"Course," said the woman.
"Go right along, Mavis," said the man, and Marjorie turned to Gray.
"You can carry her things," she said, and she turned to Mavis and met puzzled, unabashed eyes.
"Whut things?" asked little Mavis, whereat Marjorie blushed, looked quickly to Gray, whose face was courteously unsmiling, and started her pony abruptly.
It was a wonderful night for the mountaineer girl in the big- pillared house on the hill. When they got home, Marjorie drove her in a little pony-cart over the big farm, while Gray trotted alongside—through pastures filled with cattle so fat they could hardly walk, past big barns bursting with hay and tobacco and stables full of slender, beautiful horses. Even the pigs had little red houses of refuge from the weather and flocks of sheep dotted the hill-side like unmelted patches of snow. The mountain girl's eyes grew big with wonder when she entered the great hall with its lofty ceiling, its winding stairway, and its polished floor, so slippery that she came near falling down, and they stayed big when she saw the rows of books, the pictures on the walls, the padded couches and chairs, the noiseless carpets, the polished andirons that gleamed like gold before the blazing fires, and when she glimpsed through an open door the long dining-table with its glistening glass and silver. When she mounted that winding stairway and entered Marjorie's room she was stricken dumb by its pink curtains, pink wall-paper, and gleaming brass bedstead with pink coverlid and pink pillow-facings. And she nearly gasped when Marjorie led her on into another room of blue.
"This is your room," she said smiling, "right next to mine. I'll be back in a minute."
Mavis stood a moment in the middle of the room when she was alone, hardly daring to sit down. A coal fire crackled behind a wire screen—coal from her mountains. A door opened into a queer little room, glistening white, and she peeped, wondering, within.
"There's the bath-room," Marjorie had said. She had not known what was meant, and she did not now, looking at the long white tub and the white tiling floor and walls until she saw the multitudinous towels, and she marvelled at the new mystery. She went back and walked to the window and looked out on the endless rolling winter fields over which she had driven that afternoon—all, Gray had told her, to be Marjorie's some day, just as all across the turnpike, Marjorie had told her, was some day to be Gray's. She thought of herself and of Jason, and her tears started, not for herself, but for him. Then she heard Marjorie coming in and she brushed her eyes swiftly.
"Whar can I git some water to wash?" she asked.
Marjorie laughed delightedly and led her back to that wonderful little white room, turned a gleaming silver star, and the water spurted joyously into the bowl.
"Well, I do declare!"
Soon they went down to supper, and Mavis put out a shy hand to Marjorie's mother, a kind-eyed, smiling woman in black. And Gray, too, was there, watching the little mountain girl and smiling encouragement whenever he met her eyes. And Mavis passed muster well, for the mountaineer's sensitiveness makes him wary of his manners when he is among strange people, and he will go hungry rather than be guilty unknowingly of a possible breach. Marjorie's mother was much interested and pleased with Mavis, and she made up her mind at once to discuss with her daughter how they could best help along the little stranger. After supper Marjorie played on the piano, and she and Gray sang duets, but the music was foreign to Mavis, and she did not like it very much. When the two went upstairs, there was a dainty long garment spread on Mavis's bed, which Mavis fingered carefully with much interest and much curiosity until she recalled suddenly what Marjorie had said about Gray carrying her "things." This was one of these things, and Mavis put it on wondering what the other things might be. Then she saw that a silver-backed comb and brush had appeared on the bureau along with a tiny pair of scissors and a little ivory stick, the use of which she could not make out at all. But she asked no questions, and when Marjorie came in with a new toothbrush and a little tin box and put them in the bath-room, Mavis still showed no surprise, but ran her eyes down the nightgown with its dainty ribbons.
"Ain't it purty?" she said, and her voice and her eyes spoke all her thanks with such sincerity and pathos that Marjorie was touched. Then they sat down in front of the fire—a pair of slim brown feet that had been bruised by many a stone and pierced by many a thorn stretched out to a warm blaze side by side with a pair of white slim ones that had been tenderly guarded against both since the first day they had touched the earth, and a golden head that had never been without the caress of a tender hand and a tousled dark one that had been bared to sun and wind and storm— close together for a long time. Unconsciously Marjorie had Mavis tell her much about Jason, just as Mavis without knowing it had Marjorie tell her much about Gray. Mavis got the first good-night kiss of her life that night, and she went to bed thinking of the Blue-grass boy's watchful eyes, little courtesies, and his sympathetic smile, just as Gray, riding home, was thinking of the dark, shy little mountain girl with a warm glow of protection about his heart, and Marjorie fell asleep dreaming of the mountain boy who, under her promise, had gone back homeless to his hills. In them perhaps it was the call of the woods and wilds that had led their pioneer forefathers long, long ago into woods and wilds, or perhaps, after all, it was only the little blind god shooting arrows at them in the dark.
At least with little Jason one arrow had gone home. At the forks of the road beyond the county-seat he turned not toward his grandfather's, but up the spur and over the mountain. And St. Hilda, sitting on her porch, saw him coming again. His face looked beaten but determined, and he strode toward her as straight and sturdy as ever.
"I've come back to stay with ye," he said.
Again she started to make denial, but he shook his head. "'Tain't no use—I'm a-goin' to stay this time," he said, and he walked up the steps, pulling two or three dirty bills from his pocket with one hand and unbuckling his pistol belt with the other.
"Me an' my nag'll work fer ye an' I'll wear gal's stockin's an' a poke-bonnet an' do a gal's work, if you'll jus' l'arn me whut I want to know."
The funeral of old Hiram Sudduth, Marjorie's grandfather on her mother's side, was over. The old man had been laid to rest, by the side of his father and his pioneer grandfather, in the cedar- filled burying-ground on the broad farm that had belonged in turn to the three in an adjoining county that was the last stronghold of conservatism in the Blue-grass world, and John Burnham, the school-master, who had spent the night with an old friend after the funeral, was driving home. Not that there had not been many changes in that stronghold, too, but they were fewer than elsewhere and unmodern, and whatever profit was possible through these changes was reaped by men of the land like old Hiram and not by strangers. For the war there, as elsewhere, had done its deadly work. With the negro quarters empty, the elders were too old to change their ways, the young would not accept the new and hard conditions, and as mortgages slowly ate up farm after farm, quiet, thrifty, hard-working old Hiram would gradually take them in, depleting the old Stonewall neighborhood of its families one by one, and sending them West, never to come back. The old man, John Burnham knew, had bitterly opposed the marriage of his daughter with a "spendthrift Pendleton," and he wondered if now the old man's will would show that he had carried that opposition to the grave. It was more than likely, for Marjorie's father had gone his careless, generous, magnificent way in spite of the curb that the inherited thrift and inherited passion for land in his Sudduth wife had put upon him. Old Hiram knew, moreover, the parental purpose where Gray and Marjorie were concerned, and it was not likely that he would thwart one generation and tempt the succeeding one to go on in its reckless way. Right now Burnham knew that trouble was imminent for Gray's father, and he began to wonder what for him and his kind the end would be, for no change that came or was coming to his beloved land ever escaped his watchful eye. From the crest of the Cumberland to the yellow flood of the Ohio he knew that land, and he loved every acre of it, whether blue-grass, bear-grass, peavine, or pennyroyal, and he knew its history from Daniel Boone to the little Boones who still trapped skunk, mink, and muskrat, and shot squirrels in the hills with the same old-fashioned rifle, and he loved its people—his people—whether they wore silk and slippers, homespun and brogans, patent leathers and broadcloth, or cowhide boots and jeans. And now serious troubles were threatening them. A new man with a new political method had entered the arena and had boldly offered an election bill which, if passed and enforced, would create a State- wide revolution, for it would rob the people of local self- government and centralize power in the hands of a triumvirate that would be the creature of his government and, under the control of no court or jury, the supreme master of the State and absolute master of the people. And Burnham knew that, in such a crisis, ties of blood, kinship, friendship, religion, business, would count no more in the Blue-grass than they did during the Civil War, and that now, as then, father and son, brother and brother, neighbor and neighbor, would each think and act for himself, though the house divided against itself should fall to rise no more. Nor was that all. In the farmer's fight against the staggering crop of mortgages that had slowly sprung up from the long-ago sowing of the dragon's teeth Burnham saw with a heavy heart the telling signs of the land's slow descent from the strength of hemp to the weakness of tobacco—the ravage of the woodlands, the incoming of the tenant from the river-valley counties, the scars on the beautiful face of the land, the scars on the body social of the region—and now he knew another deadlier crisis, both social and economic, must some day come.
In the toll-gate war, long over, the law had been merely a little too awkward and slow. County sentiment had been a little lazy, but it had got active in a hurry, and several gentlemen, among them Gray's father, had ridden into town and deposited bits of gilt- scrolled paper to be appraised and taken over by the county, and the whole problem had been quickly solved, but the school-master, looking back, could not help wondering what lawless seeds the firebrand had then sowed in the hearts of the people and what weeds might not spring from those seeds even now; for the trust element of the toll-gate troubles had been accidental, unintentional, even unconscious, unrecognized; and now the real spirit of a real trust from the outside world was making itself felt. Courteous emissaries were smilingly fixing their own price on the Kentuckian's own tobacco and assuring him that he not only could not get a higher price elsewhere, but that if he declined he would be offered less next time, which he would have to accept or he could not sell at all. And the incredulous, fiery, independent Kentuckian found his crop mysteriously shadowed on its way to the big town markets, marked with an invisible "noli me tangere" except at the price that he was offered at home. And so he had to sell it in a rage at just that price, and he went home puzzled and fighting-mad. If, then, the Blue-grass people had handled with the firebrand corporate aggrandizement of toll-gate owners who were neighbors and friends, how would they treat meddlesome interference from strangers? Already one courteous emissary in one county had fled the people's wrath on a swift thoroughbred, and Burnham smiled sadly to himself and shook his head.
Rounding a hill a few minutes later, the school-master saw far ahead the ancestral home of the Pendletons, where the stern old head of the house, but lately passed in his ninetieth year, had wielded patriarchal power. The old general had entered the Mexican War a lieutenant and come out a colonel, and from the Civil War he had emerged a major-general. He had two sons—twins—and for the twin brothers he had built twin houses on either side of the turnpike and had given each five hundred acres of land. And these houses had literally grown from the soil, for the soil had given every stick of timber in them and every brick and stone. The twin brothers had married sisters, and thus as the results of those unions Gray's father and Marjorie's father were double cousins, and like twin brothers had been reared, and the school-master marvelled afresh when he thought of the cleavage made in that one family by the terrible Civil War. For the old general carried but one of his twin sons into the Confederacy with him—the other went with the Union—and his grandsons, the double cousins, who were just entering college, went not only against each other, but each against his own father, and there was the extraordinary fact of three generations serving in the same war, cousin against cousin, brother against brother, and father against son. The twin brothers each gave up his life for his cause. After the war the cousins lived on like brothers, married late, and, naturally, each was called uncle by the other's only child. In time the two took their fathers' places in the heart of the old general, and in the twin houses on the hills. Gray's father had married an aristocrat, who survived the birth of Gray only a few years, and Marjorie's father died of an old wound but a year or two after she was born. And so the balked affection of the old man dropped down through three generations to centre on Marjorie, and his passionate family pride to concentrate on Gray.
Now the old Roman was gone, and John Burnham looked with sad eyes at the last stronghold of him and his kind—the rambling old house stuccoed with aged brown and covered with ancient vines, knotted and gnarled like an old man's hand; the walls three feet thick and built as for a fort, as was doubtless the intent in pioneer days; the big yard of unmown blue-grass and filled with cedars and forest trees; the numerous servants' quarters, the spacious hen- house, the stables with gables and long sloping roofs and the arched gateway to them for the thoroughbreds, under which no hybrid mule or lowly work-horse was ever allowed to pass; the spring-house with its dripping green walls, the long-silent blacksmith-shop; the still windmill; and over all the atmosphere of careless, magnificent luxury and slow decay; the stucco peeled off in great patches, the stable roofs sagging, the windmill wheelless, the fences following the line of a drunken man's walk, the trees storm-torn, and the mournful cedars harping with every passing wind a requiem for the glory that was gone. As he looked, the memory of the old man's funeral came to Burnham: the white old face in the coffin—haughty, noble, proud, and the spirit of it unconquered even by death; the long procession of carriages, the slow way to the cemetery, the stops on that way, the creaking of wheels and harness, and the awe of it all to the boy, Gray, who rode with him. Then the hospitable doors of the princely old house were closed and the princely life that had made merry for so long within its walls came sharply to an end, and it stood now, desolate, gloomy, haunted, the last link between the life that was gone and the life that was now breaking just ahead. A mile on, the twin-pillared houses of brick jutted from a long swelling knoll on each side of the road. In each the same spirit had lived and was yet alive.
In Gray's home it had gone on unchecked toward the same tragedy, but in Marjorie's the thrifty, quiet force of her mother's hand had been in power, and in the little girl the same force was plain. Her father was a Pendleton of the Pendletons, too, but the same gentle force had, without curb or check-rein, so guided him that while he lived he led proudly with never a suspicion that he was being led. And since the death of Gray's mother and Marjorie's father each that was left had been faithful to the partner gone, and in spite of prediction and gossip, the common neighborhood prophecy had remained unfulfilled.
A mile farther onward, the face of the land on each side changed suddenly and sharply and became park-like. Not a ploughed acre was visible, no tree-top was shattered, no broken boughs hung down. The worm fence disappeared and neat white lines flashed divisions of pastures, it seemed, for miles. A great amphitheatrical red barn sat on every little hill or a great red rectangular tobacco barn. A huge dairy was building of brick. Paddocks and stables were everywhere, macadamized roads ran from the main highway through the fields, and on the highest hill visible stood a great villa—a colossal architectural stranger in the land—and Burnham was driving by a row of neat red cottages, strangers, too, in the land. In the old Stonewall neighborhood that Burnham had left the gradual depopulation around old Hiram left him almost as alone as his pioneer grandfather had been, and the home of the small farmers about him had been filled by the tobacco tenant. From the big villa emanated a similar force with a similar tendency, but old Hiram, compared with old Morton Sanders, was as a slow fire to a lightning-bolt. Sanders was from the East, had unlimited wealth, and loved race-horses. Purchasing a farm for them, the Saxon virus in his Kentucky blood for land had gotten hold of him, and he, too, had started depopulating the country; only where old Hiram bought roods, he bought acres; and where Hiram bagged the small farmer for game, Sanders gunned for the aristocrat as well. It was for Sanders that Colonel Pendleton had gone to the mountains long ago to gobble coal lands. It was to him that the roof over little Jason's head and the earth under his feet had been sold, and the school-master smiled a little bitterly when he turned at last into a gate and drove toward a stately old home in the midst of ancient cedars, for he was thinking of the little mountaineer and of the letter St. Hilda had sent him years ago.
"Jason has come back," she wrote, "to learn some way o' gittin' his land back.'"
For the school-master's reflections during his long drive had not been wholly impersonal. With his own family there had been the same change, the same passing, the workings of the same force in the same remorseless way, and to him, too, the same doom had come. The home to which he was driving had been his, but it was Morton Sanders's now. His brother lived there as manager of Sanders's flocks, herds, and acres, and in the house of his fathers the school-master now paid his own brother for his board.
The boy was curled up on the rear seat of the smoking-car. His face was upturned to the glare of light above him, the train bumped, jerked, and swayed; smoke and dust rolled in at the open window and cinders stung his face, but he slept as peacefully as though he were in one of the huge feather-beds at his grandfather's house—slept until the conductor shook him by the shoulder, when he opened his eyes, grunted, and closed them again. The train stopped, a brakeman yanked him roughly to his feet, put a cheap suit-case into his hand, and pushed him, still dazed, into the chill morning air. The train rumbled on and left him blinking into a lantern held up to his face, but he did not look promising as a hotel guest and the darky porter turned abruptly; and the boy yawned long and deeply, with his arms stretched above his head, dropped on the frosty bars of a baggage-truck and rose again shivering. Cocks were crowing, light was showing in the east, the sea of mist that he well knew was about him, but no mountains loomed above it, and St. Hilda's prize pupil, Jason Hawn, woke sharply at last with a tingling that went from head to foot. Once more he was in the land of the Blue-grass, his journey was almost over, and in a few hours he would put his confident feet on a new level and march on upward. Gradually, as the lad paced the platform, the mist thinned and the outlines of things came out. A mysterious dark bulk high in the air showed as a water-tank, roofs new to mountain eyes jutted upward, trees softly emerged, a desolate dusty street opened before him, and the cocks crowed on lustily all around him and from farm-houses far away. The crowing made him hungry, and he went to the light of a little eating-house and asked the price of the things he saw on the counter there, but the price was too high. He shook his head and went out, but his pangs were so keen that he went back for a cup of coffee and a hard-boiled egg, and then he heard the coming thunder of his train. The sun was rising as he sped on through the breaking mist toward the Blue-grass town that in pioneer days was known as the Athens of the West. In a few minutes the train slackened in mid- air and on a cloud of mist between jutting cliffs, it seemed, and the startled lad, looking far down through it, saw a winding yellow light, and he was rushing through autumn fields again before he realized that the yellow light was the Kentucky River surging down from the hills. Back up the stream surged his memories, making him faint with homesickness, for it was the last link that bound him to the mountains. But both home and hills were behind him now, and he shook himself sharply and lost him-self again in the fields of grass and grain, the grazing stock and the fences, houses, and barns that reeled past his window. Steve Hawn met him at the station with a rattle-trap buggy and, stared at him long and hard.
"I'd hardly knowed ye—you've growed like a weed."
"How's the folks?" asked Jason.
Silently they rattled down the street, each side of which was lined with big wagons loaded with tobacco and covered with cotton cloth—there seemed to be hundreds of them.
"Hell's a-comin' about that terbaccer up here," said Steve.
"Hell's a-comin' in the mountains if that robber up here at the capital steals the next election for governor," said Jason, and Steve looked up quickly and with some uneasiness. He himself had heard vaguely that somebody, somewhere, and in some way, had robbed his own party of their rights and would go on robbing at the polls, but this new Jason seemed to know all about it, so Steve nodded wisely.
"Yes, my feller."
Through town they drove, and when they started out into the country they met more wagons of tobacco coming in.
"How's the folks in the mountains?"
"About the same as usual," said the boy, "Grandpap's poorly. The war's over just now—folks 'r' busy makin' money. Uncle Arch's still takin' up options. The railroad's comin' up the river"—the lad's face darkened—"an' land's sellin' fer three times as much as you sold me out fer."
Steve's face darkened too, but he was silent.
"Found out yit who killed yo' daddy?"
Jason's answer was short.
"If I had I wouldn't tell you."
"Must be purty good shot now?"
"I hain't shot a pistol off fer four year," said the lad again shortly, and Steve stared.
"Whut devilmint are you in up here now?" asked Jason calmly and with no apparent notice of the start Steve gave.
"Who's been a-tellin' you lies about me?" asked Steve with angry suspicion.
"I hain't heerd a word," said Jason coolly. "I bet you burned that toll-gate the morning I left here. Thar's devilmint goin' on everywhar, an' if there's any around you I know you can't keep out o' it."
Steve laughed with relief.
"You can't git away with devilmint here like you can in the mountains, an' I'm 'tendin' to my own business."
Jason made no comment and Steve went on:
"I've paid fer this hoss an' buggy an' I got things hung up at home an' a leetle money in the bank, an' yo' ma says she wouldn't go back to the mountains fer nothin'."
"How's Mavis?" asked Jason abruptly.
"Reckon you wouldn't know her. She's al'ays runnin' aroun' with that Pendleton boy an' gal, an' she's chuck-full o' new-fangled notions. She's the purtiest gal I ever seed, an'," he added slyly, "looks like that Pendleton boy's plumb crazy 'bout her."
Jason made no answer and showed no sign of interest, much less jealousy, and yet, though he was thinking of the Pendleton girl and wanted to ask some question about her, a little inconsistent rankling started deep within him at the news of Mavis's disloyalty to him. They were approaching the lane that led to Steve's house now, and beyond the big twin houses were visible.
"Yo' Uncle Arch's been here a good deal, an' he's tuk a powerful fancy to Mavis an' he's goin' to send her to the same college school in town whar you're goin'. Marjorie and Gray is a-goin' thar too, I reckon."
Jason's heart beat fast at these words. Gray had the start of him, but he would give the Blue-grass boy a race now in school and without. As they turned into the lane, he could see the woods— could almost see the tree around which he had circled drunk, raging, and shooting his pistol, and his face burned with the memory. And over in the hollow he had met Marjorie on her pony, and he could see the tears in her eyes, hear her voice, and feel the clasp of her hand again. Though neither knew it, a new life had started for him there and then. He had kept his promise, and he wondered if she would remember and be glad.
His mother was on the porch, waiting and watching for him, with one hand shading her eyes. She rushed for the gate, and when he stepped slowly from the buggy she gave a look of wondering surprise and pride, burst into tears, and for the first time in her life threw her arms around him and kissed him, to his great confusion and shame. In the doorway stood a tall, slender girl with a mass of black hair, and she, too, with shining eyes rushed toward him, stopping defiantly short within a few feet of him when she met his cool, clear gaze, and, without even speaking his name, held out her hand. Then with intuitive suspicion she flashed a look at Steve and knew that his tongue had been wagging. She flushed angrily, but with feminine swiftness caught her lost poise and, lifting her head, smiled.
"I wouldn't 'a' known ye," she said.
"An' I wouldn't 'a' known you," said Jason.
The girl said no more, and the father looked at his daughter and the mother at her son, puzzled by the domestic tragedy so common in this land of ours, where the gates of opportunity swing wide for the passing on of the young. But of the two, Steve Hawn was the more puzzled and uneasy, for Jason, like himself, was a product of the hills and had had less chance than even he to know the outside world.
The older mountaineer wore store clothes, but so did Jason. He had gone to meet the boy, self-assured and with the purpose of patronage and counsel, and he had met more assurance than his own and a calm air of superiority that was troubling to Steve's pride. The mother, always apologetic on account of the one great act of injustice she had done her son, felt awe as she looked, and as her pride grew she became abject, and the boy accepted the attitude of each as his just due. But on Mavis the wave of his influence broke as on a rock. She was as much changed from the Mavis he had last seen as she was at that time from the little Mavis of the hills, and he felt her eyes searching him from head to foot just as she had done that long-ago time when he saw her first in the hunting- field. He knew that now she was comparing him with even higher standards than she was then, and that now, as then, he was falling short, and he looked up suddenly and caught her eyes with a grim, confident little smile that made her shift her gaze confusedly. She moved nervously in her chair and her cheeks began to burn. And Steve talked on—volubly for him—while the mother threw in a timid homesick question to Jason now and then about something in the mountains, and Mavis kept still and looked at the boy no more. By and by the two women went to their work, and Jason followed Steve about the little place to look at the cow and a few pigs and at the garden and up over the hill to the tobacco-patch that Steve was tending on shares with Colonel Pendleton. After dinner Mavis disappeared, and the stepmother reckoned she had gone over to see Marjorie Pendleton—"she was al'ays a-goin' over thar"—and in the middle of the afternoon the boy wandered aimlessly forth into the Blue-grass fields.
Spring green the fields were, and the woods, but scarcely touched by the blight of autumn, were gray as usual from the limestone turnpike, which, when he crossed it, was ankle-deep in dust. A cloud of yellow butterflies fluttered crazily before him in a sunlight that was hardly less golden, and when he climbed the fence a rabbit leaped beneath him and darted into a patch of ironweeds. Instinctively he leaped after it, crashing, through the purple crowns, and as suddenly stopped at the foolishness of pursuit, when he had left his pistol in his suit-case, and with another sharp memory of the rabbit hunt he had encountered when he made his first appearance in that land. Half unconsciously then his thoughts turned him through the woods and through a pasture toward the twin homes of the Pendletons, and on the top of the next hill he could see them on their wooded eminences—could even see the stile where he had had his last vision of Marjorie, and he dropped in the thick grass, looking long and hard and wondering.
Around the corner of the yard fence a negro appeared leading a prancing iron-gray horse, the front doors opened, a tall girl in a black riding-habit came swiftly down the walk, and a moment later the iron-gray was bearing her at a swift gallop toward the turnpike gate. As she disappeared over a green summit, his heart stood quite still. Could that tall woman be the little girl who, with a tear, a tremor of the voice, and a touch of the hand, had swerved him from the beaten path of a century? Mavis had grown, he himself had grown—and, of course, Marjorie, too, had grown. He began to wonder whether she would recollect him, would know him when he met her face to face, would remember the promise she had asked and he had given, and if she would be pleased to know that he had kept it. In the passing years the boy had actually lost sight of her as flesh and blood, for she had become enshrined among his dreams by night and his dreams by day; among the visions his soul had seen when he had sat under the old circuit rider and heard pictured the glories of the blessed when mortals should mingle with the shining hosts on high: and above even St. Hilda, on the very pinnacle of his new-born and ever-growing ambitions, Marjorie sat enthroned and alone. Light was all he remembered of her—the light of her eyes and of her hair—yes, and that one touch of her hand. His heart turned to water at the thought of seeing her again and his legs were trembling when he rose to start back through the fields. Another rabbit sprang from its bed in a tuft of grass, but he scarcely paid any heed to it. When he crossed the creek a muskrat was leisurely swimming for its hole in the other bank, and he did not even pick up a stone to throw at it, but walked on dreaming through the woods. As he was about to emerge from them he heard voices ahead of him, high-pitched and angry, and with the caution of his race he slipped forward and stopped, listening. In a tobacco-patch on the edge of the woods Steve Hawn had stopped work and was leaning on the fence. Seated on it was one of the small farmers of the neighborhood. They were not quarrelling, and the boy could hardly believe his ears.
"I tell you that fellow—they're callin' him the autocrat already- -that fellow will have two of his judges to your one at every election booth in the State. He'll steal every precinct and he'll be settin' in the governor's chair as sure as you are standing here. I'm a Democrat, but I've been half a Republican ever since this free-silver foolishness came up, and I'm going to vote against him. Now, all you mountain people are Republicans, but you might as well all be Democrats. You haven't got a chance oh earth. What are you goin' to do about it?"
Steve Hawn shook his head helplessly, but Jason saw his huge hand grip his tobacco knife and his own blood beat indignantly at his temples. The farmer threw one leg back over the fence.
"There'll be hell to pay when the day comes," he said, and he strode away, while the mountaineer leaned motionless on the fence with his grip on the knife unrelaxed.
Noiselessly the boy made his way through the edge of the woods, out under the brow of a hill, and went on his restless way up the bank of the creek toward Steve's home. When he turned toward the turnpike he found that he had passed the house a quarter of a mile, so he wheeled back down the creek, and where the mouth of the lane opened from the road he dropped in a spot of sunlight on the crest of a little cliff, his legs weary but his brain still tirelessly at work. These people of the Blue-grass were not only robbing him and his people of their lands, but of their political birthright as well. The fact that the farmer was on his side but helped make the boy know it was truth, and the resentments that were always burning like a bed of coals deep within him sprang into flames again. The shadows lengthened swiftly about him and closed over him, and then the air grew chill. Abruptly he rose and stood rigid, for far up the lane, and coming over a little hill, he saw the figure of a man leading a black horse and by his side the figure of a woman—both visible for a moment before they disappeared behind the bushes that lined the lane. When they were visible again Jason saw that they were a boy and girl, and when they once more came into view at a bend of the lane and stopped he saw that the girl, with her face downcast, was Mavis. While they stood the boy suddenly put his arm around her, but she eluded him and fled to the fence, and with a laugh he climbed on his horse and came down the lane. In a burning rage Jason started to slide down the cliff and pull the intruder, whoever he was, from his horse, and then he saw Mavis, going swiftly through the fields, turn and wave her hand. That stopped him still—he could not punish where there was apparently no offence—so with sullen eyes he watched the mouth of the lane give up a tall lad on a black thoroughbred, his hat in his hand and his handsome face still laughing and still turned for another glimpse of the girl. Another hand-wave came from Mavis at the edge of the woods, and glowering Jason stood in full view unseen and watched Gray Pendleton go thundering past him down the road.
Mavis had not gone to see Marjorie—she had sneaked away to meet Gray; his lips curled contemptuously—Mavis was a sneak, and so was Gray Pendleton. Then a thought struck him—why was Mavis behaving like a brush-girl this way, and why didn't Gray go to see her in her own home, open and above-board, like a man? The curl of the boy's lips settled into a straight, grim line, and once more he turned slowly down the stream that he might approach Steve's house from another direction. Half an hour later, when he climbed the turnpike fence, he heard the gallop of iron-shod feet and he saw bearing down on him an iron-gray horse. It was Marjorie. He knew her from afar; he gripped the rail beneath him with both hands and his heart seemed almost to stop. She was looking him full in the face now, and then, with a nod and a smile she would have given a beggar or a tramp, she swept him by.
There was little about Jason and his school career that John Burnham had not heard from his friend St. Hilda, for she kept sending at intervals reports of him, so that Burnham knew how doggedly the lad had worked in school and out; what a leader he was among his fellows, and how, that he might keep out of the feud, he had never gone to his grandfather's even during vacations, except for a day or two, but had hired himself out to some mountain farmer and had toiled like a slave, always within St. Hilda's reach. She had won Jason's heart from the start, so that he had told her frankly about his father's death, the coming of the geologist, the sale of his home, the flight of his mother and Steve Hawn, his shooting at Babe Honeycutt, and his own flight after them, but at the brink of one confession he always balked. Never could St. Hilda learn just why he had given up the manly prerogatives of pistol, whiskey-jug, and a deadly purpose of revenge, to accept in their place, if need be, the despised duties of women-folks. But his grim and ready willingness for the exchange appealed to St. Hilda so strongly that she had always saved him as much of these duties as she could.
The truth was that the school-master had slyly made a diplomatic use of their mutual interest in Jason that was masterly. There had been little communication between them since the long-ago days when she had given him her final decision and gone on her mission to the mountains, until Jason had come to be an important link between them. Gradually, after that, St. Hilda had slowly come to count on the school-master's sympathy and understanding, and more than once she had written not only for his advice but for his help as well. And wisely, through it all, Burnham had never sounded the personal note, and smilingly he had noted the passing of all suspicion on her part, the birth of her belief that he was cured of his love for her and would bother her no more, and now, in her last letter announcing Jason's coming to the Blue-grass, there was a distinct personal atmosphere that almost made him chuckle. St. Hilda even wondered whether he might not care, during some vacation, to come down and see with his own eyes the really remarkable work he knew she was doing down there. And when he wrote during the summer that he had been called to the suddenly vacated chair of geology in the college Jason had been prepared for, her delight thrilled him, though he had to wonder how much of it might be due to the fact that her protege would thus be near him for help and counsel.
His face was almost aglow when he drove out through the gate that morning on his way to the duties of his first day. The neighborhood children were already on their way to school, but they were mostly the children of tobacco tenants, and when he passed the school-house he saw a young woman on the porch—two facts that were significant. The neighborhood church was going, the neighborhood school was going, the man-teacher was gone—and he himself was perhaps the last of the line that started in coonskin caps and moccasins. The gentleman farmers who had made the land distinct and distinguished were renting their acres to tobacco tenants on shares and were moving to town to get back their negro servants and to provide their children with proper schooling. And those children of the gentle people, it seemed, were growing more and more indifferent to education and culture, and less and less marked by the gentle manners that were their birthright. And when he thought of the toll-gate war, the threatened political violence almost at hand, and the tobacco troubles which he knew must some day come, he wondered with a sick heart if a general decadence was not going on in the land for which he would have given his life in peace as readily as in war. In the mountains, according to St. Hilda, the people had awakened from a sleep of a hundred years. Lawlessness was on the decrease, the feud was disappearing, railroads were coming in, the hills were beginning to give up the wealth of their timber, iron, and coal. County schools were increasing, and the pathetic eagerness of mountain children to learn and the pathetic hardships they endured to get to school and to stay there made her heart bleed and his ache to help them. And in his own land, what a contrast! Three years before, the wedge of free silver had split the State in twain. Into this breach had sprung that new man with the new political method that threatened disaster to the commonwealth. To his supporters, he was the enemy of corporations, the friend of widows and orphans, the champion of the poor—this man; to his enemies, he was the most malign figure that had ever thrust head above the horizon of Kentucky politics—and so John Burnham regarded him; to both he was the autocrat, cold, exacting, imperious, and his election bill would make him as completely master of the commonwealth as Diaz in Mexico or Menelik in Abyssinia. The dazed people awoke and fought, but the autocrat had passed his bill. It was incredible, but could he enforce it? No one knew, but the midsummer convention for the nomination of governor came, and among the candidates he entered it, the last in public preference. But he carried that convention at the pistol's point, came out the Democratic nominee, and now stood smilingly ready to face the most terrible political storm that had ever broken over Kentucky. The election was less than two months away, the State was seething as though on the trembling crisis of a civil war, and the division that John Burnham expected between friend and friend, brother and brother, and father and son had come. The mountains were on fire and there might even be an invasion from those black hills led by the spirit of the Picts and Scots of old, and aided and abetted by the head, hand, and tongue of the best element of the Blue-grass. The people of the Blue- grass had known little and cared less about these shadowy hillsmen, but it looked to John Burnham as though they might soon be forced to know and care more than would be good for the peace of the State and its threatened good name.
A rattle-trap buggy was crawling up a hill ahead of him, and when he passed it Steve Hawn was flopping the reins, and by him was Mavis with a radiant face and sparkling eyes.
"Where's Jason?" John Burnham called, and the girl's face grew quickly serious.
"Gone on, afoot," laughed Steve loudly. "He started 'bout crack o' day."
The school-master smiled. On the slope of the next hill, two carriages, each drawn by a spanking pair of trotters, swept by him. From one he got a courteous salute from Colonel Pendleton and a happy shout from Gray, and from the other a radiant greeting from Marjorie and her mother. Again John Burnham smiled thoughtfully. For him the hope of the Blue-grass was in the joyous pair ahead of him, the hope of the mountains was in the girl behind and the sturdy youth streaking across the dawn-wet fields, and in the four the hope of his State; and his smile was pleased and hopeful.
Soon on his left were visible the gray lines of the old Transylvania University where Jefferson Davis had gone to college while Abraham Lincoln was splitting rails and studying by candlelight a hundred miles away, and its campus was dotted with swiftly moving figures of boys and girls on their way to the majestic portico on the hill. The streets were filled with eager young faces, and he drove on through them to the red-brick walls of the State University, on the other side of the town, where his labors were to begin. And when, half an hour later, he turned into the campus afoot, he found himself looking among the boys who thronged the walk, the yard, and the entrances of the study halls for the face of Jason Hawn.
Tremblingly the boy had climbed down from the fence after Marjorie galloped by him the day before, had crossed the pike slowly, sunk dully at the foot of an oak in the woods beyond, and sat there, wide-eyed and stunned, until dark. Had he been one of the followers of the star of Bethlehem, and had that star vanished suddenly from the heavens, he could hardly have known such darkness, such despair. For the time Mavis and Gray passed quite out of the world while he was wrestling with that darkness, and it was only when he rose shakily to his feet at last that they came back into it again. Supper was over when he reached the house, but Mavis had kept it for him, and while she waited on him she tried to ask him questions about his school-life in the mountains, to tell him of her own in the Blue-grass—tried to talk about the opening of college next day, but he sat silent and sullen, and so, puzzled and full of resentment, she quietly withdrew. After he was through, he heard her cleaning the dishes and putting them away, and he saw her that night no more. Next morning, without a word to her or to his mother, he went out to the barn where Steve was feeding.
"If you'll bring my things on in the buggy, I reckon I'll just be goin' on."
"Why, we can all three git in the buggy."
Jason shook his head.
"I hain't goin' to be late."
"Well, you'll shore be on time if you start now. Why, Mavis says— "
But Jason had started swiftly on, and Steve, puzzled, did not try to stop him. Mavis came out on the porch, and he pointed out the boy's figure going through the dim fields. "Jason's gone on," he said, "afeerd he'll be late. That boy's plum' quar."
Jason was making a bee-line for more than the curve of the pike, for more than the college—he was making it now for everything in his life that was ahead of him, and he meant now to travel it without help or hindrance, unswervingly and alone. With St. Hilda, each day had started for him at dawn, and whether it started that early at the college in town he did not ask himself or anybody else. He would wait now for nothing—nobody. The time had come to start, so he had started on his own new way, stout in body, heart, and soul, and that was all.
Soft mists of flame were shooting up the eastern horizon, soft dew-born mists were rising from little hollows and trailing through the low trees. There had been a withering drought lately, but the merciful rain had come, the parched earth had drunk deep, and now under its mantle of rich green it seemed to be heaving forth one vast long sigh of happy content. The corn was long ready for the knife, green sprouts of winter wheat were feathering their way above the rich brown soil, and the cut upturned tobacco stalks, but dimly seen through the mists, looked like little hunchbacked witches poised on broomsticks, and ready for flight at dawn. Vast deviltry those witches had done, for every cut field, every poor field, recovering from the drastic visit of years before was rough, weedy, shaggy, unkempt, and worn. The very face of the land showed decadence, and, in the wake of the witches, white top, dockweed, ragweed, cockle burr, and sweet fern had up- leaped like some joyous swarm of criminals unleashed from the hand of the law, while the beautiful pastures and grassy woodlands, their dignity outraged, were stretched here and there between them, helpless, but breathing in the very mists their scorn.
When he reached the white, dusty road, the fires of his ambition kept on kindling with every step, and his pace, even in the cool of the early morning, sent his hat to his hand, and plastered his long lank hair to his temples and the back of his sturdy sunburnt neck. The sun was hardly star-pointing the horizon when he saw the luminous smoke-cloud over the town. He quickened his step, and in his dark eyes those fires leaped into steady flames. The town was wakening from sleep. The driver of a milk-cart pointed a general direction for him across the roof-tops, but when he got into the wilderness of houses he lost that point of the compass and knew not which way to turn. On a street corner he saw a man in a cap and a long coat with brass buttons on it, a black stick in his hand, and something bulging at his hip, and light dawned for Jason.
"Air you the constable?" he asked, and the policeman grinned kindly.
"I'm one of 'em," he said.
"Well, how do I git to the college I'm goin' to?"
The officer grinned good-naturedly again, and pointed with his stick.
"Follow that street, and hurry up or you'll get a whippin'."
"Thar now," thought Jason, and started into a trot up the hill, and the officer, seeing the boy's suddenly anxious face, called to him to take it easy, but Jason, finding the pavements rather uneven, took to the middle of the street, and without looking back sped on. It was a long run, but Jason never stopped until he saw a man standing at the door of a long, low, brick building with the word "Tobacco" painted in huge letters above its closed doors, and he ran across the street to him.
"Whar's the college?"
The man pointed across the street to an entrance between two gray stone pillars with pyramidal tops, and Jason trotted back, and trotted on through them, and up the smooth curve of the road. Not a soul was in sight, and on the empty steps of the first building he came to Jason dropped, panting.
The campus was thick with grass and full of trees, there were buildings of red brick everywhere, and all were deserted. He began to feel that the constable had made game of him, and he was indignant. Nobody in the mountains would treat a stranger that way; but he had reached his goal, and, no matter when "school took up," he was there.
Still, he couldn't help rising restlessly once, and then with a deep breath he patiently sat down again and waited, looking eagerly around meanwhile. The trees about him were low and young— they looked like maples—and multitudinous little gray birds were flitting and chattering around him, and these he did not know, for the English sparrow has not yet captured the mountains. Above the closed doors of the long brick building opposite the stone-guarded gateway he could see the word "Tobacco" printed in huge letters, and farther away he could see another similar sign, and somehow he began wondering why Steve Hawn had talked so much about the troubles that were coming over tobacco, and seemed to care so little about the election troubles that had put the whole State on the wire edge of quivering suspense. Half an hour passed and Jason was getting restless again, when he saw an old negro shuffling down the stone walk with a bucket in one hand, a mop in the other, and trailing one leg like a bird with a broken wing.
"Do you know whar John Burnham is?"
"Whut's dat—whut's dat?"
"I'm a-lookin' fer John Burnham."
"Look hyeh, chile, is you referrin' to Perfesser Burnham?"
"I reckon that's him."
"Well, if you is, you better axe fer him jes' that-a-way— PerFESser PERfesser—Burnham. Well, PERFESSER Burnham won't sanctify dis hall wid his presence fer quite a long while—quite a long while. May I inquire, son, if yo' purpose is to attend dis place o' learnin'?"
"I come to go to college."
"Yassuh, yassuh," said the old negro, and with no insolence whatever he guffawed loudly.
"Well, suh, looks lak you come a long way, an' you sutinly got hyeh on time—you sho did. Well, son, you jes' set hyeh as long as you please an', walk aroun' an' come back an' den ef you set hyeh long enough agin, you'se a-gwine to see Perfesser Burnham come right up dese steps."
So Jason took the old man's advice, and strolled around the grounds. A big pond caught his eye, and he walked along its grassy bank and under the thick willows that fringed it. He pulled himself to the top of a high board fence at the upper end of it, peered over at a broad, smooth athletic-field, and he wondered what the two poles that stood at each end with a cross-bar between them could be, and why that tall fence ran all around it. He stared at the big chimney of the powerhouse, as tall as the trunk of a poplar in a "deadening" at home, and covered with vines to the top, and he wondered what on earth that could be. He looked over the gate at the president's house. Through the windows of one building he saw hanging rings and all sorts of strange paraphernalia, and he wondered about them, and, peering through one ground-floor window, he saw three beds piled one on top of the other, each separated from the other by the length of its legs. It would take a step-ladder to get into the top bed—good Lord, did people sleep that way in this college? Suppose the top boy rolled out! And every building was covered with vines, and it was funny that vines grew on houses, and why in the world didn't folks cut 'em off? It was all wonder—nothing but wonder—and he got tired of wondering and went back to his steps and sat patiently down again. It was not long now before windows began to bang up and down in the dormitory near him. Cries and whistles began to emanate from the rooms, and now and then a head would protrude, and its eyes never failed, it seemed, to catch and linger on the lonely, still figure clinging to the steps. Soon there was a rush of feet downstairs, and a crowd of boys emerged and started briskly for breakfast. Girls began to appear—short-skirted, with and without hats, with hair up and hair down—more girls than he had ever seen before—tall and short, fat and thin, and brunette and blonde. Students began to stroll through the campus gates, and now and then a buggy or a carriage would enter and whisk past him to deposit its occupants in front of the building opposite from where he sat. What was going on over there? He wanted to go over and see, for school might be taking up over there, and, from being too early, he might be too late after all; but he might miss John Burnham, and if he himself were late, why lots of the boys and girls about him would be late too, and surely if they knew, which they must, they would not let that happen. So, all eyes, he sat on, taking in everything, like the lens of a camera. Some of the boys wore caps, or little white hats with the crown pushed in all around, and, though it wasn't muddy and didn't look as though it were going to rain, each one of them had his "britches" turned up, and that puzzled the mountain boy sorely; but no matter why they did it, he wouldn't have to turn his up, for they didn't come to the tops of his shoes. Swiftly he gathered how different he himself was, particularly in clothes, from all of them. Nowhere did he see a boy who matched himself as so lonely and set apart, but with a shake of his head he tossed off his inner plea for sympathetic companionship, and the little uneasiness creeping over him—proudly. There was a little commotion now in the crowd nearest him, all heads turned one way, and Jason saw approaching an old gentleman on crutches, a man with a thin face that was all pure intellect and abnormally keen; that, centuries old in thought, had yet the unquenchable soul-fire of youth. He stopped, lifted his hat in response to the cheers that greeted him, and for a single instant over that thin face played, like the winking eye of summer lightning, the subtle humor that the world over is always playing hide-and-seek in the heart of the Scot. A moment, and Jason halted a passing boy with his eye.
"Who's that ole feller?" he blurted.
The lad looked shocked, for he could not know that Jason meant not a particle of disrespect.
"That 'ole feller,'" he mimicked indignantly and with scathing sarcasm, "is the president of this university"; and he hurried on while Jason miserably shrivelled closer to the steps. After that he spoke to nobody, and nobody spoke to him, and he lifted his eyes only to the gateway through which he longed for John Burnham to come. But the smile of the old president haunted him. There sat a man on heights no more to be scaled by him than heaven, and yet that puzzling smile for the blissful ignorance, in the young, of how gladly the old would give up their crowns in exchange for the swift young feet on the threshold—no wonder the boy could not understand. Through that gate dashed presently a pair of proud, high-headed black horses—"star-gazers," as the Kentuckians call them—with a rhythmic beat of high-lifted feet, and the boy's eyes narrowed as the carriage behind them swept by him, for in it were Colonel Pendleton and Gray, with eager face and flashing eyes. There was a welcoming shout when Gray leaped out, and a crowd of students rushed toward him and surrounded him. One of them took off his hat, lifted both hands above his head, and then they all barked out a series of barbaric yells with a long shout of Gray's full name at the end, while the Blue-grass lad stood among them, flushed and embarrassed but not at all displeased. Again Jason's brow knitted with wonder, for he could not know what a young god in that sternly democratic college Gray Pendleton, aristocrat though he was, had made himself, and he shrank deeper still into his loneliness and turned wistful eyes again to the gate. Somebody had halted in front of him, and he looked up to see the same lad of whom he had just asked a question.
"And that YOUNG feller," said the boy in the same mimicking tone, "is another president—of the sophomore class and the captain of the football team."
Lightning-like and belligerent, Jason sprang to his feet. "Air you pokin' fun at ME?" he asked thickly and clenching his fists.
Genuinely amazed, the other lad stared at him a moment, smiled, and held out his hand.
"I reckon I was, but you're all right. Shake!"
And within Jason, won by the frank eyes and winning smile, the tumult died quickly, and he shook—gravely.
"My name's Burns—Jack Burns."
"Mine's Hawn—Jason Hawn."
The other turned away with a wave of his hand.
"See you again."
"Shore," said Jason, and then his breast heaved and his heart seemed to stop quite still. Another pair of proud horses shot between the stone pillars, and in the carriage behind them was Marjorie. The boy dropped to his seat, dropped his chin in both hands as though to keep his face hidden, but as the sound of her coming loudened he simply could not help lifting his head. Erect, happy, smiling, the girl was looking straight past him, and he felt like one of the yellow grains of dust about her horses' feet. And then within him a high, shrill little yell rose above the laughter and vocal hum going on around him—there was John Burnham coming up the walk, the school-master, John Burnham—and Jason sprang to meet him. Immediately Burnham's searching eyes fell upon him, and he stopped—smiling, measuring, surprised. Could this keen-faced, keen-eyed, sinewy, tall lad be the faithful little chap who had trudged sturdily at his heels so many days in the mountains?
"Well, well, well," he said; "why, I wouldn't have known you. You got here in time, didn't you?"
"I have been waitin' fer you," said Jason. "Miss Hilda told me to come straight to you."
"That's right—how is she?"
"She ain't well—she works too hard."
The school-master shook his head with grave concern.
"I know. You've been lucky, Jason. She is the best woman on earth."
"I'd lay right down here an' die fer her right now," said the lad soberly. So would John Burnham, and he loved the lad for saying that.
"She said you was the best man on earth—but I knowed that," the lad went on simply; "an' she told me to tell you to make me keep out o' fights and study hard and behave."
"All right, Jason," said Burnham with a smile. "Have you matriculated yet?"
Jason was not to be caught napping. His eyes gave out the quick light of humor, but his face was serious.
"I been so busy waitin' fer you that I reckon I must 'a' forgot that."
The school-master laughed.
Through the thick crowd that gave way respectfully to the new professor, Jason followed across the road to the building opposite, and up the steps into a room where he told his name and his age, and the name of his father and mother, and pulled from his pooket a little roll of dirty bills. There was a fee of five dollars for "janitor"; Jason did not know what a janitor was, but John Burnham nodded when he looked up inquiringly and Jason asked no question. There was another fee for "breakage," and that was all, but the latter item was too much for Jason.
"S'pose I don't break nothin'," he asked shrewdly, "do I git that back?"
Then registrar and professor laughed.
"You get it back."
Down they went again.
"That's a mighty big word fer such little doin's," the boy said soberly, and the school-master smiled.
"You'll find just that all through college now, Jason, but don't wait to find out what the big word means."
"I won't," said Jason, "next time."
Many eyes now looked on the lad curiously when he followed John Burnham back through the crowd to the steps, where the new professor paused.
"I passed Mavis on the road. I wonder if she has come."
"I don't know," said Jason, and a curious something in his tone made John Burnham look at him quickly—but he said nothing.
"Oh well," he said presently, "she knows what to do."
A few minutes later the two were alone in the new professor's recitation-room.
"Have you seen Marjorie and Gray?"
The lad hesitated.
"I seed—I saw 'em when they come in."
"Gray finishes my course this year. He's going to be a civil engineer."
"So'm I," said Jason; and the quick shortness of his tone again made John Burnham look keenly at him.
"You know a good deal about geology already—are you going to take my course too?"
"I want to know just what to do with that land o' mine. I ain't forgot what you told me—to go away and git an education—and when I come back what that land 'ud be worth."
The lad's face had paled and his mouth had set.
"I'm goin' to git it back."
Behind them the door had opened, and Gray's spirited, smiling face was thrust in.
"Good morning, professor," he cried, and then, seeing Jason, he came swiftly in with his hand outstretched.
"Why, how are you, Jason? Mavis told me yesterday you were here. I've been looking for you. Glad to see you."
Watching both, John Burnham saw the look of surprise in Gray's face when the mountain boy's whole frame stiffened into the rigidity of steel, saw the haughty uplifting of the Blue-grass boy's chin, as he wheeled to go, and like Gray, he, too, thought Jason had never forgotten the old feud between them. For a moment he was tempted to caution Jason about the folly of it all, but as suddenly he changed his mind. Outside a bugle blew.
"Go on down, Jason," he said instead, "and follow the crowd— that's chapel—prayer-meeting," he explained.
At the foot of the stairs the boy mingled with the youthful stream pouring through the wide doors of the chapel hall. He turned to the left and was met by the smiling eyes of his new acquaintance, Burns, who waved him good-humoredly away:
"This is the sophomore corner—I reckon you belong in there."
And toward the centre Jason went among the green, the countrified, the uneasy, and the unkempt. The other half of the hall was banked with the faces of young girls—fresh as flowers—and everywhere were youth and eagerness, eagerness and youth. The members of the faculty were climbing the steps to a platform and ranging themselves about the old gentleman with the crutches. John Burnham entered, and the vault above rocked with the same barbaric yells that Jason had heard given Gray Pendleton, for Burnham had been a mighty foot-ball player in his college days. The old president rose, and the tumult sank to reverential silence while a silver tongue sent its beautiful diction on high in a prayer for the bodies, the minds, and the souls of the whole buoyant throng in the race for which they were about to be let loose. And that was just what the tense uplifted faces suggested to John Burnham—he felt in them the spirit of the thoroughbred at the post, the young hound straining at the leash, the falcon unhooded for flight, when, at the president's nod, he rose to his feet to speak to the host the welcome of the faculty within these college walls and the welcome of the Blue-grass to the strangers from the confines of the State—particularly to those who had journeyed from their mountain homes. "These young people from the hills," he said, "for their own encouragement and for all patience in their own struggle, must always remember, and the young men and women of the Blue-grass, for tolerance and a better understanding, must never forget, in what darkness and for how long their sturdy kinspeople had lived, how they were just wakening from a sleep into which, not of their own fault, they had lapsed but little after the Revolution; how eagerly they had strained their eyes for the first glimmer from the outside world that had come to them, and how earnestly now they were fighting toward the light. So isolated, so primitive were they only a short while ago that neighbor would go to neighbor asking 'Lend us fire,' and now they were but asking of the outer world, 'Lend us fire.' And he hoped that the young men and women from those dark fastnesses who had come there to light their torches would keep them burning, and take them back home still sacredly aflame, so that in the hills the old question with its new meaning could never again be asked in vain."
Jason's eyes had never wavered from the speaker's face, nor had Gray's, but, while John Burnham purposely avoided the eyes of both, he noted here and there the sudden squaring of shoulders, and the face of a mountain boy or girl lift quickly and with open- mouthed interest remain fixed; and far back he saw Mavis, wide- eyed and deep in some new-born dream, and he thought he saw Marjorie turn at the end to look at the mountain girl as though to smile understanding and sympathy. A mental tumult still held Jason when the crowd about him rose to go, and he kept his seat. John Burnham had been talking about Mavis and him, and maybe about Marjorie and Gray, and he had a vague desire to see the school- master again. Moreover, a doubt, at once welcome and disturbing to him, had coursed through his brain. If secret meetings in lanes and by-ways were going on between Mavis and Gray, Gray would hardly have been so frank in saying he had seen Mavis the previous afternoon for Gray must know that Jason knew there had been no meeting at Steve Hawn's house. Perhaps Gray had overtaken her in the lane quite by accident, and the boy was bothered and felt rather foolish and ashamed when, seeing John Burnham still busy on the platform, he rose to leave.
On the steps more confusion awaited him. A group of girls was standing to one side of them, and he turned hurriedly the other way. Light footsteps followed him, and a voice called:
His blood rushed, and he turned dizzily, for he knew it was Marjorie. In her frank eyes was a merry smile instead of the tear that had fixed them in his memory, but the clasp of her hand was the same.
"Why, I didn't know you yesterday—did I? No wonder. Why, I wouldn't have known you now if I hadn't been looking for you. Mavis told me you'd come. Dear me, what a BIG man you are. Professor Burnham told me all about you, and I've been so proud. Why, I came near writing to you several times. I'm expecting you to lead your class here, and"—she took in with frank admiration his height and the breadth of his shoulders—"Gray will want you, maybe, for the foot-ball team."
The crowds of girls near by were boring him into the very ground with their eyes. His feet and his hands had grown to enormous proportions and seemed suddenly to belong to somebody else. He felt like an ant in a grain-hopper, or as though he were deep under water in a long dive and must in a moment actually gasp for breath. And, remembering St. Hilda, he did manage to get his hat off, but he was speechless. Marjorie paused, the smile did not leave her eyes, but it turned serious, and she lowered her voice a little.
"Did you keep your promise, Jason?"
Then the boy found himself, and as he had said before, that winter dusk, he said now soberly:
"I give you my hand."
And, as before, taking him literally, Marjorie again stretched out her hand.
"I'm so glad."
Once more the bugle sent its mellow summons through the air.
"And you are coming to our house some Saturday night to go coon- hunting—good-by."
Jason turned weakly away, and all the rest of the day he felt dazed. He did not want to see Mavis or Gray or Marjorie again, or even John Burnham. So he started back home afoot, and all the way he kept to the fields through fear that some one of them might overtake him on the road, for he wanted to be alone. And those fields looked more friendly now than they had looked at dawn, and his heart grew lighter with every step. Now and then a rabbit leaped from the grass before him, or a squirrel whisked up the rattling bark of a hickory-tree. A sparrow trilled from the swaying top of a purple ironwood, and from grass, and fence-rail, and awing, meadow larks were fluting everywhere, but the song of no wood-thrush reached his waiting ear. Over and over again his brain reviewed every incident of the day, only to end each time with Marjorie's voice, her smile with its new quality of mischief, and the touch of her hand. She had not forgotten—that was the thrill of it all—and she had even asked if he had kept his promise to her. And at that thought his soul darkened, for the day would come when he must ask to be absolved of one part of that promise, as on that day he must be up and on his dead father's business. And he wondered what, when he told her, she would say. It was curious, but the sense of the crime involved was naught, as was the possible effect of it on his college career—it was only what that girl would say. But the day might still be long off, and he had so schooled himself to throwing aside the old deep, sinister purpose that he threw it off now and gave himself up to the bubbling relief that had come to him. That meeting in the lane must have been chance, John Burnham was kind, and Marjorie had not forgotten. He was not alone in the world, nor was he even lonely, for everywhere that day he had found a hand stretched out to help him.
Mavis was sitting on the porch when he walked through the gate, and the moment she saw his face a glad light shone in her own, for it was the old Jason coming back to her:
"Mavie," he said huskily, "I reckon I'm the biggest fool this side o' hell, whar I reckon I ought to be."
Mavis asked no question, made no answer. She merely looked steadily at him for a moment, and then, brushing quickly at her eyes, she rose and turned into the house. The sun gave way to darkness, but it kept on shining in Jason's heart, and when at bedtime he stood again on the porch, his gratitude went up to the very stars. He heard Mavis behind him, but he did not turn, for all he had to say he had said, and the break in his reserve was over.
"I'm glad you come back, Jasie," was all she said, shyly, for she understood, and then she added the little phrase that is not often used in the mountain world:
From St. Hilda, Jason, too, had learned that phrase, and he spoke it with a gruffness that made the girl smile:
Jason drew the top bed in a bare-walled, bare-floored room with two other boys, as green and countrified as was he, and he took turns with them making up those beds, carrying water for the one tin basin, and sweeping up the floor with the broom that stood in the corner behind it. But even then the stark simplicity of his life was a luxury. His meals cost him three dollars a week, and that most serious item began to worry him, but not for long. Within two weeks he was meeting a part of that outlay by delivering the morning daily paper of the town. This meant getting up at half past three in the morning, after a sleep of five hours and a half, but if this should begin to wear on him, he would simply go earlier to bed; there was no sign of wear and tear, however, for the boy was as tough as a bolt-proof black gum-tree back in the hills, his capacity for work was prodigious, and the early rising hour but lengthened the range of each day's activities. Indeed Jason missed nothing and nothing missed him. His novitiate passed quickly, and while his fund for "breakage" was almost gone, he had, without knowing it, drawn no little attention to himself. He had wandered innocently into "Heaven"— the seniors' hall—a satanic offence for a freshman, and he had been stretched over a chair, "strapped," and thrown out. But at dawn next morning he was waiting at the entrance and when four seniors appeared he tackled them all valiantly. Three held him while the fourth went for a pair of scissors, for thus far Jason had escaped the tonsorial betterment that had been inflicted on most of his classmates. The boy stood still, but in a relaxed moment of vigilance he tore loose just as the scissors appeared, and fled for the building opposite. There he turned with his back to the wall. "When I want my hair cut, I'll git my mammy to do it or pay fer it myself," he said quietly, but his face was white. When they rushed on, he thrust his hand into his shirt and pulled it out with a mighty oath of helplessness—he had forgotten his knife. They cut his hair, but it cost them two bloody noses and one black eye. At the flag-rush later he did not forget. The sophomores had enticed the freshmen into the gymnasium, stripped them of their clothes, and carried them away, whereat the freshmen got into the locker-rooms of the girls, and a few moments later rushed from the gymnasium in bloomers to find the sophomores crowded about the base of the pole, one of them with an axe in his hand, and Jason at the top with his hand again in his shirt.
"Chop away!" he was shouting, "but I'll git SOME o' ye when this pole comes down." Above the din rose John Burnham's voice, stern and angry, calling Jason's name. The student with the axe had halted at the unmistakable sincerity of the boy's threat.
"Jason," called Burnham again, for he knew what the boy meant, and the lad tossed knife and scabbard over the heads of the crowd to the grass, and slid down the pole. And in the fight that followed, the mountain boy fought with a calm, half-smiling ferocity that made the wavering freshmen instinctively surge behind him as a leader, and the onlooking foot-ball coach quickly mark him for his own. Even at the first foot-ball "rally," where he learned the college yells, Jason had been singled out, for the mountaineer measures distance by the carry of his voice and with a "whoop an' a holler" the boy could cover a mile. Above the din, Jason's clear cry was, so to speak, like a cracker on the whip of the cheer, and the "yell-master," a swaying figure of frenzied enthusiasm, caught his eye in time, nodded approvingly, and saw in him a possible yell-leader for the freshman class. After the rally the piano was rolled joyously to the centre of the gymnasium and a pale-faced lad began to thump it vigorously, much to Jason's disapproval, for he could not understand how a boy could, or would, play anything but a banjo or a fiddle. Then, with the accompaniment of a snare- drum, there was a merry, informal dance, at which Jason and Mavis looked yearningly on. And, as that night long ago in the mountains, Gray and Marjorie floated like feathers past them, and over Gray's shoulder the girl's eyes caught Jason's fixed on her, and Mavis's fixed on Gray; so on the next round she stopped a moment near them.
"I'm going to teach you to dance, Jason," she said, as though she were tossing a gauntlet to somebody, "and Gray can teach Mavis."
"Sure," laughed Gray, and off they whirled again.
The eyes of the two mountaineers met, and they might have been back in their childhood again, standing on the sunny river-bank and waiting for Gray and Marjorie to pass, for what their tongues said then their eyes said now:
"I seed you a-lookin' at him."
"'Tain't so—I seed you a-lookin' at her."
And it was true now as it was then, and then as now both knew it and both flushed. Jason turned abruptly away, for he knew more of Mavis's secret than she of his, and it was partly for that reason that he had not yet opened his lips to her. He had seen no consciousness in Gray's face, he resented the fact, somehow, that there was none, and his lulled suspicions began to stir again within him. In Marjorie's face he had missed what Mavis had caught, a fleeting spirit of mischief, which stung the mountain girl with jealousy and a quick fierce desire to protect Jason, just as Jason, with the same motive, was making up his mind again to keep a close eye on Gray Pendleton. As for Marjorie, she, too, knew more of Mavis's secret than Mavis knew of hers, and of the four, indeed, she was by far the wisest. During the years that Jason was in the hills she had read as on an open page the meaning of the mountain girl's flush at any unexpected appearance of Gray, the dumb adoration for him in her dark eyes, and more than once, riding in the woods, she had come upon Mavis, seated at the foot of an oak, screened by a clump of elder-bushes and patiently waiting, as Marjorie knew, to watch Gray gallop by. She even knew how unconsciously Gray had been drawn by all this toward Mavis, but she had not bothered her head to think how much he was drawn until just before the opening of the college year, for, from the other side of the hill, she, too, had witnessed the meeting in the lane that Jason had seen, and had wondered about it just as much, though she, too, had kept still. That the two boys knew so little, that the two girls knew so much, and that each girl resented the other's interest in her own cousin, was merely a distinction of sex, as was the fact that matters would have to be made very clear before Jason or Gray could see and understand. And for them matters were to become clearer, at least—very soon.
Already the coach had asked Jason to try foot-ball, but the boy had kept away from the field, for the truth was that he had but one suit of clothes and he couldn't afford to have them soiled and torn. Gray suspected this, and told the coach, who explained to Jason that practice clothes would be furnished him, but still the boy did not come until one day when, out of curiosity, he wandered over to the field to see what the game was like. Soon his eyes brightened, his lips parted, and his face grew tense as the players swayed, clenched struggling, fell in a heap, and leaped to their feet again. And everywhere he saw Gray's yellow head darting among them like a sun-ball, and he began to wonder, if he could not outrun and outwrestle his old enemy. He began to fidget in his seat and presently he could stand it no longer, and he ran out into the field and touched the coach on the shoulder.
"Can I git them clothes now?"
The coach looked at his excited face, nodded with a smile, and pointed to the gymnasium, and Jason was off in a run.
The matter was settled in the thrill and struggle of that one practice game, and right away Jason showed extraordinary aptitude, for he was quick, fleet, and strong, and the generalship and tactics of the game fascinated him from the start. And when he discovered that the training-table meant a savings-bank for him, he counted his money, gave up the morning papers without hesitation or doubt, and started in for the team. Thus he and Gray were brought violently together on the field, for within two weeks Jason was on the second team, but the chasm between them did not close. Gray treated the mountain boy with a sort of curt courtesy, and while Jason tackled him, fell upon him with a savage thrill, and sometimes wanted to keep on tightening his wiry arms and throttling him, the mountain boy could discover no personal feeling whatever against him in return, and he was mystified. With the ingrained suspicion of the mountaineer toward an enemy, he supposed Gray had some cunning purpose. As captain, Gray had been bound, Jason knew, to put him on the second team, but as day after day went by and the magic word that he longed for went unsaid, the boy began to believe that the sinister purpose of Gray's concealment was, without evident prejudice, to keep him off the college team. The ball was about to be snapped back on Gray's side, and Gray had given him one careless, indifferent glance over the bent backs of the guards, when Jason came to this conclusion, and his heart began to pound with rage. There was the shock of bodies, the ball disappeared from his sight, he saw Gray's yellow head dart three times, each time a different way, and then it flashed down the side line with a clear field for the goal. With a bound Jason was after him, and he knew that even if Gray had wings, he would catch him. With a flying leap he hurled himself on the speeding figure, in front of him, he heard Gray's breath go out in a quick gasp under the fierce lock of his arms, and, as they crashed to the ground, Jason for one savage moment wanted to use his teeth on the back of the sunburnt neck under him, but he sprang to his feet, fists clenched and ready for the fight. With another gasp Gray, too, sprang lightly up.
"Good!" he said heartily.
No mortal fist could have laid Jason quite so low as that one word. The coach's whistle blew and Gray added carelessly: "Come around, Hawn, to the training-table to-night."
No mortal command could have filled him with so much shame, and Jason stood stock-still and speechless. Then, fumbling for an instant at his shirt collar as though he were choking, he walked swiftly away. As he passed the benches he saw Mavis and Marjorie, who had been watching the practice. Apparently Mavis had started out into the field, and Marjorie, bewildered by her indignant outcry, had risen to follow her; and Jason, when he met the accusing fire of his cousin's eyes, knew that she alone, on the field, had understood it all, that she had started with the impulse of protecting Gray, and his shame went deeper still. He did not go to the training-table that night, and the moonlight found him under the old willows wondering and brooding, as he had been—long and hard. Gray was too much for him, and the mountain boy had not been able to solve the mystery of the Blue-grass boy's power over his fellows, for the social complexity of things had unravelled very slowly for Jason. He saw that each county had brought its local patriotism to college and had its county club. There were too few students from the hills and a sectional club was forming, "The Mountain Club," into which Jason naturally had gone; but broadly the students were divided into "frat" men and "non-frat" men, chiefly along social lines, and there were literary clubs of which the watchword was merit and nothing else. In all these sectional cliques from the Purchase, Pennyroyal, and Peavine, as the western border of the State, the southern border, and the eastern border of hills were called; indeed, in all the sections except the Bear-grass, where was the largest town and where the greatest wealth of the State was concentrated, he found a widespread, subconscious, home-nursed resentment brought to that college against the lordly Blue-grass. In the social life of the college he found that resentment rarely if ever voiced, but always tirelessly at work. He was not surprised then to discover that in the history of the college, Gray Pendleton was the first plainsman, the first aristocrat, who had ever been captain of the team and the president of his class. He began to understand now, for he could feel the tendrils of the boy's magnetic personality enclosing even him, and by and by he could stand it no longer, and he went to Gray.
"I wanted to kill you that day."
"I knew it," he said quietly.
"We were playing foot-ball. Almost anybody can lose his head ENTIRELY—but YOU didn't. That's why I didn't say anything to you afterward. That's why you'll be captain of the team after I'm gone."
Again Jason choked, and again he turned speechless away, and then and there was born within him an idolatry for Gray that was carefully locked in his own breast, for your mountaineer openly worships, and then but shyly, the Almighty alone. Jason no longer wondered about the attitude of faculty and students of both sexes toward Gray, no longer at Mavis, but at Marjorie he kept on wondering mightily, for she alone seemed the one exception to the general rule. Like everybody else, Jason knew the parental purpose where those two were concerned, and he began to laugh at the daring presumptions of his own past dreams and to worship now only from afar. But he could not know the effect of that parental purpose on that wilful, high-strung young person, the pique that Gray's frank interest in Mavis brought to life within her, and he was not yet far enough along in the classics to suspect that Marjorie might weary of hearing Aristides called the Just. Nor could he know the spirit of coquetry that lurked deep behind her serious eyes, and was for that reason the more dangerously effective.
He only began to notice one morning, after the foot-ball incident, that Marjorie was beginning to notice him; that, worshipped now only on the horizon, his star seemed to be drawing a little nearer. A passing lecturer had told Jason much of himself and his people that morning. The mountain people, said the speaker, still lived like the pioneer forefathers of the rest of the State. Indeed they were "our contemporary ancestors"; so that, sociologically speaking, Jason, young as he was, was the ancestor of all around him. The thought made him grin and, looking up, he caught the mischievous eyes of Marjorie, who later seemed to be waiting for him on the steps:
"Good-morning, grandfather," she said demurely, and went rapidly on her way.
Meanwhile that political storm was raging and Jason got at the heart of it through his morning paper and John Burnham. He knew that at home Republicans ran against Republicans for all offices, and now he learned that his own mountains were the Gibraltar of that party, and that the line of its fortifications ran from the Big Sandy, three hundred miles by public roads, to the line of Tennessee. When free silver had shattered the Democratic ranks three years before, the mountaineers had leaped forth and unfurled the Republican flag over the State for the first time since the Civil War. Ballots were falsified—that was the Democratic cry, and that was the Democratic excuse for that election law which had been forced through the Senate, whipped through the lower house with the party lash, and passed over the veto of the Republican governor by the new Democratic leader—the bold, cool, crafty, silent autocrat. From bombastic orators Jason learned that a fair ballot was the bulwark of freedom, that some God-given bill of rights had been smashed, and the very altar of liberty desecrated. And when John Burnham explained how the autocrat's triumvirate could at will appoint and remove officers of election, canvass returns, and certify and determine results, he could understand how the "atrocious measure," as the great editor of the State called it, "was a ready chariot to the governor's chair." And in the summer convention the spirit behind the measure had started for that goal in just that way, like a scythe-bearing chariot of ancient days, but cutting down friend as well as foe. Straightway, Democrats long in line for honors, and gray in the councils of the party, bolted; the rural press bolted; and Jason heard one bolter thus cry his fealty and his faithlessness: "As charged, I do stand ready to vote for a yellow dog, if he be the regular nominee, but lower than that you shall not drag me."
The autocrat's retort was courteous.
"You have a brother in the penitentiary."
"No," was the answer, "but your brothers have a brother who ought to be."
The pulpit thundered. Half a million Kentuckians, "professing Christians and temperance advocates," repudiated the autocrat's claim to support. A new convention was the cry, and the wheel- horse of the party, an ex-Confederate, ex-governor, and aristocrat, answered that cry. The leadership of the Democratic bolters he took as a "sacred duty"—took it with the gentle statement that the man who tampers with the rights of the humblest citizen is worse than the assassin, and should be streaked with a felon's stripes, and suffered to speak only through barred doors. From the same tongue, Jason heard with puckered brow that the honored and honest yeomanry of the commonwealth, through coalition by judge and politician, would be hoodwinked by the leger-demain of ballot-juggling magicians; but he did understand when he heard this yeomanry called brave, adventurous self-gods of creation, slow to anger and patient with wrongs, but when once stirred, let the man who had done the wrong—beware! Long ago Jason had heard the Republican chieftain who was to be pitted against such a foe characterized as "a plain, unknown man, a hill-billy from the Pennyroyal, and the nominee because there was no opposition and no hope." But hope was running high now, and now with the aristocrat, the autocrat, and the plebeian from the Pennyroyal—whose slogan was the repeal of the autocrat's election law—the tricornered fight was on.
On a hot day in the star county of the star district, the autocrat, like Caesar, had a fainting fit and left the Democrats, explaining for the rest of the campaign that Republican eyes had seen a big dirk under his coat; and Jason never rested until with his own eyes he had seen the man who had begun to possess his brain like an evil dream. And he did see him and heard him defend his law as better than the old one, and declare that never again could the Democrats steal the State with mountain votes—heard him confidently leave to the common people to decide whether imperialism should replace democracy, trusts destroy the business of man with man, and whether the big railroad of the State was the servant or the master of the people. He heard a senator from the national capital, whose fortunes were linked with the autocrat's, declare that leader as the most maligned figure in American politics, and that he was without a blemish or vice on his private or public life, but, unlike Pontius Pilate, Jason never thought to ask himself what was truth, for, in spite of the mountaineer's Blue-grass allies, the lad had come to believe that there was a State conspiracy to rob his own people of their rights. This autocrat was the head and front of that conspiracy; while he spoke the boy's hatred grew with every word, and turned personal, so that at the close of the speech he moved near the man with a fierce desire to fly at his throat then and there. The boy even caught one sweeping look—cool, fearless, insolent, scorning—the look the man had for his enemies—and he was left with swimming head and trembling knees. Then the great Nebraskan came, and Jason heard him tell the people to vote against him for President if they pleased—but to stand by Democracy; and in his paper next morning Jason saw a cartoon of the autocrat driving the great editor and the Nebraskan on a race-track, hitched together, but pulling like oxen apart. And through the whole campaign he heard the one Republican cry ringing like a bell through the State: "Elect the ticket by a majority that CAN'T be counted out."
Thus the storm went on, the Republicans crying for a free ballot and a fair count, flaunting on a banner the picture of a man stuffing a ballot-box and two men with shot-guns playfully interrupting the performance, and hammering into the head of the State that no man could be trusted with unlimited power over the suffrage of a free people. Any ex-Confederate who was for the autocrat, any repentant bolter that swung away from the aristocrat, any negro that was against the man from the Pennyroyal, was lifted by the beneficiary to be looked on by the public eye. The autocrat would cut down a Republican majority by contesting votes and throw the matter into the hands of the legislature—that was the Republican prophecy and the Republican fear. Manufacturers, merchants, and ministers pleaded for a fair election. An anti-autocratic grip became prevalent in the hills. The Hawns and Honeycutts sent word that they had buried the feud for a while and would fight like brothers for their rights, and from more than one mountain county came the homely threat that if those rights were denied, there would somewhere be "a mighty shovellin' of dirt." And so to the last minute the fight went on.
The boy's head buzzed and ached with the multifarious interests that filled it, but for all that the autumn was all gold for him and with both hands he gathered it in. Sometimes he would go home with Gray for Sunday. With Colonel Pendleton for master, he was initiated into exercises with dirk and fencing-foil, for not yet was the boxing-glove considered meet, by that still old-fashioned courtier, for the hand of a gentleman. Sometimes he would spend Sunday with John Burnham, and wander with him through the wonders of Morton Sanders' great farm, and he listened to Burnham and the colonel talk politics and tobacco, and the old days, and the destructive changes that were subtly undermining the glories of those old days. In the tri-cornered foot-ball fight for the State championship, he had played one game with Central University and one with old Transylvania, and he had learned the joy of victory in one and in the other the heart-sickening depression of defeat. One never-to-be-forgotten night he had gone coon-hunting with Mavis and Marjorie and Gray—riding slowly through shadowy woods, or recklessly galloping over the blue-grass fields, and again, as many times before, he felt his heart pounding with emotions that seemed almost to make it burst.
For Marjorie, child of sunlight, and Mavis, child of shadows, riding bareheaded together under the brilliant moon, were the twin spirits of the night, and that moon dimmed the eyes of both only as she dimmed the stars. He saw Mavis swerving at every stop and every gallop to Gray's side, and always he found Marjorie somewhere near him. And only John Burnham understood it all, and he wondered and smiled, and with the smile wondered again.
There had been no time for dancing lessons, but the little comedy of sentiment went on just the same. In neither Mavis nor Jason was there the slightest consciousness of any chasm between them and Marjorie and Gray, though at times both felt in the latter pair a vague atmosphere that neither would for a long time be able to define as patronage, and so when Jason received an invitation to the first dance given in the hotel ballroom in town, he went straight to Marjorie and solemnly asked "the pleasure of her company" that night.
For a moment Marjorie was speechless.
"Why, Jason," she gasped, "I—I—you're a freshman, and anyhow—"
For the first time the boy gained an inkling of that chasm, and his eyes turned so fiercely sombre and suspicious that she added in a hurry:
"It's a joke, Jason—that invitation. No freshman can go to one of those dances."
Jason looked perplexed now, and still a little suspicious.
"Who'll keep me from goin'?" he asked quietly,
"The sophomores. They sent you that invitation to get you into trouble. They'll tear your clothes off."
As was the habit of his grandfather Hawn, Jason's tongue went reflectively to the hollow of one cheek, and his eyes dropped to the yellow leaves about their feet, and Marjorie waited with a tingling thrill that some vague thing of importance was going to happen. Jason's face was very calm when he looked up at last, and he held out the card of invitation.
"Will that git—get me in, when I a-get to the door?"
"Of course, but—"
"Then I'll be th-there," said Jason, and he turned away.
Now Marjorie knew that Gray expected to take her to that dance, but he had not yet even mentioned it. Jason had come to her swift and straight; the thrill still tingled within her, and before she knew it she had cried impulsively:
"Jason, if you get to that dance, I'll—I'll dance every square dance with you."
Jason nodded simply and turned away.
The mischief-makers soon learned the boy's purpose, and there was great joy among them, and when Gray finally asked Marjorie to go with him, she demurely told him she was going with Jason. Gray was amazed and indignant, and he pleaded with her not to do anything so foolish.