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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter34)

2006-08-29 01:41

  Chapter XXXIV

  At sunset Gray Pendleton pushed his tired horse across the Cumberland River and up into the county-seat of the Hawns and Honeycutts. From the head of the main street two battered signs caught his eye——Hawn Hotel and Honeycutt Inn——the one on the right-hand side close at hand, and the other far down on the left, and each on the corner of the street. Both had double balconies, both were ramshackle and unpainted, and near each was a general store, run now by a subleader of each faction——Hiram Honeycutt and Shade Hawn——for old Jason and old Aaron, except in councils of war and business, had retired into the more or less peaceful haven of home and old age. Naturally the boy drew up and stopped before Hawn Hotel, from the porch of which keen eyes scrutinized him with curiosity and suspicion, and before he had finished his supper of doughy biscuits, greasy bacon, and newly killed fried chicken, the town knew but little less about his business there than he himself. That night he asked many questions of Shade Hawn, the proprietor, and all were answered freely, except where they bore on the feud of half a century, and then Gray encountered a silence that was puzzling but significant and deterrent. Next morning everybody who spoke to him called him by name, and as he rode up the river there was the look of recognition in every face he saw, for the news of him had gone ahead the night before. At the mouth of Hawn Creek, in a bend of the river, he came upon a schoolhouse under a beech-tree on the side of a little hill; through the open door he saw, amidst the bent heads of the pupils, the figure of a young woman seated at a desk, and had he looked back when he turned up the creek he would have seen her at the window, gazing covertly after him with one hand against her heart. For Mavis Hawn, too, had heard that Gray was come to the hills. All morning she had been watching the open door-way, and yet when she saw him pass she went pale and had to throw her head up sharply to get her breath. Her hands trembled, she rose and went to the window, and she did not realize what she was doing until she turned to meet the surprised and curious eyes of one of the larger girls, who, too, could see the passing stranger, and then the young school- mistress flushed violently and turned to her seat. The girl was a Honeycutt, and more than once that long, restless afternoon Mavis met the same eyes searching her own and already looking mischief. Slowly the long afternoon passed, school was dismissed, and Mavis, with the circuit rider's old dog on guard at her heels, started slowly up the creek with her eyes fixed on every bend of the road she turned and on the crest of every little hill she climbed, watching for Gray to come back. Once a horse that looked like the one he rode and glimpsed through the bushes far ahead made her heart beat violently and stopped her, poised for a leap into the bushes, but it was only little Aaron Honeycutt, who lifted his hat, flushed, and spoke gravely; and Mavis reached the old circuit rider's gate, slipped around to the back porch and sat down, still in a tumult that she could not calm. It was not long before she heard a clear shout of "hello" at the gate, and she clenched her chair with both hands, for the voice was Gray's. She heard the old woman go to the door, heard her speak her surprise and hearty welcome——heard Gray's approaching steps.

  "Is Mavis here?" Gray asked.

  "She ain't got back from school."

  "Was that her school down there at the mouth of the creek?"


  "Well, I wish I had known that."

  Calmly and steadily then Mavis rose, and a moment later Gray saw her in the door and his own heart leaped at the rich, grave beauty of her. Gravely she shook hands, gravely looked full into his eyes, without a question sat down with quiet hands folded in her lap, and it was the boy who was embarrassed and talked. He would live with the superintendent on the spur just above and he would be a near neighbor. His father was not well. Marjorie was not going away again, but would stay at home that winter. Mavis's stepmother was well, and he had not seen Jason before he left—— they must have passed each other on the way. Since Mavis's father was now at home, Jason would stay at the college, as he lost so much time going to and fro. Gray was glad to get to work, he already loved the mountains; but there had been so many changes he hardly remembered the creek——how was Mavis's grandfather, old Mr. Hawn? Mavis raised her eyes, but she was so long answering that the old woman broke in:

  "He's mighty peart fer sech a' old man, but he's a-breakin' fast an' he ain't long fer this wuld." She spoke with the frank satisfaction that, among country folks, the old take in ushering their contemporaries through the portals, and Gray could hardly help smiling. He rose to leave presently, and the old woman pressed him to stay for supper; but Mavis's manner somehow forbade, and the boy climbed back up the spur, wondering, ill at ease, and almost shaken by the new beauty the girl seemed to have taken on in the hills. For there she was at home. She had the peace and serenity of them: the pink-flecked laurel was in her cheeks, the white of the rhododendron was at the base of her full round throat, and in her eyes were the sleepy shadows of deep ravines. It might not be so lonely for him after all in his exile, and the vision of the girl haunted Gray when he went to bed that night and made him murmur and stir restlessly in his sleep.

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