Frank, angered beyond measure by this bold intrusion, would have sprung toward him, to attack him, had not the Colonel waved him back.
“Frank, my boy,” said he, “keep cool, keep cool!”
As he spoke, without apology, Holton stepped through the window into the room, itself.
“Layson,” he said curtly, “I’m a committee o’ one to ask if you’ll turn over that man, an’ make no trouble.” He jerked a thumb toward Joe.
Layson was wrathful at the man’s intrusion; he had been impressed by what the fugitive had said. “No,” he answered, hotly. “Joe Lorey’s in my house, under my protection, and, by the eternal, you shan’t lay a hand on him!”
The Colonel smiled, delighted. “Kentucky blood!” he cried. “I’ll back you to a finish!”
He ranged himself by Frank, and Madge, as belligerent as either of them, hurried, also, to his side.
“I’m with you, Colonel,” she exclaimed, with the spirit of the mountain-bred, “and we’ll win ag’in, as we did once before!”
Joe saw this with distress. Layson’s generosity had softened him. He knew, perfectly, by this time, that Madge was not for him, and her spirit in joining his defenders—the very men whom he had thought his enemies—touched him deeply. The realization came to him with a quick rush that he had wronged the bluegrass folk whom he had hated with such bitterness. He looked first at those who wished to take him prisoner and make him suffer for a crime of which he was not guilty, and then at his defenders, who had every reason to doubt him, but still, without a question, had accepted his own plea of innocence. He had already made these people trouble. Now was his opportunity to save them from an awkward situation and, perhaps, a perilous one. There might be shooting if he offered to resist or let these good friends attempt to defend him. That would endanger them, and, worse, endanger Madge. “I’ll go. I don’t want to make no trouble,” he said hastily.
Holton nodded with approval. He wished to take the man as quickly and as simply as he could. Every complication which could be avoided would make less probable discovery of the fact that he, himself, and not the fugitive young mountaineer, was the real culprit.
“That’s sensible,” he said, “for them men, out thar, are bound to hev you, by fair means or foul.”
“Those men will listen to reason,” Frank said with a determination which disconcerted the ex-slave dealer. “They shall hear me!” He stepped toward the open window. “Colonel, come with me.” Without waiting for him he stepped to the gallery outside.
The Colonel started to go also, but, seeing that Holton, too, was about to hurry out, paused long enough to go up to him threateningly. “Don’t you dare to follow!” he warned him. “We’ll play this hand alone.” The man fell back and the Colonel kept his eyes on him as, slowly, he joined Frank on the gallery.
Holton’s discomfiture lasted but a moment. As soon as the Colonel had passed out of sight he got his wits back and looked threateningly at Madge and the mountaineer. “We’ll see about that,” he declared viciously, and, making a movement of his hand which indicated that he must be armed, although he had not shown a weapon, so far, moved toward another window which also opened on the gallery.