A girl sat on the mossy river-bank in the dappled, golden sunlight. Frowning eyes fixed on a sweeping eddy, she watched without seeing the racing current. Her slim, supple body, crouched and tense, was motionless, but her soul seethed tumultuously. In the bosom of her coarse linsey gown lay hidden a note. Through it destiny called her to the tragic hour of decision.
The foliage of the young pawpaws stirred behind her. Furtively a pair of black eyes peered forth and searched the opposite bank of the stream, the thicket of rhododendrons above, the blooming laurels below. Very stealthily a handsome head pushed out through the leaves.
"'Lindy," a voice whispered.
The girl gave a start, slowly turned her head. She looked at the owner of the voice from steady, deep-lidded eyes. The pulse in her brown throat began to beat. One might have guessed her with entire justice a sullen lass, untutored of life, passionate, and high-spirited, resentful of all restraint. Hers was such beauty as lies in rich blood beneath dark coloring, in dusky hair and eyes, in the soft, warm contours of youth. Already she was slenderly full, an elemental daughter of Eve, primitive as one of her fur-clad ancestors. No forest fawn could have been more sensuous or innocent than she.
Again the man's glance swept the landscape cautiously before he moved out from cover. In the country of the Clantons there was always an open season on any one of his name.
"What are you doin' here, Dave Roush?" the girl demanded. "Are you crazy?"
"I'm here because you are, 'Lindy Clanton," he answered promptly. "That's a right good reason, ain't it?"
The pink splashed into her cheeks like spilled wine.
"You'd better go. If dad saw you-"
He laughed hardily. "There'd be one less Roush-or one less Clanton," he finished for her.
Dave Roush was a large, well-shouldered man, impressive in spite of his homespun. If he carried himself with a swagger there was no lack of boldness in him to back it. His long hair was straight and black and coarse, a derivative from the Indian strain in his blood.
"Git my note?" he asked.
She nodded sullenly.
'Lindy had met Dave Roush at a dance up on Lonesome where she had no business to be. At the time she had been visiting a distant cousin in a cove adjacent to that creek. Some craving for adventure, some instinct of defiance, had taken her to the frolic where she knew the Roush clan would be in force. From the first sight of her Dave had wooed her with a careless bravado that piqued her pride and intrigued her interest. The girl's imagination translated in terms of romance his insolence and audacity. Into her starved existence he brought color and emotion.
Did she love him? 'Lindy was not sure. He moved her at times to furious anger, and again to inarticulate longings she did not understand. For though she was heritor of a life full-blooded and undisciplined, every fiber of her was clean and pure. There were hours when she hated him, glimpsed in him points of view that filled her with vague distrust. But always he attracted her tremendously.
"You're goin' with me, gal," he urged.
Close to her hand was a little clump of forget-me-nots which had pushed through the moss. 'Lindy feigned to be busy picking the blossoms.
"No," she answered sulkily.
"Yes. To-night-at eleven o'clock, 'Lindy,-under the big laurel."
While she resented his assurance, it none the less coerced her. She did not want a lover who groveled in the dust before her. She wanted one to sweep her from her feet, a young Lochinvar to compel her by the force of his personality.
"I'll not be there," she told him.
"We'll git right across the river an' be married inside of an hour."
"I tell you I'm not goin' with you. Quit pesterin' me."
His devil-may-care laugh trod on the heels of her refusal. He guessed shrewdly that circumstances were driving her to him. The girl was full of resentment at her father's harsh treatment of her. Her starved heart craved love. She was daughter of that Clanton who led the feud against the Roush family and its adherents. Dave took his life in his hands every time he crossed the river to meet her. Once he had swum the stream in the night to keep an appointment. He knew that his wildness, his reckless courage and contempt of danger, argued potently for him. She was coming to him as reluctantly and surely as a wild turkey answers the call of the hunter.
The sound of a shot, not distant, startled them. He crouched, wary as a rattlesnake about to strike. The rifle seemed almost to leap forward.
"Hit's Bud-my brother Jimmie." She pushed him back toward the pawpaws.
"Quick! Burn the wind!"
"What about to-night? Will you come?"
"Hurry. I tell you hit's Bud. Are you lookin' for trouble?"
He stopped stubbornly at the edge of the thicket. "I ain't runnin' away from it. I put a question to ye. When I git my answer mebbe I'll go. But I don't 'low to leave till then."
"I'll meet ye there if I kin git out. Now go," she begged.