"The time hev come, Rome." Rufe spoke between the puffs of his
pipe, and Rome's heart quickened, for every eye was upon him.
Thar's goin' to be trouble now. I hear as how young Jasper hev
been talkin' purty tall about ye-'lowin' as how ye air afeard O' him."
Rome felt his mother's burning look. He did not turn toward her
nor Rufe, but his face grew sullen, and his voice was low and
harsh. "I reckon he'll find out about that when the time comes," he
said, quietly-too quietly, for the old mother stirred uneasily, and
significant glances went from eye to eye. Rufe did not look up
from the floor. He had been told about Rome's peculiar conduct,
and, while the reason for it was beyond guessing, he knew the
temper of the boy and how to kindle it. He had thrust a thorn in a
tender spot, and he let it rankle. How sorely it did rankle he little
knew. The voice of the woman across the river was still in Rome 5
ears. Nothing cuts the mountaineer to the quick like the name of
coward. It stung him like the lash of an ox-whip then; it smarted
all the way across the river and up the mountain. Young Jasper
had been charging him broadcast with cowardice, and Jasper's
people no doubt believed it. Perhaps his own did
-his uncle, his mother. The bare chance of such a humiliation set
up an inward rage. He wondered how he could ever have been
such a fool as to think of peace. The woman's gossip had swept
kindly impulses from his heart with a fresh tide of bitterness, and,
helpless now against its current, he sullenly gave way, and let his
passions loose to drift with it.
"Whar d' ye git the guns, Rufe? " Steve was testing the action of
the Winchester with a kindling look, as the click of the locks
struck softly through the silence.
"Jackson; 'way up in Breathitt, at the eend of the new road."
"No wonder y'u've been gone so long."
"I had to wait thar fer the guns, 'n' I had to travel atter dark comm'
back, 'n' lay out'n the bresh by day. Hit's full eighty mile up thar."
"Air ye shore nobody seed ye?"
The question was from a Marcum, who had come in late, and
several laughed. Rufe threw back his dusty coat, which was ripped
through the lapel by a bullet.
They seed me well 'nough fer that," he said, grimly, and then he
looked toward Rome, who thought of old Jasper, and gave back a
gleam of fierce sympathy. There were several nods of approval
along with the laugh that followed. It was a surprise-so little
consideration of an escape so narrow-from Rufe; for, as old Gabe
said, Rufe was big and good-natured, and was not thought fit for
leadership. But there was a change in him when he came back
from the West. He was quieter; he laughed less No one spoke of
the difference; it was too vague; but every one felt it, and it had an
effect. His flight had made many uneasy, but his return, for that
reason, brought a stancher fealty from these; and this was evidentDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>