"Why, it's outrageous. It will be the talk of the town. Your mother won't like it. Maybe they won't do anything to him because you are along, but they might, and think of you being mixed up in such a mess. Anyhow I tell you—you CAN'T do it."
Marjorie paled and Gray got a look from her that he had never had before.
"Did I hear you say 'CAN'T'?" she asked coldly. "Well, I'm not going with him—he won't let me. He's going alone. I'll meet him there."
Gray made a helpless gesture.
"Well, I'll try to get the fellows to let him alone—on your account."
"Don't bother—he can take care of himself."
The girl's coldness was turning to fire.
"Why don't you take Mavis?"
Gray started an impatient refusal, and stopped—Mavis was passing in the grass on the other side of the road, and her face was flaming violently.
"She heard you," said Gray in a low voice.
The heel of one of Marjorie's little boots came sharply down on the gravelled road.
"Yes, and I hope she heard YOU—and don't you ever—ever—ever say CAN'T to me again." And she flashed away.
The news went rapidly through the college and, as Gray predicted, became the talk of the young people of the town, Marjorie's mother did object violently, but Marjorie remained firm—what harm was there in dancing with Jason Hawn, even if he was a poor mountaineer and a freshman? She was not a snob, even if Gray was. Jason himself was quiet, non-communicative, dignified. He refused to discuss the matter with anybody, ignored comment and curiosity, and his very silence sent a wave of uneasiness through some of the sophomores and puzzled them all. Even John Burnham, who had severely reprimanded and shamed Jason for the flag incident, gravely advised the boy not to go, but even to him Jason was respectfully non-committal, for this was a matter that, as the boy saw it, involved his RIGHTS, and the excitement grew quite feverish when one bit of news leaked out. At the beginning of the session the old president, perhaps in view of the political turmoil imminent, had made a request that one would hardly hear in the chapel of any other hall of learning in the broad United States.
"If any student had brought with him to college any weapon or fire-arm, he would please deliver it to the commandant, who would return it to him at the end of the session, or whenever he should leave college."
Now Jason had deliberated deeply on that request; on the point of personal privilege involved he differed with the president, and a few days before the dance one of his room-mates found not only a knife, but a huge pistol—relics of Jason's feudal days— protruding from the top bed. This was the bit of news that leaked, and Marjorie paled when she heard it, but her word was given, and she would keep it. There was no sneaking on Jason's part that night, and when a crowd of sophomores gathered at the entrance of his dormitory they found a night-hawk that Jason had hired, waiting at the door, and patiently they waited for Jason.
Down at the hotel ballroom Gray and Marjorie waited, Gray anxious, worried, and angry, and Marjorie with shining eyes and a pale but determined face. And she shot a triumphant glance toward Gray when she saw the figure of the young mountaineer framed at last in the doorway of the ballroom. There Jason stood a moment, uncouth and stock-still. His eyes moved only until he caught sight of Marjorie, and then, with them fixed steadily on her, he solemnly walked through the sudden silence that swiftly spread through the room straight for her. He stood cool, calm, and with a curious dignity before her, and the only sign of his emotion was in a reckless lapse into his mountain speech.
"I've come to tell ye I can't dance with ye. Nobody can keep me from goin' whar I've got a right to go, but I won't stay nowhar I'm not wanted."
And, without waiting for her answer, he turned and stalked solemnly out again.
The miracle had happened, and just how nobody could ever say. The boy had appeared in the door-way and had paused there full in the light. No revolver was visible—it could hardly have been concealed in the much-too-small clothes that he wore—and his eyes flashed no challenge. But he stood there an instant, with face set and stern, and then he walked slowly to the old rattletrap vehicle, and, unchallenged, drove away, as, unchallenged, he walked quietly back to his room again. That defiance alone would have marked him with no little dignity. It gave John Burnham a great deal of carefully concealed joy, it dumfounded Gray, and, while Mavis took it as a matter of course, it thrilled Marjorie, saddened her, and made her a little ashamed. Nor did it end there. Some change was quickly apparent to Jason in Mavis. She turned brooding and sullen, and one day when she and Jason met Gray in the college yard, she averted her eyes when the latter lifted his cap, and pretended not to see him. Jason saw an uneasy look in Gray's eyes, and when he turned questioningly to Mavis, her face was pale with anger. That night he went home with her to see his mother, and when the two sat on the porch in the dim starlight after supper, he bluntly asked her what the matter was, and bluntly she told him. Only once before had he ever spoken of Gray to Mavis, and that was about the meeting in the lane, and then she scorned to tell him whether or not the meeting was accidental, and Jason knew thereby that it was. Unfortunately he had not stopped there.
"I saw him try to kiss ye," he said indignantly.
"Have you never tried to kiss a girl?" Mavis had asked quietly, and Jason reddened.
"Yes," he admitted reluctantly.
"And did she always let ye?"
"Very well, then," Mavis snapped, and she flaunted away.
It was different now, the matter was more serious, and now they were cousins and Hawns. Blood spoke to blood and answered to blood, and when at the end Mavis broke into a fit of shame and tears, a burst of light opened in Jason's brain and his heart raged not only for Mavis, but for himself. Gray had been ashamed to go to that dance with Mavis, and Marjorie had been ashamed to go with him—there was a chasm, and with every word that Mavis spoke the wider that chasm yawned.
"Oh, I know it," she sobbed. "I couldn't believe it at first, but I know it now"—she began to drop back into her old speech—"they come down in the mountains, and grandpap was nice to 'em, and when we come up here they was nice to us. But down thar and up here we was just queer and funny to 'em—an' we're that way yit. They're good-hearted an' they'd do anything in the world fer us, but we ain't their kind an' they ain't ourn. They knowed it and we didn't—but I know it now."
So that was the reason Marjorie had hesitated when Jason asked her to go to the dance with him.
"Then why did she go?" he burst out. He had mentioned no name even, but Mavis had been following his thoughts.
"Any gal 'ud do that fer fun," she answered, "an' to git even with Gray."
"Why do you reckon—"
"That don't make no difference—she wants to git even with me, too."
Jason wheeled sharply, but before his lips could open Mavis had sprung to her feet.
"No, I hain't!" she cried hotly, and rushed into the house.
Jason sat on under the stars, brooding. There was no need for another word between them. Alike they saw the incident and what it meant; they felt alike, and alike both would act. A few minutes later his mother came out on the porch.
"Whut's the matter with Mavis?"
"You'll have to ask her, mammy."
With a keen look at the boy, Martha Hawn went back into the house, and Jason heard Steve's heavy tread behind him.
"I know whut the matter is," he drawled. "Thar hain't nothin' the matter 'ceptin' that Mavis ain't the only fool in this hyeh fambly."
Jason was furiously silent, and Steve walked chuckling to the railing of the porch and spat over it through his teeth and fingers. Then he looked up at the stars and yawned, and with his mouth still open, went casually on:
"I seed Arch Hawn in town this mornin'. He says folks is a-hand- grippin' down thar in the mountains right an' left. Thar's a truce on betwixt the Hawns an' Honeycutts an' they're gittin' ready fer the election together."
The lad did not turn his head nor did his lips open.
"These fellers up here tried to bust our county up into little pieces once—an' do you know why? Bekase we was so LAWLESS." Steve laughed sayagely. "They're gittin' wuss'n we air. They say we stole the State fer that bag o' wind, Bryan, when we'd been votin' the same way fer forty years. Now they're goin' to gag us an' tie us up like a yearlin' calf. But folks in the mountains ain't a- goin' to do much bawlin'—they're gittin' ready."
Still Jason refused to answer, but Steve saw that the lad's hands and mouth were clenched.
"They're gittin' READY," he repeated, "an' I'll be thar."
But the sun of election day went down and a breath of relief passed like a south wind over the land. Perhaps it was the universal recognition of the universal danger that prevented an outbreak, but the morning after found both parties charging fraud, claiming victory, and deadlocked like two savage armies in the crisis of actual battle. For a fortnight each went on claiming the victory. In one mountain county the autocrat's local triumvirate was surrounded by five hundred men, while it was making its count; in another there were three thousand determined onlookers; and still another mountain triumvirate was visited by nearly all the male inhabitants of the county who rode in on horseback and waited silently and threateningly in the court-house square.
At the capital the arsenal was under a picked guard and the autocrat was said to be preparing for a resort to arms. A few mountaineers were seen drifting about the streets, and the State offices—"just a-lookin' aroun' to see if their votes was a-goin' to be counted in or not."
At the end of the fortnight the autocrat claimed the fight by one vote, but three days before Thanksgiving Day two of the State triumvirate declared for the Republican from the Pennyroyal—and resigned.
"Great Caesar!" shouted Colonel Pendleton. "Can the one that's left appoint his OWN board?"
Being for the autocrat, he not only could but did—for the autocrat's work was only begun. The contest was yet to come.
Meanwhile the great game was at hand. The fight for the championship lay now between the State University and old Transylvania, and, amid a forest of waving flags and a frenzied storm from human throats, was fought out desperately on the day that the nation sets aside for peace, prayer, and thanksgiving. Every atom of resentment, indignation, rebellion, ambition that was stored up in Jason went into that fight. It seemed to John Burnham and to Mavis and Marjorie that their team was made up of just one black head and one yellow one, for everywhere over the field and all the time, like a ball of fire and its shadow, those two heads darted, and, when they came together, they were the last to go down in the crowd of writhing bodies and the first to leap into view again—and always with the ball nearer the enemy's goal. Behind that goal each head darted once, and by just those two goals was the game won. Gray was the hero he always was; Jason was the coming idol, and both were borne off the field on the shoulders of a crowd that was hoarse with shouting triumph and weeping tears of joy. And on that triumphal way Jason swerved his eyes from Marjorie and Mavis swerved hers from Gray. There was no sleep for Jason that night, but the next night the fierce tension of mind and muscle relaxed and he slept long and hard; and Sunday morning found him out in the warm sunlight of the autumn fields, seated on a fence rail—alone.
He had left the smoke cloud of the town behind him and walked aimlessly afield, except to take the turnpike that led the opposite way from Mavis and Marjorie and John Burnham and Gray, for he wanted to be alone. Now, perched in the crotch of a stake- and-ridered fence, he was calmly, searchingly, unsparingly taking stock with himself.
In the first place the training-table was no more, and he must go back to delivering morning papers. With foot-ball, with diversions in college and in the country, he had lost much time and he must make that up. The political turmoil had kept his mind from his books and for a while Marjorie had taken it away from them altogether. He had come to college none too well prepared, and already John Burnham had given him one kindly warning; but so supreme was his self-confidence that he had smiled at the geologist and to himself. Now he frowningly wondered if he had not lost his head and made a fool of himself; and a host of worries and suspicions attacked him so sharply and suddenly that, before he knew what he was doing, he had leaped panic-stricken from the fence and at a half-trot was striking back across the fields in a bee-line for his room and his books. And night and day thereafter he stuck to them.
Meanwhile the struggle was going on at the capital, and by the light of every dawn the boy drank in every detail of it from the morning paper that was literally his daily bread. Two weeks after the big game, the man from the Pennyroyal was installed as governor. The picked guard at the arsenal was reinforced. The contesting autocrat was said to have stored arms in the penitentiary, a gray, high-walled fortress within a stone's throw of the governor's mansion, for the Democratic warden thereof was his loyal henchman. The first rumor of the coming of the mountaineers spread, and the capital began to fill with the ward heelers and bad men of the autocrat.
A week passed, there was no filing of a protest, a pall of suspense hung over the land like a black cloud, and under it there was no more restless spirit than Jason, who had retreated into his own soul as though it were a fortress of his hills. No more was he seen at any social gathering—not even at the gymnasium, for the delivery of his morning papers gave him all the exercise that he needed and more. His hard work and short hours of sleep began to tell on him. Sometimes the printed page of his book would swim before his eyes and his brain go panic-stricken. He grew pale, thin, haggard, and worn, and Marjorie saw him only when he was silently, swiftly striding from dormitory to class-room and back again—grim, reticent, and non-approachable. When Christmas approached he would not promise to go to Gray's nor to John Burnham's, and he rarely went now even to his mother. In Mavis Hawn, Gray found the same mystifying change, for when the morbidly sensitive spirit of the mountaineer is wounded, healing is slow and cure difficult. One day, however, each pair met. Passing the mouth of the lane, Gray saw Mavis walking slowly along it homeward and he rode after her. She turned when she heard his horse behind her, her chin lifted, and her dark sullen eyes looked into his with a stark, direct simplicity that left him with his lips half open—confused and speechless. And gently, at last:
"What's the matter, Mavis?"
Still she looked, unquestioning, uncompromising, and turned without answer and went slowly on home while the boy sat his horse and looked after her until she climbed the porch of her cottage and, without once turning her head, disappeared within. But Jason at his meeting with Marjorie broke his grim reticence in spite of himself. She had come upon him at sunset under the snowy willows by the edge of the ice-locked pond. He had let the floodgates down and she had been shaken and terrified by the torrent that rushed from him. The girl shrank from his bitter denunciation of himself. He had been a fool. The mid-year examinations would be a tragedy for him, and he must go to the "kitchen" or leave college with pride broken and in just disgrace. Fate had trapped him like a rat. A grewsome oath had been put on him as a child and from it he could never escape. He had been robbed of his birthright by his own mother and the people of the Blue-grass, and Marjorie's people were now robbing his of their national birthrights as well. The boy did not say her people, but she knew that was what he meant, and she looked so hurt that Jason spoke quickly his gratitude for all the kindness that had been shown him. And when he started with his gratitude to her, his memories got the better of him and he stopped for a moment with hungry eyes, but seeing her consternation over what might be coming next, he had ended with a bitter smile at the further bitter proof she was giving him.
"But I understand—now," he said sternly to himself and sadly to her, and he turned away without seeing the quiver of her mouth and the starting of her tears.
Going to his mother's that afternoon, Jason found Mavis standing by the fence, hardly less pale than the snow under her feet, and looking into the sunset. She started when she heard the crunch of his feet, and from the look of her face he knew that she thought he might be some one else.
He saw that she had been crying, and as quickly she knew that the boy was in a like agony of mind. There was only one swift look—a mutual recognition of a mutual betrayal—but no word passed then nor when they walked together back to the house, for race and relationship made no word possible. Within the house Jason noticed his mother's eyes fixed anxiously on him, and when Mavis was clearing up in the kitchen after supper, she subtly shifted her solicitude to the girl in order to draw some confession from her son.
"Mavis wants to go back to the mountains."
The ruse worked, for Jason looked up quickly and then into the fire while the mother waited.
"Sometimes I want to go back myself," he said wearily; "it's gittin' too much for me here."
Martha Hawn looked at her husband stretched on the bed in a drunken sleep and began to cry softly.
"It's al'ays been too much fer me," she sobbed. "I've al'ays wanted to go back."
For the first time Jason began to think how lonely her life must be, and, perhaps as the result of his own suffering, his heart suddenly began to ache for her.
"Don't worry, mammy—I'll take ye back some day."
Mavis came back from the kitchen. Again she had been crying. Again the same keen look passed between them and with only that look Jason climbed the stairs to her room. As his eyes wandered about the familiar touches the hand of civilization had added to the bare little chamber it once was, he saw on the dresser of varnished pine one touch of that hand that he had never noticed before—the picture of Gray Pendleton. Evidently Mavis had forgotten to put it away, and Jason looked at it curiously a moment—the frank face, strong mouth, and winning smile—but he never noticed that it was placed where she could see it when she kneeled at her bedside, and never guessed that it was the last earthly thing her eyes rested on before darkness closed about her, and that the girl took its image upward with her even in her prayers.
The red dawn of the twentieth century was stealing over the frost- white fields, and in the alien house of his fathers John Burnham was watching it through his bedroom window. There had been little sleep for him that New Year's night, and even now, when he went back to bed, sleep would not come.
The first contest in the life of the State was going on at the little capital. That capital was now an armed camp. The law-makers there themselves were armed, divided, and men of each party were marked by men of the other for the first shot when the crisis should come. There was a Democratic conspiracy to defraud—a Republican conspiracy to resist by force to the death. Even in the placing of the ballots in the box for the drawing of the contest board, fraud was openly charged, and even then pistols almost leaped from their holsters. Republicans whose seats were contested would be unseated and the autocrat's triumph would thus be sure— that was the plan wrought out by his inflexible will and iron hand. The governor from the Pennyroyal swore he would leave his post only on a stretcher. Disfranchisement was on the very eve of taking place, liberty was at stake, and Kentuckians unless aroused to action would be a free people no longer. The Republican cry was that the autocrat had created his election triumvirate, had stolen his nomination, tried to steal his election, and was now trying to steal the governorship. There was even a meeting in the big town of the State to determine openly whether there should be resistance to him by force. Two men from the mountains had met in the lobby of the Capitol Hotel and a few moments later, under the drifting powder smoke, two men lay wounded and three lay dead. The quarrel was personal, it was said, but the dial-hand of the times was left pointing with sinister prophecy at tragedy yet to come. And in the dark of the first moon of that century the shadowy hillsmen were getting ready to swoop down. And it was the dawn of the twentieth century of the Christian era that Burnham watched, the dawn of the one hundred and twenty-fifth year of the nation's life—of the one hundred and seventh year of statehood for Kentucky. And thinking of the onward sweep of the world, of the nation, North, East, West, and South, the backward staggering of his own loved State tugged sorely at his heart.
In chapel next morning John Burnham made another little talk— chiefly to the young men of the Blue-grass among whom this tragedy was taking place. No inheritance in American life was better than theirs, he told them—no better ideals in the relations of family, State, and nation. But the State was sick now with many ills and it was coming to trial now before the judgment of the watching world. If it stood the crucial fire, it would be the part of all the youth before him to maintain and even better the manhood that should come through unscathed. And if it failed, God forbid, it would be for them to heal, to mend, to upbuild, and, undaunted, push on and upward again. And as at the opening of the session he saw again, lifted to him with peculiar intenseness, the faces of Marjorie and Gray Pendleton, and of Mavis and Jason Hawn—only now Gray looked deeply serious and Jason sullen and defiant. And at Mavis, Marjorie did not turn this time to smile. Nor was there any furtive look from any one of the four to any other, when the students rose, though each pair of cousins drifted together on the way out, and in pairs went on their separate ways.
The truth was that Marjorie and Gray were none too happy over the recent turn of affairs. Both were too fine, too generous, to hurt the feelings of others except with pain to themselves. They knew Mavis and Jason were hurt but, hardly realizing that between the four the frank democracy of childhood was gone, they hardly knew how and how deeply. Both were mystified, greatly disturbed, drawn more than ever by the proud withdrawal of the mountain boy and girl, and both were anxious to make amends. More than once Gray came near riding over to Steve Hawn's and trying once more to understand and if possible to explain and restore good feeling, but the memory of his rebuff from Mavis and the unapproachable quality in Jason made him hesitate. Naturally with Marjorie this state of mind was worse, because of the brink of Jason's confession for which she knew she was much to blame, and because of the closer past between them. Once only she saw him striding the fields, and though she pulled in her horse to watch him, Jason did not know; and once he came to her when he did not know that she knew. It was the night before the mid-year examinations and Marjorie, in spite of that fact, had gone to a dance and, because of it, was spending the night in town with a friend. The two girls had got home a little before three in the morning, and Marjorie had put out her light and gone to bed but, being sleepless, had risen and sat dreaming before the fire. The extraordinary whiteness of the moonlight had drawn her to the window when she rose again, and she stood there like a tall lily, looking silent sympathy to the sufferers in the bitter cold outside. She put one bare arm on the sill of the closed window and looked down at the snow-crystals hardly less brilliant under the moon than they would be under the first sun-rays next morning, looked through the snow- laden branches of the trees, over the white house-tops, and out to the still white fields—the white world within her answering the white world without as in a dream. She was thinking of Jason, as she had been thinking for days, for she could not get the boy out of her mind. All night at the dance she had been thinking of him, and when between the stone pillars of the gateway a figure appeared without overcoat, hands in pockets and a bundle of something under one arm, the hand on the window-sill dropped till it clutched her heart at the strangeness of it, for her watching eyes saw plain in the moonlight the drawn white face of Jason Hawn. He tossed something on the porch and her tears came when she realized what it meant. Then he drew a letter out of his pocket, hesitated, turned, turned again, tossed it too upon the porch, and wearily crunched out through the gate. The girl whirled for her dressing-gown and slippers, and slipped downstairs to the door, for her instinct told her the letter was for her, and a few minutes later she was reading it by the light of the fire.
"I know where you are," the boy had written. "Don't worry, but I want to tell you that I take back that promise I made in the road that day."
John Burnham's examination was first for Jason that morning, and when the boy came into the recitation-room the school-master was shocked by the tumult in his face. He saw the lad bend listlessly over his papers and look helplessly up and around—worn, brain- fagged, and half wild—saw him rise suddenly and hurriedly, and nodded him an excuse before he could ask for it, thinking the boy had suddenly gone ill. When he did not come back Burnham got uneasy, and after an hour he called another member of the faculty to take his place and hurried out. As he went down the corridor a figure detached itself from a group of girls and flew after him. He felt his arm caught tightly and he turned to find Marjorie, white, with trembling lips, but struggling to be calm:
"Where is Jason?" Burnham recovered quickly.
"Why, I don't believe he is very well," he said with gentle carelessness. "I'm going over now to see him. I'll be back in a minute." Wondering and more than ever uneasy, Burnham went on, while the girl unconsciously followed him to the door, looking after him and almost on the point of wringing her hands. In the boy's room Burnham found an old dress-suit case packed and placed on the study table. On it was a pencil-scribbled note to one of his room-mates:
"I'll send for this later," it read, and that was all.
Jason was gone.
The little capital sits at the feet of hills on the edge of the Blue-grass, for the Kentucky River that sweeps past it has brought down those hills from the majestic highlands of the Cumberland. The great railroad of the State had to bore through rock to reach the place and clangs impudently through it along the main street. For many years other sections of the State fought to wrest this fountain-head of law and government from its moorings and transplant it to the heart of the Blue-grass, or to the big town on the Ohio, because, as one claimant said:
"You had to climb a mountain, swim a river, or go through a hole to get to it."
This geographical witticism cost the claimant his eternal political life, and the capital clung to its water, its wooded heaps of earth, and its hole in the gray wall. Not only hills did the river bring down but birds, trees, and even mountain mists, and from out the black mouth of that hole in the wall and into those morning mists stole one day a long train and stopped before the six great gray pillars of the historic old State-house. Out of this train climbed a thousand men, with a thousand guns, and the mists might have been the breath of the universal whisper:
"The mountaineers are here!"
Of their coming Jason had known for some time from Arch Hawn, and just when they were to come he had learned from Steve. The boy had not enough carfare even for the short ride of less than thirty miles to the capital, so he rode as far as his money would carry him and an hour before noon found him striding along on foot, his revolver bulging at his hip, his dogged eyes on the frozen turnpike. It was all over for him, he thought with the passionate finality of youth—his college career with its ambitions and dreams. He was sorry to disappoint Saint Hilda and John Burnham, but his pride was broken and he was going back now to the people and the life that he never should have left. He would find his friends and kinsmen down there at the capital, and he would play his part first in whatever they meant to do. Babe Honeycutt would be there, and about Babe he had not forgotten his mother's caution. He had taken his promise back from Marjorie merely to be free to act in a double emergency, but Babe would be safe until he himself was sure. Then he would tell his mother what he meant to do, or after it was done, and as to what she would then say the boy had hardly a passing wonder, so thin yet was the coating with which civilization had veneered him. And yet the boy almost smiled to himself to think how submerged that childhood oath was now in the big new hatred that had grown within him for the man who was threatening the political life of his people and his State—had grown steadily since the morning before he had taken the train in the mountains for college in the Blue-grass. On the way he had stayed all night in a little mountain town in the foot-hills. He had got up at dawn, but already, to escape the hot rays of an August sun, mountaineers were coming in on horseback from miles and miles around to hear the opening blast of the trumpet that was to herald forth their wrongs. Under the trees and along the fences they picketed their horses, thousands of them, and they played simple games patiently, or patiently sat in the shade of pine and cedar waiting, while now and then a band made havoc with the lazy summer air. And there, that morning, Jason had learned from a red- headed orator that "a vicious body of deformed Democrats and degenerate Americans" had passed a law at the capital that would rob the mountaineers of the rights that had been bought with the blood of their forefathers in 1776, 1812, 1849, and 1865. Every ear caught the emphasis on "rob" and "rights," the patient eye of the throng grew instantly alert and keen and began to burn with a sinister fire, while the ear of it heard further how, through that law, their ancient Democratic enemies would throw THEIR votes out of the ballot-box or count them as they pleased—even for THEMSELVES. If there were three Democrats in a mountain county— and the speaker had heard that in one county there was only one— that county could under that law run every State and national election to suit itself. Would the men of the mountains stand that?—No! HE knew them—that orator did. HE knew that if the spirit of liberty, that at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock started blazing its way over a continent, lived unchanged anywhere, it dwelt, however unenlightened and unenlightening, in a heart that for an enemy was black with hate, red with revenge, though for the stranger, white and kind; that in an eagle's isolation had kept strung hard and fast to God, country, home; that ticking clock- like for a century without hurry or pause was beginning to quicken at last to the march-rhythm of the world—the heart of the Southern hills. Now the prophecy from the flaming tongue of that red-headed orator was coming to pass, and the heart of the Kentucky hills was making answer.
It was just before noon when the boy reached the hill overlooking the capital. He saw the gleam of the river that came down from the mountains, and the home-thrill of it warmed him from head to foot. Past the cemetery he went, with a glimpse of the statue of Daniel Boone rising above the lesser dead. A little farther down was the castle-like arsenal guarded by soldiers, and he looked at them curiously, for they were the first his had ever seen. Below him was the gray, gloomy bulk of the penitentiary, which was the State building that he used to hear most of in the mountains. About the railway station he saw men slouching whom he knew to belong to his people, but no guns were now in sight, for the mountaineers had checked them at the adjutant-general's office, and each wore a tag for safe-keeping in his button-hole. Around the Greek portico of the capitol building he saw more soldiers lounging, and near a big fountain in the State-house yard was a Gatling-gun which looked too little to do much harm. Everywhere were the stern, determined faces of mountain men, walking the streets staring at things, shuffling in and out of the buildings; and, through the iron pickets of the yard fence, Jason saw one group cooking around a camp-fire. A newspaper man was setting his camera for them and the boy saw a big bearded fellow reach under his blanket. The photographer grasped his instrument and came flying through the iron gate, crying humorously, "Excuse ME!"
And then Jason ran into Steve Hawn, who looked at him with mild wonder and, without a question, drawled simply:
"I kind o' thought you'd be along."
"Is grandpap here?" asked the boy, and Steve shook his head.
"He was too po'ly—but thar's more Hawns and Honeycutts in town than you kin shake a stick at, an' they're walkin' round hyeh jes like brothers. Hello, hyeh's one now!"
Jason turned to see big Babe Honeycutt, who, seeing him, paled a little, smiled sheepishly, and, without speaking, moved uneasily away. Whereat Steve laughed.
"Looks like Babe is kind o' skeered o' you fer SOME reason—Hello, they're comin'!"
A group had gathered on the brick flagging between the frozen fountain and the Greek portico of the old capitol, and every slouching figure was moving toward it. Among them Jason saw Hawns and Honeycutts—saw even his old enemy, "little Aaron" Honeycutt, and he was not even surprised, for in a foot-ball game with one college on the edge of the Blue-grass, he had met a pair of envious, hostile eyes from the side-lines and he knew then that little Aaron, too, had gone away to school. From the habit of long hostility now, Jason swerved to the other edge of the crowd. From the streets, the boarding-houses, the ancient Capitol Hotel, gray, too, as a prison, from the State buildings in the yard, mountaineers were surging forth and massing before the capitol steps and around the big fountain. Already the Democrats had grown hoarse with protest and epithet. It was an outrage for the Republicans to bring down this "mountain army of intimidationists"—and only God knew what they meant to do or might do. The autocrat might justly and legally unseat a few Republicans, to be sure, but one open belief was that these "unkempt feudsmen and outlaws" would rush the legislative halls, shoot down enough Democrats to turn the Republican minority, no matter how small, into a majority big enough to enforce the ballot-proven will of the people. Wild, pale, horrified faces began to appear in the windows of the houses that bordered the square and in the buildings within the yard—perhaps they were going to do it now. Every soldier stiffened where he stood and caught his gun tightly, and once more the militia colonel looked yearningly at the Gatling-gun as helpless as a firecracker in the midst of the crowd, and then imploringly to the adjutant-general, who once again smiled and shook his head. If sinister in purpose, that mountain army was certainly well drilled and under the dominant spirit of some amazing leadership, for no sound, no gesture, no movement came from it. And then Jason saw a pale, dark young man, the secretary of state, himself a mountain man, rise above the heads of the crowd and begin to speak.
"You are not here as revolutionists, criminals, or conspirators, because you are loyal to government and law."
The words were big and puzzling to the untutored ears that heard them, but a grim, enigmatical smile was soon playing over many a rugged face.
"You are here under your God-given bill of rights to right your wrongs through petitions to the legislators in whose hands you placed your liberties and your laws. And to show how non-partisan this meeting is, I nominate as chairman a distinguished Democrat and ex-Confederate soldier."
And thereupon, before Jason's startled eyes, rose none other than Colonel Pendleton, who silently swept the crowd with his eyes.
"I see from the faces before me that the legislators behind me shall not overturn the will of the people," he said quietly but sonorously, and then, like an invocation to the Deity, the dark young mountaineer slowly read from the paper in his hand how they were all peaceably assembled for the common good and the good of the State to avert the peril hovering over its property, peace, safety, and happiness. How they prayed for calmness, prudence, wisdom; begged that the legislators should not suffer themselves to be led into the temptation of partisan pride or party predilection; besought them to remember that their own just powers were loaned to them by the people at the polls, and that they must decide the people's will and not their own political preference; implored them not to hazard the subversion of that supreme law of the land; and finally begged them to receive, and neither despise nor spurn, their earnest petition, remonstrance, but preserve and promote the safety and welfare and, above all, the honor of the commonwealth committed to their keeping.
There was no applause, no murmur even of approval—stern faces had only grown sterner, hard eyes harder, and that was all. Again the mountain secretary of state rose, started to speak, and stopped, looking over the upturned faces and toward the street behind them; and something in his look made every man who saw it turn his head. A whisper started on the outer edge of the crowd and ran backward, and men began to tiptoe and crane their necks. A tall figure was entering the iron gateway—and that whisper ran like a wind through the mass, the whisper of a hated name. The autocrat was coming. The mountaineers blocked his royal way to the speaker's chair behind them, but he came straight on. His cold, strong, crafty face was suddenly and fearlessly uplifted when he saw the hostile crowd, and a half-scornful smile came to his straight thin lips. A man behind him put a detaining hand on his shoulder, but he shook it off impatiently. Almost imperceptibly men swerved this way and that until there was an open way through them to the State-house steps, and through that human lane, nearly every man of which was at that moment longing to take his life, the autocrat strode, meeting every pair of eyes with a sneer of cold defiance. Behind him the lane closed; the crowd gasped at the daring of the man and slowly melted away. The mountain secretary followed him into the Senate with the resolutions he had just read, and the autocrat, still with that icy smile, received and passed them— into oblivion.
That night the mountain army disappeared as quickly as it had come, on a special train through that hole in the wall and with a farewell salute of gun and pistol into the drum-tight air of the little capital. But a guard of two hundred stayed, quartered in boarding-houses and the executive buildings, and hung about the capitol with their arms handy, or loitered about the contest-board meetings where the great "steal" was feared. So those meetings adjourned to the city hall where the room was smaller, admission more limited, and which was, as the Republicans claimed, a Democratic arsenal. Next day the Republicans asked for three days more for testimony and were given three hours by the autocrat. The real fight was now on, every soul knew it, and the crisis was at hand.
And next morning it came, when the same bold figure was taking the same way to the capitol. A rifle cracked, a little puff of smoke floated from a window of a State building, and on the brick flagging the autocrat sank into a heap.
The legislature was at the moment in session. The minority in the House was on edge for the next move. The secretary was droning on and beating time, for the autocrat was late that morning, but he was on his way. Cool, wary, steeled to act relentlessly at the crucial moment, his hand was within reach of the prize, and the play of that master-hand was on the eve of a master-stroke. Two men hurried into the almost deserted square, the autocrat and his body-guard, a man known in the annals of the State for his ready use of knife or pistol. The rifle spoke and the autocrat bent double, groaned harshly, clutched his right side, and fell to his knees. Men picked him up, the building emptied, and all hurried after the throng gathering around the wounded man. There was the jostling of bodies, rushing of feet, the crowding of cursing men to the common centre of excitement. A negro pushed against a white man. The white man pulled his pistol, shot him dead, and hardly a look was turned that way. The doors of the old hotel closed on the wounded man, his friends went wild, and chaos followed. It was a mountain trick, they cried, and a mountaineer had turned it. The lawless hillsmen had come down and brought their cowardly custom of ambush with them. The mountain secretary of state was speeding away from the capitol at the moment the shot was fired, and that was a favorite trick of alibi in the hills. That shot had come from his window. Within ten minutes the terrified governor had ringed every State building with bayonets and had telegraphed for more militia. Nobody, not even the sheriff, could enter to search for the assassin: what else could this mean but that there was a conspiracy—that the governor himself knew of the plot to kill and was protecting the slayer? About the State-house, even after the soldiers had taken possession, stood rough-looking men, a wing of the army of intimidation. A mob was forming at the hotel, and when a company of soldiers was assembled to meet it, a dozen old mountaineers, looking in the light of the camp-fires like the aged paintings of pioneers on the State-house walls, fell silently and solemnly in line with Winchesters and shot-guns. The autocrat's bitterest enemies, though unregretting the deed, were outraged at the way it was done, and the rush of sympathy in his wake could hardly fail to achieve his purpose now. That night even, the Democratic members tried to decide the contest in the autocrat's favor. That night the governor adjourned the legislature to a mountain town, and next morning the legislators found their chambers closed. They tried to meet at hotel, city hall, court- house; and solons and soldiers raced through the streets and never could the solons win. But at nightfall they gathered secretly and declared the autocrat governor of the commonwealth. And the wild rumor was that the wounded man had passed before his name was sealed by the legislative hand, and that the feet of a dead man had been put into a living one's shoes. That night the news flashed that one mountaineer as assassin and a mountain boy as accomplice had been captured and were on the way to jail. And the assassin was Steve and the boy none other than Jason Hawn.
One officer pushed Jason up the steps of the car with one hand clutched in the collar of the boy's coat. Steve Hawn followed, handcuffed, and as the second officer put his foot on the first step, Steve flashed around and brought both of his huge manacled fists down on the man's head, knocking him senseless to the ground.
"Git, Jason!" he yelled, but the boy had already got. Feeling the clutch on his coat collar loosen suddenly, he had torn away and, without looking back even to see what the crashing blow was that he heard, leaped from the moving train into the darkness on the other side of the train. One shot that went wild followed him, but by the time Steve was subdued by the blow of a pistol butt and the train was stopped, Jason was dashing through a gloomy woodland with a speed that he had never equalled on a foot-ball field. On top of a hill he stopped for a moment panting and turned to listen. There were no sounds of pursuit, the roar of the train had started again, and he saw the lights of it twinkling on toward the capital. He knew they would have bloodhounds on his trail as soon as possible; that every railway-station agent would have a description of him and be on the lookout for him within a few hours; and that his mother's house would be closely watched that night: so, gathering his breath, he started in the long, steady stride of his foot-ball training across the fields and, a fugitive from justice, fled for the hills. The night was crisp, the moon was not risen, and the frozen earth was slippery, but he did not dare to take to the turnpike until he saw the lights of farm- houses begin to disappear, and then he climbed the fence into the road and sped swiftly on. Now and then he would have to leap out of the road again and crouch close behind the fence when he heard the rattle of some coming vehicle, but nothing overtook him, and when at last he had the dark silent fields and the white line of the turnpike all to himself he slowed into a swift walk. Before midnight he saw the lights of his college town ahead of him and again he took to the fields to circle about it and strike the road again on the other side where it led on toward the mountains. But always his eyes were turned leftward toward those town lights that he was leaving perhaps forever and on beyond them to his mother's home. He could see her still seated before the fire and staring into it, newly worn and aged, and tearless; and he knew Mavis lay sleepless and racked with fear in her little room. By this time they all must have heard, and he wondered what John Burnham was thinking, and Gray, and then with a stab at his heart he thought of Marjorie. He wondered if she had got his good-by note—the taking back of his promise to her. Well, it was all over now. The lights fell behind him, the moon rose, and under it he saw again the white line of the road. He was tired, but he put his weary feet on the frozen surface and kept them moving steadily on. At the first cock-crow, he passed the house where he had stayed all night when he first rode to the Bluegrass on his old mare. A little later lights began once more to twinkle from awakening farm-houses. The moon paled and a whiter light began to steal over the icy fields. Here was the place where he and the old mare had seen for the first time a railroad train. Hunger began to gnaw within him when he saw the smoke rising from a negro cabin down a little lane, and he left the road and moved toward it. At the bars which let into a little barnyard an old negro was milking a cow, and when, at the boy's low cry of "Hello!" he rose to his feet, a ruse carne to Jason quickly.
"Seen any chestnut hoss comin' along here?"
The old man shook his head.
"I jist got up, son."
"Well, he got away from me an' I reckon he's gone back toward home. I started before breakfast—can I get a bite here?"
It looked suspicious—a white man asking a negro for food, and Jason had learned enough in the Blue-grass to guess the reason for the old darky's hesitation, for he added quickly:
"I don't want to walk all the way back to that white house where I was goin' to get something to eat."
A few minutes later the boy was devouring cornbread and bacon so ravenously that again he saw suspicion in the old darky's eyes, and for that reason when he struck the turnpike again he turned once more into the fields. The foot-hills were in sight now, and from the top of a little wooded eminence he saw the beginning of the dirt road and he almost shouted his gladness aloud. An hour later he was on top of the hill whence he and his old mare had looked first over the land of the Blue-grass, and there he turned to look once more. The sun was up now and each frozen weed, belated corn-stalk, and blade of grass caught its light, shattered it into glittering bits, and knit them into a veil of bewildering beauty for the face of the yet sleeping earth. The lad turned again to the white breasts of his beloved hills. The nation's army could never catch him when he was once among them—and now Jason smiled.
Back at the little capital, the Pennyroyal governor sat pat behind thick walls and the muskets of a thousand men. The militia, too, remained loyal, and the stacking up of ammunition in the adjutant- general's office went merrily on. The dead autocrat was reverently borne between two solid walls of living people to the little cemetery on the high hill overlooking the river and with tribute of tongue and pen was laid to rest, but beneath him the struggle kept on. Mutual offers of compromise were mutually refused and the dual government went on. The State-house was barred to the legislators. To test his authority the governor issued a pardon— the Democratic warden of the penitentiary refused to recognize it. A company of soldiers came from his own Pennyroyal home and the wing of the mountain army still hovered nigh. Meanwhile companies of militia were drafted for service under the banner of the dead autocrat. The governor ate and slept in the State-house—never did he leave it. Once more a Democratic mob formed before the square and the Gatling-gun dispersed it. The President at Washington declined to interfere.
Then started the arrests. It was declared that the fatal shot came from the window of the office of the pale, dark young secretary of state, and that young mountaineer was taken—with a pardon from the governor in his pocket; his brother, a captain of the State guard, the ex-secretary of state, also a mountain man, and still another mountaineer were indicted as accessories before the fact and those indictments charged complicity to the Pennyroyal governor himself. And three other men who were found in the executive building were indicted for murder along with Steve and Jason Hawn. Indeed, the Democrats were busy unearthing, as they claimed, a gigantic Republican conspiracy. No less than one hundred thousand dollars was offered as a reward for the conviction of the murderers, and the Republican cry was that with such a sum it was possible to convict even the innocent. In turn, Liberty Leagues were even formed throughout the State to protect the innocent, and lives and property were pledged to that end, but the ex-secretary of state fled for refuge across the Ohio, and the governor over there refused to give him up.
The Democrats held forth at the Capitol Hotel—the Republicans at the executive building. The governor sent arms from the State arsenal to his mountain capital. Two speakers were always on hand in the Senate, and war talk once again became rife. There was a heavy guard of soldiers at every point in the Capitol Square, there were sentries at the governor's mansion, and the rumor was that the militia would try to arrest the lieutenant-governor who now was successor to the autocrat. So, to guard him, special police were sworn in—police around the hotel, police in the lobby, police patrolling the streets day and night; a system of signals was formed to report suspicious movements of troops, and more men were stationed at convenient windows and in dark alleyways, armed with pistols, but with rifles and shot-guns close at hand, while the police station was full of arms and ammunition. To the courts it was at last agreed that the whole matter should go, and there was panting peace for a while.
A curious pall overhung the college the morning of Jason's flight for the hills. The awful news spread from lip to lip, hushing shouts and quelling laughter. The stream of students moved into the chapel with little noise—a larger stream than usual, for the feeling was that there would be comment from the old president. A common seriousness touched the face of every teacher on the platform and deepened the seriousness of the young faces that looked expectantly upward. In the centre of the freshman corner one seat only was vacant, and that to John Burnham suggested the emptiness of even more than death. Among the girls one chair, too, yawned significantly, for Mavis was not there and the two places might have been side by side, so close was the mute link between them. But no word of Jason reached any curious ear, and only a deeper feeling in the old president's voice when it was lifted, and a deeper earnestness in his prayer that especial guidance might now be granted the State in the crisis it was passing through, showed that the thought of all hearts was working alike in his. At noon the news of Jason's escape and flight spread like fire through town and college—then news that bloodhounds were on his trail, that the trail led to the hills, and that a quick capture was certain. Before night the name of the boy was on the lips of the State and for a day at least on the lips of the nation.
The night before, John Burnham had gone down to the capital to see Jason. All that day he had been hardly able to keep his mind on book or student, all day he had kept recalling how often the boy had asked him about this or that personage in history who had sought to win liberty for his people by slaying with his own hand some tyrant. He knew what part politics, the awful disregard of human life, and the revengeful spirit of the mountains had played in the death of the autocrat, but he knew also that if there was in that mountain army that had gone to the capital the fearful, mistaken, higher spirit of the fanatic it was in the breast of Jason Hawn. He believed, however, that in the boy the spirit was all there was, and that the deed must have been done by some hand that had stolen the cloak of that spirit to conceal a malicious purpose. Coming out of his class-room, he had seen Gray, whose face showed that he was working with the same bewildering, incredible problem. Outside Marjorie had halted him and tremblingly told him of Jason's long-given promise and how he had taken it back; and so as he drove to the country that afternoon his faith in Jason was miserably shaken and a sickening fear for the boy possessed him. He was hardly aware he had reached his own gate, so lost in thought was he all the way, until his horse of its own accord stopped in front of it, and then he urged it on with a sudden purpose to go to Jason's mother. On top of the hill he stopped again, for Marjorie's carriage was turning into the lane that led to Martha Hawn's house. His kindly purpose had been forestalled and with intense relief he turned back on his heart- sick way homeward.
With Marjorie, too, it had been a sudden thought to go to Jason's mother, but as she drew near the gate she grew apprehensive. She had not been within the house often and then only for a moment to wait for Mavis. She had always been half-fearful and ill at ease with the sombre-faced woman who always searched her with big dark eyes whose listlessness seemed but to veil mysteries and hidden fires. As she was getting out of her carriage she saw Martha Hawn's pale face at the window. She expected the door to be opened, as she climbed the steps, but it was not, and when she timidly knocked there was no bid to enter. She was even about to turn away bewildered and indignant when the door did open and a forbidding figure stood before her
"Mavis has gone down to see her pappy."
"Yes, I know—but I thought I'd come—"
She halted helplessly. She did not know that knocking was an unessential formality in the hills; she did not realize that it was her first friendly call on Martha Hawn; and curiously enough the mountain woman became at that moment the quicker of the two.
"Come right in and set down," she said with a sudden change of manner. "Rest yo' hat thar on the bed, won't you?"
The girl entered, her rosy face rising from her furs, and she seemed to flood the poor little room with warmth and light and make it poor indeed. She sat down and felt the deep black eyes burning at her not unkindly now and with none of her own embarrassment, for she had expected to find a woman bowed with grief and she found her unshaken, stolid, calm. For the first time she noticed that Jason had got his eyes and his brow from his mother, and now her voice was an echo of his.
"They've got dogs atter my boy," she said simply.
That was all she said, but it started the girl's tears, for there was not even resentment in the voice—only the resignation that meant a life-long comradeship with sorrow. Marjorie had tried to speak, but tears began to choke her and she turned her face to hide them. She had come to comfort, but now she felt a hand patting her on the shoulder. "Why, honey, you mustn't take on that-a-way. Jason wouldn't want nobody to worry 'bout him—not fer a minute. They'll never ketch him—never in this world. An' bless yo' dear heart, honey, this ain't nothin'. Ever'thing 'll come out all right. Why, I been used to killin' an' fightin' an' trouble all my life. Jason hain't done nothin' he didn't think was right— I know that—an' if hit was right I'm glad he done hit. I ain't so shore 'bout Steve, but the Lord's been good to Steve fer holdin' off his avengin' hand even this long. Hit'll all come out right— don't you worry."
Half an hour later the girl on her way home found Colonel Pendleton at his gate on horseback, apparently waiting for some one, and, looking back through the carriage window, Marjorie saw Gray galloping along behind her. She did not stop to speak with the colonel, and a look of uneasy wonder crossed his face as she drove by.
"What's the matter with Marjorie?" he asked when Gray drew nigh. The boy shook his head worriedly.
"She's been to the Hawns," he said, and the colonel looked grave. Twenty minutes later Mrs. Pendleton sat in her library, also looking grave. Marjorie had told her where she had been and why she had gone, and the mother, startled by the girl's wildness and distress, had barely opened her lips in remonstrance when Marjorie, in a whirlwind of tears and defiance, fled to her room.
On through the snowy mountains Jason went, keeping fearlessly now to the open road, and telling the same story to the same question that was always looked, even when not asked, by every soul with whom he passed a word: he had gone to the capital when the mountain people went down, he had been left behind, and, having no money, was obliged to make his way back home on foot. Always he was plied with questions, but news of the death of the autocrat had not yet penetrated that far. Always he was gladly given food and lodging, and sometimes his host or some horseman, overtaking him, would take him up behind and save him many a weary mile. Boldly he went until one morning he stood on the icy, glittering crest of Pine Mountain and looked down a white wooded ravine to the frozen Cumberland locked motionless in the valley below. He could see the mouth of Hawn Branch and the mouth of Honeycutt Creek—could see the spur, the neck of which once separated Mavis's home from his—and with a joyful throb and a quickly following pang he plunged down the ravine. Ahead of him was the house of a Honeycutt and he had no fear, but as he swiftly approached it along the river road, he saw two men, strangers, appear on the porch and instinctively he scudded noiselessly behind a great clump of evergreen rhododendron and lay flat to the frozen earth. A moment later they rode by him at a walk and talking in low, earnest tones.
"He's sure to come back here," said one, "and it won't be long before some Honeycutt will give him away. This peace business ain't skin-deep and a five-dollar bill will do the trick for us and I'll find the right man in twenty-four hours."
The other man grunted an assent and the two rode on. Already they were after Jason; they had guessed where he would go, and the boy knew that what he had heard from these men was true. When he rose now he kept out of the road and skirted his way along the white flanks of the hills. Passing high up the spur above Hawn Branch, he could see his grandfather's house. A horse was hitched to the fence and a man was walking toward the porch and the lad wondered if that stranger, too, could be on his trail. On upward he went until just below him he could see the old circuit rider's cabin under a snow-laden pine, and all up and down the Hawn Creek were signs of activity from the outside world. Already he had watched engineers mapping out the line of railway up the river. He had seen the coming of the railroad darkies who lived in shacks like cave-men, who were little above brutes and driven like slaves by rough men in blue woollen shirts and high-laced boots. And now he saw that old Morton Sanders' engineers had mapped out a line up the creek of his fathers; that the darkies had graded it and their wretched shacks were sagging drunkenly here and there from the hill-sides. Around the ravine the boy curved toward the neck of the dividing spur and half-unconsciously toward the little creek where he had uncovered his big vein of coal, and there where with hand, foot, and pick he had toiled so long was a black tunnel boring into the very spot, with supporting columns of wood and a great pile of coal at its gaping mouth. The robbery was under way and the boy looked on with fierce eyes at the three begrimed and coal-blackened darkies hugging a little fire near by. Cautiously he backed away and slipped on down to a point where he could see his mother's old home and Steve Hawn's, and there he almost groaned. One was desolate, deserted, the door swinging from one hinge, the chimney fallen, every paling of the fence gone and the roof of the little barn caved in. Smoke was coming from Steve Hawn's chimney, and in the porch were two or three slatternly negro women. The boy knew the low, sinister meaning of their presence on public works; and these blacks ate, slept, and plied their trade in the home of Mavis Hawn! All the old rebellion and rage of his early years came back to him and boiled the more fiercely that his mother's home could never be hers, nor Mavis's hers—for a twofold reason now—again. It was nearing noon and the boy's hunger was a keen pain. Rapidly he went down the crest of the spur until his grandfather's house was visible beneath him. The horse at the front fence was gone, but as he slipped toward the rear of the house he looked into the stable to make sure that the horse was not there. And then a moment later he reached the back porch and noiselessly opened the door—so noiselessly that the old man sitting in front of the fire did not hear.
"Grandpap," he called tremulously.
The old man started and turned his great shaggy head. He said nothing, but it seemed to the boy that from under his bushy brows a flash of lightning was searching him from head to foot.
"Well," he rumbled scathingly, "you've been a-playin' hell, hain't ye? I mought 'a' knowed whut would happen with Honeycutts a- leadin' that gang. I tol' 'em to go up thar an' fight open—man to man. They don't know nothin' but way-layin'. A thousand of 'em shootin' one pore man in the back! Whut've I been tryin' to l'arn ye since you was a baby? God knows I WANTED him killed. Why," thundered the old man savagely, "didn't YOU kill him face to face?"
The boy's chin had gone up proudly while the old man talked and now there was a lightning-flash in his own eyes.
"I tried to git him face to face fer three days. I knowed he had a gun. I was aimin' to give him a chance fer his life. But seemed like thar wasn't no other—"
"Stop!" thundered the old man again, "don't you say a word."
There was a loud "Hello" at the gate.
"Thar they air now," said the old man with a break in his voice, and as he rose from his chair he said sternly: "An' stay right where you air."
Through the window the boy saw the two horsemen who had passed him in the road that morning. His eyes grew wild and he began to tremble violently, but he stood still. The old man went to the door.
"Hyeh he is, men," he shouted; "come in hyeh an' git him."
Then he turned to the boy.
"You air goin' back thar an' stand yore trial like a man."
The boy leaped wildly for the door, but the old man caught him and with one hand held him as though he were a child, and thus the two astonished detectives from the Blue-grass found them, and they gaped at the mystery, for they knew the kinship of the two. One pulled from his pocket a pair of handcuffs, and old Jason glared at him with contempt.
"Don't you put them things on this boy—he's my grandson. An', anyhow, ef you two full-grown men can't handle a boy without 'em I'll go 'long with you myself."
Shamed, the man put the irons back in his pocket, and the other one started to speak but stopped. The old man turned hospitably toward his unwelcome guests.
"I reckon all o' ye want a bite to eat afore ye start. Mammy!"
The door to the kitchen opened and the aged grandmother halted there, peering through brass-rimmed spectacles at her husband and the two men, and catching sight last of little Jason standing in the corner—trapped, white-faced, silent. Instantly she caught the meaning of the scene, and with a little cry she tottered over to the boy and putting both her hands on his breast began to pat him gently. Then, still helplessly patting him with one hand, she turned to her husband.
"You hain't goin' to give the boy up, Jason?" she asked plaintively, and the old man swerved his face aside and nodded.
"Git up somethin' to eat, mammy," he said with rough gentleness, and without another look or word she turned with her apron at her eyes to the kitchen door. The old man glared out the window, the boy sank on a chair at the corner of the fireplace, and in the face of one of the men there was sympathy. The other, shifty of eyes and crafty of face, spoke harshly.
"How much o' this reward do you want?"
Old Jason wheeled and the other man cried sternly:
"Shut up, you fool!"
"You lop-yeared rattlesnake!" began old Jason, and with a contemptuous gesture dismissed him. "How much is that reward?"
The other man hesitated, and then with the thought that the fact would soon be world-known answered promptly:
"For the capture and conviction of the murderer—one hundred thousand dollars."
The old man gasped at the amazing sum; his face worked suddenly with convulsive rage and calmed in a sudden way that made the watching boy know that something was going to happen. Quietly old Jason walked over to the fire and stood with his back to it. He pulled out his pipe, filled it, and turned again to the mantel- piece as though to reach for a match, but instead whipped two big revolvers from it and wheeled.
"Hands up, men!" he said quietly. For a moment the two were paralyzed, but the thick-set man, whose instincts were quicker, obeyed slowly. The other one started to laugh.
"Up!" called the old man sternly, levelling one pistol, and the laugh stopped, the man's face paled, and his hands flew high.
"Git their guns fer a minute, Jasie, an' put em' up hyeh on the mantel. A hundred thousand dollars is a LEETLE too much."
The kitchen door opened and again the old woman peered through her spectacles within.
"I knowed you wouldn't do it, pap," she said. "Dinner's ready— come on in now, men, an' git a bite to eat."
The thin man's shifty eyes roved to his companion, who had almost begun to smile and who muttered to himself as he rose:
"Well, by God!"
In utter silence the meal went through, except that the old man, with his pistols crossed in his lap, kept urging his guests to the full of their appetites. Jason ate like a wolf.
"Git a poke, mammy," said old Jason when the boy dropped knife and fork, "an' fill it full o' victuals."
And still with a smile the thick-set man watched her gather food from the table, put it in a paper sack, and hand it to the boy.
"Now git, Jasie—these men air goin' to stay hyeh with me fer' bout an hour, an' then they can go atter ye ef they think they can ketch ye."
With no word at all even of good-by, little Jason noiselessly disappeared. A few minutes later, sitting in front of the fire with his pistols still in his lap, old Jason Hawn explained:
"Fer a mule, a Winchester, and a hundred dollars I can git most any man in this country killed. Fer a thousand I reckon I could git hit proved that I had stole a side o' bacon or a hoss. Fer a hundred thousand I could git hit proved that the President of these United States killed that feller—an' human natur' is about the same, I reckon, ever'whar. You don't git no grandson o' mine when thar's a bunch o' greenbacks like that tied to the rope that's a-pinin' to hang him."
An hour later he told his guests that they could be on their way, though he'd be mighty glad to have 'em stay all night—and they went, both chagrined, the thin one raging within but obedient and respectful without, while the other, chuckling at his companion's discomfiture and no little at his own, watched with a smile the old fellow's method of speeding his parting guests.
"Git on yo' hosses, men," he suggested, and when the two stepped from the porch he replaced his own guns on the mantel and followed them with both of their guns in one hand and a Winchester in the other. While they were mounting he walked to the corner of the yard, laid both their pistols on the fence, walked back to the porch, and stood there with his Winchester in the hollow of his arm.
"Ride by thar, men, and git yo' guns; an' I reckon," he suggested casually but convincingly, "when you pick 'em up you better not EVEN LOOK BACK—NARY ONE O' YE."
"Can you beat it?" murmured the quiet man, while the other snarled helplessly.
"An' when you git down to town you can tell the sheriff. He's a Honeycutt, an' he won't come atter me, but I'll go down thar to him an' pay my leetle fine."
Again the man said:
"Well, BY God!"
And as the two rode on, the old fellow's voice followed them:
"Come ag'in, men—I wish ye both well."
Two nights later St. Hilda, reading by her fire, heard a tap on her window-pane, and, looking up, saw Jason's pale face outside. She ran to the door, and the boy stumbled wearily toward the threshold and stopped with a look of fear and piteous appeal. She stretched out her arms to him, and, broken at last, the boy sank at her feet, and, with his head in her lap, sobbed out of his heart the truth.
St. Hilda herself took Jason back to the Blue-grass, took him to the gray frowning prison at the capital, and with streaming eyes watched the iron gates close between them. Then she went home, sent for John Burnham, and within an hour both started working for the boy's freedom, for Jason must keep on with his studies, and, with Steve Hawn in jail, must help his mother. Through Gray's influence Colonel Pendleton, and through Marjorie's, Mrs. Pendleton as well, offered to go sponsors for the boy's appearance at his trial. The man from the Pennyroyal who sat in the governor's chair, and even the successor to the autocrat who was trying to pre-empt that seat, gave letters to help, and before any prison pallor could touch the boy's sun-tanned face he was out in the open air once more on bail. And when old Jason Hawn in the mountains heard what had happened, he laughed.
"Well, I reckon if he's indicted only fer HELPIN' Steve, he ain't in much danger, fer they can't git him onless they git Steve, an' if thar IS one man no money can ketch—that man is slick Steve Hawn. An' lemme tell ye: if the right feller was from the mountains an' only mountain folks knows it, they hain't NUVER goin' to find him out. Mebbe I was a leetle hasty—mebbe I was."
After one talk with John Burnham, the old president suggested that Jason drop down into the "kitchen" and go on with his books, but against this plan Jason shook his head. He was going to raise Steve Hawn's tobacco crop on shares with Colonel Pendleton, he would study at home, and John Burnham saw, moreover, that the boy shrank from the ordeal of college associations and any further hurt to his pride.
The pores of the earth were beginning to open now to the warm breath of spring. Already Martha Hawn and Mavis had burnt brush on the soil to kill the grass, and Jason ploughed the soil and harrowed it with minute care, and sowed the seed broadcast by hand. Within two weeks lettuce-like leaves were peeping through the ground, and Jason and Mavis stretched canvas over the beds to hold in the heat of day and hold off the frost of night. Three weeks later came the first ploughing; then there was ploughing and ploughing and ploughing again, and weeding and weeding and weeding again. Just before ripening, the blooms came—blooms that were for all the word like the blooms of purple rhododendron back in the hills, and then the task of suckering began. Sometimes Mavis would help and the mother started in to work like a man, but the boy had absorbed from his environment its higher ideal of woman and, all he could, he kept both of them out of the tobacco field. This made it all the harder for him and there was no let-up to his toil. Just the same, Jason put in every spare moment on his books, and in Mavis's little room, which had been turned over to him, his lamp burned far into every night. When he struck a knotty point or problem, he would walk over to John Burnham's for help, or the school-master, as he went to and fro from his college duties, would find the boy on a fence by the roadside waiting with his question for him. All the summer Jason toiled. When there was no hard labor, always he had to fight the tobacco worms with spray, and hand, and boot-heel, until the rich dark-green of the leaves took on a furry, velvety sheen—until at ripening they turned to a bright gold and were ready for the chisel-bladed, double-edged knife with which the plants are cut close to the ground. Then they must be hung on upright tobacco sticks, stalks upward, to wilt under the August sun, and then on to be housed in Colonel Pendleton's great barns to dry within their slitted walls. Several times during the summer Arch Hawn came by and looked at the boy's work with keen, approving eye and in turn won a falling-off in Jason's old prejudice against him; for Arch had built a church in the county-seat in the mountains, had helped the county schools, was making ready to help the mountain people fight unjust claims to their lands, and, himself charged with helping to bring the mountain army down to the capital, stood boldly ready to surrender to the call of the law—he even meant to help Steve Hawn in his trouble, for Steve, after an examining trial, had been remanded back to prison without bail: and he was going to help Jason in his trial, which would closely follow Steve's.
All summer, too, Gray and Marjorie were riding or driving past the tobacco field, and Jason and Mavis, when they saw either or both coming, would move to the end of the field that was farthest from the turnpike and, turning their backs, would pretend not to see. Sometimes the two mountaineers would be caught where avoidance was impossible, and then Marjorie and Gray would call out cheerily and with a smile—to get in return from the children of the soil a grave, silent nod of the head and a grave, answering glance of the eye—for neither knew the part the Blue-grass boy and girl had played in the getting of Jason's freedom, until one late afternoon of the closing summer days, for John Burnham had been asked to keep the matter a secret. But Steve Hawn had learned from his lawyer and had told his wife Martha when she came to visit him in prison; and that late afternoon she was in the tobacco field when Mavis and Jason moved to the other end and turned their backs as Marjorie rode by on her way home and Gray an hour later galloped past the other way.
"I reckon," she said quietly to Jason, "ef you knowed whut that boy an' gal has been a-doin' fer ye, you wouldn't be a-actin' that-a-way."
And then she explained and started for home. Both stood still— silent and dumfounded—and only Mavis spoke at last.
"BOTH of us beholden to BOTH of 'em."
Jason made no answer, but bent to his work. When Mavis, too, started for home he stayed behind without explanation, and when she was out of sight he climbed the fence at the edge of the woods, and sat there looking toward the sunset fading behind Marjorie's home.
The tobacco was dry now, for the autumn was at hand. It must come to case yet, then it must be stripped, the grades picked out, and left then in bulk for sale. With all this Jason had nothing to do. He had done good work on his books during the spring and autumn, such good work that, with the old president's gladly given permission, he was allowed a special examination which admitted him with but one or two "conditions" into his own sophomore class. Then was there the extraordinary spectacle of a college boy— quiet, serious, toiling—making the slow way toward the humanities under charge of murder and awaiting trial for his life. And that course Jason Hawn followed with a dignity, reticence, and self- effacement that won the steadily increasing respect of every student and teacher within the college walls. A belief in his innocence became wide-spread, and that coming trial began to be regarded in time as a trial of the good name of the college itself. A change of venue had been obtained and the trial was to be held in the college town. It came in mid-December. Jason, neatly dressed, sat beside his lawyer, and his mother, in black, and Mavis sat quite near him. In the first row among the spectators were Gray and Marjorie and Colonel Pendleton. Behind them was John Burnham, and about him and behind him were several other professors, while the room was crowded with students. The boy was pale when he went to the witness-chair, and the court-room was as still as a wooded ravine in the hills when he began to tell his story, which apparently no other soul than his own lawyer had ever heard; indeed it was soon apparent that even he had never heard it all.
"I went down there to kill him," the boy said calmly, though his eyes were two deep points of fire—so calmly, indeed, that as one man the audience gasped audibly—"an' I reckon all of ye know why. My grandpap al'ays told me the meanest thing a man could do was to shoot another man in the back. I tried for three days to git face to face with him. I knowed he had a gun all the time, an' I meant to give him a fair chance fer his life. That mornin' I heard through the walls of the boardin'-house I was in—an' I didn't know who was doin' the talkin'—that the man was goin' to be waylaid right then an' I run over to that ex-ec-u-tive building to reach Steve Hawn an' keep HIM anyways from doin' the shootin'. I heard the shots soon as I got inside the door, and purty soon I met Steve runnin' down the stairs. 'I didn't do it!' Steve says, 'but any feller from the mountains better git away from HERE.' We run out through the yard an' got into Steve's buggy an' travelled the road till we was ketched—an' that's all I know."
And that was all. No other fact, no other admission, no other statement could the rigid, bitter cross-examination bring from the lad's lips than just those words; and those words alone the jury carried to their room. Nor were they long gone. Back they came, and again the court-room was as the holding in of one painful breath, and then tears started in the eyes of the woman in black, the mountain girl by her side, and in Marjorie's, and the court- room broke into stifled cheer, for the words all heard were:
At the gate of the college a crowd of students, led by Gray Pendleton, awaited Jason. The boy was borne aloft on their shoulders through the yard amid the cheers of boys and girls—was borne on into the gymnasium, and before the lad could quite realize what was going on he heard himself cheered as captain of the foot-ball team for the next year, and was once more borne out, around and aloft again—while John Burnham with a full heart, and Mavis and Marjorie with wet eyes, looked smilingly on. A week later Arch Hawn persuaded the boy to allow him to lend him money to complete his course and a week later still it was Christmas again. Christmas night there was a glad gathering at Colonel Pendleton's. Even St. Hilda was there, and she and John Burnham, and Colonel Pendleton and Mrs. Pendleton, Gray and Mavis, and Marjorie and Jason, danced the Virginia reel together, and all the stars were stars of Bethlehem to Mavis and Jason Hawn as they crunched across the frozen fields at dawn for home.
The pale, dark young secretary of state had fled from the capital in a soldier's uniform and had been captured with a pardon in his pocket from the Pennyroyal governor, which the authorities refused to honor. The mountain ex-secretary of state had fled across the Ohio, to live there an exile. The governor from the Pennyroyal had carried his case to the supreme court of the land, had lost, and he, too, amid the condemnation of friends and foes, had crossed the same yellow river to the protection of the same Northern State. With his flight the troubles at the capital had passed the acute crisis and settled down into a long, wearisome struggle to convict the assassins of the autocrat. During the year the young secretary of state had been once condemned to death, once to life imprisonment, and was now risking the noose again on a third trial. Jason Hawn's testimony at his own trial, it was thought, would help Steve Hawn. Indeed, another mountaineer, Hiram Honeycutt, an uncle to little Aaron, was, it seemed, in greater danger than Steve, but the suspect in most peril was an auditor's clerk from the Blue-grass; so it looked as though old Jason's prophecy—that the real murderer, if a mountaineer, would never be convicted—might yet come true. The autocrat was living on in the hearts of his followers as a martyr to the cause of the people, and a granite shaft was to rise in the little cemetery on the river bluff to commemorate his deeds and his name. His death had gratified the blood-lust of his foes, his young Democratic successor would amend that "infamous election law" and was plainly striving for a just administration, and so bitterness began swiftly to abate, tolerance grew rapidly, and the State went earnestly on trying to cure its political ills. And yet even while John Burnham and his like were congratulating themselves that cool heads and strong hands had averted civil war, checked further violence, and left all questions to the law and the courts, the economic poison that tobacco had been spreading through the land began to shake the commonwealth with a new fever: for not liberty but daily bread was the farmer's question now.
The Big Trust had cut out competitive buyers, cut down prices to the cost of production, and put up the price of the tobacco bag and the plug. So that the farmer must smoke and chew his own tobacco, or sell it at a loss and buy it back again at whatever price the trust chose to charge him. Already along the southern border of the State the farmers had organized for mutual protection and the members had agreed to plant only half the usual acreage. When the non-members planted more than ever, masked men descended upon them at night and put the raiser to the whip and his barn to the torch. It seemed as though the passions of men, aroused by the political troubles and getting no vent in action, welcomed this new outlet, and already the night-riding of ku-klux and toll gate days was having a new and easy birth. And these sinister forces were sweeping slowly toward the Blue-grass. Thus the injection of this new problem brought a swift subsidence of politics in the popular mind. It caused a swift withdrawal of the political background from the lives of the Pendletons and dwarfed its importance for the time in the lives of the Hawns, for again the following spring Colonel Pendleton, in the teeth of the coming storm, raised tobacco, and so, for his mother, did Jason Hawn.
In the mountains, meanwhile, the trend, contrariwise, was upward— all upward. Railroads were building, mines were opening, great trees were falling for timber. Even the Hawns and Honeycutts were too busy for an actual renewal of the feud, though the casual traveller was amazed to discover slowly how bitter the enmity still was. But the feud in no way checked the growth going on in all ways, nor was that growth all material. More schools than St. Hilda's had come into the hills from the outside and were doing hardly less effective work. County schools, too, were increasing in number and in strength. More and more mountain boys and girls were each year going away to college, bringing back the fruits of their work and planting the seeds of them at home. The log cabin was rapidly disappearing, the frame cottages were being built with more neatness and taste, and garish colors were becoming things of the past. Indeed, a quick uplift through all the mountains was perceptible to any observant eye that had known and knew now the hills. To the law-makers at the capital and to the men of law and business in the Blue-grass, that change was plain when they came into conflict with the lawyers and bankers and merchants of the highlands, for they found this new hillsman shrewd, resourceful, quick-witted, tenacious, and strong, and John Burnham began to wonder if the vigorous type of Kentuckian that seemed passing in the Blue-grass might not be coming to a new birth in the hills. He smiled grimly that following spring when he heard that a company of mountain militia from a county that was notorious for a desperate feud had been sent down to keep order in the tobacco lowlands; he kept on smiling every time he heard that a mountaineer had sold his coal lands and moved down to buy some blue-grass farm, and wondering how far this peaceful dispossessment might go in time; and whether a fusion of these social extremes of civilization might not be in the end for the best good of the State. And he knew that the basis of his every speculation about the fortunes of the State rested on the intertwining hand of fate in the lives of Marjorie and Gray Pendleton and Mavis and Jason Hawn.
In June, Gray Pendleton closed his college career as he had gone through it—like a meteor—and Jason went for the summer to the mountains, while Mavis stayed with his mother, for again Steve Hawn had been tried and convicted and returned to jail to await a new trial. In the mountains Jason got employment at some mines below the county-seat, and there he watched the incoming of the real "furriners," Italians, "Hunks," and Slavs, and the uprising of a mining town. He worked, too, in every capacity that was open to him, and he kept his keen eyes and keen mind busy that he might know as much as possible of the great machine that old Morton Sanders would build and set to work on his mother's land. And more than ever that summer he warmed to his uncle Arch Hawn for the fight that Arch was making to protect native titles to mountain lands—a fight that would help the achievement of the purpose that, though faltering at last, was still deep in the boy's heart.
In the autumn, when he went back to college, Gray had set off to some Northern college for a post-graduate course in engineering and Marjorie had gone to some fashionable school in the great city of the nation for the finishing touches of hats and gowns, painting and music, and for a wider knowledge of her own social world. That autumn the tobacco trouble was already pointing to a crisis for Colonel Pendleton. The whip and lash and the destruction of seed-beds had been ineffective, and as the trust had got control of the trade, the raisers must now get control of the raw leaf in the field and in the barn. That autumn Jason himself drifted into a mass-meeting of growers in the court-house one day on his way home from college. An orator from the Far West with a shock of black hair and gloomy black brows and eyes urged a general and permanent alliance of the tillers of the soil. An old white-bearded man with cane and spectacles and a heavy goatee working under a chew of tobacco tremulously pleaded for a pooling of the crops. The answer was that all would not pool, and the question was how to get all in. A great-shouldered, red-faced man and a bull-necked fellow with gray, fearless eyes, both from the southern part of the State, openly urged the incendiary methods that they were practising at home—the tearing up of tobacco-beds, burning of barns, and the whipping of growers who refused to go into the pool. And then Colonel Pendleton rose, his face as white as his snowy shirt, and bowed courteously to the chairman.
"These gentlemen, I think, are beside themselves," he said quietly, "and I must ask your permission to withdraw."
Jason followed him out to the court-house door and watched him, erect as a soldier, march down the street, and he knew the trouble that was in store for the old gentleman, for already he had heard similar incendiary talk from the small farmers around his mother's home.