Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
It was court day at the county-seat. A Honeycutt had shot down a Hawn in the open street, had escaped, and a Hawn posse was after him. The incident was really a far effect of the recent news that Jason Hawn was soon coming back home--and coming back to live. Straightway the professional sneaks and scandal-mongers of both factions got busy to such purpose that the Honeycutts were ready to believe that the sole purpose of Jason's return was to revive the feud and incidentally square a personal account with little Aaron. Old Jason Hawn had started home that afternoon almost apoplectic with rage, for word had been brought him that little Aaron had openly said that it was high time that Jason Hawn came home to look after his cousin and Gray Pendleton went home to take care of his. It was a double insult, and to the old man's mind subtly charged with a low meaning. Old as he was, he had tried to find little Aaron, but the boy had left town.
Gray and Mavis were seated on the old man's porch when he came in sight of his house, for it was Saturday, and Mavis started the moment she saw her grandfather's face, and rose to meet him.
"What's the matter, grandpap?" The old man waved her back. "Git back inter the house," he commanded shortly. "No--stay whar you air. When do you two aim to git married?" Had a bolt of lightning flashed through the narrow sunlit space between him and them, the pair could not have been more startled, blinded. Mavis flushed angrily, paled, and wheeled into the house. Gray rose in physical response to the physical threat in the old man's tone and fearlessly met the eyes that were glaring at him.
"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Hawn," he said respectfully. "I-- "
"The hell you don't," broke in the old man furiously. "I'll give ye jes two minutes to hit the road and git a license. I'll give ye an hour an' a half to git back. An' if you don't come back I'll make Jason foller you to the mouth o' the pit o' hell an' bring ye back alive or dead." Again the boy tried to speak, but the old man would not listen.
"Git!" he cried, and, as the boy still made no move, old Jason hurried on trembling legs into the house. Gray heard him cursing and searching inside, and at the corner of the house appeared Mavis with both of the old man's pistols and his Winchester.
"Go on, Gray," she said, and her face was still red with shame. "You'll only make him worse, an' he'll kill you sure."
Gray shook his head: "No!"
"Please, Gray," she pleaded; "for God's sake--for my sake."
That the boy could not withstand. He started for the gate with his hat in hand--is head high, and, as he slowly passed through the gate and turned, the old man reappeared, looked fiercely after him, and sank into a chair sick with rage and trembling. As Mavis walked toward him with his weapons he glared at her, but she passed him by as though she did not see him, and put the Winchester and pistols in their accustomed places. She came out with her bonnet in her hand, and already her calmness and her silence had each had its effect--old Jason was still trembling, but from his eyes the rage was gone.
"I'm goin' home, grandpap," she said quietly, "an' if it wasn't for grandma I wouldn't come back. You've been bullyin' an' rough- ridin' over men-folks and women-folks all your life, but you can't do it no more with me. An' you're not goin' to meddle in my business any more. You know I'm a good girl--why didn't you go after the folks who've been talkin' instead o' pitchin' into Gray? You know he'd die before he'd harm a hair o' my head or allow you or anybody else to say anything against my good name. An' I tell you to your face"--her tone fiercened suddenly--"if you hadn't 'a' been an old man an' my grandfather, he'd 'a' killed you right here. An' I'm goin' to tell you something more. He ain't responsible for this talk--I am. He didn't know it was goin' on- -I did. I'm not goin' to marry him to please you an' the miserable tattletales you've been listenin' to. I reckon I ain't good enough--but I know my kinfolks ain't fit to be his--even by marriage. My daddy ain't, an' you ain't, an' there ain't but one o' the whole o' our tribe who is--an' that's little Jason Hawn. Now you let him alone an' you let me alone."
She put her bonnet on, flashed to the gate, and disappeared in the dusk down the road. The old man's shaggy head had dropped forward on his chest, he had shrunk down in his chair bewildered, and he sat there a helpless, unanswering heap. When the moon rose, Mavis was seated on the porch with her chin in both hands. The old circuit rider and his wife had gone to bed. A whippoorwill was crying with plaintive persistence far up a ravine, and the night was deep and still about her, save for the droning of insect life from the gloomy woods. Straight above her stars glowed thickly, and in a gap of the hills beyond the river, where the sun had gone down, the evening star still hung like a great jewel on the velvety violet curtain of the night, and upon that her eyes were fixed. On the spur above, her keen ears caught the soft thud of a foot against a stone, and her heart answered. She heard a quick leap across the branch, the sound of a familiar stride along the road, and saw the quick coming of a familiar figure along the edge of the moonlight, but she sat where she was and as she was until Gray, with hat in hand, stood before her, and then only did she lift to him eyes that were dark as the night but shining like that sinking star in the little gap. The boy went down on one knee before her, and gently pulled both of her, hands away from her face with both his own, and held them tightly.
"Mavis," he said, "I want you to marry me--won't you, Mavis?"
The girl showed no surprise, said nothing--she only disengaged her hands, took his face into them, and looked with unwavering silence deep into his eyes, looked until he saw that the truth was known in hers, and then he dropped his face into her lap and she put her hands on his head and bent over him, so that her heart beat with the throbbing at his temples. For a moment she held him as though she were shielding him from every threatening danger, and then she lifted his face again.
"No, Gray--it won't do--hush, now." She paused a moment to get self-control, and then she went on rapidly, as though what she had to say had been long prepared and repeated to herself many times:
"I knew you were coming to-night. I know why you were so late. I know why you came. Hush, now--I know all that, too. Why, Gray, ever since I saw you the first time--you remember?--why, it seems to me that ever since then, even, I've been thinkin' o' this very hour. All the time I was goin' to school when I first went to the Blue-grass, when I was walkin' in the fields and workin' around the house and always lookin' to the road to see you passin' by--I was thinkin', thinkin' all the time. It seems to me every night of my life I went to sleep thinkin'--I was alone so much and I was so lonely. It was all mighty puzzlin' to me, but that time you didn't take me to that dance--hush now--I began to understand. I told Jason an' he only got mad. He didn't understand, for he was wilful and he was a man, and men don't somehow seem to see and take things like women--they just want to go ahead and make them the way they want them. But I understood right then. And then when I come here the thinkin' started all over again differently when I was goin' back and forwards from school and walkin' around in the woods and listenin' to the wood-thrushes, and sittin' here in the porch at night alone and lyin' up in the loft there lookin' out of the little window. And when I heard you were comin' here I got to thinkin' differently, because I got to hopin' differently and wonderin' if some miracle mightn't yet happen in this world once more. But I watched you here, and the more I watched you, the more I began to go back and think as I used to think. Your people ain't mine, Gray, nor mine yours, and they won't benot in our lifetime. I've seen you shrinkin' when you've been with me in the houses of some of my own kin--shrinkin' at the table at grandpap's and here, at the way folks eat an' live--shrinkin' at oaths and loud voices and rough talk and liquor-drinkin' and all this talk about killin' people, as though they were nothin' but hogs--shrinkin' at everybody but me. If we stayed here, the time would come when you'd be shrinkin' from me--don't now! But you ain't goin' to stay here, Gray. I've heard Uncle Arch say you'd never make a business man. You're too trustin', you've been a farmer and a gentleman for too many generations. You're goin' back home--you've got to--some day--I know that, and then the time would come when you'd be ashamed of me if I went with you. It's the same way with Jason and Marjorie. Jason will have to come back here--how do you suppose Marjorie would feel here, bein' a woman, if you feel the way you do, bein' a man? Why, the time would come when she'd be ashamed o' him--only worse. It won't do, Gray." She turned his face toward the gap in the hills.
"You see that star there? Well, that's your star, Gray. I named it for you, and every night I've been lookin' out at it from my window in the loft. And that's what you've been to me and what Marjorie's been to Jason--just a star--a dream. We're not really real to each other--you an' me--and Marjorie and Jason ain't. Only Jason and I are real to each other and only you and Marjorie, Jason and I have been worshippin' stars, and they've looked down mighty kindly on us, so that they came mighty nigh foolin' us and themselves. I read a book the other day that said ideals were stars and were good to point the way, but that people needed lamps to follow that way. It won't do, Gray. You are goin' back home to carry a lamp for Marjorie, and maybe Jason'll come back to these hills to carry a lantern for me."
Throughout the long speech the boy's eyes had never wavered from hers. After one or two efforts to protest he had listened quite intensely, marvelling at the startling revelation of such depths of mind and heart-the startling penetration to the truth, for he knew it was the truth. And when she rose he stayed where he was, clinging to her hand, and kissing it reverently. He was speechless even when, obeying the impulse of her hand, he rose in front of her and she smiled gently.
"You don't have to say one word, Gray--I understand, bless your dear, dear heart, I understand. Good-by, now." She stretched out her hand, but his trembling lips and the wounded helplessness in his eyes were too much for her, and she put her arms around him, drew his head to her breast, and a tear followed her kiss to his forehead. At the door she paused a moment.
"And until he comes," she half-whispered, "I reckon I'll keep my lamp burning." Then she was gone.
Slowly the boy climbed back to the little house on the spur, and to the porch, on which he sank wearily. While he and Marjorie and Jason were blundering into a hopeless snarl of all their lives, this mountain girl, alone with the hills and the night and the stars, had alone found the truth--and she had pointed the way. The camp lights twinkled below. The moon swam in majestic splendor above. The evening star still hung above the little western gap in the hills. It was his star; it was sinking fast: and she would keep her lamp burning. When he climbed to his room, the cry of the whippoorwill in the ravine came to him through his window--futile, persistent, like a human wail for happiness. The boy went to his knees at his bedside that night, and the prayer that went on high from the depths of his heart was that God would bring the wish of her heart to Mavis Hawn.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.