“Where’s Steve, mammy?” called Jason in a panting whisper, and when she nodded back through the open door his throat eased and he gulped his relief.
“Is he all right?”
She looked at him queerly, tried to speak, and began to tremble so violently that he stepped quickly past her and stopped on the threshold—shuddering. A human shape lay hidden under a brilliantly colored quilt on his mother’s bed, and the rigidity of death had moulded its every outline.
“I reckon you’ve done it at last, Jasie,” said a dead, mechanical voice behind him.
“Good God, mammy—it must have been Gray or me.”
“One of you, shore. He said he saw you shoot at the same time, and only one of you hit him. I hope hit was you.”
Jason turned—horrified, but she was calm and steady now.
“Hit was fitten fer you to be the one. Babe never killed yo’ daddy, Jasie—hit was Steve.”
Gray Pendleton, hearing from a house-servant of the death of Steve Hawn, hurried over to offer his help and sympathy, and Martha Hawn, too quick for Jason’s protest, let loose the fact that the responsibility for that death lay between the two. To her simple faith it was Jason’s aim that the intervening hand of God had directed, but she did not know what the law of this land might do to her boy, and perhaps her motive was to shield him if possible. While she spoke, one of her hands was hanging loosely at her side and the other was clenched tightly at her breast.
“What have you got there, mammy?” said Jason gently. She hesitated, and at last held out her hand—in the palm lay a misshapen bullet.
“Steve give me this—hit was the one that got him, he said. He said mebbe you boys could tell whichever one’s gun hit come from.”
Both looked at the piece of battered, blood-stained lead with fascinated horror until Gray, with a queer little smile, took it from her hand, for he knew, what Jason did not, that the night before they had used guns of a different calibre, and now his heart and brain worked swiftly and to a better purpose than he meant, or would ever know.
“Come on, Jason, you and I will settle the question right now.”
And, followed by mystified Jason, he turned from the porch and started across the yard. Standing in the porch, the mother saw the two youths stop at the fence, saw Gray raise his right hand high, and then the piece of lead whizzed through the air and dropped with hardly more than the splash of a raindrop in the centre of the pond. The mother understood and she gulped hard. For a moment the two talked and she saw them clasp hands. Then Gray turned toward home and Jason came slowly back to the house. The boy said nothing, the stony calm of the mother’s face was unchanged—their eyes met and that was all.