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Jason Hawn rode rapidly to one of Morton Sanders' great stables, put his horse away himself, and, avoiding the chance of meeting John Burnham, slipped down the slope to the creek, crossed on a water gap, and struck across the sunset fields for home. He had felt no anger at Marjorie's mysterious outbreak--only bewilderment; and only bewilderment he felt now.
But as he strode along with his eyes on the ground, things began to clear a little. The fact was that, as he had become more enthralled by the girl's witcheries, the more helpless and stupid he had become. Marjorie's nimble wit had played about his that afternoon like a humming-bird around a sullen sunflower. He hardly knew that every word, every glance, every gesture was a challenge, and when she began stinging into him sharp little arrows of taunt and sarcasm he was helpless as the bull's-hide target at which the two sometimes practised archery. Even now when the poisoned points began to fester, he could stir himself to no anger--he only felt dazed and hurt and sore. Nobody was in sight when he reached his mother's home and he sat down on the porch in the twilight wretched and miserable. Around the corner of the house presently he heard his mother and Steve coming, and around there they stopped for some reason for a moment.
"I seed Babe Honeycutt yestiddy," Steve was saying. "He says thar's a lot o' talk goin' on about Mavis an' Gray Pendleton. The Honeycutts air doin' most o' the talkin' an' looks like the ole trouble's comin' up again. Old Jason is tearin' mad an' swears Gray'll have to git out o' them mountains--"
Jason heard them start moving and he rose and went quickly within that they might know he had overheard. After supper he was again on the porch brooding about Mavis and Gray when his mother came out. He knew that she wanted to say something, and he waited.
"Jason," she said finally, "you don't believe Colonel Pendleton cheated Steve--do you?"
"No," said the lad sharply. "Colonel Pendleton never cheated anybody in his life--except himself."
"That's all I wanted to know," she sighed, but Jason knew that was not all she wanted to say.
"Jason, I heerd two fellers in the lane to-day' talkin' about tearin' up Colonel Pendleton's tobacco beds."
The boy was startled, but he did not show it.
"Nothin' but talk, I reckon."
"Well, if I was in his place I'd git some guards."
Marjorie sat at her window a long time that night before she went to sleep. Her mother had come in, had held her tightly to her breast, and had gone out with only a whispered good-night. And while the girl was wondering once more at the strange effect of her naive question, she recalled suddenly the yearning look of her uncle that afternoon when she had mentioned Gray's name. Could there be some thwarted hope in the lives of Gray's father and her mother that both were now trying to realize in the lives of her and Gray? Her mother had never spoken her wish, nor doubtless Gray's father to him--nor was it necessary, for as children they had decided the question themselves, as had Mavis and Jason Hawn, and had talked about it with the same frankness, though with each pair alike the matter had not been mentioned for a long time. Then her mind leaped, and after it leaped her heart--if her Uncle Robert would not let her mother help him, why, she too could never help Gray, unless--why, of course, if Gray were in trouble she would marry him and give him everything she had. The thought made her glow, and she began to wish Gray would come home. He had been a long time in those hills, his father was sick and worried--and what was he doing down there anyhow? He had mentioned Mavis often in his first letters, and now he wrote rarely, and he never spoke of her at all. She began to get resentful and indignant, not only at him but at Mavis, and she went to bed wishing more than ever that Gray would come home. And yet playing around in her brain was her last vision of that mountain boy standing before her, white and silent--"like a gentleman"--and that vision would not pass even in her dreams.
Through Colonel Pendleton's bed-room window an hour later two pistol shots rang sharply, and through that window the colonel saw a man leap the fence around his tobacco beds and streak for the woods. From the shadow of a tree at his yard fence another flame burst, and by its light he saw a crouching figure. He called out sharply, the figure rose and came toward him, and in the moonlight the colonel saw uplifted to him, apologetic and half shamed, the face of Jason Hawn.
"No harm, colonel," he called. "Somebody was tearing up your tobacco beds and I just scared him off. I didn't try to hit him."
The colonel was dazed, but he spoke at last gently.
"Well, well, I can't let you lose your sleep this way, Jason; I'll get some guards now."
"If you won't let me," said the boy quickly, "you ought to send for Gray."
The old gentleman looked thoughtful.
"Of course, perhaps I ought--why, I will."
"He won't come again to-night," said Jason. "I shot close enough to scare him, I reckon, Good-night, colonel."
"Thank you, my boy--good-night."
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