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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 6
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The Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 6 Post by :neverfight Category :Long Stories Author :John Fox Date :May 2012 Read :1003

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The Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 6


The cabin was unlighted when Jason came in sight of it and apprehension straightway seized him; so that he broke into a run, but stopped at the gate and crept slowly to the porch and almost on tiptoe opened the door. The fire was low, but the look of things was unchanged, and on the kitchen table he saw his cold supper laid for him. His mother had maybe gone over the ridge for some reason to stay all night, so he gobbled his food hastily and, still uneasy, put forth for Mavis's cabin over the hill. That cabin, too, was dark and deserted, and he knew now what had happened--that blast of the horn was a summons to a dance somewhere, and his mother and Steve had answered and taken Mavis with them; so the boy sat down on the porch, alone with the night and the big still dark shapes around him. It would not be very pleasant for him to follow them--people would tease him and ask him troublesome questions. But where was the dance, and had they gone to it after all? He rose and went swiftly down the creek. At the mouth of it a light shone through the darkness, and from it a quavering hymn trembled on the still air. A moment later Jason stood on the threshold of an open door and an old couple at the fireplace lifted welcoming eyes.

"Uncle Lige, do you know whar my mammy is?"

The old man's eyes took on a troubled look, but the old woman answered readily:

"Why, I seed her an' Steve Hawn an' Mavis a-goin' down the crick jest afore dark, an' yo' mammy said as how they was aimin' to go to yo' grandpap's."

It was his grandfather's horn, then, Jason had heard. The lad turned to go, and the old circuit rider rose to his full height.

"Come in, boy. Yo' grandpap had better be a-thinkin' about spreadin' the wings of his immortal sperit, stid o' shakin' them feet o' clay o' his'n an' a-settin' a bad example to the young an' errin'!"

"Hush up!" said the old woman. "The Bible don't say nothin' agin a boy lookin' fer his mammy, no matter whar she is."

She spoke sharply, for Steve Hawn had called her husband out to the gate, where the two had talked in whispers, and the old man had refused flatly to tell her what the talk was about. But Jason had turned without a word and was gone. Out in the darkness of the road he stood for a moment undecided whether or not he should go back to his lonely home, and some vague foreboding started him swiftly on down the creek. On top of a little hill he could see the light in his grandfather's house, and that far away he could hear the rollicking tune of "Sourwood Mountain." The sounds of dancing feet soon came to his ears, and from those sounds he could tell the figures of the dance just as he could tell the gait of an unseen horse thumping a hard dirt road. He leaned over the yard fence--looking, listening, thinking. Through the window he could see the fiddler with his fiddle pressed almost against his heart, his eyes closed, his horny fingers thumping the strings like trip- hammers, and his melancholy calls ringing high above the din of shuffling feet. His grandfather was standing before the fireplace, his grizzled hair tousled and his face red with something more than the spirits of the dance. The colonel was doing the "grand right and left," and his mother was the colonel's partner--the colonel as gallant as though he were leading mazes with a queen and his mother simpering and blushing like a girl. In one corner sat Steve Hawn, scowling like a storm-cloud, and on one bed sat Marjorie and the boy Gray watching the couple and apparently shrieking with laughter; and Jason wondered what they could be laughing about. Little Mavis was not in sight. When the dance closed he could see the colonel go over to the little strangers and, seizing each by the hand, try to pull them from the bed into the middle of the floor. Finally they came, and the boy, looking through the window, and Mavis, who suddenly appeared in the door leading to the porch, saw a strange sight. Gray took Marjorie's right hand with his left and put his right arm around her waist and then to the stirring strains of "Soapsuds Over the Fence" they whirled about the room as lightly as two feathers in an eddy of air. It was a two-step and the first round dance ever seen in these hills, and the mountaineers took it silently, grimly, and with little sign of favor or disapproval, except from old Jason, who, looking around for Mavis, caught sight of little Jason's wondering face over her shoulder, for the boy had left the blurred window-pane and hurried around to the back door for a better view. With a whoop the old man reached for the little girl, and gathered in the boy with his other hand.

"Hyeh!" he cried, "you two just git out thar an' shake a foot!"

Little Mavis hung back, but the boy bounded into the middle of the floor and started into a furious jig, his legs as loose from the hip as a jumping-jack and the soles and heels of his rough brogans thumping out every note of the music with astonishing precision and rapidity. He hardly noticed Mavis at first, and then he began to dance toward her, his eyes flashing and fixed on hers and his black locks tumbling about his forehead as though in an electric storm. The master was calling and the maid answered--shyly at first, coquettishly by and by, and then, forgetting self and onlookers, with a fiery abandon that transformed her. Alternately he advanced and she retreated, and when, with a scornful toss of that night-black head, the boy jigged away, she would relent and lure him back, only to send him on his way again. Sometimes they were back to back and the colonel saw that always then the girl was first to turn, but if the lad turned first, the girl whirled as though she were answering the dominant spirit of his eyes even through the back of her head, and, looking over to the bed, he saw his own little kinswoman answering that same masterful spirit in a way that seemed hardly less hypnotic. Even Gray's clear eyes, fixed at first on the little mountain girl, had turned to Jason, but they were undaunted and smiling, and when Jason, seeing Steve's face at the window and his mother edging out through the front door, seemed to hesitate in his dance, and Mavis, thinking he was about to stop, turned panting away from him, Gray sprang from the bed like a challenging young buck and lit facing the mountain boy and in the midst of a double-shuffle that the amazed colonel had never seen outdone by any darkey on his farm.

"Jenny with a ruff-duff a-kickin' up the dust," clicked his feet.

"Juba this and Juba that!
Juba killed a yaller cat!
Juba! Juba!"

"Whoop!" yelled old Jason, bending his huge body and patting his leg and knee to the beat of one big cowhide boot and urging them on in a frenzy of delight:

"Come on, Jason! Git atter him, stranger! Whoop her up thar with that fiddle--Heh--ee--dum dee--eede-eedle--dedee-dee!"

Then there was dancing. The fiddler woke like a battery newly charged, every face lighted with freshened interest, and only the colonel and Marjorie showed surprise and mystification. The double-shuffle was hardly included in the curriculum of the colonel's training school for a gentleman, and where, when, and how the boy had learned such Ethiopian skill, neither he nor Marjorie knew. But he had it and they enjoyed it to the full. Gray's face wore a merry smile, and Jason, though he was breathing hard and his black hair was plastered to his wet forehead, faced his new competitor with rallying feet but a sullen face. "The Forked Deer," "Big Sewell Mountain," and "Cattle Licking Salt" for Jason, and the back-step, double-shuffle, and "Jim Crow" for Gray; both improvising their own steps when the fiddler raised his voice in "Comin' up, Sandy," "Chicken in the Dough-Tray," and "Sparrows on the Ash-Bank"; and thus they went through all the steps known to the negro or the mountaineer, until the colonel saw that game little Jason, though winded, would go on till he dropped, and gave Gray a sign that the boy's generous soul caught like a flash; for, as though worn out himself, he threw up his hands with a laugh and left the floor to Jason. Just then there was the crack of a Winchester from the darkness outside. Simultaneously, as far as the ear could detect, there was a sharp rap on a window-pane, as a bullet sped cleanly through, and in front of the fire old Jason's mighty head sagged suddenly and he crumbled into a heap on the floor. Arch Hawn had carried his business deal through. The truce was over and the feud was on again.

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