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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 41
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The Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 41 Post by :promonde Category :Long Stories Author :John Fox Date :May 2012 Read :2046

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The Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 41

CHAPTER XLI

Jason Hawn's last examination was over, and he stepped into the first June sunlight and drew it into his lungs with deep relief. Looking upward from the pavement below, the old president saw his confident face.

"It seems you are not at all uneasy," he said, and his keen old eyes smiled humorously.

Jason reddened a little.

"No, sir--I'm not."

"Nor am I," said the old gentleman, "nor will you forget that this little end is only the big beginning."

"Thank you, sir."

"You are going back home? You will be needed there."

"Yes, sir."

"Good!"

It was the longest talk Jason had ever had with the man he all but worshipped, and while it was going on the old scholar was painfully climbing the steps--so that the last word was flung back with the sharp, soldier-like quality of a command given by an officer who turned his back with perfect trust that it would be obeyed, and in answer to that trust the boy's body straightened and his very much about changing his ways, that he no longer had any resentment against Colonel Pendleton, and wanted now to live a better life. His talk might have fooled Jason but for the fact that he shrewdly noted the little effect it all had on his mother. Entering the mouth of the lane, Jason saw Steve going from the yard gate to the house, and his brows wrinkled angrily--Steve was staggering. He came to the door and glared at Jason.

"Whut you doin' out hyeh?"

"I'm goin' to see Gray through his troubles," said Jason quietly.

"I kind o' thought you had troubles enough o' yo' own," sneered the man.

Jason did not answer. His mother was seated within with her back to the door, and when she turned Jason saw that she had been weeping, and, catching sight of a red welt on her temple, he walked over to her.

"How'd that happen, mammy?"

She hesitated and Jason whirled with such fury that his mother caught him with both arms, and Steve lost no time reaching for his gun.

"I jammed it agin the kitchen door, Jasie."

He looked at her, knew that she was lying, and when he turned to go, halted at the door.

"If you ever touch my mother again," he said with terrifying quiet, "I'll kill you as sure as there is a God in heaven to forgive me."

Across the midsummer fields Jason went swiftly. On his right, half of a magnificent woodland was being laid low--on his left, another was all gone--and with Colonel Pendleton both, he knew, had been heart-breaking deeds of necessity, for his first duty, that gentleman claimed, was to his family and to his creditors, and nobody could rob him of his right to do what he pleased, much less what he ought, with his own land. And so the colonel still stood out against friend and neighbor, and open and secret foes. His tobacco beds had been raided, one of his barns had been burned, his cattle had been poisoned, and, sick as he was, threats were yet coming in that the night riders would burn his house and take his life. Across the turnpike were the fields and untouched woodlands of Marjorie, and it looked as though the hand of Providence had blessed one side of the road and withered the other with a curse. On top of the orchard fence, to the western side of the house, Jason sat a while. The curse was descending on Gray's innocent head and he had had the weakness and the folly to lift his eyes to the blessing across the way. As Mavis had pointed out the way to Gray, so Marjorie, without knowing it, had pointed. the way for him. When long ago he had been helpless before her by the snow-fringed willows at the edge of the pond in the old college yard, she had been frightened and had shrunk away. When he gained his self-control, she had lost hers, and in her loneliness had come trailing toward him almost like a broken-winged young bird looking for mother help--and he had not misunderstood, though his heart ached for her suffering as it ached for her. And Marjorie had been quite right--he had never come back after that one quarrel, and he would never come. The old colonel had gone to him, but he had hardly more than opened his lips when he had both hands on the boy's shoulders with broken words of sympathy and then had turned away--so quickly had he seen that Jason fully understood the situation and had disposed of it firmly, proudly, and finally- -for himself. The mountains were for Jason--there were his duty and the work of his life. Under June apples turning golden, and amid the buzzing of bees, the boy went across the orchard, and at the fence he paused again. Marjorie and her mother were coming out of the house with Gray, and Jason watched them walk to the stile. Gray was tanned, and even his blonde head had been turned copper by the mountain sun, while the girl looked like a great golden- hearted lily. But it was Gray's face as he looked at her that caught the boy's eyes and held them fast, for the face was tense, eager, and worshipping.

He saw Marjorie and her mother drive away, saw Gray wave to them and turn back to the house, and then he was so shocked at the quick change to haggard worry that draped his friend like a cloak from head to foot that he could hardly call to him. And so Jason waited till Gray had passed within, and then he leaped the fence and made for the portico. Gray himself answered his ring and with a flashing smile hurried forward when he saw Jason in the doorway. The two clasped hands and for one swift instant searched each other's eyes with questions too deep and delicate to be put into words--each wondering how much the other might know, each silent if the other did not know. For Gray had learned from his father about Steve Hawn, and Jason's suspicions of Steve he had kept to himself.

"My father would like to have you as our guest, Jason, while I am here," Gray said with some embarrassment, "but he doesn't feel like letting you take the risk."

Jason threw back the lapel of his coat that covered his badge as deputy.

"That's what I'm here for," he said with a smile, "but I think I'd better stay at home. I'll be on hand when the trouble comes."

Gray, too, smiled.

"You don't have to tell me that."

"How is the colonel?"

"He's pretty bad. He wants to see you."

Jason lowered his voice when they entered the hallway. "The soldiers have reached town to-day. If there's anything going to be done, it will probably be done to-night."

"I know."

"We won't tell the colonel."

"No."

Then Gray led the way to the sick-room and softly opened the door. In a great canopied bed lay Colonel Pendleton with his face turned toward the window, through which came the sun and air, the odors and bird-songs of spring-time, and when that face turned, Jason was shocked by its waste and whiteness and by the thinness of the hand that was weakly thrust out to him. But the fire of the brilliant eyes burned as ever; there was with him, prone in bed, still the same demeanor of stately courtesy; and Jason felt his heart melt and then fill as always with admiration for the man, the gentleman, who unconsciously had played such a part in the moulding of his own life, and as always with the recognition of the unbridgable chasm between them--between even him and Gray. The bitter resentment he had first felt against this chasm was gone now, for now he understood and accepted. As men the three were equal, but father and son had three generations the start of him. He could see in them what he lacked himself, and what they were without thought he could only consciously try to be--and he would keep on trying. The sick man turned his face again to the window and the morning air. When he turned again he was smiling faintly and his voice was friendly and affectionate:

"Jason, I know why you are here. I'm not going to thank you, but I--Gray"--he paused ever so little, and Jason sadly knew what it meant--"will never forget it. I want you two boys to be friends as long as you live. I'm sorry, but it looks as though you would both have to give up yourselves to business--particularly sorry about Gray, for that is my fault. For the good of our State I wish you both were going to sit side by side at Frankfort, in Congress, and the Senate, and fight it out"--he smiled whimsically--"some day for the nomination for the Presidency. The poor old commonwealth is in a bad way, and it needs just such boys as you two are. The war started us downhill, but we might have done better--I know I might. The earth was too rich--it made life too easy. The horse, the bottle of whiskey, and the plug of tobacco were all too easily the best--and the pistol always too ready. We've been cartooned through the world with a fearsome, half-contemptuous slap on the back. Our living has been made out of luxuries. Agriculturally, socially, politically, we have gone wrong, and but for the American sense of humor the State would be in a just, nation-wide contempt. The Ku-Klux, the burning of toll-gates, the Goebel troubles, and the night rider are all links in the same chain of lawlessness, and but for the first the others might not have been. But we are, in spite of all this, a law-abiding people, and the old manhood of the State is still here. Don't forget that--THE OLD MANHOOD IS HERE."

Jason had sat eager-eyed and listening hard. Bewildered Gray felt his tears welling, for never had he heard in all his life his father talk this way. Again Colonel Pendleton turned his face to the window and went on as though to the world outside.

"I wouldn't let anybody out there say this about us, nor would you, and maybe if I thought I was going to live many years longer I might not be saying it now, for some Kentuckian might yet make me eat my words."

At this the eyes of the two boys crossed and both smiled faintly, for though the sick man had been a generous liver, his palate could never have known the taste of one of his own words.

"I don't know--but our ambition is either dying or sinking to a lower plane, and what a pity, for the capacity is still here to keep the old giants still alive if the young men could only see, feel, and try. And if I were as young as one of you two boys, I'd try to find and make the appeal."

He turned his brilliant eyes to Jason and looked for a moment silently.

"The death-knell of me and mine has been sounded unless boys like Gray here keep us alive after death, but the light of your hills is only dawning. It's a case of the least shall be first, for your pauper counties are going to be the richest in the State. The Easterners are buying up our farms as they would buy a yacht or a motor-car, the tobacco tenants are getting their mites of land here and there, and even you mountaineers, when you sell your coal lands, are taking up Blue-grass acres. Don't let the Easterner swallow you, too. Go home, and, while you are getting rich, enrich your citizenship, and you and Gray help land-locked, primitive old Kentucky take her place among the modern sisterhood that is making the nation. To use a phrase of your own--get busy, boys, get busy after I am gone."

And then Colonel Pendleton laughed.

"I am hardly the one to say all this, or rather I am just the one because I am a--failure."

"Father."

The word came like a sob from Gray.

"Oh, yes, I am--but I have never lied except for others, and I have not been afraid."

Again his face went toward the window.

"Even now," he added in a solemn whisper that was all to himself, "I believe, and am not afraid."

Presently he lifted himself on one elbow and with Gray's assistance got to a sitting posture. Then he pulled a paper from beneath his pillow.

"I want to tell you something, Jason. That was all true, every word you said the first time Gray and I saw you at your grandfather's house, and I want you to know now that your land was bought over my protest and without my knowledge. My own interest in the general purchase was in the form of stock, and here it is."

Jason's heart began to beat violently.

"Whatever happens to me, this farm will have to be sold, but there will be something left for Gray. This stock is in Gray's name, and it is worth now just about what would have been a fair price for your land five years after it was bought. It is Gray's, and I am going to give it to him." He handed the paper to bewildered Gray, who looked at it dazedly, went with it to the window, and stood there looking out--his father watching him closely.

"You might win in a suit, Jason, I know, but I also know that you could never collect even damages."

At these words Gray wheeled.

"Then this belongs to you, Jason."

The father smiled and nodded approval and assent.

That night there was a fusillade of shots, and Jason and Gray rushed out with a Winchester in hand to see one barn in flames and a tall figure with a firebrand sneaking toward the other. Both fired and the man dropped, rose to his feet, limped back to the edge of the woods, and they let him disappear. But all the night, fighting the fire and on guard against another attack, Jason was possessed with apprehension and fear--that limping figure looked like Steve Hawn. So at the first streak of dawn he started for his mother's home, and when that early he saw her from afar standing on the porch and apparently looking for him, he went toward her on a run. She looked wild-eyed, white, and sleepless, but she showed no signs of tears.

"Where's Steve, mammy?" called Jason in a panting whisper, and when she nodded back through the open door his throat eased and he gulped his relief.

"Is he all right?"

She looked at him queerly, tried to speak, and began to tremble so violently that he stepped quickly past her and stopped on the threshold--shuddering. A human shape lay hidden under a brilliantly colored quilt on his mother's bed, and the rigidity of death had moulded its every outline.

"I reckon you've done it at last, Jasie," said a dead, mechanical voice behind him.

"Good God, mammy--it must have been Gray or me."

"One of you, shore. He said he saw you shoot at the same time, and only one of you hit him. I hope hit was you."

Jason turned--horrified, but she was calm and steady now.

"Hit was fitten fer you to be the one. Babe never killed yo' daddy, Jasie--hit was Steve."

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CHAPTER XLIIGray Pendleton, hearing from a house-servant of the death of Steve Hawn, hurried over to offer his help and sympathy, and Martha Hawn, too quick for Jason's protest, let loose the fact that the responsibility for that death lay between the two. To her simple faith it was Jason's aim that the intervening hand of God had directed, but she did not know what the law of this land might do to her boy, and perhaps her motive was to shield him if possible. While she spoke, one of her hands was hanging loosely at her side and the other
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CHAPTER XLGray Pendleton was coming home. Like Jason, he, too, waited at the little junction for dawn, and swept along the red edge of it, over the yellow Kentucky River and through the blue-grass fields. Drawn up at the station was his father's carriage and in it sat Marjorie, with a radiant smile of welcome which gave way to sudden tears when they clasped hands--tears that she did not try to conceal. Uncle Robert was in bed, she said, and Gray did not perceive any significance in the tone with which she added, that her mother hardly ever left him. She
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