A man four square, p.1
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       A Man Four-Square, p.1

           William MacLeod Raine
A Man Four-Square

  Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan and the PG OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team

  A Man Four-Square







  A Man Four-Square


  A girl sat on the mossy river-bank in the dappled, golden sunlight.Frowning eyes fixed on a sweeping eddy, she watched without seeing theracing current. Her slim, supple body, crouched and tense, wasmotionless, but her soul seethed tumultuously. In the bosom of her coarselinsey gown lay hidden a note. Through it destiny called her to thetragic hour of decision.

  The foliage of the young pawpaws stirred behind her. Furtively a pair ofblack eyes peered forth and searched the opposite bank of the stream, thethicket of rhododendrons above, the blooming laurels below. Verystealthily 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 ofthe voice from steady, deep-lidded eyes. The pulse in her brown throatbegan to beat. One might have guessed her with entire justice a sullenlass, untutored of life, passionate, and high-spirited, resentful of allrestraint. Hers was such beauty as lies in rich blood beneath darkcoloring, in dusky hair and eyes, in the soft, warm contours of youth.Already she was slenderly full, an elemental daughter of Eve, primitiveas one of her fur-clad ancestors. No forest fawn could have been moresensuous or innocent than she.

  Again the man's glance swept the landscape cautiously before he moved outfrom cover. In the country of the Clantons there was always an openseason on any one of his name.

  "What are you doin' here, Dave Roush?" the girl demanded. "Are youcrazy?"

  "I'm here because you are, 'Lindy Clanton," he answered promptly. "That'sa 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," hefinished for her.

  Dave Roush was a large, well-shouldered man, impressive in spite of hishomespun. If he carried himself with a swagger there was no lack ofboldness in him to back it. His long hair was straight and black andcoarse, 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 nobusiness to be. At the time she had been visiting a distant cousin in acove adjacent to that creek. Some craving for adventure, some instinct ofdefiance, had taken her to the frolic where she knew the Roush clan wouldbe in force. From the first sight of her Dave had wooed her with acareless bravado that piqued her pride and intrigued her interest. Thegirl's imagination translated in terms of romance his insolence andaudacity. Into her starved existence he brought color and emotion.

  Did she love him? 'Lindy was not sure. He moved her at times to furiousanger, and again to inarticulate longings she did not understand. Forthough she was heritor of a life full-blooded and undisciplined, everyfiber 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. Butalways 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 pushedthrough 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 didnot want a lover who groveled in the dust before her. She wanted one tosweep her from her feet, a young Lochinvar to compel her by the force ofhis 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 guessedshrewdly that circumstances were driving her to him. The girl was full ofresentment at her father's harsh treatment of her. Her starved heartcraved love. She was daughter of that Clanton who led the feud againstthe Roush family and its adherents. Dave took his life in his hands everytime he crossed the river to meet her. Once he had swum the stream in thenight to keep an appointment. He knew that his wildness, his recklesscourage and contempt of danger, argued potently for him. She was comingto him as reluctantly and surely as a wild turkey answers the call of thehunter.

  The sound of a shot, not distant, startled them. He crouched, wary as arattlesnake 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' awayfrom it. I put a question to ye. When I git my answer mebbe I'll go. ButI don't 'low to leave till then."

  "I'll meet ye there if I kin git out. Now go," she begged.

  The man vanished in the pawpaws. He moved as silently as one of hisIndian ancestors.

  'Lindy waited, breathless lest her brother should catch sight of him. Sheknew that if Jimmie saw Roush there would be shooting and one or theother would fall.

  A rifle shot rang out scarce a hundred yards from her. The heart of thegirl stood still. After what seemed an interminable time there came toher the sound of a care-free whistle. Presently her brother saunteredinto view, a dead squirrel in his hand. The tails of several othersbulged from the game bag by his side. The sister did not need to be toldthat four out of five had been shot through the head.

  "Thought I heard voices. Was some one with you, sis?" the boy asked.

  "Who'd be with me here?" she countered lazily.

  A second time she was finding refuge in the for-get-me-nots.

  He was a barefoot little fellow, slim and hard as a nail. In his hand hecarried an old-fashioned rifle almost as long as himself. There was alingering look of childishness in his tanned, boyish face. His hands andfeet were small and shapely as those of a girl. About him hung the stolidimperturbability of the Southern mountaineer. Times were when his blueeyes melted to tenderness or mirth; yet again the cunning of the junglenarrowed them to slits hard, as jade. Already, at the age of fourteen, hehad been shot at from ambush, had wounded a Roush at long range, hadtaken part in a pitched battle. The law of the feud was tempering hisheart to implacability.

  The keen gaze of the boy rested on her. Ever since word had reached theClantons of how 'Lindy had "carried on" with Dave Roush at the da
nce onLonesome her people had watched her suspiciously. The thing she had donehad been a violation of the hill code and old Clay Clanton had thrashedher with a cowhide till she begged for mercy. Jimmie had come home fromthe still to find her writhing in passionate revolt. The boy had beenfurious at his father; yet had admitted the substantial justice of thepunishment. Its wisdom he doubted. For he knew his sister to be stubbornas old Clay himself, and he feared lest they drive her to the arms of BadDave Roush.

  "I reckon you was talkin' to yo'self, mebbe," he suggested.

  "I reckon."

  They walked home together along a path through the rhododendrons. Thelong, slender legs of the girl moved rhythmically and her arms swung likependulums. Life in the open had given her the litheness and the grace ofa woodland creature. The mountain woman is cheated of her youth almostbefore she has learned to enjoy it. But 'Lindy was still under eighteen.Her warm vitality still denied the coming of a day when she would be asallow, angular snuff-chewer.

  Within sight of the log cabin the girl lingered for a moment by thesassafras bushes near the spring. Some deep craving for sympathy movedher to alien speech. She turned upon him with an imperious, fiercetenderness in her eyes.

  "You'll never forgit me, Bud? No matter what happens, you'll--you'll nothate me?"

  Her unusual emotion embarrassed and a little alarmed him. "Oh, shucks!They ain't anything goin' to happen, sis. What's ailin' you?"

  "But if anything does. You'll not hate me--you'll remember I allusthought a heap of you, Jimmie?" she insisted.

  "Doggone it, if you're still thinkin' of that scalawag Dave Roush--" Hebroke off, moved by some touch of prescient tragedy in her young face."'Course I ain't ever a-goin' to forgit you none, sis. Hit ain't likely,is it?"

  It was a comfort to him afterward to recall that he submitted to herimpulsive caress without any visible irritability.

  'Lindy busied herself preparing supper for her father and brother. Eversince her mother died when the child was eleven she had been the familyhousekeeper.

  At dusk Clay Clanton came in and stood his rifle in a corner of the room.His daughter recognized ill-humor in the grim eyes of the old man. He wasof a tall, gaunt figure, strongly built, a notable fighter with his fistsin the brawling days before he "got religion" at a camp meeting. Now hisCalvinism was of the sternest. Dancing he held to be of the devil.Card-playing was a sin. If he still drank freely, his drinking was withinbounds. But he did not let his piety interfere with the feud. Within theyear, pillar of the church though he was, he had been carried homeriddled with bullets. Of the four men who had waylaid him two had beenburied next day and a third had kept his bed for months.

  He ate for a time in dour silence before he turned harshly on 'Lindy.

  "You ain't havin' no truck with Dave Roush are you? Not meetin' up withhim on the sly?" he demanded, his deep-set eyes full of menace under theheavy, grizzled brows.

  "No, I ain't," retorted the girl, and her voice was sullen and defiant.

  "See you don't, lessen yo' want me to tickle yore back with the budagain. I don't allow to put up with no foolishness." He turned inexplanation to the boy. "Brad Nickson seen him this side of the riverto-day. He says this ain't the fustest time Roush has been seen hangin''round the cove."

  The boy's wooden face betrayed nothing. He did not look at his sister.But suspicions began to troop through his mind. He thought again of thevoices he had heard by the river and he remembered that it had become ahabit of the girl to disappear for hours in the afternoon.

  'Lindy went to her room early. She nursed against her father not onlyresentment, but a strong feeling of injustice. He would not let herattend the frolics of the neighborhood because of his scruples againstdancing. Yet she had heard him tell how he used to dance till daybreakwhen he was a young man. What right had he to cut her off from the thingsthat made life tolerable?

  She was the heritor of lawless, self-willed, passionate ancestors. Theirturbulent blood beat in her veins. All the safeguards that should havehedged her were gone. A wise mother, an understanding father, could havesaved her from the tragedy waiting to engulf her. But she had neither ofthese. Instead, her father's inhibitions pushed her toward that doom towhich she was moving blindfold.

  Before her cracked mirror the girl dressed herself bravely in her cheapbest. She had no joy in the thing she was going to do. Of her love shewas not sure and of her lover very unsure. A bell of warning rang faintlyin her heart as she waited for the hours to slip away.

  A very little would have turned the tide. But she nursed her angeragainst her father, fed her resentment with the memory of all his wrongsto her. When at last she crept through the window to the dark porchtrellised with wild cucumbers, she persuaded herself that she was goingonly to tell Dave Roush that she would not join him.

  Her heart beat fast with excitement and dread. Poor, undisciplineddaughter of the hills though she was, a rumor of the future whispered inher ears and weighted her bosom.

  Quietly she stole past the sassafras brake to the big laurel. Her lovertook her instantly into his arms and kissed the soft mouth again andagain. She tried to put him from her, to protest that she was not goingwith him. But before his ardor her resolution melted. As always, when hewas with her, his influence was paramount.

  "The boat is under that clump of bushes," he whispered.

  "Oh, Dave, I'm not goin'," she murmured.

  "Then I'll go straight to the house an' have it out with the old man," heanswered.

  His voice rang gay with the triumph of victory. He did not intend to lether hesitations rob him of it.

  "Some other night," she promised. "Not now--I don't want to go now.I--I'm not ready."

  "There's no time like to-night, honey. My brother came with me in theboat. We've got horses waitin'--an' the preacher came ten miles to do thejob."

  Then, with the wisdom born of many flirtations, he dropped argument andwooed her ardently. The anchors that held the girl to safety dragged. Thetug of sex, her desire of love and ignorance of life, his eager andpassionate demand that she trust him: all these swelled the tide thatbeat against her prudence.

  She caught his coat lapels tightly in her clenched fists.

  "If I go I'll be givin' up everything in the world for you, DaveRoush. My folks'll hate me. They'd never speak to me again. You'llbe good to me. You won't cast it up to me that I ran away with you.You'll--you'll--" Her voice broke and she gulped down a little sob.

  He laughed. She could not see his face in the darkness, but the sound ofhis laughter was not reassuring. He should have met her appeal seriously.

  The girl drew back.

  He sensed at once his mistake. "Good to you!" he cried. "'Lindy, I'ma-goin' to be the best ever."

  "I ain't got any mother, Dave." Again she choked in her throat. "Youwouldn't take advantage of me, would you?"

  He protested hotly. Desiring only to be convinced, 'Lindy took one lastprecaution.

  "Swear you'll do right by me always."

  He swore it.

  She put her hand in his and he led her to the boat.

  Ranse Roush was at the oars. Before he had taken a dozen strokes a waveof terror swept over her. She was leaving behind forever that quiet,sunny cove where she had been brought up. The girl began to shiveragainst the arm of her lover. She heard again the sound of his low,triumphant laughter.

  It was too late to turn back now. No hysterical request to be put back onher side of the river would move these men. Instinctively she knew that.From to-night she was to be a Roush.

  They found horses tied to saplings in a small cove close to the river.The party mounted and rode into the hills. Except for the ring of thehorses' hoofs there was no sound for miles. 'Lindy was the first tospeak.

  "Ain't this Quicksand Creek?" she asked of her lover as they forded astream.

  He nodded. "The sands are right below us--not more'n seven or eight stepsdown here Cal Henson was sucked under."

  After another stretch ridden in silence they
turned up a little cove to alight shining in a cabin window. The brothers alighted and Dave helpedthe girl down. He pushed open the door and led the way inside.

  A man sat by the fireside with his feet on the table. He was reading anewspaper. A jug of whiskey and a glass were within reach of his hand.Without troubling to remove his boots from the table, he looked up with aleer at the trembling girl.

  Dave spoke at once. "We'll git it over with. The sooner the quicker."

  'Lindy's heart was drenched with dread. She shrank from the three pairsof eyes focused upon her as if they had belonged to wolves. She had hopedthat the preacher might prove a benevolent old man, but this man with theheavy thatch of unkempt, red hair and furtive eyes set askew offered nocomfort. If there had been a single friend of her family present, ifthere had been any woman at all! If she could even be sure of the man shewas about to marry!

  It seemed to her that the preacher was sneering when he put the questionsto which she answered quaveringly. Vaguely she felt the presence of somecruel, sinister jest of which she was the sport.

  After the ceremony had been finished the three men drank together whileshe sat white-faced before the fire. When at last Ranse Roush and thered-headed preacher left the cabin, both of them were under the influenceof liquor. Dave had drunk freely himself.

  'Lindy would have given her hopes of heaven to be back safely in thelittle mud-daubed bedroom she had called her own.

  Three days later 'Lindy wakened to find a broad ribbon of sunshine acrossthe floor of the cabin. Her husband had not come home at all the nightbefore. She shivered with self-pity and dressed slowly. Already she knewthat her life had gone to wreck, that it would be impossible to live withDave Roush and hold her self-respect.

  But she had cut herself off from retreat. All of her friends belonged tothe Clanton faction and they would not want to have anything to do withher. She had no home now but this, no refuge against the neglect andinsults of this man with whom she had elected to go through life. To hermind came the verdict of old Nance Cunningham on the imprudent marriageof another girl: "Randy's done made her bed; I reckon she's got to lieon it."

  A voice hailed the cabin from outside. She went to the door. Ranse Roushand the red-haired preacher had ridden into the clearing and weredismounting. They had with them a led horse.

  "Fix up some breakfast," ordered Ranse.

  The young wife flushed. She resented his tone and his manner. Like Dave,he too assumed that she had come to be a drudge for the whole drunkenclan, a creature to be sneered at and despised.

  Silently she cooked a meal for the men. The girl was past tears. She hadwept herself out.

  While they ate the men told of her father's fury when he had discoveredthe elopement, of how he had gone down to the mill and cast her off witha father's curse, renouncing all relationship with her forever. It was ajest that held for them a great savor. They made sport of him and of theother Clantons till she could keep still no longer.

  "I won't stand this! I don't have to! Where's Dave?" she demanded, eyesflashing with contempt and anger.

  Ranse grinned, then turned to his companion with simulated perplexity."Where is Dave, Brother Hugh?"

  "Damfino," replied the red-headed man, and the girl could see that he wasgloating over her. "Last night he was at a dance on God Forgotten Crick.Dave's soft on a widow up there, you know."

  The color ebbed from the face of the wife. One of her hands clutched atthe back of a chair till the knuckles stood out white and bloodless. Hereyes fastened with a growing horror upon those of the red-headed man. Shehad come to the edge of an awful discovery.

  "You're no preacher. Who are you?"

  "Me?" His smile was cruel as death. "You done guessed it, sister. I'mHugh Roush--Dave's brother."

  "An'--an'--my marriage was all a lie?"

  "Did ye think Dave Roush would marry a Clanton? He's a bad lot, Dave is,but he ain't come that low yet."

  For the first and last time in her life 'Lindy fainted.

  Presently she floated back to consciousness and the despair of a soulmortally stricken. She saw it all now. The lies of Dave Roush had enticedher into a trap. He had been working for revenge against the family hehated, especially against brave old Clay Clanton who had killed two ofhis kin within the year. With the craft inherited from savage ancestorshe had sent a wound more deadly than any rifle bullet could carry. TheClantons were proud folks, and he had dragged their pride in the mud.

  If the two brothers expected her to make a scene, they were disappointed.Numb with the shock of the blow, she made no outcry and no reproach.

  "Git a move on ye, gal," ordered Ranse after he had finished eating."You're goin' with us, so you better hurry."

  "What are you goin' to do with me?" she asked dully.

  "Why, Dave don't want you any more. We're goin' to send you home."

  "I reckon yore folks will kill the fatted calf for you," jeered HughRoush. "They tell me you always been mighty high-heeled, 'Lindy Clanton.Mebbe you won't hold yore head so high now."

  The girl rode between them down from the hills. Who knows into what anagony of fear and remorse and black despair she fell? She could not gohome a cast-off, a soiled creature to be scorned and pointed at. Shedared not meet her father. It would be impossible to look her littlebrother Jimmie in the face. Would they believe the story she told? And ifthey were convinced of its truth, what difference would that make? Shewas what she was, no matter how she had become so.

  On the pike they met old Nance Cunningham returning from the mill with asack of meal. The story of that meeting was one the old gossip told afterthe tragedy to many an eager circle of listeners,

  "She jes' lifted her han' an' stopped me, an' if death was ever writ on ahuman face it shorely wuz stomped on hers. 'I want you to tell my fatherI'm sorry,' she sez. 'He swore he'd marry me inside of an hour. This manhyer--his brother--made out like he wuz a preacher an' married us. Tellmy father that an' ask him to forgive me if he can.' That wuz all shesaid. Ranse Roush hit her horse with a switch an' sez, 'Yo' kin tell himall that yore own self soon as you git home.' I reckon I wuz the lastestperson she spoke to alive."

  They left the old woman staring after them with her mouth open. It couldhave been only a few minutes later that they reached Quicksand Creek.

  'Lindy pulled up her horse to let the men precede her through the ford.They splashed into the shallows on the other side of the creek and waitedfor her to join them. Instead, she slipped from the saddle, ran down thebank, and plunged into the quicksand.

  "Goddlemighty!" shrieked Ranse. "She's a-drowndin' herself in the sands."

  They spurred their horses back across the creek and ran to rescue thegirl. But she had flung herself forward face down far out of their reach.They dared not venture into the quivering bog after her. While they stillstared in a frozen horror, the tragedy was completed. The victim of theirrevenge had disappeared beneath the surface of the morass.

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