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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter27)

2006-08-29 01:39

  Chapter XXVII

  Back at the little capital, the Pennyroyal governor sat pat behind thick walls and the muskets of a thousand men. The militia, too, remained loyal, and the stacking up of ammunition in the adjutant- general's office went merrily on. The dead autocrat was reverently borne between two solid walls of living people to the little cemetery on the high hill overlooking the river and with tribute of tongue and pen was laid to rest, but beneath him the struggle kept on. Mutual offers of compromise were mutually refused and the dual government went on. The State-house was barred to the legislators. To test his authority the governor issued a pardon—— the Democratic warden of the penitentiary refused to recognize it. A company of soldiers came from his own Pennyroyal home and the wing of the mountain army still hovered nigh. Meanwhile companies of militia were drafted for service under the banner of the dead autocrat. The governor ate and slept in the State-house——never did he leave it. Once more a Democratic mob formed before the square and the Gatling-gun dispersed it. The President at Washington declined to interfere.

  Then started the arrests. It was declared that the fatal shot came from the window of the office of the pale, dark young secretary of state, and that young mountaineer was taken——with a pardon from the governor in his pocket; his brother, a captain of the State guard, the ex-secretary of state, also a mountain man, and still another mountaineer were indicted as accessories before the fact and those indictments charged complicity to the Pennyroyal governor himself. And three other men who were found in the executive building were indicted for murder along with Steve and Jason Hawn. Indeed, the Democrats were busy unearthing, as they claimed, a gigantic Republican conspiracy. No less than one hundred thousand dollars was offered as a reward for the conviction of the murderers, and the Republican cry was that with such a sum it was possible to convict even the innocent. In turn, Liberty Leagues were even formed throughout the State to protect the innocent, and lives and property were pledged to that end, but the ex-secretary of state fled for refuge across the Ohio, and the governor over there refused to give him up.

  The Democrats held forth at the Capitol Hotel——the Republicans at the executive building. The governor sent arms from the State arsenal to his mountain capital. Two speakers were always on hand in the Senate, and war talk once again became rife. There was a heavy guard of soldiers at every point in the Capitol Square, there were sentries at the governor's mansion, and the rumor was that the militia would try to arrest the lieutenant-governor who now was successor to the autocrat. So, to guard him, special police were sworn in——police around the hotel, police in the lobby, police patrolling the streets day and night; a system of signals was formed to report suspicious movements of troops, and more men were stationed at convenient windows and in dark alleyways, armed with pistols, but with rifles and shot-guns close at hand, while the police station was full of arms and ammunition. To the courts it was at last agreed that the whole matter should go, and there was panting peace for a while.

  A curious pall overhung the college the morning of Jason's flight for the hills. The awful news spread from lip to lip, hushing shouts and quelling laughter. The stream of students moved into the chapel with little noise——a larger stream than usual, for the feeling was that there would be comment from the old president. A common seriousness touched the face of every teacher on the platform and deepened the seriousness of the young faces that looked expectantly upward. In the centre of the freshman corner one seat only was vacant, and that to John Burnham suggested the emptiness of even more than death. Among the girls one chair, too, yawned significantly, for Mavis was not there and the two places might have been side by side, so close was the mute link between them. But no word of Jason reached any curious ear, and only a deeper feeling in the old president's voice when it was lifted, and a deeper earnestness in his prayer that especial guidance might now be granted the State in the crisis it was passing through, showed that the thought of all hearts was working alike in his. At noon the news of Jason's escape and flight spread like fire through town and college——then news that bloodhounds were on his trail, that the trail led to the hills, and that a quick capture was certain. Before night the name of the boy was on the lips of the State and for a day at least on the lips of the nation.

  The night before, John Burnham had gone down to the capital to see Jason. All that day he had been hardly able to keep his mind on book or student, all day he had kept recalling how often the boy had asked him about this or that personage in history who had sought to win liberty for his people by slaying with his own hand some tyrant. He knew what part politics, the awful disregard of human life, and the revengeful spirit of the mountains had played in the death of the autocrat, but he knew also that if there was in that mountain army that had gone to the capital the fearful, mistaken, higher spirit of the fanatic it was in the breast of Jason Hawn. He believed, however, that in the boy the spirit was all there was, and that the deed must have been done by some hand that had stolen the cloak of that spirit to conceal a malicious purpose. Coming out of his class-room, he had seen Gray, whose face showed that he was working with the same bewildering, incredible problem. Outside Marjorie had halted him and tremblingly told him of Jason's long-given promise and how he had taken it back; and so as he drove to the country that afternoon his faith in Jason was miserably shaken and a sickening fear for the boy possessed him. He was hardly aware he had reached his own gate, so lost in thought was he all the way, until his horse of its own accord stopped in front of it, and then he urged it on with a sudden purpose to go to Jason's mother. On top of the hill he stopped again, for Marjorie's carriage was turning into the lane that led to Martha Hawn's house. His kindly purpose had been forestalled and with intense relief he turned back on his heart- sick way homeward.

  With Marjorie, too, it had been a sudden thought to go to Jason's mother, but as she drew near the gate she grew apprehensive. She had not been within the house often and then only for a moment to wait for Mavis. She had always been half-fearful and ill at ease with the sombre-faced woman who always searched her with big dark eyes whose listlessness seemed but to veil mysteries and hidden fires. As she was getting out of her carriage she saw Martha Hawn's pale face at the window. She expected the door to be opened, as she climbed the steps, but it was not, and when she timidly knocked there was no bid to enter. She was even about to turn away bewildered and indignant when the door did open and a forbidding figure stood before her

  "Mavis has gone down to see her pappy."

  "Yes, I know——but I thought I'd come——"

  She halted helplessly. She did not know that knocking was an unessential formality in the hills; she did not realize that it was her first friendly call on Martha Hawn; and curiously enough the mountain woman became at that moment the quicker of the two.

  "Come right in and set down," she said with a sudden change of manner. "Rest yo' hat thar on the bed, won't you?"

  The girl entered, her rosy face rising from her furs, and she seemed to flood the poor little room with warmth and light and make it poor indeed. She sat down and felt the deep black eyes burning at her not unkindly now and with none of her own embarrassment, for she had expected to find a woman bowed with grief and she found her unshaken, stolid, calm. For the first time she noticed that Jason had got his eyes and his brow from his mother, and now her voice was an echo of his.

  "They've got dogs atter my boy," she said simply.

  That was all she said, but it started the girl's tears, for there was not even resentment in the voice——only the resignation that meant a life-long comradeship with sorrow. Marjorie had tried to speak, but tears began to choke her and she turned her face to hide them. She had come to comfort, but now she felt a hand patting her on the shoulder. "Why, honey, you mustn't take on that-a-way. Jason wouldn't want nobody to worry 'bout him——not fer a minute. They'll never ketch him——never in this world. An' bless yo' dear heart, honey, this ain't nothin'. Ever'thing 'll come out all right. Why, I been used to killin' an' fightin' an' trouble all my life. Jason hain't done nothin' he didn't think was right—— I know that——an' if hit was right I'm glad he done hit. I ain't so shore 'bout Steve, but the Lord's been good to Steve fer holdin' off his avengin' hand even this long. Hit'll all come out right—— don't you worry."

  Half an hour later the girl on her way home found Colonel Pendleton at his gate on horseback, apparently waiting for some one, and, looking back through the carriage window, Marjorie saw Gray galloping along behind her. She did not stop to speak with the colonel, and a look of uneasy wonder crossed his face as she drove by.

  "What's the matter with Marjorie?" he asked when Gray drew nigh. The boy shook his head worriedly.

  "She's been to the Hawns," he said, and the colonel looked grave. Twenty minutes later Mrs. Pendleton sat in her library, also looking grave. Marjorie had told her where she had been and why she had gone, and the mother, startled by the girl's wildness and distress, had barely opened her lips in remonstrance when Marjorie, in a whirlwind of tears and defiance, fled to her room.

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