“Holton!” Frank exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have believed it!”
“I would,” Madge commented.
“I’ll find him and settle with him for it!” Frank angrily exclaimed.
“I’m afraid that’s easier said than done,” the Colonel answered, “but I’m with you, and we’ll do our best.”
Through the windows came the noise of baying hounds. It instantly attracted their attention, as it ever will that of Kentuckians. “What’s that? A fox-hunt?”
Frank had hurried to the window and was looking out. “No,” he answered, in incredulous amazement, “it’s Holton and his gang. They’re hunting Joe Lorey with dogs!”
Madge hurried to his side, distressed beyond the power of words to tell. “Oh, oh!” she cried. “They’re coming this way, and—and—who’s that?”
As she spoke Joe Lorey dashed up, breathless to the window.
The moonshiner stood there, pathetic in his beaten strength before them.
“They’re huntin’ me with dogs!” he said. “They’re goin’ to string me up without justice or mercy!”
Madge hurried to his side. “Joe, they shan’t do it!” she exclaimed, and took his hand.
“It’ll take more nor you to save me, little one,” he said, and smiled down at her pitifully. “There’s no hope for me, now. That’s why I’ve come hyar, to say to you all, afore I die, that I am innocent o’ firin’ th’ stable.” He threw back his shoulders and stood before them, impressive and convincing. “Afore God, I am innocent!”
Frank looked at him with eyes which, as they gazed, altered their expression. He had thought the man quite possibly guilty of a vicious act—a foul attempt to burn a helpless animal in order to obtain revenge upon the man who owned her. But as he gazed he could not doubt that he was speaking simple truth. “Joe,” he said impulsively, “I believe you!”
Joe turned to him with gratitude plain upon his face. “You believe me—arter all that’s passed?” He looked straight into the eyes of the young man he had hated, with a searching, earnest gaze. “Then,” he said, after a second’s pause, “I believe as what you said, that night, war true. It war never you as ruined me.” He held his hand out to the man whom, not so long ago, he had wished, with all his heart, to kill.
Frank grasped it with a hearty grip, just as the terrifying baying of the hounds approached the house.
“Frank, they’re coming here!” the Colonel cried, excited.
Joe turned away from Frank, looking here and there like a hunted animal. “Oh, it’s hard to die afore I’ve met Lem Lindsay!” he said hopelessly. It was quite plain that he considered his fate sealed.
Even as he spoke Holton and half-a-dozen others sprang to the broad gallery which fronted the whole room. Holton was plainly the leader of the party, for when he motioned all the others back, they obeyed his signal without protest, while he, himself, peered eagerly in through a wide, open window.