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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter29)

2006-08-29 01:40

  Chapter XXIX

  St. Hilda herself took Jason back to the Blue-grass, took him to the gray frowning prison at the capital, and with streaming eyes watched the iron gates close between them. Then she went home, sent for John Burnham, and within an hour both started working for the boy's freedom, for Jason must keep on with his studies, and, with Steve Hawn in jail, must help his mother. Through Gray's influence Colonel Pendleton, and through Marjorie's, Mrs. Pendleton as well, offered to go sponsors for the boy's appearance at his trial. The man from the Pennyroyal who sat in the governor's chair, and even the successor to the autocrat who was trying to pre-empt that seat, gave letters to help, and before any prison pallor could touch the boy's sun-tanned face he was out in the open air once more on bail. And when old Jason Hawn in the mountains heard what had happened, he laughed.

  "Well, I reckon if he's indicted only fer helpin' Steve, he ain't in much danger, fer they can't git him onless they git Steve, an' if thar is one man no money can ketch——that man is slick Steve Hawn. An' lemme tell ye: if the right feller was from the mountains an' only mountain folks knows it, they hain't nuver goin' to find him out. Mebbe I was a leetle hasty——mebbe I was."

  After one talk with John Burnham, the old president suggested that Jason drop down into the "kitchen" and go on with his books, but against this plan Jason shook his head. He was going to raise Steve Hawn's tobacco crop on shares with Colonel Pendleton, he would study at home, and John Burnham saw, moreover, that the boy shrank from the ordeal of college associations and any further hurt to his pride.

  The pores of the earth were beginning to open now to the warm breath of spring. Already Martha Hawn and Mavis had burnt brush on the soil to kill the grass, and Jason ploughed the soil and harrowed it with minute care, and sowed the seed broadcast by hand. Within two weeks lettuce-like leaves were peeping through the ground, and Jason and Mavis stretched canvas over the beds to hold in the heat of day and hold off the frost of night. Three weeks later came the first ploughing; then there was ploughing and ploughing and ploughing again, and weeding and weeding and weeding again. Just before ripening, the blooms came——blooms that were for all the word like the blooms of purple rhododendron back in the hills, and then the task of suckering began. Sometimes Mavis would help and the mother started in to work like a man, but the boy had absorbed from his environment its higher ideal of woman and, all he could, he kept both of them out of the tobacco field. This made it all the harder for him and there was no let-up to his toil. Just the same, Jason put in every spare moment on his books, and in Mavis's little room, which had been turned over to him, his lamp burned far into every night. When he struck a knotty point or problem, he would walk over to John Burnham's for help, or the school-master, as he went to and fro from his college duties, would find the boy on a fence by the roadside waiting with his question for him. All the summer Jason toiled. When there was no hard labor, always he had to fight the tobacco worms with spray, and hand, and boot-heel, until the rich dark-green of the leaves took on a furry, velvety sheen——until at ripening they turned to a bright gold and were ready for the chisel-bladed, double-edged knife with which the plants are cut close to the ground. Then they must be hung on upright tobacco sticks, stalks upward, to wilt under the August sun, and then on to be housed in Colonel Pendleton's great barns to dry within their slitted walls. Several times during the summer Arch Hawn came by and looked at the boy's work with keen, approving eye and in turn won a falling-off in Jason's old prejudice against him; for Arch had built a church in the county-seat in the mountains, had helped the county schools, was making ready to help the mountain people fight unjust claims to their lands, and, himself charged with helping to bring the mountain army down to the capital, stood boldly ready to surrender to the call of the law——he even meant to help Steve Hawn in his trouble, for Steve, after an examining trial, had been remanded back to prison without bail: and he was going to help Jason in his trial, which would closely follow Steve's.

  All summer, too, Gray and Marjorie were riding or driving past the tobacco field, and Jason and Mavis, when they saw either or both coming, would move to the end of the field that was farthest from the turnpike and, turning their backs, would pretend not to see. Sometimes the two mountaineers would be caught where avoidance was impossible, and then Marjorie and Gray would call out cheerily and with a smile——to get in return from the children of the soil a grave, silent nod of the head and a grave, answering glance of the eye——for neither knew the part the Blue-grass boy and girl had played in the getting of Jason's freedom, until one late afternoon of the closing summer days, for John Burnham had been asked to keep the matter a secret. But Steve Hawn had learned from his lawyer and had told his wife Martha when she came to visit him in prison; and that late afternoon she was in the tobacco field when Mavis and Jason moved to the other end and turned their backs as Marjorie rode by on her way home and Gray an hour later galloped past the other way.

  "I reckon," she said quietly to Jason, "ef you knowed whut that boy an' gal has been a-doin' fer ye, you wouldn't be a-actin' that-a-way."

  And then she explained and started for home. Both stood still—— silent and dumfounded——and only Mavis spoke at last.

  "Both of us beholden to both of 'em."

  Jason made no answer, but bent to his work. When Mavis, too, started for home he stayed behind without explanation, and when she was out of sight he climbed the fence at the edge of the woods, and sat there looking toward the sunset fading behind Marjorie's home.

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