“Somethin’ about the toll-gates.”
A long silence followed.
“The teacher said he was comin’ over to see you and pap.”
After another silence Mavis went on:
“The teacher is that rock-pecker Jason was always a-talkin’ ’bout.”
The woman’s interest was aroused now, for she wondered if he were coming over to ask her any troublesome questions.
“Well, ain’t that queer!”
“An’ that boy an’ gal who was a-stayin’ with grandpap was thar at school too, an’ she axed me to come over an’ see her.” This the step-mother was not surprised to hear, for she knew on whose farm they were living and why they were there, and she had her own reasons for keeping the facts from Mavis.
“Well, you oughter go.”
“I am a-goin’.”
Mavis missed the mountains miserably when she went to bed that night—missed the gloom and lift of them through her window, and the rolling sweep of the land under the moon looked desolate and lonely and more than ever strange. A loping horse passed on the turnpike, and she could hear it coming on the hard road far away and going far away; then a buggy and then a clattering group of horsemen, and indeed everything heralded its approach at a great distance. She missed the stillness of the hills, for on the night air were the barking of dogs, whinny of horses, lowing of cattle, the song of a night-prowling negro, and now and then the screech of a peacock. She missed Jason wretchedly, too, for there had been so much talk of him during the day, and she went to sleep with her lashes wet with tears. Some time during the night she was awakened by pistol-shots, and her dream of Jason made her think that she was at home again. But no mountains met her startled eyes through the window. Instead a red glare hung above the woods, there was the clatter of hoofs on the pike, and flames shot above the tops of the trees. Nor could it be a forest fire such as was common at home, for the woods were not thick enough. This land, it seemed, had troubles of its own, as did her mountains, but at least folks did not burn folks’ houses in the hills.
On the top of a bushy foot-hill the old nag stopped, lifted her head, and threw her ears forward as though to gaze, like any traveller to a strange land, upon the rolling expanse beneath, and the lad on her back voiced her surprise and his own with a long, low whistle of amazement. He folded his hands on the pommel of his saddle and the two searched the plains below long and hard, for neither knew so much level land was spread out anywhere on the face of the earth. The lad had a huge pistol buckled around him; he looked half dead with sleeplessness and the old nag was weary and sore, for Jason was in flight from trouble back in those hills. He had kept his promise to his grandfather that summer, as little Aaron Honeycutt