She turned from this to pleasanter and wilder prospects, close at hand, as her path narrowed, and began to sing again in sheer joyousness of spirit.
“Mr. Woodpecker laughed as a woodpecker will, As Jim stood lookin’ out of the door of the still, ‘Mr. Jim,’ he remarked, ’I have come for to ax Ef you’d give me a worm for my revenue tax’!”
The placid ox, plodding slowly down the trail, did not swerve when the bushes parted suddenly at one side, as she finished this verse of her song, but Madge Brierly looked about with a quick alertness. The sound of the rustling leaves and crackling twigs might mean a friend’s approach, they might mean the coming of one of the very enemies whom the song had hinted at so lightly, but against whom all the people of the mountains keep perpetual watch, they might even mean a panther, hungry after his short rations of the winter and recklessly determined on a meal at any cost.
But it was Joe Lorey’s face which greeted her as she abruptly turned to see. His coon-skin cap, his jerkin and trousers of faded blue-jeans, his high, rusty boots matched perfectly with his primitive environments. As he appeared only the old-fashioned Winchester, which he carried cradled in his crooked elbow, spoke of the Nineteenth century. His face, though handsome in a crudely modelled way, had been weather-beaten into a rough, semi-fierceness by the storms through which he had watched the mountain-passes during the long winter for the raiders who were ever on his trail. The slightly reddened lids of his dark, restless eyes, told of long nights during which the rising fumes of moonshine whisky stealthily brewing in his furtive still, cave-hidden, had made them smart and sting. Even as, smilingly, he came up to the strangely mounted maid, there was on his face the strong trace of that hunted look which furtive consciousness of continual and unrelenting pursuit gives to the lawbreaker—even to the lawbreaker who believes the laws he breaks are wrong and to be violated without sin and righteously.
“That you, Joe?” said the girl. “You skeered me.”
“Did I?” he replied, grinning broadly. “Didn’t plan to.”
From far below there came the crash of bursting powder. Quick and lithe as a panther the man whirled, ready with his rifle. The girl laughed.