The girl shrank away from him, too startled to take the weapon; and he leaned it against her, and stood away, with his hands behind him.
Kill me ef ye think I'm a-lyin' to ye," he said. "Y'u kin git even with me now. But I want to tell ye fust "-the girl had caught the muzzle of the gun convulsively, and was bending over it, her eyes burning, her face inscrutable-hit was a fa'r fight betwixt us, 'n' I whooped him. He got his gun then, 'n' would 'a' killed me ag'in' his oath ef he hadn't been shot fust Hit's so, too, 'bout the crosses. I made 'em; they're right thar on that gun; but whut could I do with mam a-standin' right thar with the gun 'n' Uncle Rufe a-tellin' 'bout my own dad layin' in his blood, 'n' Isom 'n' the boys lookin' on! But I went ag'in' my oath; I gave him his life when I had the right to take it. I could 'a' killed yer dad once, 'n' I had the right to kill him, too, fer killin' mine; but I let him go, 'n' I reckon I done that fer ye, too. 'Pears like I hain't done nothin' sence I seed ye over thar in the mill that day that wasn't done fer ye. Somehow ye put me dead ag'in' my own kin, 'n' tuk away all my hate ag'in' yourn. I couldn't fight fer thinkin' I was fightin' you, 'n' when I seed ye comm' through the bushes jes now, so white 'n' sickly-like, I couldn't hardly git breath, a-thinkin' I was the cause of all yer misery. That's all!" He stretched out his arms. Shoot, gal, ef ye don't believe me. I'd jes as lieve die, ef ye thinks I'm lyin' to ye, 'n' ef ye hates me fer whut I hain't done."
The gun had fallen to the earth. The girl, trembling at the knees, sank to her seat on the porch, and, folding her arms against the pillar, pressed her forehead against them, her face unseen. Rome stooped to pick up the weapon.
"I'm goin' 'way now," he went on, slowly, after a little pause, "but I couldn't leave hyeh without seem' you. I wanted ye to know the truth, 'n' I 'lowed y'u'd believe me ef I tol' ye myself. I've been a-waitin' thar in the lorrel fer ye sence mornin'. Uncle Gabe tol' me ye come hyeh ever' day. He says I've got to go. I've been hopin' I mought come out o' the bushes some day. But Uncle Gabe says ever'body's ag'in' me more' n ever, 'n' that the soldiers mean to ketch me. The gov'ner out thar in the settlements says as how he'll give five hundred dollars fer me, livin' or dead. He'll nuver git me livin'-I've swore that-'n' as I hev done nothin' sech as folks on both sides hev done who air walkin' roun' free, I hain't goin' to give up. Hit's purty hard to leave these mount'ins. Reckon I'll nuver see 'em ag'in. Been livin' like a catamount over thar on the knob. I could jes see you over hyeh, 'n' I reckon I hain't done much 'cept lay over thar on a rock 'n' watch ye movin' round. Hit's mighty good to feel that ye believe me, 'n' I want ye to know that I been stayin' over thar fer nothin' on earth but jes to see you ag'in; 'n' I want ye to know that I was a-sorrowin' fer ye when y'u was sick, 'n' a-pinin' to see ye, 'n' a-hopin' some day y'u mought kinder git over yer hate fer me." He had been talking with low tenderness, half to himself, and with his face to the river, and he did not see the girl's tears falling to the porch. Her sorrow gave way in a great sob now, and he turned with sharp remorse, and stood quite near her.
"Don't cry, Marthy," he said. "God knows hit's hard to think I've brought all this on ye when I'd give all these mount 'ins to save ye from it. Whut d' ye say? Don't cry."
The girl was trying to speak at last, and Rome bent over to catch the words.
"I hain't cryin' fer myself," she said, faintly, and then she said no more; but the first smile that had passed over Rome's face for many a day passed then, and he put out one big hand, and let it rest on the heap of lustrous hair.
"Marthy, I hate to go 'way, leavin' ye hyeh with nobody to take keer o' ye. You're all alone hyeh in the mount'ins; I'm all alone; 'n' I reckon I'll be all alone wharever I go, ef you stay hyeh. I got a boat down thar on the river, 'n' I'm goin' out West whar Uncle Rufe use to live. I know I hain't good fer nothin' much "-he spoke almost huskily; he could scarcely get the words to his lips-" but I want ye to go with me. Won't ye?"