"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 evident

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