broke in abruptly:

  "Whut's the matter?"

  The old man's lips tightened.

  "Jason, she's up thar alone. Yo' mammy an' Steve have run away."

  The lad looked at the old man with unblinking eyes.

  "Don't ye understand, boy?" repeated the old man kindly. "They've run away!"

  Jason turned his head quickly and started for the gate.

  "Now, don't, Jason," called the old woman in a broken voice. "Don't take on that way. I want ye both to come an' live with us," she pleaded. "Come on back now."

  The little fellow neither made answer nor looked back, and the old people watched him turn up the creek, trudging toward Mavis's home.

  The boy's tears once more started when he caught sight of Steve Hawn's cabin, but he forced them back. A helpless little figure was sitting in the open doorway with head buried in her arms. She did not hear him coming even when he was quite near, for the lad stepped softly and gently put one hand on her shoulder. She looked up with a frightened start, and at sight of his face she quit her sobbing and with one hand over her quivering mouth turned her head away.

  "Come on, Mavie," he said quietly.

  Again she looked up, wonderingly this time, and seeing some steady purpose in his eyes rose without a question.

  With no word he turned and she followed him back down the creek. And the old couple, sitting in the porch, saw them coming, the boy striding resolutely ahead, the little girl behind, and the faces of both deadly serious——the one with purpose and the other with blind trust. They did not call to the boy, for they saw him swerve across the road toward the gate. He did not lift his head until he reached the gate, and he did not wait for Mavis. He had no need, for she had hurried to his side when he halted at the steps of the porch.

  "Uncle Lige," he said, "me an' Mavis hyeh want to git married."

  Not the faintest surprise showed in Mavis's face, little as she knew what his purpose was, for what the master did was right; but the old woman and the old man were stunned into silence and neither could smile.

  "Have you got yo' license?" the old man asked gravely.

  "Whut's a license?"

  "You got to git a license from the county clerk afore you can git married, an' hit costs two dollars."

  The boy flinched, but only for a moment.

  "I kin borrer the money," he said stoutly.

  "But you can't git a license——you ain't a man."

  "I ain't!" cried the boy hotly; "I got to be!"

  "Come in hyeh, Jason," said the old man, for it was time to leave off evasion, and he led the lad into the house while Mavis, with the old woman's arm around her, waited in the porch. Jason came out baffled and pale.

  "Hit ain't no use, Mavis," he said; "the law's agin us an' we got to wait. They've run away an' they've both sold out an' yo' daddy left word that he was goin' to send fer ye whenever he got whatever he was goin'."

  Jason waited and he did not have to wait long.

  "I hain't goin' to leave ye," she flashed.

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