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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter31)

2006-08-29 01:40

  Chapter XXXI

  The pale, dark young secretary of state had fled from the capital in a soldier's uniform and had been captured with a pardon in his pocket from the Pennyroyal governor, which the authorities refused to honor. The mountain ex-secretary of state had fled across the Ohio, to live there an exile. The governor from the Pennyroyal had carried his case to the supreme court of the land, had lost, and he, too, amid the condemnation of friends and foes, had crossed the same yellow river to the protection of the same Northern State. With his flight the troubles at the capital had passed the acute crisis and settled down into a long, wearisome struggle to convict the assassins of the autocrat. During the year the young secretary of state had been once condemned to death, once to life imprisonment, and was now risking the noose again on a third trial. Jason Hawn's testimony at his own trial, it was thought, would help Steve Hawn. Indeed, another mountaineer, Hiram Honeycutt, an uncle to little Aaron, was, it seemed, in greater danger than Steve, but the suspect in most peril was an auditor's clerk from the Blue-grass; so it looked as though old Jason's prophecy——that the real murderer, if a mountaineer, would never be convicted——might yet come true. The autocrat was living on in the hearts of his followers as a martyr to the cause of the people, and a granite shaft was to rise in the little cemetery on the river bluff to commemorate his deeds and his name. His death had gratified the blood-lust of his foes, his young Democratic successor would amend that "infamous election law" and was plainly striving for a just administration, and so bitterness began swiftly to abate, tolerance grew rapidly, and the State went earnestly on trying to cure its political ills. And yet even while John Burnham and his like were congratulating themselves that cool heads and strong hands had averted civil war, checked further violence, and left all questions to the law and the courts, the economic poison that tobacco had been spreading through the land began to shake the commonwealth with a new fever: for not liberty but daily bread was the farmer's question now.

  The Big Trust had cut out competitive buyers, cut down prices to the cost of production, and put up the price of the tobacco bag and the plug. So that the farmer must smoke and chew his own tobacco, or sell it at a loss and buy it back again at whatever price the trust chose to charge him. Already along the southern border of the State the farmers had organized for mutual protection and the members had agreed to plant only half the usual acreage. When the non-members planted more than ever, masked men descended upon them at night and put the raiser to the whip and his barn to the torch. It seemed as though the passions of men, aroused by the political troubles and getting no vent in action, welcomed this new outlet, and already the night-riding of ku-klux and toll gate days was having a new and easy birth. And these sinister forces were sweeping slowly toward the Blue-grass. Thus the injection of this new problem brought a swift subsidence of politics in the popular mind. It caused a swift withdrawal of the political background from the lives of the Pendletons and dwarfed its importance for the time in the lives of the Hawns, for again the following spring Colonel Pendleton, in the teeth of the coming storm, raised tobacco, and so, for his mother, did Jason Hawn.

  In the mountains, meanwhile, the trend, contrariwise, was upward—— all upward. Railroads were building, mines were opening, great trees were falling for timber. Even the Hawns and Honeycutts were too busy for an actual renewal of the feud, though the casual traveller was amazed to discover slowly how bitter the enmity still was. But the feud in no way checked the growth going on in all ways, nor was that growth all material. More schools than St. Hilda's had come into the hills from the outside and were doing hardly less effective work. County schools, too, were increasing in number and in strength. More and more mountain boys and girls were each year going away to college, bringing back the fruits of their work and planting the seeds of them at home. The log cabin was rapidly disappearing, the frame cottages were being built with more neatness and taste, and garish colors were becoming things of the past. Indeed, a quick uplift through all the mountains was perceptible to any observant eye that had known and knew now the hills. To the law-makers at the capital and to the men of law and business in the Blue-grass, that change was plain when they came into conflict with the lawyers and bankers and merchants of the highlands, for they found this new hillsman shrewd, resourceful, quick-witted, tenacious, and strong, and John Burnham began to wonder if the vigorous type of Kentuckian that seemed passing in the Blue-grass might not be coming to a new birth in the hills. He smiled grimly that following spring when he heard that a company of mountain militia from a county that was notorious for a desperate feud had been sent down to keep order in the tobacco lowlands; he kept on smiling every time he heard that a mountaineer had sold his coal lands and moved down to buy some blue-grass farm, and wondering how far this peaceful dispossessment might go in time; and whether a fusion of these social extremes of civilization might not be in the end for the best good of the State. And he knew that the basis of his every speculation about the fortunes of the State rested on the intertwining hand of fate in the lives of Marjorie and Gray Pendleton and Mavis and Jason Hawn.

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