The tobacco was dry now, for the autumn was at hand. It must come to case yet, then it must be stripped, the grades picked out, and left then in bulk for sale. With all this Jason had nothing to do. He had done good work on his books during the spring and autumn, such good work that, with the old president’s gladly given permission, he was allowed a special examination which admitted him with but one or two “conditions” into his own sophomore class. Then was there the extraordinary spectacle of a college boy— quiet, serious, toiling—making the slow way toward the humanities under charge of murder and awaiting trial for his life. And that course Jason Hawn followed with a dignity, reticence, and self-effacement that won the steadily increasing respect of every student and teacher within the college walls. A belief in his innocence became wide-spread, and that coming trial began to be regarded in time as a trial of the good name of the college itself. A change of venue had been obtained and the trial was to be held in the college town. It came in mid-December. Jason, neatly dressed, sat beside his lawyer, and his mother, in black, and Mavis sat quite near him. In the first row among the spectators were Gray and Marjorie and Colonel Pendleton. Behind them was John Burnham, and about him and behind him were several other professors, while the room was crowded with students. The boy was pale when he went to the witness-chair, and the court-room was as still as a wooded ravine in the hills when he began to tell his story, which apparently no other soul than his own lawyer had ever heard; indeed it was soon apparent that even he had never heard it all.
“I went down there to kill him,” the boy said calmly, though his eyes were two deep points of fire—so calmly, indeed, that as one man the audience gasped audibly—“an’ I reckon all of ye know why. My grandpap al’ays told me the meanest thing a man could do was to shoot another man in the back. I tried for three days to git face to face with him. I knowed he had a gun all the time, an’ I meant to give him a fair chance fer his life. That mornin’ I heard through the walls of the boardin’-house I was in—an’ I didn’t know who was doin’ the talkin’—that the man was goin’ to be waylaid right then an’ I run over to that ex-ec-u-tive building to reach Steve Hawn an’ keep him anyways from doin’ the shootin’. I heard the shots soon as I got inside the door, and purty soon I met Steve runnin’ down the stairs. ‘I didn’t do it!’ Steve says, ‘but any feller from the mountains better git away from here.’ We run out through the yard an’ got into Steve’s buggy an’ travelled the road till we was ketched—an’ that’s all I know.”
And that was all. No other fact, no other admission, no other statement could the rigid, bitter cross-examination bring from the lad’s lips than just those words; and those words alone the jury carried to their room. Nor were they long gone. Back they came, and again the court-room was as the holding in of one painful breath, and then tears started in the eyes of the woman in black, the mountain girl by her side, and in Marjorie’s, and the court-room broke into stifled cheer, for the words all heard were: