“Same reason as you once left the mountains—I got inter trouble.”
Steve was startled and he frowned, but the boy gazed coolly back into his angry eyes.
“Whut kind o’ trouble?”
“Same as you—I shot a feller,” said the boy imperturbably.
Little Mavis heard a groan from her step-mother, an angry oath from her father, and a curious pang of horror pierced her.
Silence followed below and the girl lay awake and trembling in her bed.
“Who was it?” Steve asked at last.
“That’s my business,” said little Jason. The silence was broken no more, and Mavis lay with new thoughts and feelings racking her brain and her heart. Once she had driven to town with Marjorie and Gray, and a man had come to the carriage and cheerily shaken hands with them both. After he was gone Gray looked very grave and Marjorie was half unconsciously wiping her right hand with her handkerchief.
“He killed a man,” was Marjorie’s horrified whisper of explanation, and now if they should hear what she had heard they would feel the same way toward her own cousin, Jason Hawn. She had never had such a feeling in the mountains, but she had it now, and she wondered whether she could ever be quite the same toward Jason again.
Christmas was approaching and no greater wonder had ever dawned on the lives of Mavis and Jason than the way these people in the settlements made ready for it. In the mountains many had never heard of Christmas and few of Christmas stockings, Santa Claus, and catching Christmas gifts—not even the Hawns, But Mavis and Jason had known of Christmas, had celebrated it after the mountain way, and knew, moreover, what the Blue-grass children did not know, of old Christmas as well, which came just twelve days after the new. At midnight of old Christmas, so the old folks in the mountains said, the elders bloomed and the beasts of the field and the cattle in the barn kneeled lowing and moaning, and once the two children had slipped out of their grandfather’s house to the barn and waited to watch the cattle and to listen to them, but they suffered from the cold, and when they told what they had done next morning, their grandfather said they had not waited long enough, for it happened just at midnight; so when Mavis and Jason told Marjorie and Gray of old Christmas they all agreed they would wait up this time till midnight sure.
As for new Christmas in the hills, the women paid little attention to it, and to the men it meant “a jug of liquor, a pistol in each hand, and a galloping nag.” Always, indeed, it meant drinking, and target-shooting to see “who should drink and who should smell,” for the man who made a bad shot got nothing but a smell from the jug until he had redeemed himself. So, Steve Hawn and Jason got ready in their own way and Mavis and Martha Hawn accepted their rude preparations as a matter of course.