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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 42
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The Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 42 Post by :promonde Category :Long Stories Author :John Fox Date :May 2012 Read :2502

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The Heart Of The Hills - Chapter 42

CHAPTER XLII

Gray 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 was clenched tightly at her breast.

"What have you got there, mammy?" said Jason gently. She hesitated, and at last held out her hand--in the palm lay a misshapen bullet.

"Steve give me this--hit was the one that got him, he said. He said mebbe you boys could tell whichever one's gun hit come from."

Both looked at the piece of battered, blood-stained lead with fascinated horror until Gray, with a queer little smile, took it from her hand, for he knew, what Jason did not, that the night before they had used guns of a different calibre, and now his heart and brain worked swiftly and to a better purpose than he meant, or would ever know.

"Come on, Jason, you and I will settle the question right now."

And, followed by mystified Jason, he turned from the porch and started across the yard. Standing in the porch, the mother saw the two youths stop at the fence, saw Gray raise his right hand high, and then the piece of lead whizzed through the air and dropped with hardly more than the splash of a raindrop in the centre of the pond. The mother understood and she gulped hard. For a moment the two talked and she saw them clasp hands. Then Gray turned toward home and Jason came slowly back to the house. The boy said nothing, the stony calm of the mother's face was unchanged--their eyes met and that was all.

An hour later, John Burnham came over, told Jason to stay with his mother, and went forthwith to town. Within a few hours all was quickly, quietly done, and that night Jason started with his mother and the body of Mavis's father back to the hills. The railroad had almost reached the county-seat now, and at the end of it old Jason Hawn and Mavis were waiting in the misty dawn with two saddled horses and a spring wagon. The four met with a handshake, a grave "how-dye," and no further speech. And thus old Jason and Martha Hawn jolted silently ahead, and little Jason and Mavis followed silently behind. Once or twice Jason turned to look at her. She was in black, and the whiteness of her face, unstained with tears, lent depth and darkness to her eyes, but the eyes were never turned toward him.

When they entered town there were Hawns in front of one store and one hotel on one side of the street. There were Honeycutts in front of one store and one hotel on the other side, and Jason saw the lowering face of little Aaron, and towering in one group the huge frame of Babe Honeycutt. Silently the Hawns fell in behind on horseback, and on foot, and gravely the Honeycutts watched the procession move through the town and up the winding road.

The pink-flecked cups of the laurel were dropping to the ground, the woods were starred with great white clusters of rhododendron, wood-thrushes, unseen, poured golden rills of music from every cool ravine, air and sunlight were heavy with the richness of June, and every odor was a whisper, every sound a voice, and every shaking leaf a friendly little beckoning hand--all giving him welcome home. The boy began to choke with memories, but Mavis still gave no sign. Once she turned her head when they passed her little log school-house where was a little group of her pupils who had not known they were to have a holiday that day, and whose faces turned awe-stricken when they saw the reason, and sympathetic when Mavis gave them a kindly little smile. Up the creek there and over the sloping green plain of the tree-tops hung a cloud of smoke from the mines. A few moments more and they emerged from an arched opening of trees. The lightning-rod of old Jason's house gleamed high ahead, and on the sunny crest of a bare little knoll above it were visible the tiny homes built over the dead in the graveyard of the Hawns. And up there, above the murmuring sweep of the river, and with many of his kin who had died in a similar way, they laid "slick Steve" Hawn. The old circuit rider preached a short funeral sermon, while Mavis and her mother stood together, the woman dry-eyed, much to the wonder of the clan, the girl weeping silently at last, and Jason behind them--solemn, watchful, and with his secret working painfully in his heart. He had forbade his mother to tell Mavis, and perhaps he would never tell her himself; for it might be best for her never to know that her father had raised the little mound under which his father slept but a few yards away, and that in turn his hands, perhaps, were lowering Steve Hawn into his grave.

From the graveyard all went to old Jason's house, for the old man insisted that Martha Hawn must make her home with him until young Jason came back to the mountains for good. Until then Mavis, too, would stay there with Jason's mother, and with deep relief the boy saw that the two women seemed drawn to each other closer than ever now. In the early afternoon old Jason limped ahead of him to the barn to show his stock, and for the first time Jason noticed how feeble his grandfather was and how he had aged during his last sick spell. His magnificent old shoulders had drooped, his walk was shuffling, and even the leonine spirit of his bushy brows and deep-set eyes seemed to have lost something of its old fire. But that old fire blazed anew when the old man told him about the threats and insults of little Aaron Honeycutt, and the story of Mavis and Gray.

"Mavis in thar," he rumbled, "stood up fer him agin me--agin ME. She 'lowed thar wasn't a Hawn fitten to be kinfolks o' his even by marriage, less'n 'twas you."

"ME?"

"An' she told me--ME--to mind my own business. Is that boy Gray comin' back hyeh?"

"Yes, sir, if his father gets well, and maybe he'll come anyhow."

"Well, that gal in thar is plum' foolish about him, but I'm goin' to let you take keer o' all that now."

Jason answered nothing, for the memory of Gray's worshipping face, when he went down the walk with Marjorie at Gray's own home, came suddenly back to him, and the fact that Mavis was yet in love with Gray began to lie with sudden heaviness on his mind and not lightly on his heart.

"An' as fer little Aaron Honeycutt--"

Over the barn-yard gate loomed just then the huge shoulders of Babe Honeycutt coming from the house where he had gone to see his sister Martha. Jason heard the shuffling of big feet and he turned to see Babe coming toward him fearlessly, his good-natured face in a wide smile and his hand outstretched. Old Jason peered through his spectacles with some surprise, and then grunted with much satisfaction when they shook hands.

"Well, Jason, I'm glad you air beginnin' to show some signs o' good sense. This feud business has got to stop--an' now that you two air shakin' hands, hit all lays betwixt you and little Aaron."

Babe colored and hesitated.

"That's jus' whut I wanted to say to Jason hyeh. Aaron's drinkin' a good deal now. I hears as how he's a-threatenin' some, but if Jason kind o' keeps outen his way an' they git together when he's sober, hit'll be easy."

"Yes," said old Jason, grimly, "but I reckon you Honeycutts had better keep Aaron outen his way a leetle, too."

"I'm a-doin' all I can," said Babe earnestly, and he slouched away.

"Got yo' gun, Jason?"

"No."

"Well, you kin have mine till you git away again. I want all this feud business stopped, but I hain't goin' to have you shot down like a turkey at Christmas by a fool boy who won't hardly know whut he's doin'."

Jason started for the house, but the old man stayed at the stable to give directions to a neighbor who had come to feed his stock. It sickened the boy to think that he must perhaps be drawn into the feud again, but he would not be foolish enough not to take all precaution against young Aaron. At the yard fence he stopped, seeing Mavis under an apple-tree with one hand clutching a low bough and her tense face lifted to the west. He could see that the hand was clenched tightly, for even the naked forearm was taut as a bowstring. The sun was going down in the little gap, above it already one pale star was swung, and upon it her eyes seemed to be fixed. She heard his step and he knew it, for he saw her face flush, but without looking around she turned into the house. That night she seemed to avoid the chance that he might speak to her alone, and the boy found himself watching her covertly and closely, for he recalled what Gray had said about her. Indeed, some change had taken place that was subtle and extraordinary. He saw his mother deferring to her--leaning on her unconsciously. And old Jason, to the boy's amazement, was less imperious when she was around, moderated his sweeping judgments, looked to her from under his heavy brows, apparently for approval or to see that at least he gave no offence--deferred to her more than to any man or woman within the boy's memory. And Jason himself felt the emanation from her of some new power that was beginning to chain his thoughts to her. All that night Mavis was on his mind, and when he woke next morning it was Mavis, Mavis still. She was clear-eyed, calm, reserved when she told him good-by, and once only she smiled. Old Jason had brought out one of his huge pistols, but Mavis took it from his unresisting hands and Jason rode away unarmed. It was just as well, for as his train started, a horse and a wild youth came plunging down the riverbank, splashed across, and with a yell charged up to the station. Through the car window Jason saw that it was little Aaron, flushed of face and with a pistol in his hand, looking for him. A sudden storm of old instincts burst suddenly within him, and had he been armed he would have swung from the train and settled accounts then and there. As it was, he sat still and was borne away shaken with rage from head to foot.

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CHAPTER XLIIICommencement day was over, Jason Hawn had made his last speech in college, and his theme was "Kentucky." In all seriousness and innocence he had lashed the commonwealth for lawlessness from mountain-top to river-brim, and his own hills he had flayed mercilessly. In all seriousness and innocence, when he was packing his bag three hours later in "Heaven," he placed his big pistol on top of his clothes so that when the lid was raised, the butt of it would be within an inch of his right hand. On his way home he might meet little Aaron on the train,
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CHAPTER XLIJason 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
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