“I don’t know, sir,” he said at last.
“Don’t know?” echoed the colonel. “Well—”
The old man broke in:
“Jason, if you have lost yo’ manners an’ don’t know how to behave when thar’s strangers around, I reckon you’d better go on home.”
The boy did not lift his eyes.
“I was a-goin’ home anyhow,” he said, still sullen, and he turned.
“Oh, no!” said the colonel quickly; “this won’t do. Come now—you two boys shake hands.”
At once the stranger lad walked forward to his enemy, and confused Jason gave him a limp hand. The old man laughed. “Come on in, Jason—you an’ Mavis—an’ stay to supper.”
The boy shook his head.
“I got to be gittin’ back home,” he said, and without a word more he turned again. Marjorie looked toward the little girl, but she, too, was starting.
“I better be gittin’ back too,” she said shyly, and off she ran. Old Jason laughed again.
“Jes’ like two young roosters out thar in my barnyard,” and he turned with the colonel toward the house. But Marjorie and her cousin stood in the porch and watched the two little mountaineers until, without once looking back, they passed over the sunlit hill.
On they trudged, the boy plodding sturdily ahead, the little girl slipping mountain-fashion behind. Not once did she come abreast with him, and not one word did either say, but the mind and heart of both were busy. All the way the frown over-casting the boy’s face stayed like a shadow, for he had left trouble at home, he had met trouble, and to trouble he was going back. The old was definite enough and he knew how to handle it, but the new bothered him sorely. That stranger boy was a fighter, and Jason’s honest soul told him that if interference had not come he would have been whipped, and his pride was still smarting with every step. The new boy had not tried to bite, or gouge, or to hit him when he was on top—facts that puzzled the mountain boy; he hadn’t whimpered and he hadn’t blabbed—not even the insult Jason had hurled with eye and tongue at his girl-clad legs. He had said that he didn’t know what they were fighting about, and just why they were Jason himself couldn’t quite make out now; but he knew that even now, in spite of the hand-shaking truce, he would at the snap of a finger go at the stranger again. And little Mavis knew now that it was not fear that made the stranger girl scream—and she, too, was puzzled. She even felt that the scorn in Marjorie’s face was not personal, but she had shrunk from it as from the sudden lash of a whip. The stranger girl, too, had not blabbed but had even seemed to smile her forgiveness when Mavis turned, with no good-by, to follow Jason. Hand in hand the two little mountaineers had crossed the threshold of a new world that day. Together they were going back into their own, but the clutch of the new was tight on both, and while neither could have explained, there was the same thought in each mind, the same nameless dissatisfaction in each heart, and both were in the throes of the same new birth.