down the mountain.

Close to the river he heard voices below him, and he turned his

horse quickly aside into the bushes. Two women who had been

washing clothes passed, carrying white bundles home. They were

talking of the coming feud.

"That ar young Stetson ain't much like his dad," said one. "Young

Jas has been a-darin' 'n' a-banterin' him, 'n' he won't take it up. They

say he air turnin' out a plumb coward."

When he reached the Stetson cabin three horses with drooping

heads were hitched to the fence. All had travelled a long way.

One wore a man's saddle; on the others were thick blankets tied

together with leathern thongs.

In the dark porch sat several men. Through the kitchen door he

could see his mother getting supper. Inside a dozen rifles leaned

against the wall in the firelight, and about their butts was a pile of

ammunition. In the doorway stood Rufe Stetson.

IX

ALL were smoking and silent. Several spoke from the shadows as

Rome stepped on the porch, and Rufe Stetson faced him a moment

in the doorway, and laughed.

Seem kinder s'prised? " he said, with a searching look. " Wasn't

lookin' for me? I reckon I'll s'prise sev'ral ef I hev good-luck."

The subtlety of this sent a chuckle of appreciation through the

porch, but Rome passed in without answer.

Isom lay on his bed within the circle of light, and his face in the

brilliant glow was white, and his eyes shone feverishly. " Rome,"

he said, excitedly, " Uncle Rufe's hyeh, 'n' they laywayed him,

'n'____" He paused abruptly. His mother came in, and at her call

the mountaineers trooped through the covered porch, and sat down

to supper in the kitchen. They ate hastily and in silence, the

mother attending their wants, and Rome helping her. The meal

finished, they drew their chairs about the fire. Pipes were lighted,

and Rufe Stetson rose and closed the door.

Thar's no use harryin' the boy," he said; "I reckon he'll be too puny

to take a hand."

The mother stopped clearing the table, and sat on the rock hearth

close to the fire, her withered lips shut tight about a lighted pipe,

and her sunken eyes glowing like the coal of fire in its black bowl.

Now and then she would stretch her knotted hands nervously into

the flames, or knit them about her knees, looking closely at the

heavy faces about her, which had lightened a little with

expectancy. Rufe Stetson stood before the blaze, his hands

clasped behind him, and his huge figure bent in reflection. At

intervals he would look with half-shut eyes at Rome, who Sat with

troubled face outside the firelight. Across the knees of Steve

Marcum, the best marksman in the mountains, lay the barrel of a

new Winchester. Old Sam Day, Rufe's father-in-law and

counsellor to the Stetsons for a score of years, sat as if asleep on

the opposite side of the fireplace from the old mother, with his big

square head pressed down between his misshapen shoulders.

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