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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter26)

2006-08-29 01:39

  Chapter XXVI

  One officer pushed Jason up the steps of the car with one hand clutched in the collar of the boy's coat. Steve Hawn followed, handcuffed, and as the second officer put his foot on the first step, Steve flashed around and brought both of his huge manacled fists down on the man's head, knocking him senseless to the ground.

  "Git, Jason!" he yelled, but the boy had already got. Feeling the clutch on his coat collar loosen suddenly, he had torn away and, without looking back even to see what the crashing blow was that he heard, leaped from the moving train into the darkness on the other side of the train. One shot that went wild followed him, but by the time Steve was subdued by the blow of a pistol butt and the train was stopped, Jason was dashing through a gloomy woodland with a speed that he had never equalled on a foot-ball field. On top of a hill he stopped for a moment panting and turned to listen. There were no sounds of pursuit, the roar of the train had started again, and he saw the lights of it twinkling on toward the capital. He knew they would have bloodhounds on his trail as soon as possible; that every railway-station agent would have a description of him and be on the lookout for him within a few hours; and that his mother's house would be closely watched that night: so, gathering his breath, he started in the long, steady stride of his foot-ball training across the fields and, a fugitive from justice, fled for the hills. The night was crisp, the moon was not risen, and the frozen earth was slippery, but he did not dare to take to the turnpike until he saw the lights of farm- houses begin to disappear, and then he climbed the fence into the road and sped swiftly on. Now and then he would have to leap out of the road again and crouch close behind the fence when he heard the rattle of some coming vehicle, but nothing overtook him, and when at last he had the dark silent fields and the white line of the turnpike all to himself he slowed into a swift walk. Before midnight he saw the lights of his college town ahead of him and again he took to the fields to circle about it and strike the road again on the other side where it led on toward the mountains. But always his eyes were turned leftward toward those town lights that he was leaving perhaps forever and on beyond them to his mother's home. He could see her still seated before the fire and staring into it, newly worn and aged, and tearless; and he knew Mavis lay sleepless and racked with fear in her little room. By this time they all must have heard, and he wondered what John Burnham was thinking, and Gray, and then with a stab at his heart he thought of Marjorie. He wondered if she had got his good-by note——the taking back of his promise to her. Well, it was all over now. The lights fell behind him, the moon rose, and under it he saw again the white line of the road. He was tired, but he put his weary feet on the frozen surface and kept them moving steadily on. At the first cock-crow, he passed the house where he had stayed all night when he first rode to the Bluegrass on his old mare. A little later lights began once more to twinkle from awakening farm-houses. The moon paled and a whiter light began to steal over the icy fields. Here was the place where he and the old mare had seen for the first time a railroad train. Hunger began to gnaw within him when he saw the smoke rising from a negro cabin down a little lane, and he left the road and moved toward it. At the bars which let into a little barnyard an old negro was milking a cow, and when, at the boy's low cry of "Hello!" he rose to his feet, a ruse carne to Jason quickly.

  "Seen any chestnut hoss comin' along here?"

  The old man shook his head.

  "I jist got up, son."

  "Well, he got away from me an' I reckon he's gone back toward home. I started before breakfast——can I get a bite here?"

  It looked suspicious——a white man asking a negro for food, and Jason had learned enough in the Blue-grass to guess the reason for the old darky's hesitation, for he added quickly:

  "I don't want to walk all the way back to that white house where I was goin' to get something to eat."

  A few minutes later the boy was devouring cornbread and bacon so ravenously that again he saw suspicion in the old darky's eyes, and for that reason when he struck the turnpike again he turned once more into the fields. The foot-hills were in sight now, and from the top of a little wooded eminence he saw the beginning of the dirt road and he almost shouted his gladness aloud. An hour later he was on top of the hill whence he and his old mare had looked first over the land of the Blue-grass, and there he turned to look once more. The sun was up now and each frozen weed, belated corn-stalk, and blade of grass caught its light, shattered it into glittering bits, and knit them into a veil of bewildering beauty for the face of the yet sleeping earth. The lad turned again to the white breasts of his beloved hills. The nation's army could never catch him when he was once among them——and now Jason smiled.

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