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Title: The Headless Horseman: A Strange Tale of Texas
Author: Thomas Mayne Reid (1818-1883)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Headless Horseman: A Strange Tale of Texas
Author: Thomas Mayne Reid (1818-1883)



CONTENTS


000 Prologue
001 The Burnt Prairie
002 The Trail Of The Lasso
003 The Prairie Finger-Post
004 The Black Norther
005 The Home Of The Horse-Hunter
006 The Spotted Mustang
007 Nocturnal Annoyances
008 The Crawl Of The Alacran
009 The Frontier Fort
010 Casa Del Corvo
011 An Unexpected Arrival
012 Taming A Wild Mare
013 A Prairie Picnic
014 The Manada
015 The Runaway Overtaken
016 Chased By Wild Stallions
017 The Mustang Trap
018 Jealousy Upon The Trail
019 Whisky And Water
020 An Unsafe Position
021 A Duel Within Doors
022 An Unknown Donor
023 Vows Of Vengeance
024 On The Azotea
025 A Gift Ungiven
026 Still On The Azotea
027 I Love You !--I Love You
028 A Pleasure Forbidden
029 El Coyote At Home
030 A Sagittary Correspondence
031 A Stream Cleverly Crossed
032 Light And Shade
033 A Torturing Discovery
034 A Chivalrous Dictation
035 An Uncourteous Host
036 Three Travelers On The Same Track
037 A Man Missing
038 The Avengers
039 The Pool Of Blood
040 The Marked Bullet
041 Quatro Cavalleros
042 Vultures On The Wing
043 The Cup And The Jar
044 A Quartette Of Comanches
045 A Trail Gone Blind
046 A Secret Confided
047 An Intercepted Epistle
048 Isidora
049 The Lasso Unloosed
050 A Conflict With Coyotes
051 Twice Intoxicated
052 An Awakener
053 Just In Time
054 A Prairie Palanquin
055 Un Dia De Novedades
056 A Shot At The Devil
057 Sounding The Signal
058 Recoiling From A Kiss
059 Another Who Cannot Rest
060 A Fair Informer
061 Angels On Earth
062 Waiting For The Cue
063 A Jury Of Regulators
064 A Series Of Interludes
065 Still Another Interlude
066 Chased By Comanches
067 Los Indios!
068 The Disappointed Campaigners
069 Mystery And Mourning
070 Go, Zeb, And God Speed You
071 The Sorrel Horse
072 Zeb Stump On The Trail
073 The Prairie Island
074 A Solitary Stalker
075 On The Trail
076 Lost In The Chalk
077 Another Link
078 A Horse-Swap
079 An Untiring Tracker
080 A Doorway Well Watched.
081 Heads Down-Heels Up!
082 A Queer Parcel
083 Limbs Of The Law
084 An Affectionate Nephew
085 A Kind Cousin
086 A Texan Court
087 A False Witness
088 An Unwilling Witness
089 The Confession Of The Accused
090 A Court Quickly Cleared
091 A Chase Through A Thicket
092 A Reluctant Return
093 A Body Beheaded
094 The Mystery Made Clear
095 The Last Witness
096 Stole Away
097 The Chase Of The Assassin
098 Not Dead Yet
099 Attempted Murder And Suicide
100 Joy




PROLOGUE


The stag of Texas, reclining in midnight lair, is startled from his
slumbers by the hoof stroke of a horse.

He does not forsake his covert, nor yet rise to his feet. His domain is
shared by the wild steeds of the savannah, given to nocturnal straying.
He only up rears his head and, with antlers overtopping the tall grass,
listens for a repetition of the sound.

Again is the hoof stroke heard, but with altered intonation. There is a
ring of metal the clinking of steel against stone.

The sound, significant to the ear of the stag, causes a quick change in
his air and attitude. Springing clear of his couch, and bounding a score
of yards across the prairie, he pauses to look back upon the disturber
of his dreams.

In the clear moonlight of a southern sky, he recognizes the most
ruthless of his enemies: man. One is approaching upon horseback.

Yielding to instinctive dread, he is about to resume his flight when
something in the appearance of the horseman some unnatural seeming holds
him transfixed to the spot.

With haunches in quivering contact with the sward, and frontlet faced to
the rear, he continues to gaze his large brown eyes straining upon the
intruder in a mingled expression of fear and bewilderment.

What has challenged the saga to such protracted scrutiny?

The horse is perfect in all its parts a splendid steed, saddled,
bridled, and otherwise completely caparisoned. In it appears nothing
amiss, nothing to produce either wonder or alarm. But the rider? Ah!
About him there is something to cause both something weird something
wonting!

By heavens! it is the head!

Even the unreasoning animal can perceive this and, after gazing a moment
with wildered eyes wondering what abnormal monster thus mocks its
corvine intelligence terror stricken it continues its retreat nor again
pauses, till it has plunged through the waters of the Leona, and placed
the current of the stream between itself and the ghastly intruder.

Heedless of the affrighted deer either of its presence, or precipitate
flight the Headless Horseman rides on.

He too, is going in the direction of the river. Unlike the stag, he does
not seem pressed for time but advances in a slow, tranquil pace so
silent as to seem ceremonious.

Apparently absorbed in solemn thought, he gives free rein to his steed
permitting the animal, at intervals, to snatch a mouthful of the herbage
growing by the way. Nor does he, by voice or gesture, urge it
impatiently onward, when the howl bark of the prairie wolf causes it to
fling its head on high, and stand snorting in its tracks.

He appears to be under the influence of some all absorbing emotion, from
which no common incident can awake him. There is no speech not a whisper
to betray its nature. The startled stag, his own horse, the wolf, and
the midnight moon, are the sole witnesses of his silent abstraction.

His shoulders shrouded under a serapé, one edge of which, flirted up by
the wind, displays a portion of his figure his limbs encased in "water
guards" of jaguar skin thus sufficiently sheltered against the dews of
the night, or the showers of a tropical sky, he rides on silent as the
stars shining above, unconcerned as the cicada that chirrups in the
grass beneath, or the prairie breeze playing with the drapery of ms
dress.

Something at length appears to rouse from his reverie, and stimulate mm
to greater speed his steed, at the same time. The latter, tossing up its
head, gives utterance to a joyous neigh and, with outstretched neck, and
spread nostrils, advances in a gait gradually increasing to a canter.
The proximity of the river explains the altered pace.

The horse halts not again, till the crystal current is surging against
his flanks, and the legs of his rider are submersed knee deep under the
surface.

The animal eagerly assuages its thirst crosses to the opposite side and,
with vigorous stride, ascends the sloping bank.

Upon the crest occurs a pause as if the rider tarried till his steed
should shake the water from its flanks. There is a rattling of saddle
flaps, and stirrup leathers, resembling thunder, amidst a cloud of
vapor, white as the spray of a cataract.

Out of this self constituted nimbus, the Headless Horseman emerges and
moves onward, as before.

Apparently pricked by the spur, and guided by the rein, of his rider,
the horse no longer strays from the track but steps briskly forward, as
if upon a path already trodden.

A treeless savannah stretches before salvaged by the sky. Outlined
against the azure is seen the imperfect centaurean shape gradually
dissolving in the distance, till it becomes lost to view, under the
mystic gloaming of the moonlight!



1. THE BURNT PRAIRIE.


On the great plain of Texas, about a hundred miles southward from the
old Spanish town of San Antonio de Bejar, the noonday sun is shedding
his beams from a sky of cerulean brightness. Under the golden light
appears a group of objects, but little in unison with the landscape
around them since they betoken the presence of human beings, in a spot
where there is no sign of human habitation.

The objects in question are easily identified even at a great distance.
They are wagons each covered with its ribbed and rounded tilt of
snow-white "Osnaburgh."

There are ten of them scarce enough to constitute a "caravan" of
traders, nor yet a "government train." They are more likely the
individual property of an emigrant who has lauded upon the coast, and is
wending his way to one of the late formed settlements on the Leona.

Slowly crawling across the savannah, it could scarce be told that they
are in motion but for their relative position, in long serried line,
indicating the order of march.

The dark bodies between each two declare that the teams are attached and
that they are making progress is proved, by the retreating antelope,
scared from its noonday siesta, and the long shacked curlew, rising with
a screech from the sward both bird and beast wondering at the string of
strange behemoths, thus invading their wilderness domain.

Elsewhere upon the prairie, no movement may be detected either of bird
or quadruped. It is the time of day when all tropical life becomes
torpid, or seeks repose in the shade man alone, stimulated by the love
of gain, or the promptings of ambition, disregarding the laws of nature,
and defying the fervor of the sun.

So seems it with the owner of the tilted train who, despite the relaxing
influence of the fierce mid day heat, keeps moving on.

That he is an emigrant and not one of the ordinary class is evidenced in
a variety of ways. The ten large wagons of Pittsburgh build, each hauled
by eight able bodied mules their miscellaneous contents plenteous
provisions, articles of costly furniture, even de luxe, live stock in
the shape of colored women and children the groups of black and yellow
bondsmen, walking alongside, or straggling foot sore in the rear the
light traveling carriage in the lead, drawn by a span of sleek coated
Kentucky mules, and driven by a black Jehu, sweltering in a suit of
livery all bespeak, not a poor Northern States settler in search of a
new home, but a rich Southerner who has already purchase done, and is on
his way to take possession of it.

And this is the exact story of the train. It is the property of a
planter who has landed at Indianola, on the Gulf of Matagorda and is now
traveling overland en route for his destination.

In the cortege that accompanies it, riding habitually at its head, is
the planter himself Woodley Poindexter a tall thin man of fifty, with a
slightly yellowish complexion, and aspect proudly severe. He is simply
though not inexpensively clad in a loosely fitting frock of alpaca
cloth, a waistcoat of black satin, and trousers of nankin. A shirt of
finest linen shows its plaits through the opening of his vest its collar
embraced by a piece of black ribbon while the shoe, resting in his
stirrup, is of finest tanned leather. His features are shaded by a broad
brimmed Leghorn hat.

Two horsemen are riding alongside one on his right, the other on the
left a stripling scarce twenty, and a young man six or seven years
older. The former is his son a youth, whose open cheerful countenance
contrasts, not only with the severe aspect of his father, but with the
somewhat sinister features on the other side, and which belong to his
cousin.

The youth is dressed in a French blouse of sky colored "cottoned," with
trousers of the same material a most appropriate costume for a southern
climate, and which, with the Panama hat upon his head, is equally
becoming.

The cousin, an ex-officer of volunteers, affects a military undress of
dark blue cloth, with a forage cap to correspond.

There is another horseman riding near, who, only on account of having a
white skin not white for all that is entitled to description. His
coarser features, and cheaper habiliments the keel colored "cowhide"
clutched in his right hand, and flirted with such evident skill,
proclaim him the overseer and whisper up of the swarthy pedestrians
composing the entourage of the train.

The traveling carriage, which is a "carriole", a sort of cross between a
Jersey wagon and a barouche, has two occupants. One is a young lady of
the whitest skin the other a girl of the blackest. The former is the
daughter of Woodley Poindexter his only daughter. She of the sable
complexion is the young lady's handmaid.

The emigrating party is from the "coast" of the Mississippi from
Louisiana. The planter is not himself a native of this State in other
words a Creole but the type is exhibited in the countenance of his son
still more in that fair face, seen occasionally through the curtains of
the carriole, and whose delicate features declare descent from one of
those endorsed damsels fillee a la casette who, more than a hundred
years ago, came across the Atlantic provided with proofs of their virtue
in the casket!

A grand sugar planter of the South is Woodley Poindexter one of the
highest and haughtiest of his class one of the most profuse in
aristocratic hospitalities hence the necessity of forsaking his
Mississippian home, and transferring himself and his "penates" with only
a remnant of his "niggers," to the wilds of South-Western Texas.

The sun is upon the meridian line, and almost in the zenith. The
travelers tread upon their own shadows. Enervated by the excessive heat,
the white horsemen sit silently in their saddles. Even the dusky
pedestrians, less sensible to its influence, have ceased their garrulous
"gumbo" and, in straggling groups, shamble listlessly along in the rear
of the wagons.

The silence solemn as that of a funereal procession is interrupted only
at intervals by the pistol like crack of a whip, or the loud "wo-ha,"
delivered in deep baritone from the thick lips of some sable teamster.

Slowly the train moves on, as if groping its way. There is no regular
road. The route is indicated by the wheel marks of some vehicles that
have passed before barely conspicuous, by having crashed the culms of
the shot grass.

Notwithstanding the slow progress, the teams are doing their best. The
planter believes himself within less than twenty miles of the end of his
journey. He hopes to reach it before night hence the march continued
through the mid day heat.

Unexpectedly the drivers are directed to pull up, by a sign from the
overseer who has been riding a hundred yards in the advance, and who is
seen to make a sudden stop as if some obstruction had presented itself.

He comes trotting back towards the train. His gestures tell of something
amiss. What is it?

There has been much talk about Indians of a probability of their being
encountered in this quarter.

Can it be the red skinned marauders? Scarcely the gestures of the
overseer do not betray actual alarm.

"What is it, Mr. Sansom?" asked the planter, as the man rode up.

"The grass air burnt. The prairie's been afire."

"Been on fire! Is it on fire now?" hurriedly inquired the owner of the
wagons, with an apprehensive glance towards the traveling carriage.
"Where? I see no smoke!"

"No, sir no," stammered the overseer, becoming conscious that he had
caused unnecessary alarm "I didn't say it air afire now only that it has
been, an the hul ground air as black as the ten o' spades."

"Ta-tat! What of that? I suppose we can travel over a black prairie, as
safely as a green one?"

"What nonsense of you, Josh Sansom, to raise such a row about nothing
frightening people out of their senses! Ho! there, you niggers! Lay the
leather to your teams, and let the train proceed. Whip up! Whip up!"

"But, Captain Calhoun," protested the overseer, in response to the
gentleman who had reproached him in such chaste terms "how are we to
find the way?"

"Find the way! What are you raving about? We haven't lost it, have we?"

"I'm afraid we have, though. The wheel tracks ain't no longer to be
seen. They're burnt out, along with the grass."

"What matters that? I reckon we can cross a piece of scorched prairie,
without wheel marks to guide us we'll find them again on the other
side."

"Ye-es," naively responded the overseer who although a "down-easter" had
been far enough west to have learnt something of frontier life "if their
air any other side. I can't see it out o' the saddle ne'er a sign o'
it."

"Whip up, niggers! Whip up!" shouted Calhoun, without heeding the remark
and spurring onwards, as a sign that the order was to be obeyed.

The teams are again set in motion and, after advancing to the edge of
the burnt tract, without instructions from any one, are once more
brought to a stand.

The white men on horseback draw together for a consultation. There is
need as all are satisfied by a single glance directed to the ground
before them.

Far as the eye can reach the country is of one uniform color black as
Erebus. There is nothing green not a blade of grass not a reed, or a
weed!

It is after the summer solstice. The ripened culms of the graminee, and
the stalks of the prairie flowers, have alike crumbled into dust under
the devastating breath of fire.

In front on the right and left to the utmost verge of vision extends the
scene of desolation. Over it the cerulean sky is changed to a darker
blue the sun, though clear of clouds, seems to scowl rather than shine
as if reciprocating the frown of the earth.

The overseer has made a correct report there is no trail visible. The
action of the fire, as it raged among the ripe grass, has eliminated the
impression of the wheels hitherto indicating the route.

"What are we to do?"

The planter himself put this inquiry, in a tone that told of a
vacillating spirit.

"Do, uncle Woodley! What else but keep straight on? The river must be on
the other side? If we don't hit the crossing, to a half mile or so, we
can go up, or down the bank as the case may require."

"But Cassius, if we should lose our way?"

"We can't. There's but a patch of this, I suppose? If we do go a little
astray, we must come out somewhere on one aide, or the other."

"Well, nephew, you know best I shall be guided by you."

"No fear, uncle. I've made my way out of a worse fix than this. Drive
on, niggers! Keep straight after me."

The ex-officer of volunteers, casting a conceited glance towards the
traveling carriage through the curtains of which appears a fair face,
slightly shadowed with anxiety gives the spur to Ins horse and with
confident air trots onward.

A chorus of whip cracks is succeeded by the trampling of fourscore
mules, mingled with the clanking of wheels against their hubs. The wagon
train is once more in motion.

The mules step out with greater rapidity. The sable surface, strange to
their eyes, excites them to brisker action causing them to raise the
hoofs as soon as it touches the turf. The younger animals show fear
snorting, as they advance.

In time their apprehensions become allayed and, taking the cue from
their older associates, they move on steadily as before.

A mile or more is made, apparently in a direct line from the point of
starting. Then there is a halt. The self appointed guide has ordered it.
He has reined up his horse and is sitting in the saddle with less show
of confidence. He appears to be puzzled about the direction.

The landscape, if such it may be called, has assumed a change though not
for the better. It is still sable as ever, to the verge of the horizon.
But the surface is no longer a plain it rolls. There are ridges, gentle
undulations, with valleys between. They are not entirely treeless though
nothing that may be termed a tree is in sight. There have been such,
before the fire--algarrobas, mezquites, and others of the acacia
family--standing solitary, or in copses. Their light pinnate foliage has
disappeared like flax before the flame. Their existence is only
evidenced by charred trunks, and blackened boughs.

"You've lost the way, nephew?" said the planter, riding rapidly up.

"No uncle not yet. I've only stopped to have a look. It must lie in this
direction down that valley. Let them drive on. We're going all right
I'll answer for it."

Once more in motion adown the slope then along the valley then up the
acclivity of another ridge and then there is a second stoppage upon its
crest.

"You've lost the way, Cash?" said the planter, coming up and repeating
his former observation.

"Damn if I don't believe I have, uncle!" responded the nephew, in a tone
of not very respectful mistrust. "Anyhow who the devil could find his
way out of an ash pit like this? No, no!" he continued, reluctant to
betray his embarrassment, as the carriole came up. "I see now. We're all
right yet. The river must be in this direction. Come on!"

On goes the guide, evidently irresolute. On follow the sable teamsters,
who, despite their stolidity, do not fail to note some signs of
vacillation. They can tell that they are no longer advancing in a direct
line but circuitously among the copses, and across the glades that
stretch between.

All are gratified by a shout from the conductor, announcing recovered
confidence. In response there is a universal explosion of whipcord, with
joyous exclamations.

Once more they are stretching their teams along a traveled road where a
half score of wheeled vehicles must have passed before them. And not
long before the wheel tracks are of recent impress the hoof-prints of
the animals fresh as if made within the hour. A train of wagons, not
unlike their own, must have passed over the burnt prairie!

Like themselves, it could only be going towards the Leona perhaps some
government convoy on its way to Fort Inge? In that case they have only
to keep in the same track. The Fort is on the line of their march but a
short distance beyond the point where their journey is to terminate.

Nothing could be more opportune. The guide, hitherto perplexed though
without acknowledging it is at once relieved of all anxiety and with a
fresh exhibition of conceit, orders the route to be resumed.

For a mile or more the wagon tracks are followed not in a direct line,
but bending about among the skeleton copses. The countenance of Cassius
Calhoun, for a while wearing a confident look, gradually becomes
clouded. It assumes the profoundest expression of despondency, on
discovering that the four and forty wheel tracks he is following, have
been made by ten Pittsburgh wagons, and a carriole the same that are now
following him, and in whose company he has been traveling all the way
from the Gulf of Matagorda!



2. THE TRAIL OF THE LASSO.


Beyond doubt, the wagons of Woodley Poindexter were going over ground
already traced by the tiring of their wheels.

"Our own tracks!" muttered Calhoun on making the discovery, adding a
fierce oath as he reined up.

"Our own tracks! What mean you, Cassius? You don't say we've been
traveling"

"On our own tracks. I do, uncle that very thing. We must have made a
complete circumbendibus of it. See! Here's the hind hoof of my own
horse, with half a shoe off and there's the feet of the niggers.
Besides, I can tell the ground. That's the very hill we went down as we
left our last stopping place. Hang the crooked luck! We've made a couple
of miles for nothing."

Embarrassment is no longer the only expression upon the face of the
speaker. It has deepened to chagrin, with an admixture of shame. It is
through him that the train is without a regular guide. One, engaged at
Indianola, had piloted them to their last camping place. There, in
consequence of some dispute, due to the surly temper of the ex-captain
of volunteers, the man had demanded his dismissal, and gone back.

For tins as also for an ill timed display of confidence in his power to
conduct the march is the planter's nephew now suffering under a sense of
shame. He feels it keenly as the carriole comes up, and bright eyes
become witnesses of his discomfiture.

Poindexter does not repeat his inquiry. That the road is lost is a fact
evident to all. Even the barefooted or "broganned" pedestrians have
recognized their long heeled footprints, and become aware that they are
for the second time treading upon the same ground.

There is a general halt, succeeded by an animated conversation among the
white men. The situation is serious the planter himself believes it to
be so. He cannot that day reach the end of his journey a thing upon
which he had set his mind.

That is the very least misfortune that can befall them. There are others
possible, and probable. There are perils upon the burnt plain. They may
be compelled to spend the night upon it, with no water for their
animals. Perhaps a second day and night or longer who can tell how long?

How are they to find their way? The sun is beginning to descend though
still too high in heaven to indicate his line of declination. By waiting
a while they may discover the quarters of the compass.

But to what purpose? The knowledge of east, west, north and south can
avail nothing now they have lost their line of march.

Calhoun has become cautious. He no longer volunteers to point out the
path. He hesitates to repeat his pioneering experiments after such
manifest and shameful failure.

A ten minutes' discussion terminates in nothing. No one can suggest a
feasible plan of proceeding. No one knows how to escape from the embrace
of that dark desert, which appears to cloud not only the sun and sky,
but the countenances of all who enter within its limits.

A flock of black vultures is seen flying afar off. They come nearer, and
nearer. Some alight upon the ground others hover above the heads of the
strayed travelers. Is there a boding in the behavior of the birds.

Another ten minutes is spent in the midst of moral and physical gloom.
Then, as if by a benignant mandate from heaven, does cheerfulness
reassume its sway. The cause? A horseman riding in the direction of the
train!

An unexpected sight that could have looked for human being in such a
place? All eyes simultaneously sparkle with joy as if, in the approach
of the horseman, they beheld the advent of a savior!

"He's coming this way, is he not?" inquired the planter, scarce
confident in his failing sight.

"Yes, father straight as he can ride," replied Henry, lifting the hat
from his head, and waving it on high the action accompanied by a shout
intended to attract the horseman.

The signal was superfluous. The stranger had already sighted the halted
wagons and, riding towards them at a gallop, was soon within speaking
distance.

He did not draw bridle, until he had passed the train and arrived upon
the spot occupied by the planter and his party.

"A Mexican!" whispered Henry, drawing his deduction from the habiliments
of the horseman.

"So much the better," replied Poindexter, in the same tone of voice
"he'll be all the more likely to know the road."

"Not a bit of Mexican about him," muttered Calhoun, "excepting the rig.
I'll soon see. Buenos dias, cavallero! Esta y. Mexicano? (Good day, sir!
are you a Mexican?)"

"No, indeed," replied the stranger, with a protesting smile. "Anything
but that. I can speak to you in Spanish, if you prefer it but I dare say
you will understand me better in English, which, I presume, is your
native tongue?"

Calhoun, suspecting that he had spoken indifferent Spanish, or
indifferently pronounced it, refrains from making rejoinder.

"American, sir," replied Poindexter, his national pride feeling slightly
piqued. Then, as if fearing to offend the man from whom he intended
asking a favor, he added "Yes, sir we are all Americans from the
Southern States."

"That I can perceive by your following." An expression of contempt
scarce perceptible showed itself upon the countenance of the speaker, as
his eye rested upon the groups of black bondsmen. "I can perceive too,"
he added, "that you are strangers to prairie traveling. You have lost
your way?"

"We have, sir and have very little prospect of recovering it, unless we
may count upon your kindness to direct us."

"Not much kindness in that. By the merest chance I came upon your trail,
as I was crossing the prairie. I saw you were going astray and have
ridden this way to set you right."

"It is very good of you. We shall be most thankful, sir. My name is
Poindexter, Woodley Poindexter, of Louisiana. I have purchased a
property on the Leona River, near Fort Inge. We were in hopes of
reaching it before nightfall. Can we do so?"

"There is nothing to hinder you, if you follow the instructions I shall
give."

On saying this, the stranger rode a few paces apart and appeared to
scrutinize the country as if to determine the direction which the
travelers should take.

Poised conspicuously upon the crest of the ridge, horse and man
presented a picture worthy of skilful delineation.

A steed, such as might have been ridden by an Arab sheik blood-bay in
color broad in counter with limbs clean as culms of cane, and hips of
elliptical outline, continued into a magnificent tail sweeping rearward
like a rainbow on his back a rider a young man of not more than five and
twenty of noble form and features habited in the picturesque costume of
a Mexican ranchero Spencer jacket of velveteen calzoneros laced along
the seams calzoneillos of snow white lawn botas of buff leather, heavily
spurred at the heels around the waist a scarf of scarlet crape and on
his head a hat of black glaze, banded with gold bullion. Picture to
yourself a horseman thus habited seated in a deep tree saddle, of
Moorish shape and Mexican manufacture, with housings of leather stamped
in antique patterns, such as were worn by the caparisoned steeds of the
Conquistadores picture to yourself such a caballero, and you will have
before your mind's eye a counterpart of him, upon whom the planter and
his people were gazing.

Through the curtains of the traveling carriage he was regarded with
glances that spoke of a singular sentiment. For the first time in her
life, Louise Poindexter looked upon that hitherto known only to her
imagination a man of heroic mould. Proud might he have been, could he
have guessed the interest which his presence was exciting in the breast
of the young Creole.

He could not, and did not. He was not even aware of her existence. He
had only glanced at the dust bedaubed vehicle in passing as one might
look upon the rude incrustation of an oyster, without suspecting that a
precious pearl may lie gleaming inside.

"By my faith!" he declared, facing round to the owner of the wagons, "I
can discover no landmarks for you to steer by. For all that, I can find
the way myself. You will have to cross the Leona five miles below the
Fort and, as I have to go by the crossing myself, you can follow the
tracks of my horse. Good day, gentlemen!"

Thus abruptly bidding adieu, he pressed the spur against the side of his
steed and started off at a gallop.

An unexpected almost un courteous departure! So thought the planter and
his people.

They had no time to make observations upon it, before the stranger was
seen burning towards them!

In ten seconds he was again in their presence all listening to learn
what had brought him back.

"I fear the tracks of my horse may prove of little service to you. The
mustangs have been this way, since the fire. They have made hoof-marks
by the thousand. Mine are shod but, as you are not accustomed to
trailing, you may not be able to distinguish them the more so, that in
these dry ashes all horse tracks are so nearly alike.

"What are we to do r" despairingly asked the planter.

"I am sorry, Mr. Poindexter, I cannot stay to conduct you. I am riding
express, with a dispatch for the Fort. If you should lose my trail, keep
the sun on your right shoulders so that your shadows may fall to the
left, at an angle of about fifteen degrees to your line of march. Go
straight forward for about five miles. You will, then come in sight of
the top of a tall tree a cypress. You will know it by its leaves being
in the red. Head direct for this tree. It stands on the bank of the
river and close by is the crossing."

The young horseman, once more drawing up his reins, 'was about to ride
off when something caused him to linger. It was a pair of dark lustrous
eyes observed by him for the first time glancing through the curtains of
the traveling carriage.

Their owner was in shadow but there was light enough, to show, that they
were set in a countenance of surpassing loveliness. He perceived,
moreover, that they were turned upon himself fixed, as he fancied, in an
expression that betokened interest almost tenderness!

He returned it with an involuntary glance of admiration, which he made
but an awkward attempt to conceal. Lest it might be mistaken for
rudeness, he suddenly faced round and once more addressed himself to the
planter who had just finished thanking him for his civility.

"I am but ill deserving thanks," was his rejoinder, "thus to leave you
with a chance of losing your way. But, as I've told you, my time is
measured."

The dispatch bearer consulted his watch as though not a little reluctant
to travel alone.

"You are very kind, sir," said Poindexter "but with the directions you
have given us, I think we shall be able to manage. The sun will surely
show us--"

"No now I look at the sky, it will not. There are clouds looming up on
the north. In an hour, the sun may be obscured at all events, before you
can get within sight of the cypress. It will not do. Stay!" he
continued, after a reflective pause, "I have a better plan still follow
the trail of my lasso!"

While speaking, he had lifted the coiled rope from his saddlebow, and
flung the loose end to the earth the other being secured to a ring in
the pommel. Then raising his hat in graceful salutation more than half
directed towards the traveling carriage he gave the spur to his steed
and once more bounded off over the prairie.

The lasso, lengthening out, tightened over the hips of his horse and,
dragging a dozen yards behind, left a line upon the cinereous surface as
if some slender serpent had been making its passage across the plain.

"An exceedingly curious fellow!" remarked the planter, as they stood
gazing after the horseman, fast becoming hidden behind a cloud of sable
dust. "I ought to have asked him his name?"

"An exceedingly conceited fellow, I should say," muttered Calhoun who
had not foiled to notice the glance sent by the stranger in the
direction of the carriole, nor that which had challenged it. "As to his
name, I don't think it matters much. It mightn't be his own he would
give you. Texas is full of such swells, who take new names when they get
here by way of improvement, if for no better reason."

"Come, cousin Cash," protested young Poindexter "you are unjust to the
stranger. He appears to be educated in met, a gentleman worthy of
bearing the best of names, I should say."

"A gentleman! Deuced unlikely rigged out in that fanfaron fashion. I
never saw a man yet, that took to a Mexican dress, who wasn't a Jack.
He's one, I'll be bound."

During this brief conversation, the fair occupant of the carriole was
seen to bend forward and direct a look of evident interest, after the
form of the horseman fast receding from her view.

To this, perhaps, might have been traced the acrimony observable in the
speech of Calhoun.

"What is it, Loo?" he inquired, riding close up to the carriage, and
speaking in a voice not loud enough to be heard by the others. "You
appear impatient to go forward? Perhaps you'd like to ride off along
with that swaggering fellow? It isn't too late I'll lend you my horse."

The young girl threw herself back, upon the seat, evidently displeased,
both by the speech and the tone in which it was delivered. But her
displeasure, instead of expressing itself in a frown, or in the shape of
an indignant rejoinder, was concealed under a guise far more galling to
him who had caused it.

A clear ringing laugh was the only reply vouchsafed to him.

"So, so! I thought there must be something by the way you behaved
yourself in his presence. You looked as if you would have relished a
tête-à-tête with this showy dispatch bearer. Taken with his stylish
dress, I suppose? Fine feathers make line birds. His are borrowed. I may
strip them off some day, along with a little of the skin that's under
them."

"For shame, Cassius! your words are a scandal!"

"This you should think of scandal, Loo! To let your thoughts turn on a
common scamp a masquerading fellow like that! No doubt the letter
carrier, employed by the officers at the Fort!"

"A letter carrier, you think? Oh, how I should like to get love letters
by such a postman!"

"You had better hasten on, and tell him so. My horse is at your
service."

"Ha! ha! ha! What a simpleton you show yourself! Suppose, for jesting's
sake, I did have a fancy to overtake this prairie postman! It couldn't
be done upon that dull steed of yours not a bit of it! At the rate he is
going, he and his blood-bay will be out of sight before you could change
Baddies for me. Oh, no! He's not to be overtaken by me, however much I
might like it and perhaps I might like it!"

"Don't let your father hear you talk in that way."

"Don't let him hear you talk in that way," retorted the young lady, for
the first time speaking in a serious strain. "Though you are my cousin,
and papa may think you the peak of perfection, I don't! I never told
you, did I?" A frown, evidently called forth by some unsatisfactory
reflection, was the only reply to this tantalizing interrogative.

"You are my cousin," she continued, in a tone that contrasted strangely
with the levity she had already exhibited, "but you are nothing more,
nothing more Captain Cassius Calhoun! You have no claim to be my
counsellor. There is but one from whom I am in duty bound to take
advice, or bear reproach. I therefore beg of you Master Cash that you
will not again presume to repeat such sentiments as those you have just
favoured me with. I shall remain mistress of my own thoughts and
actions, too till I have found a master who can control them. It is not
you!"

Having delivered this speech, with eyes flashing half angrily, half
contemptuously upon her cousin, the young Creole once more threw herself
back upon the cushions of the carriole.

The closing curtains admonished the ex-officer, that further
conversation was not desired.

Quailing under the lash of indignant innocence, he was only too happy to
hear the loud "gee on" of the teamsters, as the wagons commenced moving
over the somber surface not more somber than his own thoughts.



3. THE PRAIRIE FINGER-POST.


The travelers felt no further uneasiness about the route. The snake like
trail was continuous and so plain that a child might have followed it.

It did not run in a right line, but meandering among the thickets at
times turning out of the way, in places where the ground was clear of
timber. This had evidently been done with intent to avoid obstruction to
the wagons since at each of these windings the travelers could perceive
that there were breaks, or other inequalities, in the surface.

"How very thoughtful of the young fellow!" remarked Poindexter. "I
really feel regret at not having asked for his name. If he belongs to
the Fort, we shall see him again."

"No doubt of it," assented his son. "I hope we shall."

His daughter, reclining in shadow, overheard the conjectural speech, as
well as the rejoinder. She said nothing but her glance towards Henry
seemed to declare that her heart fondly echoed the hope.

Cheered by the prospect of soon terminating a toilsome journey as also
by the pleasant anticipation of beholding, before sunset, his new
purchase the planter was in one of his happiest moods. His aristocratic
bosom was moved by an unusual amount of condescension, to all around
him. He chatted familiarly with his overseer stopped to crack a joke
with "Uncle" Scipio, hobbling along on blistered heels and encouraged
"Aunt" Chloe in the transport of her piccaninny.

"Marvelous!" might the observer exclaim misled by such exceptional
interludes, so pathetically described by the scribblers in Lucifer's pay
"what a fine patriarchal institution is slavery, after all! After all we
have said and done to abolish it! A waste of sympathy sheer
philanthropic folly to attempt the destruction of this ancient edifice
worthy corner stone to a 'chivalric' nation! Oh, ye abolition fanatics!
Why do ye clamour against it? Know ye not that some must suffer must
work and starve that others may enjoy the luxury of idleness? That some
must be slaves, that others may be free?"

Such arguments, at which a world might weep have been of late, but too
often urged. Woe to the man who speaks, and the nation that gives ear to
them!

The planter's high spirits were shared by his party, Calhoun alone
excepted. They were reflected in the faces of his black bondsmen, who
regarded him as the source, and dispenser, of their happiness, or misery
omnipotent next to God. They loved him less than God, and feared him
more, though he was by no means a bad master that is, by comparison. He
did not absolutely take delight in torturing them. He liked to see them
well fed and clad their epidermis shining, with the exudation of its own
oil. These signs bespoke the importance of their proprietor himself. He
was satisfied to let them off with an occasional "cowhiding" salutary,
he would assure you and in all his "stock" there was not one black skin
marked, with the mutilations of vengeance a proud boast for a
Mississippian slave owner, and more than most could truthfully lay claim
to.

In the presence of such an exemplary owner, no wonder that the
cheerfulness was universal, or that the slaves should partake of their
master's joy, and give way to their garrulity.

It was not destined that this joyfulness should continue to the end of
their journey. It was after a time interrupted not suddenly, nor by any
fault on the part of those indulging in it, but by causes and
circumstances over which they had not the slightest control.

As the stranger had predicted the sun ceased to be visible, before the
cypress came in sight.

There was nothing in this to cause apprehension. The line of the lasso
was conspicuous as ever and they needed no guidance from the sun only
that his cloud eclipse produced a corresponding effect upon their
spirits.

"One might suppose it close upon nightfall," observed the planter,
drawing out his gold repeater, and glancing at its dial and yet it's
only three o'clock! Lucky the young fellow has left us such a sure
guide. But for him, we might have floundered among these ashes till
sundown perhaps has been compelled to sleep upon them."

"A black bed it would be," jokingly rejoined Henry, with the design of
rendering the conversation more cheerful. "Ugh! I should have such ugly
dreams, were I to sleep upon it."

"And I too," added his sister, protruding her pretty face through the
curtains, and taking a survey of the surrounding scene "I'm sure I
should dream of Tartarus, and Pluto, and Proserpine, and--"

"Hya! hya! hya!" grinned the black Jehu, on the box enrolled in the
plantation books as Pluto Poindexter "De young missa dream 'bout me in
de mids' of dis brack prairie! Golly! dat am a good joke-berry! Hya!
hya! hya!"

"Don't be too sure, all of you," said the surly nephew, at this moment
coming up, and taking part in the conversation "don't be too sure that
you won't have to make your beds upon it yet. I hope it may be no
worse."

"What do you mean, Cash?" inquired the uncle.

"I mean, uncle, that that fellow's been misleading us. I won't say it
for certain but it looks ugly. We've come more than five miles six, I
should say and where's the tree? I've examined the horizon, with a pair
of as good eyes as most have got, I reckon and there isn't such a thing
in sight."

"But why should the stranger have deceived us?"

"Ah why? That's just it. There may be more reasons than one."

"Give us one, then!" challenged a silvery voice from the carriole.
"We're all ears to hear it!"

"You're all ears to take in everything that's told you by a stranger,"
sneeringly replied Calhoun. "I suppose if I gave my reason, you'd be so
charitable as to call it a false alarm!"

"That depends on its character, Master Cassius. I think you might
venture to try us. We scarcely expect a false alarm from a soldier, as
well as traveler, of your experience."

Calhoun felt the taunt and would probably have withheld the
communication he had intended to make, but for Poindexter himself.

"Come on Cassius, explain yourself!" demanded the planter, in atone of
respectful authority. "You have said enough to excite something more
than curiosity. For what reason should the young fellow be leading us
astray?"

"Well, uncle," answered the ex-officer, retreating a little from his
original accusation, "I haven't said for certain that he is only that it
looks like it."

"In what way?"

"Well, one doesn't know what may happen. Traveling parties as strong, or
stronger than us, have been attacked on these plains, and plundered of
everything and murdered."

"Mercy!" exclaimed Louise, in a tone of terror, more affected than real.

"By Indians," replied Poindexter.

"Ah! Indians, indeed! Sometimes it may be and sometimes, too, they may
be whites who play at that game, not all Mexican whites, neither. It
only needs a bit of brown paint a horsehair wig, with half a dozen
feathers stuck into it that, and plenty of hullabalooing. If we were to
be robbed by a party of white Indians, it wouldn't be the first time the
thing's been done. We as good as half deserve it for our greenness, in
trusting too much to a stranger."

"Good heavens, nephew! This is a serious accusation. Do you mean to say
that the dispatch rider if he be one is leading us into an ambuscade?"

"No, uncle I don't say that. I only say that such things have been done
and it's possible he may."

"But not probable," emphatically interposed the voice from the carriole,
in a tone tauntingly quizzical.

"No!" exclaimed the stripling Henry, who, although riding a few paces
ahead, had overheard the conversation. "Your suspicions are unjust,
cousin Cassius. I pronounce them a calumny. What's more, I can prove
them so. Look there!"

The youth had reined up his horse, and was pointing to an object placed
conspicuously by the side of the path which, before speaking, he had
closely scrutinized. It was a tall plant of the columnar cactus, whose
green succulent stem had escaped scathing by the fire.

It was not to the plant itself that Henry Poindexter directed the
attention of his companions but to a small white disc, of the form of a
parallelogram, impaled upon one of its spines. No one accustomed to the
usages of civilized life could mistake the "card." It was one.

"Hear what's written upon it!" continued the young man, riding nearer,
and reading aloud the directions penciled upon the bit of pasteboard.

"The cypress in sight!"

"Where?" inquired Poindexter.

"There's a hand," rejoined Henry, "with a finger pointing no doubt in
the direction of the tree."

All eyes were instantly turned towards the quarter of the compass,
indicated by the cipher on the card.

Had the sun been shining, the cypress might have been seen at the first
glance. As it was, the sky late of cerulean hue was now of a leaden grey
and no straining of the eyes could detect anything along the horizon
resembling the top of a tree.

"There's nothing of the kind," asserted Calhoun, with restored
confidence, at the same time returning to his unworthy accusation. "It's
only a dodge, another link in the chain of tricks the scamp is playing
us."

"You mistake, cousin Cassius," replied that same voice that had so often
contradicted him. "Look through this lorgnette! If you haven't lost the
sight of those superior eyes of yours, you'll see something very like a
tree, a tall tree and a cypress, too, if ever there was one in the
swamps of Louisiana."

Calhoun disdained to take the opera glass from the hands of his cousin.
He knew it would convict him for he could not suppose she was telling an
untruth.

Poindexter availed himself of its aid and, adjusting the focus to his
failing sight, was enabled to distinguish the red leafed cypress,
topping up over the edge of the prairie.

"It's true," he said "the tree is there. The young fellow is honest
you've been wronging him, Cash. I didn't think it likely he should have
taken such a queer plan to make fools of us. Ho there! Mr. Sansom!
Direct your teamsters to drive on!"

Calhoun, not caring to continue the conversation, nor yet remain longer
in company, spitefully spurred his horse, and trotted off over the
prairie.

"Let me look at that card, Henry?" said Louise, speaking to her brother
in a restrained voice. "I'm curious to see the cipher that has been of
such service to us. Bring it away, brother it can be of no further use
where it is now that we have sighted the tree."

Henry, without the slightest suspicion of his sister's motive for making
the request, yielded obedience to it.

Releasing the piece of pasteboard from its impalement, he "chucked" it
into her lap.

"Maurice Gerald!" muttered the young Creole, after deciphering the name
upon the card. "Maurice Gerald!" she repeated, in apostrophic thought,
as she deposited the piece of pasteboard in her bosom. "Whoever you are
whence you have come whither you are going what you may be henceforth
there is a fate between us! I feel it I know it sure as there's a sky
above! Oh! How that sky lowers! Am I to take it as a type of this still
untraced destiny?"



4. THE BLACK NORTHER.


For some seconds, after surrendering herself to the Sibylline thoughts
thus expressed, the young lady sate in silence, her white hands clasped
across her temples, as if her whole soul was absorbed in an attempt,
either to explain the past, or penetrate the future.

Her reverie whatever might be its cause was not of long notation. She
was awakened from it, on hearing exclamations without mingled with words
that declared some object of apprehension.

She recognized her brother's voice, speaking in tones that betokened
alarm.

"Look, father! Don't you see them?"

"Where, Henry? Where?"

"Yonder, behind the wagons. You see them now?"

"I do, though I can't say what are they. They look like--"

Poindexter was puzzled for a simile--"I really don't know what."

"Waterspouts?" suggested the ex-captain, who, at sight of the strange
objects, had condescended to rejoin the party around the carriole.
"Surely it can't be that? It's too far from the sea. I never heard of
their occurring on the prairies."

"They are in motion, whatever they are," said Henry. "See! They keep
closing, and then going apart. But for that, one might mistake them for
huge obelisks of black marble!"

"Giants or ghouls!" jokingly suggested Calhoun "ogres from some other
world, who've taken a fancy to have a promenade on this abominable
prairie!"

The ex-officer was only humorous with an effort. As well as the others,
he was under the influence of an uneasy feeling.

And no wonder. Against the northern horizon had suddenly become up
reared a number of ink colored columns half a score of them unlike
anything ever seen before. They were not of regular columnar form, nor
fixed in any way but constantly changing size, shape, and place now
steadfast for a time now gliding over the charred surface like giants
upon skates anon, bending and balancing towards one another in the most
fantastic figurings!

It required no great effort of imagination, to fancy the Titans of old,
resuscitated on the prairies of Texas, leading a measure after some wild
carousal in the company of Bacchus!

In the proximity of phenomena never observed before unearthly in their
aspect unknown to every individual of the party it was but natural these
should be inspired with alarm.

And such was the fact. A sense of danger, pervaded every bosom. All were
impressed, with a belief that they were in the presence of some peril of
the prairies.

A general halt had been made on first observing the strange objects the
Negroes on foot, as well as the teamsters, giving utterance to shouts of
terror. The mules, as well as horses, had come instinctively to a stand
the latter neighing and trembling the former filling the air with their
shrill screams.

These were not the only sounds. From the sable towers could be heard a
hoarse swishing noise, that resembled the sough of a waterfall at
intervals breaking into reverberations like the roll of musketry, or the
detonations of distant thunder!

These noises were gradually growing louder and more distinct. The
danger, whatever it might be, was drawing nearer!

Consternation became depicted on the countenances of the travelers,
Calhoun's forming no exception. The ex-officer no longer pretended
levity. The eyes of all were turned towards the lowering sky, and the
band of black columns that appeared coming on to crush them!

At this crisis a shout, reaching their ears from the opposite side, was
a source of relief despite the unmistakable accent of alarm in which it
was uttered.

Turning, they beheld a horseman in full gallop riding direct towards
them.

The horse was black as coal the rider of like hue, even to the skin of
his face. For all that he was recognized as the stranger, upon the trail
of whose lasso they had been traveling.

The perceptions of woman are quicker than those of man the young lady
within the carriole was the first to identify him,

"Onward!" he cried, as soon as within speaking distance. "On-on! as fast
as you can drive!"

"What is it?" demanded the planter, in bewildered alarm. "Is there a
danger?"

"There is. I did not anticipate it, as I passed you. It was only after
reaching the river, I saw the sure signs of it."

"Of what, sir?"

"The norther."

"You mean the storm of that name?"

"I do."

"I never heard of its being dangerous," interposed Calhoun, "except to
vessels at sea. It's precious cold, I know but--"

"You'll find it worse than cold, sir," interrupted the young horseman,
"if you're not quick in getting out of its way. Mr. Poindexter," he
continued, turning to the planter, and speaking with impatient emphasis,
"I tell you, that you and your party are in peril. A norther is not
always to be dreaded but this one-look yonder! You see those black
pillars?"

"We've been wondering didn't know what to make of them."

"They're nothing only the precursors of the storm. Look beyond! Don't
you see a coal black cloud spreading over the sky? That's what you have
to dread. I don't wish to ease you unnecessary alarm, but I tell you,
there's death in yonder shadow! It's in motion, and coming this way. You
hare no chance to escape it, except by speed. If you do not make haste,
it will be too late. In ten minutes' time you may be enveloped, and then
quick sir, I entreat you! Order your drivers to hurry forward as fast as
they can! The sky heaven itself commands you!"

The planter did not think of refusing compliance, with an appeal urged
in such energetic terms. The order was given for the teams to be set in
motion, and driven at top speed.

Terror, that inspired the animals equally with their drivers, rendered
superfluous the use of the whip.

The traveling carriage, with the mounted men, moved in front, as before.
The stranger alone threw himself in the rear as if to act as a guard
against the threatening danger.

At intervals he was observed to rein up his horse, and look back each
time by his glances betraying increased apprehension.

Perceiving it, the planter approached, and accosted him with the
inquiry:

"Is there still a danger?"

"I am sorry to answer you in the affirmative," he said "I had hopes that
the wind might be the other way."

"Wind, sir? There is none that I can perceive."

"Not here. Yonder it is blowing a hurricane, and this way too direct. By
heavens! It is nearing us rapidly! I doubt if we shall be able to clear
the burnt track."

"What is to be done?" exclaimed the planter, terrified by the
announcement.

"Are your mules doing their best?"

"They are, they could not be driven faster."

"I fear we shall be too late, then!"

As the speaker gave utterance to this gloomy conjecture, he reined round
once more and sate regarding the cloud columns as if calculating the
rate at which they were advancing.

The lines, contracting around his lips, told of something more than
dissatisfaction.

"Yes too late!" he exclaimed, suddenly terminating his scrutiny. "They
are moving faster than we far faster. There is no hope of our escaping
them!"

"Good God, sir! Is the danger so great? Can we do nothing to avoid it?"

The stranger did not make immediate reply. For some seconds he remained
silent, as if reflecting his glance no longer turned towards the sky,
but wandering among the wagons.

"Is there no chance of escape?" urged the planter, with the impatience
of a man in presence of a great peril.

"There is!" joyfully responded the horseman, as if some hopeful thought
had at length suggested itself. "There is a chance. I did not think of
it before. We cannot shun the storm, but the danger we may. Quick, Mr.
Poindexter! Order your men to muffle the mules, the horses too,
otherwise the animals will be blinded and go mad. Blankets cloaks
anything will do. When that's done, let all seek shelter within the
wagons. Let the tilts be closed at the ends. I shall myself look to the
traveling carriage."

Having delivered this set of instructions, which Poindexter assisted by
the overseer, hastened to direct the execution of the young horseman,
galloped towards the front.

"Madame!" he said, reining up alongside the carriole, and speaking with
as much suavity as the circumstances would admit of, "you must close the
curtains all round. Your coachman will have to get inside and you,
gentlemen!" he continued, addressing himself to Henry and Calhoun "and
you, sir" to Poindexter, who had just come up. "There will be room for
all. Inside, I beseech you! Lose no time. In a few seconds the storm
will be upon us!"

"And you, sir?" inquired the planter, with a show of interest in the man
who was making such exertions to secure them against some yet
unascertained danger. "What of yourself?"

"Don't waste a moment upon me. I know what's coming. It isn't the first
time I have encountered it. In-in, I entreat you! You haven't a second
to spare. Listen to that shriek! Quick, or the dust cloud will be around
us!"

The planter and his son sprang together to the ground and retreated into
the traveling carriage.

Calhoun, refusing to dismount, remained stiffly seated in his saddle.
Why should he skulk from a visionary danger, that did not deter a man in
Mexican garb?

The latter turned away as he did so, directing the overseer to get
inside the nearest wagon a direction which was obeyed with alacrity and,
for the first time, the stranger was left free to take care of himself.

Quickly, unfolding his serapé, hitherto strapped across the cantle of
his saddle, he flung it over the head of his horse. Then, drawing the
edges back, he fastened it, bag-fashion, around the animal's neck. With
equal alertness he undid his scarf of China crape and stretched it
around his sombrero fixing it in such a way, that one edge was held
under the bullion band, while the other dropped down over the brim thus
forming a silken visor for his face.

Before finally closing it, he turned once more towards the carriole and,
to his surprise, saw Calhoun still in the saddle. Humanity triumphed
over a feeling of incipient aversion.

"Once again, sir, I adjure you to get inside! If you do not, you'll have
cause to repent it. Within ten minutes' time, you may be a dead man!"

The positive emphasis with which the caution was delivered produced its
effect. In the presence of mortal foeman, Cassius Calhoun was no coward.
But there was an enemy approaching that was not mortal not in any way
understood. It was already making itself manifest, in tones that
resembled thunder in shadows that mocked the darkness of midnight. Who
would not have felt fear at the approach of a destroyer so declaring
itself?

The ex-officer was unable to resist the united warnings of earth and
heaven and, slipping out of his saddle with a show of reluctance,
intended to save appearances he, clambered into the carriage, and
ensconced himself behind the closely drawn contains.

To describe what followed, is beyond the power of the pen. No eye beheld
the spectacle, for none dared look upon it. Even had this been possible,
nothing could have been seen. In five minutes after the muffling of the
mules, the train was enveloped in worse than Cimmerian darkness.

The opening scene can alone be depicted, for that only was observed by
the travelers. One of the sable columns, moving in the advance, broke as
it came in collision with the wagon tilts. Down came a shower of black
dust, as if the sky had commenced raining gunpowder! It was a foretaste
of what was to follow.

There was a short interval of open atmosphere, hot as the inside of an
oven. Then succeeded puffs, and whirling gusts, of wind, cold as if
projected from caves of ice, and accompanied by a noise as though all
the trumpets of Eolus were announcing the advent of the Storm-King!

In another instant, the norther was around them and the wagon train,
halted on a subtropical plain, was enveloped in an atmosphere, akin to
that which congeals the icebergs of the Arctic Ocean!

Nothing more was seen nothing heard, save the whistling of the wind, or
its hoarse roaring, as it thundered against the tilts of the wagons. The
mules having instinctively turned stern towards it, stood silent in
their traces and the voices of the travelers, in solemn converse inside,
could not be distinguished amid the howling of the hurricane.

Every aperture had been closed for it was soon discovered, that to show
a face from under the shelter canvas was to court suffocation. The air
was surcharged with ashes, lifted aloft from the burnt plain, and
reduced, by the whirling of the wind, to an impalpable but poisonous
powder.

For over an hour did the atmosphere carry this cinereous cloud, during
which period lasted the imprisonment of the travelers.

At length a voice, speaking close by the curtains of the carriole,
announced their release.

"You can come forth!" said the stranger, the crepe scarf thrown back
above the brim of his hat. "You will still have the storm to contend
against. It will last to the end of your journey and, perhaps for three
days longer. But you have nothing further to fear. The ashes are all
swept off. They've gone before you and you're not likely to overtake
them this side the Rio Grande."

"Sir!" said the planter, hastily descending the steps of the carriage,
"we have to thank you, for--for--"

"Our lives, father!" cried Henry, supplying the proper words. "I hope,
sir, you will favour us with your name?"

"Maurice Gerald!" returned the stranger "though, at the Fort, you will
find me better known as Maurice the mustanger."

"A mustanger!" scornfully muttered Calhoun, but only loud enough to be
heard by Louise.

"Only a mustanger!" reflected the aristocratic Poindexter, the fervor of
his gratitude becoming sensibly chilled.

"For guide, you will no longer need either me, or my lasso," said the
hunter of wild horses. "The cypress is in sight keep straight towards
it. After crossing, you will see the flag over the Fort. You may yet
reach your journey's end before night. I have no time to tarry and must
say adieu."

Satan himself, astride a Tartarean steed, could not have looked more
like the devil, than did Maurice the Mustanger, as he separated for the
second time from the planter and his party.

But neither his ashy envelope, nor the announcement of his humble
calling, did aught to damage him in the estimation of one, whose
thoughts were already predisposed in his favour; Louise Poindexter.

On hearing him declare his name by presumption, already known to her,
she but more tenderly cherished the bit of cardboard, chafing against
her snow white bosom at the same time muttering in soft pensive
soliloquy, heard only by herself.

"Maurice the mustanger! despite your sooty covering despite your modest
pretence you have touched the heart of a Creole maiden. Mon Dieu-Mon
Dieu! He is too like Lucifer for me to despite him!"



5. THE HOME OF THE HORSE-HUNTER.


Where the Rio de Nueces (River of Nuts) collects its waters from a
hundred tributary streams lining the map like the limbs of a grand
genealogical tree, you may look upon a land of surpassing fairness. Its
surface is "rolling prairie," interspersed with clumps of post-oak and
pecan, here and there along the banks of the watercourses uniting into
continuous groves.

In some places, these timbered tracts, assume the aspect of the true
chaparral--a thicket rather than a forest--its principal growth being
various kinds of acacia, associated with copaiva and creosote trees,
with wild aloes, with eccentric shapes of cereus, cactus, and
arborescent yucca.

These spinous forms of vegetation, though repulsive to the eye of the
agriculturist as proving the utter sterility of the soil present an
attractive aspect to the botanist, or the lover of Nature especially
when the cereus unfolds its huge wax like blossoms, or the Fouquiera
splendens overtops the surrounding shrubbery with its spike of
resplendent flowers, like a red flag hanging unfolded along its staff.

The whole region, however, is not of this character. There are stretches
of greater fertility, where a black calcareous earth, gives nourishment
to trees of taller growth, and more luxuriant foliage. The "wild China"
-a true sapindal--the pecan, the elm, the hackberry, and the oak of
several species, with here and there a cypress, or cottonwood form the
components of many a sylvan scene, which, from the blending of their
leaves of various shades of green, and the ever changing contour of
their clumps, deserves to be denominated fair.

The streams of this region are of crystal purity, their waters tinted
only by the reflection of sapphire skies. Its sun, moon, and stars are
scarcely ever concealed behind a cloud. The demon of disease, has not
found his way into this salubrious spot, no epidemic can dwell within
its borders.

Despite these advantages, civilized man has not yet made it his home.
Its paths are trodden only by the red skinned rovers of the prairie
-Lipano or Comanche--and these only when mounted, and upon the maraud
towards the settlements of the Lower Nueces, or Leona.

It may be on this account, though it would almost, seem as if they were
actuated by a love of the beautiful and picturesque, that the true
children of Nature, the wild animals, have selected this spot as their
favorite habitat and home. In no part of Texas does the stag bound up so
often before you and nowhere is the timid antelope so frequently seen.
The rabbit, and his gigantic cousin, the mule-rabbit, are scarcely ever
out of sight while the polecat, the opossum, and the curious peccary,
are encountered at frequent intervals.

Birds, too, of beautiful forms and colours, enliven the landscape. The
quail whirrs up from the path, the king vulture wheels in the ambient
air, the wild turkey, of gigantic stature, suns his resplendent gorget
by the side of the pecan copse and the singular tailor bird known among
the rude Rangers as the "bird of paradise" flouts his long scissors like
tail among the feathery fronds of the acacia.

Beautiful butterflies spread their wide wings in flapping flight or,
perched upon some gay corolla, look as if they formed of the flower.
Huge bees (Melipona), clad in velvet liveries, amid the blossoming
bushes, disputing possession with hawk moths and humming birds not much
larger than them.

They are not all innocent, the denizens of this lovely land. Here the
rattlesnake attains to larger dimensions than in any other part of North
America, and shares the covert with the more dangerous moccasin. Here,
too, the tarantula inflicts its venomous sting, the scorpion poisons
with its bite and the centipede, by simply crawling over the skin,
causes a fever that may prove fatal!

Along the wooded banks of the streams may be encountered the spotted
ocelot, the puma, and their more powerful congener, the jaguar the last
of these felide being here upon the northern limit of its geographical
range.

Along the edges of the chapparal skulks the gaunt Texan wolf solitarily
and in silence while a kindred and more cowardly species, the coyote,
may be observed, far out upon the open plain, hunting in packs.

Sharing the same range with these, the most truculent of quadrupeds, may
be seen the noblest and most beautiful of animals, perhaps nobler and
more beautiful than man, certainly the most distinguished of man's
companions; the horse!

Here independent of man's caprice, his jaw unchecked by bitt or curb,
his back unscathed by pack or saddle, he roams unrestrained giving way
to all the wildness of his nature.

But even in this, his favourite haunt, he is not always left alone. Man
presumes to be his pursuer and tamer for here was he sought, captured,
and conquered, by Maurice the Mustanger.

On the banks of the Alamo,--one of the most sparkling streamlets that
pay tribute to the Nueces--stood a dwelling, unpretentious as any to be
found within the limits of Texas, and certainly as picturesque.

Its walls were composed of split trunks of the arborescent yucca, set
stockade fashion in the ground while its roof was a thatch furnished by
the long bayonet shaped leaves of the same gigantic lily.

The interstices between the uprights, instead of being "chinked" with
clay, as is common in the cabins of Western Texas, were covered by a
sheeting of horse skins attached, not by iron tacks, but with the sharp
spines that terminate the leaves of the pita plant.

On the bluffs, that on both sides overlooked the rivulet and which were
but the termination of the escarpment of the higher plain grew in
abundance the material out of which the hut had been constructed tree
yuccas and magueys, amidst other rugged types of sterile vegetation,
whereas the fertile valley below was covered with a growth of heavy
timber consisting chiefly of red mulberry, post-oak, and pecan, that
formed a forest of several leagues in length. The timbered tract was, in
fact, conterminous with the bottom lands the tops of the trees scarce
using to a level with the escarpment of the cliff.

It was not continuous. Along the edge of the streamlet were breaks
forming little meads, or savannahs, covered with that most nutritious of
grasses, and known among Mexicans as grama.

In the concavity of one of these, of semicircular shape, which served as
a natural lawn, stood the primitive dwelling above described; the
streamlet representing the chord, while the curve was traced by the
trunks of the trees that resembled a series of columns supporting the
roof of some sylvan coliseum.

The structure was in shadow, a little retired among the trees, as if the
site had been chosen with a view to concealment. It could have been
seen, but by one passing along the bank of the stream and then only with
the observer directly in front of it. Its rude style of architecture,
and russet hue, contributed still further to its inconspicuousness.

The house was a mere cabin, not larger than a marquee tent, with only a
single aperture, the door if we except the flue of a slender clay
chimney, erected at one end against the upright posts. The doorway had a
door, a light framework of wood, with a horse skin stretched over it,
and hung upon hinges cut from the same hide.

In the rear was an open shed, thatched with yucca leaves, and supported
by half a dozen posts. Around this, was a small enclosure, obtained by
tying cross poles to the trunks of the adjacent trees.

A still more extensive enclosure, containing within its circumference,
more than an acre of the timbered tract, and fenced in a similar manner,
extended rearward from the cabin, terminating against the bluff. Its
turf tracked and torn by numerous hoof prints, in some places trampled
into a hard surface, told of its use: a "corral" for wild horses
-mustangs. This was made still more manifest, by the presence of a dozen
or more of these animals within the enclosure whose glaring eyeballs,
and excited actions, gave evidence of their recent capture, and how ill
they brooked the imprisonment of that shadowy paddock.

The interior of the hut was not without some show of neatness and
comfort. The sheeting of mustang skins, that covered the walls, with the
hairy side turned inward, presented no mean appearance. The smooth
shining coats of all colours black, bay, snow white, sorrel, and
skewbald offered to the eye a surface pleasantly variegated and there
had evidently been some taste displayed in their arrangement.

The furniture was of the scantiest kind. It consisted of a counterfeit
camp bedstead, formed by stretching a horse hide over a framework of
trestles, a couple of stools diminutive specimens on the same model and
a rude table, shaped out of hewn slabs of the yucca tree. Something like
a second sleeping place appeared in a remote corner a "shakedown," or
"spread," of the universal mustang skin.

What was least to be expected in such a place was a shelf containing
about a score of books, with pens, ink, and papeterie also a newspaper
lying upon the slab table.

Further proofs of civilization, if not refinement, presented themselves
in the shape of a large leathern portmanteau, a double-barreled gun,
with "Westley Richards" upon the breech; a drinking cup of chased
silver, a huntsman's horn, and a dog-call.

Upon the floor were a few culinary utensils, mostly of tin while in one
corner stood a demijohn, covered with wicker, and evidently containing
something stronger than the water of the Alamo.

Other "chattels" in the cabin were perhaps more in keeping with the
place. There was a high peaked Mexican saddle a bridle, with headstall
of plaited horsehair, and reins to correspond two or three spare serapés
and some odds and ends of raw hide rope.

Such was the structure of the mustanger's dwelling such its surroundings
such it's interior and contents, with the exception of its living
occupants two in number.

On one of the stools, standing in the centre of the floor was seated a
man, who could not be the mustanger himself. In no way did he present
the semblance of a proprietor. On the contrary, the air of the servitor,
the mien of habitual obedience, was impressed upon him beyond the chance
of misconstruction.

Rude as was the cabin that sheltered him, no one entering under its roof
would have mistaken him for its master.

Not that he appeared ill clad or fed, or in any way stinted in his
requirements. He was a round plump specimen, with a shock of carrot
colored hair and a bright ruddy skin, habited in a suit of stout stuff
half corduroy, half cotton-velvet. The corduroy was in the shape of a
pair of knee-breeches, with gaiters to correspond; the velveteen, once
bottle green, now faded to a brownish line, exhibited itself in a sort
of shooting coat, with ample pockets in the breast and skirts.

A "wide awake" hat, cocked over a pair of eyes equally deserving the
appellation, completed the costume of the individual in question if we
except a shirt of coarse calico, a red cotton kerchief loosely knotted
around his neck, and a pair of Irish brogues upon his feet.

It needed neither the brogues, nor the corduroy breeches, to proclaim
his nationality. His lips, nose, eyes, air, and attitude, were all
unmistakably Milesian.

Had there been any ambiguity about this, it would have been dispelled as
he opened his mouth for the emission of speech and this he at intervals
did, in an accent that could only have been acquired in the shire of
Galway. As he was the sole human occupant of the cabin, it might be
supposed that he spoke only in soliloquy. Not so, however. Couched upon
a piece of horse skin, in front of the fire, with snout half buried
among the ashes, was a canine companion, whose appearance bespoke a
countryman a huge Irish staghound, that looked as if he too understood
the speech of Connemara.

Whether he did so or not, it was addressed, to him, as if he was
expected to comprehend every word.

"Och, Tara, me jewel!" exclaimed he in the corduroys, fraternally
interrogating the hound "hadn't yet weesh now to be back in
Ballyballagh? Wadn't yez like to be wance more in the courtyard of the
owld castle, friskm' over the clane stones, an' being tripe fed till
there wasn't a rib to be seen in your sides so different from what they
ar now when I kyan count every wan of them? Sowl! It's meself that ud
like to be there, anyhow! But there's no knowm when the young masther
'll go back, an' take us along wid him. Niver mind, Tara! He's goin' to
the sittlements soon, you owld dog an' he's promised to take us there
that's some consolashun. By japers! It's over three months since I've
been to the Fort, meself. Maybe I'll find some owld acquaintance among
them Irish sodgers that's come lately an' be me sowl, as I do, won't
there be a dhrap betwane us won't there, Tara?"

The staghound, raising his head at hearing the mention of his name, gave
a slight sniff, as if saying "Yes" in answer to the droll interrogatory.

"I'd like a dhrap now," continued the speaker, casting a covetous glance
towards the wickered jar "mightily I wud that same but the dimmyjan is
too near bein' empty, an' the young masther might miss it. Besides, it
wudn't be real honest of me to take it widout lave wud it, Tara?"

The dog again raised his head above the ashes, and sneezed as before.

"Why, that was yis, the last time ye spoke! Div yez mane it for the same
now? Till me, Tara!"

Once more the hound gave utterance to the sound that appeared to be
caused either by a slight touch of influenza, or the ashes having
entered his nostrils.

"'Yis' again? In truth that's just what the dumb crayther manes! Don't
tempt me, ye owld thief! No-no I won't touch the whisky. I'll only draw
the cork out ay the dimmy jan, an' take a smell at it. Shure the masther
won't know anything about that an' if he did, he wudn't mind it!
Smellin' kyant do the pothyeen any harm."

During the concluding portion of this utterance, the speaker had
forsaken his seat, and approached the corner where stood the jar.

Notwithstanding the professed innocence of his intent, there was a
stealthiness about his movements, that seemed to argue either a want of
confidence in his own integrity, or in his power to resist temptation.

He stood for a short while listening his eyes turned towards the open
doorway and then, taking up the demijohn,' he drew out the stopper, and
held the neck to his nose.

For some seconds he remained in this attitude giving out no other sign
than an occasional "sniff," similar to that uttered by the hound, and
which he had been fain to interpret as an affirmative answer to his
interrogatory. It expressed the enjoyment he was deriving from the
bouquet of the potent spirit.

But this only satisfied him for a very short time and gradually the
bottom of the jar was seen going upwards, while the reverse end
descended in like ratio in the direction of his protruding lips.

"By japers!" he exclaimed, once more glancing stealthily towards the
door, "flesh and blood cudn't stand the smell of that bewtiful whisky,
widout tastin' it. Trath! I'll chance it jist the smallest trifle to wet
the tap of my tongue. Maybe it 'll burn the skin av it but no matter
here goes!"

Without further ado the neck of the demijohn was brought in contact with
his lips but instead of the "smallest trifle" to wet the top of his
tongue, the "gluck gluck" of the escaping fluid told that he was
administering a copious saturation to the whole lining of his larynx,
and something more.

After half a dozen "smacks" of the mouth, with other exclamations
denoting supreme satisfaction, he hastily restored the stopper returned
the demijohn to its place and glided back to his seat upon the stool.

"Tara, ye owld thief!" said he, addressing himself once more to his
canine companion, "it was you that timpted me! No matther, man the
masther 'll niver miss it besides, he's goin' soon to the Fort, an' can
lay in a fresh supply."

For a time the pilferer remained silent either reflecting on the act he
had committed, or enjoying the effects which the "potheen" had produced
upon his spirits.

His silence was of short duration and was terminated by a soliloquy.

"I wondher," muttered he, "what makes Masther Maurice so anxious to get
back to the Settlements. He says he'll go when ever he catches that
spotty mustang he has seen lately. Sowl! isn't he bad afther that baste!
I suppose it must be somethin' beyant the common the more be token, as
he has chased the crayther three times widout bein' able to throw his
rope over it an' mounted on the blood-bay, too. He sez he won't give it
up, till he gets hold of it. Trath! I hope it'll be grupped aton, or wez
may stay here till the marnin' av doomsday. Hush! fwhat'sthat?"

Tara springing up from his couch of skin, and rushing out with a low
growl, had caused the exclamation.

"Phelim!" hailed a voice from the outside. "Phelim!"

"It's the masther," muttered Phelim, as he jumped from his stool, and
followed the dog through the doorway.



6. THE SPOTTED MUSTANG.


Phelim was not mistaken as to the voice that had hailed him. It was that
of his master, Maurice Gerald.

On getting outside, he saw the mustanger at a short distance from the
door, and advancing towards it.

As the servant should have expected, his master was mounted upon his
horse no longer of a reddish color, but appearing almost black. The
animal's coat was darkened with sweat its counter and flanks speckled
with foam.

The blood-bay was not alone. At the end of the lasso, drawn taut from
the saddle tree was a companion, or, to speak more accurately, a
captive. With a leathern thong looped around its under jaw, and firmly
embracing the bars of its mouth, kept in place by another passing over
its neck immediately behind the ears, was the captive secured.

It was a mustang of peculiar appearance, as regarded its markings which
were of a land rarely seen even among the largest "gangs" that roam over
the prairie pastures, where colours of the most eccentric patterns are
not uncommon.

That of the animal in question was a ground of dark chocolate in places
approaching to black with white spots distributed over it, as regularly
as the contrary colours upon the skin of the jaguar.

As if to give effect to this pleasing arrangement of hues, the creature
was of perfect shape broad chested, fall in the flanks, and clean limbed
with a hoof showing half a score of concentric rings, and a head that
might have been taken as a type of equine beauty. It was of large size
for a mustang, though much smaller than the ordinary English horse even
smaller than the blood-bay himself a mustang that had assisted in its
cap tore.

The beautiful captive was a mare, one of a manada that frequented the
plains near the source of the Alamo and where, for the third time, the
mustanger had unsuccessfully chased it.

In his case, the proverb had proved untrue. In the third time he had not
found the "charm"; though it favoured him in the fourth. By the
fascination of a long rope, with a running noose at its end, he had
secured the creature that, for some reason known only to him, he so
ardently wished to possess.

Phelim had never seen his master return from a horse hunting excursion
in such a state of excitement even when coming back as he often did with
half a dozen mustangs led loosely at the end of his lasso.

But never before at the end of that implement had Phelim beheld such a
beauty as the spotted mare. She was a thing to excite the admiration of
one less a connoisseur in horse flesh than the ci-devant stable boy of
Castle Ballagh.

"Hooch-hoop-hoora!" cried he, as he set eyes upon the captive, at the
same time tossing his hat high into the air. "Thanks to the Howly
Vargin, an' Saint Pathrick to boot, Masther Maurice, yez have catched
the spotty at last! It's a mare, be japers! Och! the purty crayther! I
don't wondher yez hiv been so bad about gettin' howlt av her. Sowl! if
yea had her in Ballinasloe Fair, yez might ask your own price, and get
it too, widout givin' sixpence av luckpenny. Oh! the purty crayther!
Where will yez hiv her phut, masther? Into the corral, wid the others?"

"No, she might get kicked among them. We shall tie her in the shed.
Castro must pass his night outside among the trees. If he's got any
gallantry in him he won't mind that. Did you ever see anything so
beautiful as she is, Phelim I mean in the way of horseflesh?"

"Never, Masther Maurice never, in all me life! An' I've seen some nice
bits of blood about Ballyballagh. Oh, the purty crayther! she looks as
if a body cud ate her and yit, in trath, she looks like she wud ate you.
Yez haven't given her the schoolin' lesson, have yez?"

"No, Phelim I don't want to break her just yet not till I have time, and
can do it properly. It would never do to spoil such perfection as that.
I shall tame her, after we've taken ner to the Settlements."

"Yez be goin' there, masther?"

"Tomorrow, we shall start by daybreak, so as to make only one day
between here and the Fort."

"Sowl! I'm glad to hear it. Not on me own account, but yours, Masther
Maurice. Maybe yez don't know that the whisky's on the idge of bein'
out? From the rattle of the jar, I don't think there's more than three
naggins left. Them sutlers at the Fort aren't honest. They chate ye in
the mizyure besides wafcherin' the whisky, so that it won't bear a dhrap
more out ay the strame hare. Trath! a gallon ay Innishowen wud last
equal to three ay this Amerikin rotgut, as the Yankees themselves
christen it."

"Never mind about the whisky, Phelim I suppose there's enough to last us
for this night, and fill our flasks for the journey of tomorrow. Look
alive, old Ballyballagh! Let us stable the spotted mare and then I shall
have time to talk about a fresh supply of 'potheen,' which I know you
like better than anything else, except yourself!"

"And you, Masther Maurice!" retorted the Galwegian, with a comic twinkle
of the eye, that caused his master to leap laughingly out of the saddle.

The spotted mare was soon stabled in the shed, Castro being temporarily
attached to a tree where Phelim proceeded to groom him after the most
approved prairie fashion.

The mustanger threw himself on his horse skin couch, wearied with the
work of the day. The capture of the "yegua pinta" had cost him a long
and arduous chase such as he had never ridden before in pursuit of a
mustang.

There was a motive that had urged him on, unknown to Phelim unknown to
Castro who carried him unknown to living creature, save himself.

Notwithstanding that he had spent several days in the saddle the last
three in constant pursuit of the spotted mare despite the weariness thus
occasioned; he was unable to obtain repose. At intervals he rose to his
feet, and paced the floor of his hut, as if stirred by some exciting
emotion.

For several nights he had slept uneasily at intervals tossing upon his
catre till not only his henchman Phelim, but his hound Tara, wondered
what could be the meaning of his unrest.

The former might have attributed it to his desire to possess the spotted
mare had he not known that his master's feverish feeling antedated his
knowledge of the existence of this peculiar quadruped.

It was several days after his last return from the Fort that the "yegua
pinta" had first presented herself to the eye of the mustanger. That
therefore could not be the cause of his altered demeanor.

His success in having secured the animal, instead of tranquillizing his
spirit, seemed to have produced the contrary effect.

At least, so thought Phelim, who with the freedom of that relationship,
known as "foster-brother", had at length determined on questioning his
master as to the cause of his inquietude.

As the latter lay shifting from side to side, he was saluted with the
interrogatory--

"Masther Maurice, fwhat, in the name of the Holly Virgin, is the matther
wid ye?"

"Nothing, Phelim nothing, mabohil! What makes you think there is?"

"Alannah! How kyan I help thinkin it? Yez kyant get a wink av sleep
niver since ye returned the last time from the Sittlement. Och! yez hiv
seen somethin' there that kapes ye awake? Shure now, it isn't wan ay
them Mixikin girls mow-chachas, as they call them? No, I won't believe
it. You wudn't be wan av the owld Geralds to care for such trash as
them."

"Nonsense, my good fellow! There's nothing the matter with me. It's all
in your own imagination."

"Trath, masther, yez arr mistaken. If there's anything asthray wid me
imaginashun, fhwat is it that's gone wrong wid your own? That is, whin
yez arr aslape which aren't often av late."

"When I'm asleep! What do you mean, Phelim?"

"What div I mane? Fwhy, that wheniver yez close your eyes an' think yez
are sleepin', ye begin palaverin', as if a preast was confessin' ye!"

"Ah! Is that so? What have you heard me say?"

"Not much, masther, that I cud make sinse out av. Yez be always tryin'
to pronounce a big name that appears to have no indin', though it begins
wid a point."'

"A name! What name?"

"Sowl! I kyan't till ye exakly. It's too long for me to remimber, seein'
that my edicashun was intirely neglicted. But there's another name that
yez phut before it; an' that I kyan tell ye. It's a woman's name, though
it's not common in the owld counthry. It's Looaze that ye say, Masther
Maurice an' then comes the point."

"Ah!" interrupted the young Irishman, evidently not caring to converse
longer on the subject. "Some name I may have heard somewhere,
accidentally. One does have such strange ideas in dreams!"

"Trath! yez spake the truth there; for in your drames, masther, ye talk
about a purty girl lookin' out av a carriage wid curtains to it, an'
tellin' her to close them agaynst some danger that yez are going to save
her from."

"I wonder what puts such nonsense into my head?"

"I wondher meself," rejoined Fhelim, fixing his eyes upon his young
master with a stealthy but scrutinizing look. "Shure," he continued, "if
I may make bowld to ax the question shure, Masther Maurice, yez haven't
been makin' a Judy Fitzsumnon's mother av yerself, an' fallin' in love
wid wan of these Yankee weemen out thare? Och an-an-ee! That wnd be a
misforthune an' fhwat wnd she say the purty colleen wid the goodlen hair
an' blue eyes, that lives not twinty miles from Ballyballagh?"

"Poh, poh! Phelim! you're taking leave of your senses, I fear."

"Trath, masther, I aren't, but I know somethin' I wud like to take lave
of."

"What is that? Not me, I hope?"

"Yon, alannah? Niver! It's Tixas I mane. I'd like to take lave of that
an' you goin' along wid me back to the owld sad. Arrah, now, fhwat's the
use ay yer stayin' here, wastin' the best part av yer days in doin'
nothin'? Shore yez don't make more than a bare livin' by the horse
catchin' an' if yes did, what mathers it? Yer owld aunt at Castle
Ballagh can't howld out much longer an' when she's did, the bewtiful
demane 'll be yours, spite ay the dhirty way she's thratin' ye. Shure
the property's got a tail to it an' not a mother's son ay them can. Kape
ye out av it!"

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the young Irishman "you'requite a lawyer, Phelim.
What a first rate attorney you'd have made! But come! You forget that I
haven't tasted food since morning. What have you got in the larder?"

"Trath! there's no great stock, masther. Yez haven't laid in anythin'
for the three days yez hiv been afther spotty. There's only the cowld
venison an' the corn bread. If yez like I'll phut the venison in the
pat, an' make a hash av it."

"Yes, do so. I can wait."

"Won't yez wait betther afther tastin' a dhrap ay the crayther?"

"True let me have it."

"Will yez take it nate, or with a little wather? Trath! it won't carry
much av that same."

"A glass of grog draw the water fresh from the stream."

Phelim took hold of the silver drinking cup, and was about stepping
outside, when a growl from Tara, accompanied by a start, and followed by
a rush across the floor, caused the servitor to approach the door with a
certain degree of caution.

The barking of the dog soon subsided into a series of joyful
whisperings, which told that he had been gratified by the sight of some
old acquaintance.

"It's owld Zeb Stump," said Phelim, first peeping out, and then stepping
boldly forth with the double design of greeting the new comer, and
executing the order he had received from his master.

The individual, who had thus freely presented himself in front of the
mustanger's cabin, was as unlike either of its occupants, as one from
the other.

He stood full six feet high, in a pair of tall boots, fabricated out of
tanned alligator skin into the ample tops of which were thrust the
bottoms of his pantaloons the latter being of woolen homespun, that had
been dyed with "dog-wood ooze," but was now of a simple dirt color. A
deerskin under shirt, without any other, covered his breast and
shoulders over which was a "blanket coat," that had once been green,
long since gone to a greenish yellow, with most of the wool worn off.

There was no other garment to be seen; a slouch felt hat, of grayish
color, badly battered, completing the simple and somewhat scant,
collection of his wardrobe.

He was equipped in the style of a backwoods hunter, of the true Daniel
Boone breed: bullet pouch, and large crescent shaped powder horn, both
suspended by shoulder straps, hanging under the right arm a waist belt
of thick leather keeping his coat closed and sustaining a skin sheath,
from which protruded the rough stag horn handle of a long bladed knife.

He did not affect either moccasins, leggings, nor the caped and fringed
tunic shirt of dressed deerskin worn by most Texan hunters. There was no
embroidery upon his coarse clothing, no carving upon his accoutrements
or weapons, nothing in his tout ensemble intended as ornamental.
Everything was plain almost to rudeness as if dictated by a spirit that
despised "fan-faron."

Even the rifle, his reliable weapon, the chief tool of his trade looked
like a rounded bar of iron, with a piece of brown unpolished wood at the
end, forming its stock and barrel, when the butt rested on the ground,
reaching up to the level of his shoulder.

The individual thus clothed and equipped was apparently about fifty
years of age, with a complexion inclining to dark, and features that, at
first sight, exhibited a grave aspect.

On close scrutiny, however, could be detected an underlying stratum of
quiet humor and in the twinkle of a small grayish eye there was evidence
that its owner could keenly relish a joke, or, at times, perpetrate one.

The Irishman had pronounced his name it was Zebulon Stump, or "Old Zeb
Stump," as he was better known to the very limited circle of his
acquaintances.

"Kentucky, by birth an' raisin'" as he would have described himself, if
asked the country of his nativity, he had passed the early part of his
life among the primeval forests of the Lower Mississippi his sole
calling that of .a hunter and now at a later period, he was performing
the same métier in the wilds of South western Texas.

The behavior of the staghound, as it bounded before him, exhibiting a
series of canine welcomes, told of a friendly acquaintance between Zeb
Stump and Maurice the mustanger.

"Evening" laconically saluted Zeb, as his tall figure shadowed the cabin
door.

"Good evening, Mr. Stump!" rejoined the owner of the hut, rising to
receive him. "Step inside, and take a seat!"

The hunter accepted the invitation and, making a single stride across
the floor, after some awkward maneuvering, succeeded in planting himself
on the stool lately occupied by Phelim. The lowness of the seat brought
his knees upon a level with his chin, the tall rifle rising like a
pikestaff several feet above his head.

"Durn stools, anyhow!" muttered he, evidently dissatisfied with the
posture "an' chore, too, for the matter. I like to plant my stare upon a
log thur ye've got somethin' under ye as ain't like to guv way."

"Try that," said his host, pointing to the leathern portmanteau in the
corner "you'll find it a firmer seat."

Old Zeb, adopting the suggestion, unfolded the zigzag of his colossal
carcass, and transferred it to the trunk.

"On foot, Mr. Stump, as usual?"

"No I got my old critter out thur, tied to a saplin'. I wa'n't
abuntin'."

"You never hunt on horseback, I believe?"

"I shed be a greenhorn if I dud. Anybody as goes huntm' a hossback must
be a durnation fool!"

"But it's the universal fashion in Texas!"

"Univarsal or no, it air a fool's fashion a durned lazy fool's fashion!
I kill more meat in one day a foot, then I ked in a hul week wi' a hoss
btween my legs. I don't misdoubt that a hoss air the best thing for you
bein' as yur game's entire diffrent. But when ye go arter baar, or deer,
or turkey eyther, ye won't see much o' them, trampin' about through the
timmer a hossback, an' scarrin' everythin' es hes got ears 'ithin the
circuit o' a mile. As for hosses, I shedn't be bothered wi' ne'er a one
no how, ef twa'n't for packin' the meat: thet's why I keep my ole maar."

"She's outside, you say? Let Phelim take her round to the shed. You'll
stay all night?"

"I kill for that purpiss. But ye needn't trouble about the maar she air
hitched safe enuf. I'll let her out on the laryitt, afore I take to
grass."

"You'll have something to eat? Phelim was just getting supper ready. I'm
sorry I can't offer you anything very dainty some hash of venison."

"Nothin' better 'n good deermeat, 'ceptin it be baar, but I like' both
done over the coals. Maybe I can help ye to some'at thet'll make a
roast. Mister Pheelum, ef ye don't mind steppin' to whar my critter air
hitched, ye'll find a gobbler hangin' over the horn o' the saddle. I
shot the bird as I war comin' up the crik."

"Oh, that is rare good fortune! Our larder has got very low quite out,
in truth. I've been so occupied, for the last three days, in chasing a
very curious mustang that I never thought of taking my gun with me.
Phelim and I, and Tara, too, had got to the edge of starvation."

"Whet sort o' a mustang?" inquired the hunter, in a tone that betrayed
interest, and without appearing to notice the final remark.

"A mare with white spots on a dark chocolate ground a splendid
creature!"

"Durn it, young fellur! thet air's the very bizness thet's brung me over
to ye."

"Indeed!"

"I've seed that mustang maar, ye say it air, though I kedn't tell, as
she'd niver let me 'ithin hef a mile o' her. I've seed her several times
out on the purayra, an' I jest wanted ye to go arter her. I'll tell ye
why. I've been to the Leeona settlements since I seed you last, and
since I seed her too. Wal, theer hev kum thur a man as I knowed on the
Massissippi. He air a rich planter, as used to keep up the tallest kind
o' doin's, 'specially in the feestin' way. Many's the jeint o' deermeat,
and many's the turkey-gobbler this hyur coon hes surplied for his table.
His name air Peintdexter."

"Poindexter?"

"Thet air the name-one o' the best known on the Massissippi from Orleens
to St. Looey. He war rich then, an I reck'n, ain't poor now seein' as
he's brought about a hunderd niggers along wi' him. Beside, thur'a a
nephew o' hisn, by name Calhoun. He's got the dollars, an' nothin' to do
wi' 'em but lend 'em to his uncle the which, for a startin reezun, I
think he will. Now, young fellur, I'll tell ye why I wanted to see yo".
Thet 'ere planter hev got a darter, as air dead bent upon hossflesh. She
used to ride the skittishest kind o' cattle in Loozeyanner, wher they
lived. She heern me tellin' the old 'un 'boat the spotted mustang and
nothin' would content her thur and then, till he promised he'd offer a
big price for catchin' the critter. He sayed he'd give a kupple o'
hunderd dollars for the anymal, ef 'twur anythin like what I sayed it
wur. In coorse, I knowed thet 'ud send all the mustangers in the
settlement straight custrut arter it; so, savin' nuthin' to nobody, I
kam over hyur, fast as my ole maar 'ud fetch me. You grup thet 'ere
spotty, an' Zeb Stump 'll go yur bail ye'll grab them two hunderd
dollars."

"Will you step this way, Mr. Stump?" said the young Irishman, rising
from his stool, and proceeding in the direction of the door.

The hunter followed, not without showing some surprise at the abrupt
invitation.

Maurice conducted his visitor round to the rear of the cabin and,
pointing into the shed, inquired,--

"Does that look anything like the mustang you've been speaking of?"

"Dog-gone my cats, ef 'taint the eyedenticul same! Grupped already! Two
hunderd dollars, easy as slidin' down a barked saplin'! Young fellur yur
in luck, two hunderd, slick sure! and darn me, ef the anymal ain't worth
every cent o' the money! Geehosofat! what a putty beest it air! Won't
Miss Peintdexter be pleezed! It'll turn that young critter 'most crazy!"



7. NOCTURNAL ANNOYANCE.


The unexpected discovery, that his purpose had been already anticipated
by the capture of the spotted mustang, raised the spirits of the old
hunter to a high pitch of excitement.

They were farther elevated by a portion of the contents of the demijohn,
which held out beyond Phelim's expectations giving all hands, an
appetizing "nip" before attacking the roast turkey, with another go each
to wash it down, and several more to accompany the post-cenal pipe.

While this was being indulged in, a conversation was carried on the
themes being those that all prairie men delight to talk about Indian and
hunter lore.

As Zeb Stump was a sort of living encyclopedia of the latter, he was
allowed to do most of the talking and he did it in such a fashion as to
draw many a wondering ejaculation from the tongue of the astonished
Galwegian.

Long before midnight, however, the conversation was brought to a close.
Perhaps the empty demijohn was, as much as any thing else, the monitor
that urged their retiring to rest though there was another and more
creditable reason. On the morrow, the mustanger intended to start for
the Settlements and it was necessary that all should be astir at an
early hour, to make preparation for the journey. The wild horses, as yet
but slightly tamed, had to be strung together, to secure against their
escaping by the way and many other matters required attending to
previous to departure.

The hunter had already tethered out his "ole maar" as he designated the
sorry specimen of horseflesh he was occasionally accustomed to bestride
and had brought back with him an old yellowish blanket, which was all he
ever used for a bed.

"You may take my bedstead," said his courteous host "I can lay myself on
a skin along the floor."

"No," responded the guest "none o' yer shelves for Zeb Stump to sleep
on. I prefer the solid groun'. I kin sleep sounder on it an' besides,
thur's no fear o' fallin' over."

"If you prefer it, then, take the floor. Here's the best place. I'll
spread a hide for you."

"Young fellur, don't you do anythin' o' the sort ye'll only be wastin'
yur time. This child don't sleep on no floors. His bed air the green
grass o' the purayra."

"What! You're not going to sleep outside?" inquired the mustanger in
some surprise seeing that his guest, with the old blanket over his arm,
was making for the door.

"I ain't agoin' to do anythin' else."

"Why, the night is freezing cold almost as chilly as a norther!"

"Darn that! It air better to stan' a leetle chillishness, than a feelin'
o' suffercation which last I wud sartintly hev to go through ef I slep
inside o' a house."

"Surely you are jesting, Mr. Stump?"

"Young fellur!" emphatically rejoined the hunter, without making direct
reply to the question. "It air now nigh all o' six year since Zeb Stump
hev stretched his ole karkiss under a roof. I oncest used to hev a sort
o' a house in the hollow o' a sycamore-tree. That wur on the
Massissippi, when my ole ooman wur alive, an' I kep up the 'stablishment
to 'commerdate her. After she went under, I moved into Loozeyanny an'
then afterward kim out hyur. Since then the blue sky o' Texas hev been
my only kiver, eyther wakin' or sleepin'."

"If you prefer to lie outside--"

"I prefer it," laconically rejoined the hunter, at the same time
stalking over the threshold, and gliding out upon the little lawn that
lay between the cabin and the creek.

His old blanket was not the only thing he carried along with him. Beside
it, hanging over his arm, could be seen some six or seven yards of a
horsehair rope. It was a piece of a cabriesto--usually employed for
tethering horses--though it was not for this purpose it was now to be
used.

Having carefully scrutinized the grass within a circumference of several
feet in diameter which a shining moon enabled him to do he laid the rope
with like care around the spot examined, shaping it into a sort of
irregular ellipse.

Stepping inside this, and wrapping the old blanket around him, he
quietly let himself down into a recumbent position. In an instant after
he appeared to be asleep.

And he was asleep, as his strong breathing testified for Zeb Stump, with
a hale constitution and a quiet conscience, had only to summon sleep,
and it came.

He was not permitted long to indulge his repose without interruption. A
pair of wondering eyes had watched his every movement the eyes of Phelim
O'Neal.

"Mother av Mozis!" muttered the Galwegian "fwhat can be the manin' av
the owld chap's surroundin' himself wid the rope?"

The Irishman's curiosity for a while struggled with his courtesy, but at
length overcame it and just as the clamberer delivered his third snore,
he stole towards him, shook him out of his sleep, and propounded a
question based upon the one he had already put to himself.

"Darn ye for a Irish donkey!" exclaimed Stump, in evident displeasure at
being disturbed "ye made me think it war mornin'! What do I put the rope
roun' me for? What else wud it be for, but to keep off the varmints!"

"What varmints, Misther Stump? Snakes, div yeas mane?"

"Snakes in coorse. Burn ye, go to your bed!"

Notwithstanding the sharp rebuke, Phelim returned to the cabin
apparently in high glee. If there was anything in Texas, "barrin' an'
above the Indyins themselves," as he used to say, "that kept him from
slapin', it was them vinamous sarpints. He hadn't had a good night's
rest, iver since he'd been in the counthry for thinkin' av the ugly
vipers, or dhramin' about thim. What a pity Saint Pathrick hadn't paid
Tixas a visit before goin' to grace!"

Phelim in his remote residence, isolated as he had been from all
intercourse, had never before witnessed the trick of the cabriesto.

He was not slow to avail himself of the knowledge thus acquired.
Returning to the cabin, and creeping stealthily inside as if not wishing
to wake his master, already asleep he was seen to take a cabriesto from
its peg and then going forth again, he carried the long rope around the
stockade walls pay in it out as he proceeded.

Having completed the circumvallation, he re entered the hut as he
stepped over the threshold, muttering to himself--

"Sowl! Phalim O'Nale, you'll sleep sound for this night, spite av all
the snakes in Texas!"

For some minutes after Phelim's soliloquy, a profound stillness reigned
around the hut of the mustanger. There was like silence inside for the
countryman of St. Patrick, no longer apprehensive on the score of
reptile intruders, had fallen asleep, almost on the moment of his
sinking down upon his spread horse skin.

For a while it seemed as if everybody was in the enjoyment of perfect
repose, Tara and the captive steeds included. The only sound heard was
that made by Zeb Stump's "maar," close by cropping the sweet grama
grass.

Presently, however, it might have been perceived that the old hunter was
himself stirring. Instead of lying still in the recumbent attitude to
which he had consigned himself, he could be seen shifting from side to
side, as if some feverish thought was keeping mm awake.

After repeating this movement some half score of times, he at length
raised himself into a sitting posture, and looked discontentedly around.

"Dod-rot his ignorance and impudence the Irish cuss!" were the words
that came hissing through his teeth. "He's spoilt my night's rest, darn
him! 'I would serve him 'bout right to drag him out, an' gie him a
dnckin' in the crik. Dog-goned ef I don't feel 'clined torst doin' it
only I don't like to displeeze the other Irish, who air a somebody.
Possible I don't git a wink o' sleep till mornin'."

Having delivered himself of this peevish soliloquy, the hunter once more
drew the blanket around his body, and returned to the horizontal
position.

Not to sleep, however as was testified by the tossing and fidgeting that
followed terminated by his again raising himself into a sitting posture.

A soliloquy, very similar to his former one, once more proceeded from
his lips this time the threat of ducking Phelim in the creek being
expressed with a more emphatic accent of determination.

He appeared to be wavering, as to whether he should carry the design
into execution, when an object coming under his eye gave a new turn to
his thoughts.

On the ground, not twenty feet from where he sate, a long thin body was
seen gliding over the grass. Its serpent shape, and smooth lubricated
skin reflecting the silvery light of the moon rendered the reptile easy
of identification.

"Snake!" mutteringly exclaimed he, as his eye rested upon the reptilian
form. "Wonder what sort it air, slickerin' about hyus at this time o'
the night? It air too large for a rattle though thur air some in these
parts most as big as it. But it air too clur i' the color, an' thin
about the belly, for ole rattletail! No 'tain't one of them. Hah now I
recognize the varmint! It air a chicken, out on the sarch arter eggs, I
reck'n! Durn the thing! it air comin' torst me, straight as it kin
crawl!"

The tone in which the speaker delivered himself told that he was in no
fear of the reptile even after discovering that it was making approach.
He knew that the snake would not cross the cabriesto but on touching it
would turn away as if the horsehair rope was a line of living fire.
Secure within his magic circle, he could have looked tranquilly at the
intruder, though it had been the most poisonous of prairie serpents.

But it was not. On the contrary, it was one of the most innocuous
harmless as the "chicken," from which the species takes its trivial
title at the same time that it is one of the largest in the list of
North American reptilia.

The expression on Zeb's face, as he sat regarding it, was simply one of
curiosity, and not very keen. To a hunter in the constant habit of
couching himself upon the grass, there was nothing in the sight either
strange or terrifying not even when the creature came close up to the
cabriesto, and, with head slightly elevated, rubbed its snout against
the rope! After that there was less reason to be afraid for the snake,
on doing so, instantly turned round and commenced retreating over the
sward.

For a second or two the hunter watched it moving away, without making
any movement himself. He seemed undecided as to whether he should follow
and destroy it, or leave it to go as it had come unscathed. Had it been
a rattlesnake, "copper-head," or "moccasin" he would have acted up to
the curse delivered in the garden of Eden, and planted the heel of his
heavy alligator skin boot upon its head. But a harmless chicken snake
did not come within the limits of Zeb Stump's antipathy as was evidenced
by some words muttered by him as it slowly receded from the spot.

"Poor crawlin' critter let it go! It ain't no enemy o' mine though it do
suck a turkey's egg now an' then, an' in coorse scarcities the breed o'
the birds. Thet air only its nater, an' no reezun why I shed be angry
wi' it. But thur's a darned good reason why I shed be wi' thet Irish the
dog-goned, stinkin' fool, to ha' woke me es he did! I feel dod-rotted,
like sarvin' him out, ef I ked only think o' some way as wudn't
diskermode the young fellur. Stay! By Geehosofat, I've got the idea--the
nary thing--sure es my name air Zeb Stump!"

On giving utterance to the last words, the hunter whose countenance had
suddenly assumed an expression of quizzical cheerfulness sprang to his
feet and, with bent body, hastened in pursuit of the retreating reptile.

A few strides brought him alongside of it when he pounced upon it with
all his ten digits extended.

In another moment its long glittering body was uplifted from the ground,
and writhing in his grasp.

"Now, Mister Pheelum," exclaimed he, as if apostrophizing the serpent,
"If I don't gi'e yur Irish soul a scare thet 'll keep ye awake till
mornin', I don't know buzzart from turkey. Hyur goes to purvide ye wi' a
bedfellur!"

On saying this, he advanced towards the hut and, silently skulking under
its shadow, released the serpent from his gripe letting it fall within
the circle of the cabriesto, with which Phelim had so craftily
surrounded his sleeping place.

Then returning to his grassy couch, and once more pulling the old
blanket over his shoulders, he muttered,--

"The varmint won't come out acrost the rope thet air sartin an' it ain't
agoin' to leave a yurd o' the groun' 'ithout explorin' for a place to
git clur thet's eequally sartin. Ef it don't crawl over thet Irish
greenhorn 'ithin the hef o' an hour, then ole Zeb Stump air a greenhorn
hisself. Hi! what's thet? Dog-goned ef 'taint on him arready!"

If the hunter had any further reflections to give tongue to, they could
not have been heard for at that moment there arose a confusion of noises
that must have startled every living creature on the Alamo, and for
miles up and down the stream.

It was a human voice that had given the cue or rather, a human howl,
such as could proceed only from the throat of a Galwegian. Phelim O'Neal
was the originator of the infernal fracas.

His voice, however, was soon drowned by a chorus of barkings, snortings,
and neighings that continued without interruption for a period of
several minutes.

"What is it?" demanded his master, as he leaped from the catre, and
groped his way towards his terrified servitor. "What the devil has got
into you, Phelim? Have you seen a ghost?"

"Oh, masther! by Jaysus! Worse than that I've been mur dhered by a
snake. It's bit me all over the body. Blessed Saint Pathrick! I'm a poor
lost sinner! I'll be shure to die!"

"Bitten you, you say--where?" asked Maurice, hastily striking a light,
and proceeding to examine the skin of his henchman, assisted by the old
hunter who had by this time arrived within the cabin.

"I see no sign of bite," continued the mustanger, after having turned
Phelim round and round, and closely scrutinized his epidermis.

"Ne'er a scratch," laconically interpolated Stump.

"Sowl! then, if I'm not bit, so much the better but it crawled all over
me. I can feel it now, as cowld as charity, on me skin."

"Was there a snake at all?" demanded Maurice, inclined to doubt the
statement of his follower. "You've been dreaming of one, Phelim nothing
more."

"Not a bit of a drama, masther it was a raal sarpint. Be me sowl, I'm
shure of it!"

"I reck'n thur's been snake," drily remarked the hunter. "Let's see if
we kin track it up. Kewrious it air, too. Thur's a hair rope all roun'
the house. Wonder how the varmint could hav' crossed thet? Thur thur it
is!"

The hunter, as he spoke, pointed to a corner of the cabin, where the
serpent was seen spirally coiled.

"Only a chicken!" he continued "no more harm in it than in a suckin'
dove. It kedn't ha' bit ye, Mister Pheelum but we'll put it past bitin',
anyhow."

Saying this, the hunter seized the snake in his hands and, raising it
aloft, brought it down upon the floor of the cabin with a "thwack" that
almost deprived it of the power of motion.

"Thur now, Mister Pheelum!" he exclaimed, giving it the finishing touch
with the heel of his heavy boot, "ye may go back to yur bed agin, an'
sleep 'ithout fear o' bein' disturbed till the mornin' leastwise, by
snakes."

Kicking the defunct reptile before him, Zeb Stump strode out of the hut,
gleefully chuckling to himself, as, for the third time, he extended his
colossal carcass along the sward.



8. THE CRAWL OF THE ALACRAN.


The killing of the snake appeared to be the cue for a general return to
quiescence. The howlings of the hound ceased with those of the henchman.
The mustangs once more stood silent under the shadowy trees.

Inside the cabin the only noise heard was an occasional shuffling, when
Phelim, no longer feeling confidence in the protection of his cabriesto,
turned restlessly on his horse skin.

Outside also there was but one sound to disturb the stillness, though
its intonation was in striking contrast with that heard within. It might
have been likened to a cross between the grunt of an alligator and the
croaking of a bull frog but proceeding, as it did, from the nostrils of
Zeb Stump, it could only kill the snore of the slumbering hunter. Its
sonorous fullness proved him to be soundly asleep.

He was had been, almost from the moment of re establishing himself
within the circle of his cabriesto. The revanche obtained over his late
disturber had acted as a settler to his nerves and once more was he
enjoying the relaxation of perfect repose.

For nearly an hour did this contrasting duet continue, varied only by an
occasional recitative in the hoot of the great horned owl, or a cantata
penserosa in the lugubrious wail of the prairie wolf.

At the end of this interval, however, the chorus recommenced, breaking
out abruptly as before, and as before led by the vociferous voice of the
Connemara man.

"Meliah murdher!" he cried, his first exclamation not only startling the
host of the hut, but the guest so soundly sleeping outside. "Howly
Mother! Vargin av unpurticted innocence! Save me save me!"

"Save you from what?" demanded his master, once more springing from his
couch and hastening to strike a light. "What is it, you confounded
fellow?"

"Another snake, yer hanner! Och! be me sowl! a far wickeder sarpent than
the wan Misther Stump killed. It's bit me all over the breast. I feel
the place burnin' where it crawled across me, just as if the horse-shoer
at Ballyballagh had scorched me wid a rid hot iron!"

"Durn ye for a stinkin' skunk!" shouted Zeb Stump, with his blanket
about his shoulder, quite filling the doorway. "Ye've twicest spiled my
night's sleep, ye Irish fool! 'Scuse me, Mister Gerald! Thur air fools
in all countries, I reck'n, 'Merican as well as Irish, but this hyur
follerer of yourn air the dumdest o' the kind iver I kim acrost.
Dog-goned if I see how we air to get any sleep the night, 'less we
drowned him in the crik.

"Och! Misther Stomp dear, don't talk that way. I sware to yez both,
there's another snake. I'm share it's in the kyabin yit. It's only a
minute since I feeled it creepin' over me."

"You must ha' been dreemin?" rejoined the hunter, in a more complacent
tone, and speaking half interrogatively. "I tell ye no snake in Texas
will cross a hosshair rope. The tother 'un must ha' been inside the
house afore ye laid the laryitt roun' it. 'Taint likely there ked ha'
been two on 'em. We kin soon settle that by sarchin'."

"Oh, murdher! Luk bare!" cried the Galwegian, pulling off his shirt and
laying bare his breast. "Thare's the riptoile's track, right acrass over
me ribs! Didn't I tell yez there was another snake? O blissed Mother,
what will become of me? It feels like a strake of fire!"

"Snake!" exclaimed Stump, stepping up to the affrighted Irishman, and
holding the candle close to his skin. "Snake i'deed! By the 'tarnal
earthquake, it air no snake! It air wurst than that!"

"Worse than a snake?" shouted Phelim in dismay. "Worse, yez say, Misther
Stump? Div yez mane that it's dangerous?"

"Wal, it mout be, an' it moutn't. Thet ere 'll depend on whether I kin
find somethin' 'bout hyur, an' find it soon. I don't, then, Mister
Pheelum, I won't answer"

"Oh, Misther Stump, don't say thare's danger!"

"What is it?" demanded Maurice, as his eyes rested upon a reddish line
running diagonally across the breast of his follower, and which looked
as if traced by the point of a hot spindle. "What is it, anyhow?" he
repeated with increasing anxiety, as he observed the serious look with
which the hunter regarded the strange marking. "I never saw the like
before. Is it something to be alarmed about?"

"All of that, Mister Gerald," replied Stump, motioning Maurice outside
the hut, and speaking to him in a whisper, so as not to be overheard by
Phelim.

"But what is it?" eagerly asked the mustanger.

"It air the crawl o' the pisen centipede"

"The poison centipede! Has it bitten him?"

"No, I hardly think it hez. But it don't need that. The crawl o' itself
air enuf to kill him!"

"Merciful Heaven! you don't mean that?"

"I do, Mister Gerald. I've seed more 'an one good fellur go under wi'
that same sort o' a stripe across his skin. If thur ain't somethin'
done, an' that soon, he'll fust get into a ragin' fever, an' then he'll
go out o' his senses, jest as if the bite o' a mad dog had gin him the
hydrophoby. It air no use frightenin' him howsomdever, till I sees what
I kin do. Thur's a yarb, or rayther it air a plant, as grows in these
parts. Ef I kin find it handy, there'll be no defeequilty in cnrin' o'
him. But as the cussed luck wnd hev it, the moon hez sneaked out of
sight an' I kin only get the yarb by gropin'. I know there air plenty o'
it up on the bluff an ef you'll go back inside, an' keep the fellur
quiet, 'n see what kin be done. I won't be gone but a minute."

The whispered colloquy, and the fact of the speakers having gone outside
to carry it on, instead of tranquillizing the fears of Phelim, had by
this time augmented them to an extreme degree and just as the old
hunter, bent upon his herborizing errand, disappeared in the darkness,
he came rushing forth from the hut, howling more piteously than ever.

It was some time before his master could get him tranquillized, and then
only by assuring him on a faith not very firm that there was not the
slightest danger.

A few seconds after this had been accomplished, Zeb Stump reappeared in
the doorway, with a countenance that produced a pleasant change in the
feelings of those inside. His confident air and attitude proclaimed, as
plainly as words could. We done, that he had discovered that of which he
had gone in search the "yarb." In his right hand he held a number of
oval shaped objects of dark green color, all of them bristling with
sharp spines, set over the surface in equidistant clusters. Maurice
recognized the leaves of a plant well known to him the oregano cactus.

"Don't be skeeart, Mister Pheelum!" said the old hunter, in a
consolatory tone, as he stepped across the threshold. "Thur's nothin' to
fear now. I hev got the bolsum as 'll draw the burnin' out o' yur blood,
quicker 'an flame ud scorch a feather. Stop yur yellin', man! Ye've
rousted every bird an' beast, an' creepin' thing too, I reckon, out o'
thar slumbers, for more an' twenty mile up an' down the crik. Ef you go
on at that grist much longer, ye'll bring the Kumanchees out o' thur
mountains, an' that 'ud be wuss mayhap than the crawl o' this hunderd
legged critter. Mister Gerald, you git riddy a bandige, whiles I pur
pares the powltiss."

Drawing his knife from its sheath, the hunter first lopped off the
spines and then, removing the outside skin, he split the thick succulent
leaves of the cactus into slices of about an eighth of an inch in
thickness. These he spread contiguously upon a strip of clean cotton
stuff already prepared by the mustanger and then, with the ability of a
hunter, laid the "powltiss," as he termed it, along the inflamed line,
which he declared to have been made by the claws of the centipede, but
which in reality was caused by the injection of venom from its poison
charged mandibles, a thousand times inserted into the flesh of the
sleeper!

The application of the oregano was almost instantaneous in its effect.
The acrid juice of the plant, producing a counter poison, killed that
which had been secreted by the animal and the patient, relieved from
farther apprehension, and soothed by the sweet confidence of security
stronger from reaction soon fell off into a profound and restorative
slumber.

After searching for the centipede and failing to find it for this
hideous reptile, known in Mexico as the alaeran, unlike the rattlesnake,
has no fear of crossing a cabriesto the improvised physician strode
silently out of the cabin and, once more committing himself to his
grassy conch, slept undisturbed till the morning.

At the earliest hour of daybreak all three were astir, Phelim having
recovered both from his fright and his fever. Having made their matinal
meal upon the debris of the roast turkey, they hastened to take their
departure from the hut. The quondam stable-boy of Ballyballagh, assisted
by the Texan hunter, prepared the wild steeds for transport across the
plains by stringing them securely together while Maurice looked after
his own horse and the spotted mare. More especially did he expend his
time, upon the beautiful captive carefully combing out her mane and
tail, and removing from her glossy coat the stains that told of the
severe chase she had cost him before her proud neck yielded to the
constraint of his lasso.

"Durn it, man!" exclaimed Zeb, as, with some surprise, he stood watching
the movements of the mustanger, "ye needn't ha' been haf so purtickler!
Wudley Poindexter ain't the man as 'll go back from a barg'in. Ye'll git
the two hunderd dollars, sure as my name air Zeb'lun Stump an' dog-gone
my cats, ef the maar ain't worth every red cent o' the money!"

Maurice heard the remarks without making reply but the half suppressed
smile playing around his lips told that the Kentuckian had altogether
misconstrued the motive for his assiduous grooming.

In less than an hour after, the mustanger was on the march, mounted on
his blood bay, and leading the spotted mare at the end of his lasso
while the captive cavallada, under the guidance of the Galwegian groom,
went trooping at a brisk pace over the plain.

Zeb Stump, astride his "ole maar," could only keep up by a constant
hammering with his heels and Tara, picking his steps through the spinous
mezquite grass, trotted listlessly in the rear.

The hut, .with its skin door closed against animal intruders, was left
to take care of itself its silent solitude, for a time, to be disturbed
only by the hooting of the horned owl, the scream of the cougar, or the
howl bark of the hungering coyote.



9. THE FRONTIER FORT.


The "star spangled banner" suspended above Fort Inge, as it flouts forth
from its tall staff, flings its fitful shadow over a scene of strange
and original interest.

It is a picture of pure frontier life which perhaps only the pencil of
the younger Vernet could truthfully portray half military, half civilian
half savage, half civilized mottled with figures of men whose
complexions, costumes, and callings, proclaim them appertaining to the
extremes of both, and every possible gradation between.

Even the mise-en-scene, the Fort itself, is of this miscegenous
character. That star spangled banner waves not over bastions and
battlements it flings no shadow over casemate or covered ray, fosse,
escarpment, or glacis scarce anything that appertains to a fortress. A
rude stockade, constructed out of trunks of algarobia, enclosing shed
stabling for two hundred horses outside this a half score of buildings
of the plainest architectural style some of them mere huts of "wattle
and daub"--jacales--the biggest a barrack behind it the hospital, the
stores of the commissary, and quartermaster on one side the guardhouse
and on the other, more pretentiously placed, the mess room and officers'
quarters all plain in their appearance plastered and whitewashed with
the lime plentifully found on the Leona, all neat and clean, as becomes
a cantonment of troops wearing the uniform of a great civilized nation.
Such is Fort Inge.

At a short distance off another group of houses meets the eye nearly, if
not quite, as imposing as the cluster above described bearing the name
of "The Fort." They are just outside the shadow of the flag, though
under its protection for to it are they indebted for their origin and
existence. They are the germ of the village that universally springs up
in the proximity of an American military post in all probability, and at
no very remote period, to become a town perhaps a great city.

At present their occupants are a settler, whose store contains "knick
knacks" not classed among commissariat rations an hotel keeper whose bar
room, with white sanded floor and shelves sparkling with prismatic
glass, tempts the idler to step in a brace of gamblers whose rival
tables of faro and monte extract from the pockets of the soldiers most
part of their pay a score of dark eyed señoritas of questionable
reputation a like number of hunters, teamsters, mustangers, and
nondescripts such as constitute in ail countries the hangers on of a
military cantonment, or the followers of a camp. The houses in the
occupancy of this motley corporation have been "sited" with some design.
Perhaps they are the property of a single speculator. They stand around
a "square," where, instead of lamp posts or statues, may be seen the
decaying trunk of a cypress, or the bushy form of a hackberry, rising
out of a tapis of trodden grass.

The Leona--at this point a mere rivulet--glides past in the rear both of
fort and village. To the front extends a level plain, green as verdure
can make it in the distance darkened by a bordering of woods, in which
post oaks and pecans, live oaks and elms, struggle for existence with
spinous plants of cactus and anona, with scores of creepers, climbers,
and parasites almost unknown to the botanist. To the south and east
along the banks of the stream, you see scattered houses the homesteads
of plantations some of them rude and of recent construction, with a few
of more pretentious style, and evidently of older origin. One of these
last particularly attracts the attention a structure of superior size
with flat roof, surmounted by a crenelled parapet whose white walls show
conspicuously against the green background of forest with which it is
half encircled. It is the hacienda of Casa del Corvo.

Turning your eye northward, you behold a curious isolated eminence a
gigantic cone of rocks rising several hundred feet above the level of
the plain and beyond, in dim distance, a waving horizontal line
indicating the outlines of the Guadalupe Mountains the outstanding spurs
of that elevated and almost a trodden plateau, the Llano Estacado.

Look aloft! You behold a sky, half sapphire, half turquoise by day,
showing no other spot than the orb of its golden god by night, studded
with stars that appear clipped from clear steel, and a moon whose well
defined disc outshines the effulgence of silver.

Look below at that hour when moon and stars have disappeared, and the
land wind arrives from Matagorda Bay, laden with the fragrance of
flowers when it strikes the starry flag, unfolding it to the eye of the
morn then look below, and behold the picture that should have been
painted by the pencil of Vernet too varied and vivid, too plentiful in
shapes, costumes, and colouring, to be sketched by the pen.

In the tableau you distinguish soldiers in uniform the light blue of the
United States infantry, the darker cloth of the dragoons, and the almost
invisible green of the mounted riflemen.

You will see but few in full uniform, only the officer of the day, the
captain of the guard, and the guard itself.

Their comrades off duty lounge about the barracks, or within the
stockade enclosure, in red flannel shirts, slouch hats, and boots
innocent of blacking.

They mingle with men whose costumes make no pretence to a military
character, tall hunters in tunics of dressed deerskin, with leggings to
correspond herdsmen and mustangers, habited a la Mexicaine, Mexicans
themselves, in wide calzoneros, serapés on their shoulders, botas on
their legs, huge spurs upon their heels, and glazed sombreros set
jauntily on their crowns. They palaver with Indians on a friendly visit
to the Fort, for trade or treaty whose tents stand at some distance, and
from whose shoulders hang blankets of red, and green, and blue giving
them a picturesque, even classical, appearance, in spite of the hideous
paint with which they have bedaubed their skins, and the dirt that
renders sticky their long black hair, lengthened by tresses taken from
the tails of their horses.

Picture to the eye of your imagination this jumble of mixed
nationalities in their varied costumes of race, condition, and calling
jot in here and there a black skinned scion of Ethiopia, the body
servant of some officer, or the emissary of a planter from the adjacent
settlements imagine them standing in gossiping groups, or stalking over
the level plain, amidst some half dozen halted wagons a couple of
six-pounders upon their carriages, with caissons close by a square tent
or two, with its surmounting fly occupied by some eccentric officer who
prefers sleeping under canvas a stack of bayoneted rifles belonging to
the soldiers on guard, imagine all these component parts, and you will
have before your mind's eye a truthful picture of a military fort upon
the frontier of Texas, and the extreme selvedge of civilization.

About a week after the arrival of the Louisiana planter at his new home,
three officers were seen standing upon the parade ground in front of
Fort Inge, with their eyes turned towards the hacienda of Casa del
Corvo.

They were all young men, the oldest not over thirty years of age. His
shoulder straps with the double bar proclaimed him a captain the second,
with a single cross bar, was a first lieutenant while the younger of the
two, with an empty chevron, was either a second lieutenant or "brevet."

They were off duty engaged in conversation their theme, the "new people"
in Casa del Corvo by which was meant the Louisiana planter and his
family.

"A sort of housewarming it's to be," said the infantry captain, alluding
to an invitation that had reached the Fort, extending to all the
commissioned officers of the garrison. "Dinner first and dancing
afterwards, a regular field day, where I suppose we shall see paraded
the aristocracy and beauty of the settlement.

"Aristocracy?" laughingly rejoined the lieutenant of dragoons. "Not much
of that here, I fancy and of beauty still less."

"You mistake, Hancock. There are both upon the banks of the Leona. Some
good States families have strayed out this way. We'll meet them at
Poindexter's party, no doubt. On the question of aristocracy, the host
himself, if you'll pardon a poor joke, is himself a host. He has enough
of it to inoculate all the company that may be present and as for
beauty, I'll back his daughter against anything this side the Sabine.
The commissary's niece will be no longer belle about here."

"Oh, indeed!" drawled the lieutenant of rifles, in a tone that told of
his being chafed by this representation. "Miss Poindexter must be deuced
good looking, then."

"She's all that, I tell you, if she be anything like what she was when I
last saw her, which was at a Bayou Lafourche ball. There were half a
dozen young Creoles there, who came nigh crossing swords about her."

"A coquette, I suppose?" insinuated the rifleman.

"Nothing of the kind, Crossman. Quite the contrary, I assure you. She's
a girl of spirit, though likely enough to snub any fellow who might try
to be too familiar. She's not without some of the father's pride. It's a
family trait of the Poindexters."

"Just the girl I should cotton to," jocosely remarked the young dragoon.
"And if she's as good looking as you say, Captain Sloman, I shall
certainly go in for her. Unlike Crossman here, I'm clear of all
entanglements of the heart. Thank the Lord for it!"

"Well, Mr. Hancock," rejoined the infantry officer, a gentleman of sober
inclinings, "I'm not given to betting but I'd lay a big wager you won't
say that, after you have seen Louise Poindexter that is, if you speak
your mind."

"Pshaw, Sloman! don't you be alarmed about me. I've been too often under
the fire of bright eyes to have any fear of them."

"None so bright as hers."

"Deuce take it! You make a fellow fall in love with this lady without
having set eyes upon her. She must be something extraordinary
incomparable."

"She was both, when I last saw her."

"How long ago was that?"

"The Lafourche ball?" Let me see about eighteen months. Just after we
got back from Mexico. She was then 'coming out' as society styles it

"A new star in the firmament, to light and glory born!"

"Eighteen months is a long time," sagely remarked Crossman, "a long time
for an unmarried maiden especially among Creoles, where they often get
spliced at twelve, instead of 'sweet sixteen.' Her beauty may have lost
some of its bloom?"

I believe not a bit. I should have called to see only I knew they were
in the middle of their 'plenishing,' and mightn't deter to be visited.
But the major has been to Casa del Corvo, and brought back such a report
about Miss Poindexter's beauty, as almost got him into a scrape, with
the lady commanding the post."

"Upon my soul, Captain Sloman!" asseverated the lieutenant of dragoons,
"you've excited my curiosity to such a degree, I feel already half in
love with Louise Poindexter!"

"Before you get altogether into it," rejoined the officer of infantry, in
a serious tone, "let me recommend a little caution. There's a bete noir
in the background."

"A brother, I suppose? That is the individual usually so regarded."

"There is a brother, but it's not he. A free noble young fellow, he is
the only Poindexter I ever knew not eaten up with pride. He's quite the
reverse."

"The aristocratic father, then? Surely he wouldn't object to a
quartering with the Hancock's?"

"I'm not so sure of that seeing that the Hancock's are Yankees, and he's
a chivalric Southerner! But it's not old Poindexter I mean."

"Who, then, is the black beast, or what is it if not a human?"

"It is human, after a fashion. A male cousin a queer card he is by name
Cassius Calhoun."

"I think I've heard the name."

"So have I," said the lieutenant of rifles.

"So has almost everybody who had anything to do with the Mexican war
that is, who took part in Scott's campaign. He figured there
extensively, and not very creditably either. He was captain in a
volunteer regiment of Mississippians for he hails from that State but he
was oftener met with at the monte table than in the quarters of his
regiment. He had one or two affairs that gave him the reputation of a
bully. But that notoriety was not of Mexican war origin. He had earned
it before going there and was well known, among the desperadoes of New
Orleans as a dangerous man.

"What of all that?" asked the young dragoon, in a tone slightly savoring
of defiance. "Who cares whether Mr. Cassius Calhoun be a dangerous man,
or a harmless one? Not I. He's only the girl's cousin, you say?"

"Something more, perhaps. I have reason to think he's her lover."

"Accepted, do you suppose?"

"That I can't tell. I only know, or suspect, that he's the favourite of
the father. I have heard reasons why given only in whispers, it is true,
but too probable to be scouted. The old story influence springing from
mortgage money. Poindexter's not so rich as he has been else we'd never
have seen him out here."

"If the lady be as attractive as you say, I suppose we'll have Captain
Cassius out here also, before long?"

"Before long! Is that all you know about it? He came along with the
family, and is now residing with them. Some say he's a partner in the
planting speculation. I saw him this very morning down in the hotel bar
room' liquoring up,' and swaggering in his old way."

"A swarthy complexioned man, of about thirty, with dark hair and
moustaches wearing a blue cloth frock, half military cut, and a Colt's
revolver strapped over his thigh?"

"Aye, and a bowie-knife, if you had looked for it, under the breast of
his coat. That's the man."

"He's rather a formidable-looking fellow," remarked the young rifleman.
"If a bully, his looks don't belie him."

"Ddamn his looks!" half angrily exclaimed the dragoon. "We don't hold
commissions in Uncle Sam's army to be scared by looks, nor bullies
either. If he comes any of his bullying over me, he'll find I'm as quick
with a trigger as he."

At that moment the bugle brayed out the call for morning parade, a
ceremony observed at the little frontier fort as regularly as if a whole
corps d'armee had been present and the three officers separating, betook
themselves to their quarters to prepare their several companies for the
inspection of the major in command of the cantonment.



10. CASA DEL CORVO.


The estate, or "hacienda," known as Casa del Corvo, extended along the
wooded bottom of the Leona River for more than a league, and twice that
distance southwards across the contiguous prairie.

The house itself usually, though not correctly, styled the hacienda,
stood within long cannon range of Fort Inge from which its white walls
were partially visible the remaining portion being shadowed by tall
forest trees that skirted the banks of the stream.

Its site was peculiar, and no doubt chosen with a view to defense for
its foundations had been laid at a time when Indian assailants might be
expected as indeed they might be, and often are, at the present hour.

There was a curve of the river closing upon itself, like the shoe of a
racehorse, or the arc of a circle, three parts complete the chord of
which, or a parallelogram traced upon it, might be taken as the ground
plan of the dwelling. Hence the name Casa del Corvo "the House of the
Curve" (curved river).

The façade, or entrance side, fronted towards the prairie the latter
forming a noble lawn that extended to the edge of the horizon, in
comparison with which an imperial park would have shrunk into the
dimensions of a paddock.

The architecture of Casa del Corvo, like that of other large country
mansions in Mexico, was of a style that might be termed Morisco-Mexican
being a single story in height, with a flat roof--azotea--spouted and
parapeted all round having a courtyard inside the walls, termed patio,
open to the sky, with a flagged floor, a fountain, and a stone stairway
leading up to the roof a grand entrance gateway, the saguan, with a
massive wooden door, thickly studded with bolt heads and two or three
windows on each side, defended by a grille of strong iron bars, called
reja, These are the chief characteristics of a Mexican hacienda and Casa
del Corvo differed but little, from the type almost universal throughout
the vast territories of Spanish America.

Such was the homestead that adorned the newly acquired estate of the
Louisiana planter that had become his property by purchase.

As yet no change had taken place in the exterior of the dwelling; nor
much in its interior, if we accept the personnel of its occupants. A
physiognomy, half Anglo-Saxon, half Franco-American, presented itself in
courtyard and corridor, where formerly were seen only faces of pure
Spanish type and instead of the rich sonorous language of Andalusia, was
now heard the harsher guttural of a semi Teutonic tongue occasionally
diversified by the sweeter accentuation of Creolian French.

Outside the walls of the mansion in the village like cluster of yucca
thatched huts which formerly gave housing to the peons and other
dependants of the hacienda the transformation was more striking. Where
the tall thin vaquero, in broad brimmed hat of black glaze, and
chequered serapé strode proudly over the sward his spurs tinkling at
every step was now met the authoritative "overseer," in blue jersey, or
blanket coat his whip cracking at every corner where the red children of
Aztecan and Anahuac, scantily clad in tanned sheepskin, could be seen,
with sad solemn aspect, lounging listlessly by their jacales, or
trotting silently along, were now heard the black sons and daughters of
Ethiopia, from morn till night, chattering their gay "gumbo," or with
song and dance seemingly contradicting the idea that slavery is a
heritage of unhappiness!

Was it a change for the better upon the estate of Casa del Corvo?

There was a time when the people of England would have answered no with
a unanimity and emphasis calculated to drown all disbelief in their
sincerity.

Alas, for human weakness and hypocrisy! Our long cherished sympathy with
the slave, proves to have been only a tissue of sneer dissembling. Led
by an oligarchy, not the true aristocracy of our country, for these are
too noble to have yielded to such deep designing, but an oligarchy
composed of conspiring plebs, who have smuggled themselves into the
first places of power in all the four estates guided by these prurient
conspirators against the people's rights, England has proved untrue to
her creed so loudly proclaimed, truculent to the trust reposed in her by
the universal acclaim of the nations.

On a theme altogether different, dwelt the thoughts of Louise
Poindexter, as she flung herself into a chair in front of her dressing
glass, and directed her maid Florinda to prepare her for the reception
of guests expected soon to arrive at the hacienda.

It was the day fixed for the "house warming," and about an hour before
the time appointed for dinner to be on the table. This might have
explained a certain restlessness observable in the air of the young
Creole especially observed by Florinda but it did not. The maid had her
own thoughts about the cause of her mistress's disquietude as was proved
by the conversation that ensued between them.

Scarce could it be called a conversation. It was more as if the young
lady were thinking aloud, with her attendant acting as an echo. During
all her life, the Creole had been accustomed to look upon her sable
handmaid as a thing from whom it was not worth while concealing her
thoughts, any more than she would from the chairs, the table, the sofa,
or any other article of furniture in the apartment. There was but the
difference of Florinda being a little more animated and companionable,
and the advantage of her being able to give a vocal response to the
observations addressed to her.

For the first ten minutes after entering the chamber, Florinda had
sustained the brunt of the dialogue on indifferent topics her mistress
only interfering with an occasional ejaculation.

"Oh, Miss Looey!" pursued the negress, as her fingers fondly played
among the lustrous tresses of her young mistress's hair, "how bewful you
hair am! Like de long 'Panish moss dat hang from de cyprus tree only dat
it am of a different color, an' shine like the sugar house 'lasses."

As already stated, Louise Poindexter was a Creole. After that, it is
scarce necessary to say that her hair was of a dark color and as the
sable maid in rude speech had expressed it luxuriant as Spanish moss. It
was not black but of a rich glowing brown such as may be observed in the
tinting of a tortoise shell, or the coat of a winter trapped sable.

"Ah!" continued Florinda, spreading out an immense 'hank' of the hair,
that glistened like a chestnut against her dark palm, "if I had dat
lubbly hair on ma head, in'tead of dis cuss'd cully wool, I fotch em all
to ma feet ebbry one of dem."

"What do you mean, girl?" inquired the young lady, as if just aroused
from some dreamy reverie. "What's that you've been saying? Fetch them to
your feet? Fetch whom?"

"Na, now; you know what dis chile mean?"

"'Pon honour, I do not."

"Make em lub me. Dat's what I should hab say."

"But whom?"

"All de white gen'l'm. De young planter, de officer of de Fort, all of
dem. Wif you hair, Miss Looey, I could dem all make conquess."

"Ha-ha-ha!" laughed the young lady, amused at the idea of Florinda
figuring under that magnificent chevelure. "You think, with my hair upon
your head, you would be invincible among the men?"

"No, missa--not you hair alone--but wif you sweet face, you skin, white
as de alumbaster--you tall figga--you grand look. Oh, Miss Looey, you am
so 'plendidly bewful! I hear de white gen'l'm say so. I no need hear em
say it. I see dat for masef."

"You're learning to flatter, Florinda."

"No, 'deed, missa--ne'er a word of flattery--ne'er a word, I swa it. By
de 'postles, I swa it."

To one who looked upon her mistress, the earnest asseveration of the
maid, was not necessary to prove the sincerity of her speech, however
hyperbolical it might appear. To say that Louise Poindexter was
beautiful would only be to repeat the universal verdict of the society
that surrounded her. A single glance was sufficient to satisfy any one
upon this point, strangers as well as acquaintances. It was a kind of
beauty that needed no discovering and yet it is difficult to describe
it. The pen cannot portray such a face. Even the pencil could convey,
but a faint idea of it for no painter, however skilled, could represent
upon cold canvas, the glowing ethereal light that emanated from her
eyes, and appeared to radiate over her countenance. Her features were
purely classic, resembling those types of female beauty chosen by
Phidias or Praxiteles. And yet in all the Grecian Pantheon, there is no
face to which it could have been likened for it was not the countenance
of a goddess, but something more attractive to the eye of man, the face
of a woman.

A suspicion of sensuality, apparent in the voluptuous curving of the
lower lip still more pronounced in the prominent rounding beneath the
cheeks, while depriving the countenance of its pure spiritualism, did
not perhaps detract from its beauty. There are men, who, in this
departure from the divine type, would have perceived a superior charm
since in Louise Poindexter they would have seen not a divinity to be
worshipped, but a woman to be loved.

Her only reply vouchsafed to Florinda's earnest asseveration was a laugh
careless, though not incredulous. The young Creole did not need to be
reminded of her beauty. She was not unconscious of it, as could be told
by her taking more than one long look into the mirror before which her
toilet was being made. The flattery of the negress, scarce called up an
emotion certainly not more than she might have felt at the fawning of a
pet spaniel and she soon after surrendered herself to the reverie from
which the speech had aroused her.

Florinda was not silenced by observing her mistress's air of
abstraction. The girl had evidently something on her mind, some mystery,
of which she desired the éclaircissement and was determined to have it.

"Ah!" she continued, as if talking to herself "if Florinda had half de
charm of young missa, she for nobody care she for nobody heave de deep
sigh!"

"Sigh!" repeated her mistress, suddenly startled by the speech. "What do
you mean by that?"

"Par dieu, Miss Looey, Florinda no so blind you think, nor so deaf
neider. She you see long time sit in de same place you nebber 'peak no
word you only heave de sigh de long deep sigh. You nebba do dat in de
ole plantashun, in Loozyanny."

"Florinda! I fear you are taking leave of your senses, or have left them
behind you in Louisiana? Perhaps there's something in the climate here
that affects you. Is that so, girl?"

"Pa' dieu, Miss Looey, dat question of yourself ask. You no be angry
case I 'peak so plain. Florinda you slave, she you lab like brack
sisser. She no happy hear you sigh. Dat why she hab take de freedom. You
no be angry wif me?"

"Certainly not. Why should I be angry with you, child? I'm not. I didn't
say I was only you are quite mistaken in your ideas. What you've seen,
or heard, could be only a fancy of your own. As for sighing, heigho! I
have something else to think of just now. I have to entertain about a
hundred guests nearly all strangers, too; among them the young planters
and officers whom you would entangle if you had my hair. Ha! ha! ha! I
don't desire to enmesh them--not one of them! So twist it up as you
like, without the semblance of a snare in it."

"Oh! Miss Looey, you so 'peak?" inquired the negress with an air of
evident interest. "You say none of dem gen'l'm you care for? Dere am
two, tree, berry, berry, berry han'som'. One planter dar be, and two of
de officer all young gen'l'm. You know de tree I mean. All of dem hab
been 'tentive to you. You sure, missa, tain't one of dem dat you make
sigh?

"Sigh again! Ha! ha! ha! But come, Florinda, we're losing time.
Recollect, I've got to be in the drawing-room to receive a hundred
guests. I must have at least half an hour to compose myself into an
attitude befitting such an extensive reception."

"No fear, Miss Looey-no fear. I you toilette make in time--plenty of
time. No much trouble you dress. Pa' dieu, in any dress you look
'plondid. You be de belle if you dress like one of de tier hand of de
plantashun."

"What a flatterer you are grown, Florinda! I shall begin to suspect that
you are after some favour. Do you wish me to intercede, and make up your
quarrel with Pluto?"

"No, missa. I be friend nebber more wid Pluto. He show hiseeff such
great coward when come dat storm on de brack prairee. Ah, Miss Looey!
what we boaf do if dat young white gen'l'm on de red hoss no come ridin'
dat way?"

"If he had not, cher Florinde, it is highly probable neither of us
should now have been here."

"Oh, missa! wasn't he real fancy man, dat 'ere? You see him bewful face.
You see him thick hair, jess de color of you own only curled leetle bit
like mine. Talk of de young planter, or dem officer at de Fort! De brack
folk say he no good for nuffin, like dem; he only poor white trash. Who
care fo' dat? He am de sort of man could dis chile make sigh. Ah! de
berry, berry sort!"

Up to this point the young Creole had preserved a certain tranquility of
countenance. She tried to continue it, but the effort failed her.
Whether by accident or design, Florinda had touched the most sensitive
chord in the spirit of her mistress.

She would have been loth to confess it, even to her slave and it was a
relief to her, when loud voices heard in the courtyard gave a colourable
excuse for terminating her toilette, along with the delicate dialogue
upon which she might have been constrained to enter.



11. AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL.


"Say, ye durnationed nigger! whar's yur master?"

"Mass Poindexter, sar? De ole massr, or de young 'un?"

"Young 'un be darned! I mean Mister Poindexter. Who else shed I? Whar
air he?"

"Ho-ho! sar! dey am boaf at home--dat is, dey am boaf away from de
house--de ole massr an' de young Massr Henry. Dey am down de ribber, wha
de folk am makin' de new fence. Ho! ho! you find em dar."

"Down the river! How fur d'ye reck'n?"

"Ho! ho! sar. Dis nigga reck'n it be 'bout tree or four mile dat at de
berry leas'."

"Three or four mile? Ye must be a durnationed fool, nigger. Mister
Peintdexter's plantation don't go thet fur an I reck'n he ain't the man
to be makin' a fence on some'dy else's clarin". Lookee hyur! What time
air he expected hum? Ye've got a straighter idee o' thet, I hope?"

"Dey boaf 'pected home berry soon, de young massr and de ole massr, and
Mass Ca'houn too. Ho! ho! dar's agwine to be big doom's 'bout dis yar
shanty--yer see dat fo' yeseff by de smell of de kitchen. Ho! ho! All
sorts o' gran' feassin', de roa' an' de bile, an' de barbecue de pot
pies, an' de chicken fixins. Ho! ho! ain't thar agwine to go it hyar
jess like de ole times on de coass of de Massippy! Hoora fo' ole Mass
Poindex'er! He de right sort. Ho! ho! 'tranger! why you no holla too you
no friend of de massr?"

"Durn you, nigger, don't ye remember me? Now I look into yur ugly mug, I
recollex you."

"Gorramighty! 'tain't Mass 'Tump 't use to fotch de ven'son an' de
turkey gobbla to de ole plantashun? By de jumbo, it am, the Law, Mass
'Tump, dis nigga 'members you like it wa de day afore yesserday. Ise
heern you called de odder day but I war away from 'bout de place. I'm de
coachman now dribes de carriage dat carries de lady of de 'tablishment
de bewful Missy Loo. Lor, massr, she berry fine gal. Dey do say she beat
Florinday into fits. Nebba mind, Mass 'Tump, you better wait till ole
massr come home. He am a bound to be kya, in de shortess poss'ble time."

"Wal, if thet's so, I'll wait upon him," rejoined the hunter, leisurely
lifting his leg over the saddle in which up to this time he had retained
his seat. "Now, ole fellur," he added, passing the bridle into the hands
of the negro, "you gi'e the maar half a dozen yeers o' corn out o' the
crib. I've rid the critter better 'n a score o' miles like a streak o'
lightnin' all to do yur master a sarvice."

"Oh, Mr. Zebulon Stump, is it you?" exclaimed a silvery voice, followed
by the appearance of Louise Poindexter upon the verandah.

"I thought it was," continued the young lady, coming up to the railings,
"though I didn't expect to see you so soon. You said you were going upon
a long journey. Well I am pleased that you are here and so will papa and
Henry be. Pluto! go instantly to Chloe, the cook, and see what she can
give you for Mr. Stump's dinner. You have not dined, I know, You are
dusty you've been travelling? Here, Florinda! Haste you to the
sideboard, and pour out some drink. Mr. Stump will be thirsty; I'm sure,
this hot dav. What would you prefer port, sherry, claret? Ah, now, if I
recollect, you used to be partial to Monongahela whisky. I think there
is some. Florinda, see if there be! Step into the verandah, dear Mr.
Stump, and take a seat. You were inquiring for papa? I expect him home
every minute. I shall try to entertain you till he come."

Had the young lady paused sooner in her speech, she would not have
received an immediate reply. Even as it was, some seconds elapsed before
Zeb made rejoinder. He stood gazing upon her, as if struck speechless by
the sheer intensity of his admiration.

"Lord o' marcy, Miss Lewaze!" he at length gasped forth, "I thort when I
used to see you on the Mississippi, ye war the puttiest critter on the
airth but now, I think ye the puttiest thing either on airth or in
hewing. Geehosofat!"

The old hunter's praise was scarce exaggerated. Fresh from the toilette,
the gloss of her luxuriant hair untarnished by the action of the
atmosphere her cheeks glowing with a carmine tint, produced by the
application of cold water her fine figure, grace fully draped in a robe
of India muslin, white and semi translucent certainly did Louise
Poindexter appear as pretty as anything upon earth, if not in heaven.

"Geehosofat!" again exclaimed the hunter, following up his complimentary
speech, "I hey in my time seed what I thort war some putty critters o'
the sheemale kind my ole 'ooman herself warn't so bad lookin' when I
fust kim acrost her in Kaintuck thet she warn't. But I will say this,
Miss Lewaze ef the puttiest bits o' all o' them war clipped out an' then
joined thegither agin, they wudn't make up the thousanth part o' a angel
sech as you."

"Oh-oh-oh! Mr. Stump Mr. Stump! I'm astonished to hear you talk in this
manner. Texas has quite turned you into a courtier. If you go on so, I
fear you will lose your character for plain speaking! After that I am
sure you will stand in need of a very big drink. Haste, Florinda! I
think you said you would prefer whisky?"

"Ef I didn't say it, I thunk it an' that air about the same. Yur right,
miss, I prefer the corn afore any o' them thur furrin lickers an' I
sticks to it whuriver I kin git it. Texas hain't made no alterashun in
me in the matter o' lickerin'."

"Mass 'Tump, you it hab mix wif water?" inquired Florinda, coming
forward with a tumbler about one half full of "Monongahela."

"No, gurl. Dura yur water! I hev hed enuf o' thet since I started this
mornin'. I hain't hed a taste o' licker the hul day ne'er as much as the
smell o' it."

"Dear Mr. Stump! Surely you can't drink it that way? Why, it will burn
your throat! Have a little sugar, or honey, along with it?"

"Speil it, miss. It air sweet enuf 'ithout that sort o' docterin'
'specially arter you hey looked inter the glass. Yu'll see if I can't
drink it. Hyur goes to try!"

The old hunter raised the tumbler to his chin and after giving three
gulps, and the fraction of a fourth, returned it empty into the hands of
Florinda. A loud smacking of the lips almost drowned the simultaneous
exclamations of astonishment uttered by the young lady and her maid.

"Burn my throat, ye say? Ne'er a bit. It hez jest eiled thet ere
jugewlar, an' put it in order for a bit 'o a palaver I wants to hev wi'
yur father 'bout thet ere spotty mow stang."

"Oh, true! I had forgotten. No, I hadn't either but I did not suppose
you had time to have news of it. Have you heard anything of the pretty
creature?"

"Putty critter ye may well pernounce it. It ur all o' thet. Besides, it
ur a maar."

"A ma-a-r! What is that, Mr. Stump? I don't understand."

"A maar I sayed. Shurly ye know what a maar is?"

"Ma-a-r--ma-a-r! Why, no, not exactly. Is it a Mexican word? Mar in
Spanish signifies the sea."

"In coorse it air a Mexikin maar--all mowstangs air. They air all on 'em
o' a breed as wur oncest brought over from some European country by the
fust o' them as settled in these hyur parts, leesewise I hev heern so."

"Still, Mr. Stump, I do not comprehend you. What makes this mustang a
ma-a-r?"

"What makes her a maar? 'Case she ain't a host thet's what make it, Miss
Peintdexter."

"Oh-now-I-I think I comprehend. But did you say you have heard of the
animal I mean since you left us?"

"Heern o' her, seed her, an' feeled her."

"Indeed!"

"She air grupped."

"Ah, caught! What capital news! I shall be so delighted to see the
beautiful thing and ride it too. I haven't had a horse worth a piece of
orange peel since I've been in Texas. Papa has promised to purchase this
one for me at any price. But who is the lucky individual who
accomplished the capture?"

"Te mean who grupped the maar?"

"Yes-yes-who?"

"Why, in coorse it wur a mowstangcr."

"A mustanger?"

"Ye-es an' such a one as thur ain't another on all these purayras eyther
to ride a hoss, or throw a laryitt over one. Ye may talk about yur
Mexikins! I never seed neery Mexikin ked manage hoss doin's like that
young fellur an' thur ain't a drop o' thur pisen blood in his veins. He
ur es white es I am myself."

"His name?"

"Wal, es to the name o' his family, that I niver heern. His Christyun
name air Maurice. He's knowed up thur 'bout the Fort as Maurice the
mowstanger."

The old hunter was not sufficiently observant to take note of the tone
of eager interest in which the question had been asked, nor the sudden
deepening of color upon the cheeks of the questioner as she heard the
answer.

Neither had escaped the observation of Florinda.

"La, Miss Looey!" exclaimed the latter, "shoo dat de name of de brave
young white gentm he dat us save from being smodered on de brack
prairee?"

"Geehosofat, yes!" resumed the hunter, relieving the young lady from the
necessity of making reply. "Now I think o't, he told me o' thet
suckumstance this very mornin', afore we started. He air the same.
Thet's the very fellur es hev trapped spotty an he air toatin' the
critter along at this eyedentical minnit, in kmnp'ny wi' about a dozen
others o' the same cavyurd. He onghter be hyur afore sundown. I pushed
my ole maar ahead, so's to tell yur father the spotty war comin', and
let him git the fust chance o' buyin'. I know'd as how thet ere bit o'
hos-doin's don't get druv fur into the Settlements efore someb'dy snaps
her up. I thort o' you, Miss Lewaze, and how ye tuk on so when I tolt ye
'bout the critter. Wal, make yur mind eezy ye shell hev the fust chance.
Ole Zeb Stump 'll be yur bail for thet."

"Oh, Mr. Stump, it is so kind of you! I am very, very grateful. You will
now excuse me for a moment. Father will soon be back. We have a dinner
party to day and I have to prepare for receiving a great many people.
Florinda, see that Mr. Stump's luncheon is set out for him. Go, girl go
at once about it!"

"And, Mr. Stump," continued the young lady, drawing nearer to the
hunter, and speaking in a more subdued tone of voice, "if the young
gentleman should arrive while the other people are here perhaps he don't
know them will you see that he is not neglected? There is wine yonder,
in the verandah, and other things. You know what I mean, dear Mr.
Stump?"

"Durned if I do, Miss Lewaze that air, not adzackly. I kin nnnerstan'
all thet ere 'bout the licker an' other fixins. But who air the young
gen'leman yur speakin' o'? Thet's the thing as bamboozles me."

"Surely you know who I mean! The young gentleman the young man who, you
say, is bringing in the horses."

"Oh! ah! Maurice the mowstanger! That's it, is it? Wal, I reck'n yur not
a hundred mile astray in calling him a gen'leman tho' it ain't offen es
a mowstanger gits thet entitlement, or desarves it eyther. He air one,
every inch o' him a gentleman by barth, breed, an' raisin' tho' he air a
hoss hunter, an' Irish at thet."

The eyes of Louise Poindexter sparkled with delight as she listened to
opinions so perfectly in unison with her own.

"I must tell ye, howsomdiver," continued the hunter, as if some doubt
had come across his mind, "it won't do to show the 'ere young fellur any
sort o' second hand hospertality. As they used to say on the
Massissippi, he air 'as proud as a Poindexter.' Excuse me, Miss Lewaze,
for lettin' the word slip. I didn't think o't thet I war talkin' to a
Poindexter not the proudest, but the puttiest o' the name."

"Oh, Mr. Stump! You can say what you please to me. You know that I could
not be offended with you, you dear old giant!"

"He'd be meaner than a dwurf es ked eyther say or do anythin' to offend
you, miss."

"Thanks! thanks! I know your honest heart, I know your devotion. Perhaps
some time some time, Mr. Stump" she spoke hesitatingly, but apparently
without any definite meaning "I might stand in need of your friendship."

"Ye won't need it long afore ye git it, then thet ole Zeb Stump kin
promise ye, Miss Peintdexter. He'd be stinkiner than a skunk, an' a
bigger coward than a coy oat, es wouldn't stan' by sech as you, while
there wur a bottle rull o' breath left in the inside of his body."

"A thousand thanks again and again! But what were you going to say? You
spoke of second hand hospitality?"

"I dud."

"You meant--?"

"I meaned thet it 'ud be no use o' my inviting Maurice the mowstanger
eyther to eat, or drink miner this hyur roof. Unless yur father do that,
the young fellur 'll go 'ithout tastin'. You unnerstan, Miss Lewaze, he
ain't one o' thet sort o' poor whites as kin be sent roun' to the
kitchen."

The young Creole stood for a second or two, without making rejoinder.
She appeared to be occupied with some abstruse calculation, that
engrossed the whole of her thoughts.

"Never mind about it," she at length said, in a tone that told the
calculation completed. "Never mind, Mr. Stump. You need not invite him.
Only let me know when he arrives, unless we are at dinner, and then, of
course, he would not expect any one to appear. But if he should come at
that time, you detain him won't you?"

"Boun' to do it, ef you bid me."

"You will, then and let me know he is here. I shall ask him to eat."

"Ef ye do, miss, I reck'n ye'll spoil his appetite. The sight o' you, to
say nothin' o' listenin' to your melodyus voice, ud cure a starvin' wolf
o' bein' hungry. When I kim in hyur I war peckish enuf to swaller a raw
buzzart. Neow I don't care a durn about eatin'. I ked go 'ithout chawin'
meat for a month."

As this exaggerated chapter of euphemism was responded to by a peal of
clear ringing laughter, the young lady pointed to the other side of the
patio where her maid was seen emerging from the "cocina," carrying a
light tray followed by Pluto with one of broader dimensions, more
heavily weighted.

"You great giant!" was the reply, given in a tone of sham reproach "I
won't believe you have lost your appetite, until you have eaten Jack.
Yonder come Pinto and Florinda. They bring something that will prove
more cheerful company than I so I shall leave you to enjoy it. Good bye,
Zeb good bye, or, as the natives say here, Hasta luego!"

Gaily were these words spoken lightly did Louise Poindexter trip back
across the covered corridor. Only after entering her chamber, and
finding herself chez soi-même, did she give way to a reflection of a
more serious character, that found expression in words low murmured, but
full of mystic meaning

"It is my destiny I feel I know that it is! I dare not meet, and yet I
cannot shun it, I may not, I would not, I will not!"



12. TAMING A WILD MARE.


The pleasantest apartment in a Mexican house is that which has the roof
for its floor and the sky for its ceiling--the azotea. In fine weather,
ever fine in that sunny clime it is preferred to the drawing room
especially after dinner, when the sun begins to cast rose colored rays
upon the snow clad summits of Orizava, Popocatepec, Toluca, and the
"Twin Sister" when the rich wines of Xeres and Madeira have warmed the
imaginations of Andalusia's sons and daughters, descendants of the
Conquistadores, who mount up to their house tops to look upon a land of
world wide renown, rendered famous by the heroic achievements of their
ancestors.

Then does the Mexican "cavallero," clad in embroidered habiliments,
exhibit his splendid exterior to the eyes of some señorita, at the same
time puffing the smoke of his paper cigarito against her cheeks. Then
does the dark eyed donçella favorably listen to soft whisperings or
perhaps only pretends to listen, while, with heart distraught, and eye
wandering away, she sends stealthy glances over the plain towards some
distant hacienda the home of him she truly loves.

So enjoyable a fashion, as that of spending the twilight hours upon the
housetop, could not fail to be followed by any one who chanced to be the
occupant of a Mexican dwelling and the family of the Louisiana planter
had adopted it, as a matter of course.

On that same evening, after the dining hall had been deserted, the roof,
instead of the drawing-room, was chosen as the place of re assemblage
and as the sun descended towards the horizon; his slanting rays fell
upon a throng as gay, as cheerful, and perhaps as resplendent, as ever
trod the azotea of Casa del Corvo. Moving about over its tessellated
tiles, standing in scattered groups, or lined along the parapet with
faces turned towards the plain, were women as fair and men as brave as
had ever assembled, on that same spot even when its ancient owner used
to distribute hospitality to the hidalgos of the land the bluest blood
in Coahuila and Texas.

The company now collected to welcome the advent of Woodley Poindexter on
his Texan estate, could also boast of this last distinction. They were
the élite of the Settlements, not only of the Leona, but of others more
distant. There were guests from Gonzales, from Castroville, and even
from San Antonio, old friends of the planter, who, like him, had sought
a home in South Western Texas, and who had ridden some of them over a
hundred miles to be present at this, his first grand "reception."

The planter had spared neither pains nor expense to give it éclat. What
with the sprinkling of uniforms and epaulettes, supplied by the Fort
what with the brass band borrowed from the same convenient repository,
what with the choice wines found in the cellars of Casa del Corvo, and
which had formed part of the purchase there could be little lacking to
make Poindexter's party the most brilliant ever given upon the banks of
the Leona.

And to insure this effect, his lovely daughter Louise, late belle of
Louisiana, the fame of whose beauty had been before her, even in Texas
acted as mistress of the ceremonies, moving about among the admiring
guests with the smile of a queen, and the grace of a goddess.

On that occasion was she the cynosure of a hundred pairs of eyes, the
happiness of a score of hearts, and perhaps the torture of as many more
for not all were blessed who beheld her beauty.

Was she herself happy?

The interrogatory may appear singular, almost absurd. Surrounded by
friends--admirers--one, at least, who adored her, a dozen whose
incipient love, could but end in adoration young planters, lawyers,
embryo statesmen, and some with reputation already achieved sons of Mars
in amour, or with armor late laid aside how could she be otherwise than
proudly, supremely happy?

A stranger might have asked the question one superficially acquainted
with Creole character more especially the character of the lady in
question.

But mingling in that splendid throng was a man who was no stranger to
either; and who, perhaps, more than any one present, watched her every
movement and endeavored more than any other to interpret its meaning.
Cassius Calhoun was the individual thus occupied.

She went not hither, nor thither, without his following her--not close,
like a shadow; but by stealth, flitting from place to place upstairs,
and downstairs standing in corners, with an air of apparent abstraction
but all the while with eyes turned as cant upon his cousin's face, like
a plain clothes policeman employed on detective duty.

Strangely enough he did not seem to pay much regard to her speeches,
made in reply to the compliments showered upon her by several would be
winners of a smile, not even when these were conspicuous and
respectable, as in the case of young Hancock of the dragoons. To all
such he listened without visible emotion, as one listens to a
conversation in no way affecting the affairs either of self or friends.

It was only after ascending to the azotea, on observing his cousin near
the parapet, with her eyes turned interrogatively towards the plain,
that his detective zeal became conspicuous so much so as to attract the
notice of others. More than once was it noticed by those standing near
for more than once was repeated the act which gave cause to it.

At intervals, not very wide apart, the young mistress of Casa del Corvo,
might have been seen to approach the parapet, and look across the plain,
with a glance that seemed to interrogate the horizon of the sky.

Why she did so no one could tell. No one presumed to conjecture, except
Caseins Calhoun. He had thoughts upon the subject thoughts that were
torturing him.

When a group of moving forms appeared upon the prairie, emerging from
the garish light of the setting sun, when the spectators upon the azotea
pronounced it, a drove of horses in charge of some mounted men, the
ex-officer of volunteers had a suspicion as to who was conducting that
cavallada.

Another appeared to feel an equal interest in its advent, though perhaps
from a different motive. Long before the horse drove had attracted the
observation of Poindexter's guests, his daughter had noted its approach
from the time that a cloud of dust soared up against the horizon, so
slight and filmy as to have escaped detection by any eye not bent
expressly on discovering it.

From that moment the young Creole, under cover of a conversation carried
on amid a circle of fair companions, had been slyly scanning the dust
cloud as it drew nearer forming conjectures,--as to what was causing it,
upon knowledge already, and as she supposed, exclusively, her own.

"Wild horses!" announced the major commandant of Fort Inge, after a
short inspection through his pocket telescope. "Some one bringing them
in," he added, a second time raising the glass to his eye. "Oh! I see
now--its Maurice the mustanger, who occasionally helps our men to a
remount He appears to be coming this way direct to your place, Mr.
Poindexter."

"If it be the young fellow you have named, that's not unlikely," replied
the owner of Casa del Corvo. "I bargained with him to catch me a score
or two and maybe this is the first installment he's bringing me."

"Yes, I think it is," he added, after a look through the telescope.

"I'm sure of it," said the planter's son. "I can tell the horseman
yonder to be Maurice Gerald."

The planter's daughter could have done the same though she made no
display of her knowledge. She did not appear to be much interested in
the matter indeed, rather indifferent. She had become aware of being
watched by that evil eye, constantly burning upon her.

The cavallada came up, Maurice sitting handsomely on his horse, with the
spotted mare at the end of his lasso.

"What a beautiful creature!" exclaimed several voices, as the captured
mustang was led up in front of the house, quivering with excitement at a
scene so new to it.

"It's worth a journey to the ground, to look at such an animal!"
suggested the major's wife, a lady of enthusiastic inclinings. "I
propose we all go down! What say you, Miss Poindexter?"

"Oh, certainly," answered the mistress of the mansion, amidst a chorus
of other voices crying out,

"Let us go down! Let us go down!"

Led by the majoress, the ladies filed down the stone stairway the
gentlemen after and in a score of seconds the horse hunter, still seated
in his saddle, became, with his captive, the centre of the distinguished
circle.

Henry Poindexter had hurried down before the rest, and already, in the
frankest manner, bidden the stranger welcome.

Between the latter and Louise only a slight salutation could be
exchanged Familiarity with a horse dealer even supposing him to have had
the honor of an introduction would scarce have been tolerated by the
"society."

Of the ladies, the major's wife alone addressed him, in a familiar way,
but that was in a tone that told of superior position, coupled with
condescension. He was more gratified by a glance quick and silent, when
his eyes changed intelligence with that of the young Creole.

Hers were not the only ones that rested approvingly upon him. In truth,
the mustanger looked splendid, despite his travel stained habiliments.
His journey of over twenty miles had done little to fatigue him. The
prairie breeze had freshened the color upon his cheeks and his full
round throat, naked to the breast bone, and slightly bronzed with the
sun, contributed to the manliness of his mien. Even the dust clinging to
his curled hair could not altogether conceal its natural gloss, nor the
luxuriance of its growth, while a figure tersely knit told of strength
and endurance beyond the ordinary endowment of man. There were stolen
glances, endeavoring to catch his, sent by more than one of the fair
circle. The pretty niece of the commissary, smiled admiringly upon him.
Some said the commissary's wife but this could be only a slander, to be
traced, perhaps, to the doctor's--better half the Lady Teazle of the
cantonment.

"Surely," said Poindexter, after making an examination of the captured
mustang, "this must be the animal of which old Zeb Stump has been
telling me?"

"It ur thet eyedenticul same," answered the individual so described,
making his way towards Maurice with the design of assisting him. "Ye-es,
Mister Peintdexter the eyedenticul critter a maar, es ye kin all see for
yurselves"

"Yes, yes," hurriedly interposed the planter, not desiring any further
elucidation.

"The young fellur hed grupped her, afore I got thur so I war jess in the
nick o' time bout it. She mout a been tuck elswhar, an' then Miss Lewaze
thur mout a missed hovin' her."

"It is true indeed, Mr. Stump! It was very thoughtful of you. I know not
how I shall ever be able to reciprocate your kindness?"

"Reciperkate! Wal, I spose thet air means to do suthin in return. Ye kin
do thet, miss, 'ithout much difeequilty. I han't dud nothin' for you,
ceptin' make a bit o' a journey across the purayra. To see yur bewtyful
self mounted on thet maar, wi' yur ploomed het upon yur head, an' yur
long tailed pettykote streakdn' it ahint you, 'ud pay old Zeb Stump to
go clur to the Rockies, and back agin."

"Oh, Mr. Stump! You are an incorrigible flatterer! Look around you! You
will see many here more deserving of your compliments than I."

"Wal, wal!" rejoined Zeb, casting a look of careless scrutiny towards
the ladies, "I ain't a goin' to deny thet thur air gobs o' putty
critters hyur Dog-goned putty critters but es they used to say in ole
Loozyanney, thur air but one Lewaze Poindexter." A burst of laughter in
which only a few feminine voices bore part was the reply to Zeb's
gallant speech.

"I shall owe you two hundred dollars for this," said the planter,
addressing himself to Maurice, and pointing to the spotted mare. "I
think that was the sum stipulated for by Mr. Stump."

"I was not a party to the stipulation," replied the mustanger, with a
significant, but well intentioned smile. "I cannot take your money. She
is not for sale."

"Oh, indeed!" said the planter, drawing back with an air of proud
disappointment, while his brother planters, as well as the officers of
the Fort, looked astonished at the refusal of such a munificent price.
Two hundred dollars for an untamed mustang, when the usual rate of price
was from ten to twenty! The mustanger must be mad?

He gave them no time to descant upon his sanity.

"Mr. Poindexter," he continued, speaking in the same good-humored
strain, "you have given me such a generous price for my other captives
and before they were taken, too that I can afford to make a present what
we over in Ireland call a 'luck-penny.' It is our custom there also,
when a horse-trade takes place at the house, to give the douceur, not to
the purchaser himself, but to one of the fair members of his family. May
I have your permission to introduce this Hibernian fashion into the
settlements of Texas?"

"Certainly, by all means!" responded several voices, two or three of
them unmistakably with an Irish accentuation.

"Oh, certainly, Mr. Gerald!" replied the planter, his conservatism
giving way to the popular will "as you please about that."

"Thanks, gentlemen thanks!" said the mustanger, with a patronizing look
towards men who believed themselves to be his masters. "This mustang is
my luck-penny and if Miss Poindexter will condescend to accept of it, I
shall feel more than repaid for 'the three days' chase which the
creature has cost me. Had she been the most cruel of coquettes, she
could scarce have been more difficult to subdue."

"I accept your gift, sir and with gratitude," responded the young Creole
for the first time prominently proclaiming herself, and stepping freely
forth as she spoke. "But I have a fancy," she continued, pointing to the
mustang at the same time that her eye rested inquiringly on the
countenance of the mustanger, "a fancy that your captive is not yet
tamed? She but trembles in fear of the unknown future. She may yet kick
against the traces, if she find the harness not to her liking and then
what am I to do, poor I?"

"True, Maurice!" said the major, widely mistaken as to the meaning of
the mysterious speech, and addressing the only man on the ground who
could possibly have comprehended it "Miss Poindexter speaks very
sensibly. That mustang has not been tamed yet any one may see it. Come,
my good fellow! Give her the lesson.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" continued the major, turning towards the
company, "this is something worth your seeing those of you who have not
witnessed the spectacle before. Come, Maurice mount, and show us a
specimen of prairie horsemanship. She looks as though she would put your
skill to the test."

"You are right, major she does!" replied the mustanger, with a quick
glance, directed not towards the captive quadruped, but to the young
Creole who, with all her assumed courage, retired tremblingly behind the
circle of spectators.

"No matter, my man," pursued the major, in a tone intended for
encouragement. "In spite of that devil sparkling in her eye, I'll lay
ten to one you'll take the conceit out of her. Try!"

Without losing credit, the mustanger could not have declined acceding to
the major's request. It was a challenge to skill to equestrian prowess a
thing not lightly esteemed upon the prairies of Texas.

He proclaimed his acceptance of it by leaping lightly out of his saddle,
resigning his own steed to Zeb Stump, and exclusively giving his
attention to the captive.

The only preliminary called for was the clearing of the ground. This was
effected in an instant the greater part of the company with all the
ladies returning to the azotea.

With only a piece of raw hide rope looped around the under jaw, and
carried headstall fashion behind the ears with only one rein in hand
Maurice sprang to the back of the wild mare.

It was the first time she had ever been mounted by man the first insult
of the kind offered to her.

A shrill spiteful scream spoke plainly her appreciation of and
determination to resent it. It proclaimed defiance of the attempt to
degrade her to the condition of a slave!

With equine instinct, she reared upon her hind legs, for some seconds
balancing her body in an erect position. Her rider, anticipating the
trick, had thrown his arms around her neck and, close clasping her
throat, appeared part of herself. But for this she might have poised
over upon her back, and crushed him beneath her.

The uprearing of the hind quarters was the next "trick" of the mustang
sure of being tried, and most difficult for the rider to meet without
being thrown. From sheer conceit in his skill, he had declined saddle
and stirrup, that would now have stood him in stead but with these he
could not have claimed accomplishment of the boasted feat of the
prairies--to tame the naked steed.

He performed it without them. As the mare raised her hind quarters
aloft, he turned quickly upon her back, threw his arms around the barrel
of her body, and resting his toes upon the angular points of her fore
shoulders, and successfully resisted her efforts to unhorse him.

Twice or three times, was the endeavor repeated by the mustang, and as
often foiled by the skill of the mustanger and then, as if conscious
that such efforts were idle, the enraged animal plunged no longer but,
springing away from the spot, entered upon a gallop that appeared to
have no goal this side the ending of the earth.

It must have come to an end somewhere though not within sight of the
spectators, who kept their places, waiting for the horse tamer's return.

Conjectures that he might be killed, or, at the least, badly "crippled,"
were freely ventured during his absence and there was one who wished it
so. But there was also one upon, whom such an event would have produced
a painful impression, almost as painful as if her own life depended upon
his safe return. Why Louise Poindexter, daughter of the proud Louisiana
sugar planter, a belle a beauty of more than provincial repute who
could, by simply saying yes, have had for a husband the richest and
noblest in the land why she should have fixed her fancy, or even
permitted her thoughts to stray, upon a poor horse hunter of Texas, was
a mystery that even her own intellect by no means a weak one, was unable
to fathom.

Perhaps she had not yet gone so far as to fix her fancy upon him. She
did not think so herself. Had she thought so, and reflected upon it,
perhaps she would have recoiled from the contemplation of certain
consequences, that could not have failed to present themselves to her
mind.

She was, but conscious of having conceived some strange interest in a
strange individual, one who had presented himself in a fashion that
favored fanciful reflections one who differed essentially from the
common place types introduced to her in the world of social
distinctions.

She was conscious, too, that this interest originating in a word, a
glance, a gesture listened to, or observed, amid the ashes of a burnt
prairie instead of subsiding, had ever since been upon the increase!

It was not diminished when Maurice the mustanger came riding back across
the plain, with the wild mare between his legs, no more wild, no longer
desiring to destroy him, but with lowered crest and mien submissive,
acknowledging to the entire world that she had found her master!

Without acknowledging it to the world, or even to her, the young Creole
was inspired with a similar reflection.

"Miss Poindexter!" said the mustanger, gliding to the ground, and
without making any acknowledgment to the plaudits that were showered
upon him "may I ask you to step up to her, throw this lasso over her
neck, and lead her to the stable? By so doing, she will regard you as
her tamer and ever after submit to your will, if you but exhibit the
sign that first deprived her of her liberty."

A prude would have paltered with the proposal a coquette would have
declined it a timid girl have shrunk back.

Not so Louise Poindexter a descendant of one of the filles-a-la-casette.
Without a moment's hesitation, without the slightest show of prudery, or
fear she stepped forth from the aristocratic circle as instructed, took
hold of the horsehair rope whisked it across the neck of the tamed
mustang and led the captive off towards the caballeriza of Casa del
Corvo.

As she did so, the mustanger's words were ringing in her ears, and
echoing through her heart with a strange foreboding weird signification.

"She will regard you as her tamer and ever after submit to your will, if
you but exhibit the sign that first deprived her of her liberty"



13. A PRAIRIE PICNIC.


The first rays from a rosy aurora, saluting the flag of Fort Inge, fell
with a more subdued light upon an assemblage of objects occupying the
parade ground below in front of the "officers' quarters."

A small sumpter-wagon stood in the centre of the group having attached
to it a double span of tight little Mexican mules, whose quick impatient
"stomping," tails spitefully whisked, and ears at intervals turning
awry, told that they had been for some time in harness, and were
impatient to move off warning the bystanders, as well, against a too
close approximation to their heels.

Literally speaking, there were no bystanders, if we except a man of
colossal size, in blanket coat, and slouch felt hat who, despite the
obscure light straggling around his shoulders, could be identified as
Zeb Stump, the hunter.

He was not standing either, but seated astride his "olc maar," that
showed less anxiety to be off than either the Mexican mules or her own
master.

The other forms around the vehicle were all in motion quick, hurried,
occasionally confused hither and thither, from the wagon to the door of
the quarters, and back again from the house to the vehicle.

There were half a score of them, or thereabouts varied in costume as in
the color of their skins. Most were soldiers, in fatigue dress, though
of different arms of the service. Two would be taken to be mess-cooks
and two or three more, officers' servants, who had been detailed from
the ranks.

A more legitimate specimen of this profession, appeared in the person of
a well dressed darkie, who moved about the ground in a very
authoritative manner deriving his importance, from his office of valet
de tout to the major in command of the cantonment. A sergeant, as shown
by his three barred cheveron, was in charge of the mixed party,
directing their movements the object of which was to load the wagon with
eatables and drinkables in short, the paraphernalia of a picnic.

That it was intended to be upon a grand scale, was testified by the
amplitude and variety of the impedimenta. There were hampers and baskets
of all shapes and sizes, including the well known parallelopipedon,
enclosing its twelve necks of shining silver lead while the tin
canisters, painted Spanish brown, along with the universal sardine case,
proclaimed the presence of many luxuries not indigenous to Texas.

However delicate and extensive the stock of provisions, there was one in
the party of purveyors who did not appear to think it complete. The
dissatisfied Lucullus was Zeb Stump.

"Lookee hyur, surgint," said he, addressing himself confidentially to
the individual in charge, "I haint seed neery smell o' corn put inter
the veehicle as yit an', I reck'n, thet out on the purayra, thur'll be
some folks ud prefar a leetle corn to any o' thet theer furrin French
stuff. Sham-pain, ye call it, I b'lieve."

"Prefer corn to champagne! The horses you mean?"

"Hosses be durned. I ain't talkin' 'bout hoss corn. I mean
M'nongaheela."

"Oh ah I comprehend. You're right about that, Mr. Stump. The whisky
mustn't be forgotten, Pomp. I think I saw a jar inside, that's intended
to go?"

"Yaw yaw, sagint," responded the dark skinned domestic; "dar am dat same
wesicle. Hya it is!" he added, lugging a large jar into the light, and
swinging it up into the wagon.

Old Zeb appearing to think the packing now complete, showed signs of
impatience to be off.

"Ain't ye riddy, surgint?" he inquired, shifting restlessly in his
stirrups.

"Not quite, Mr. Stump. The cook tells me the chickens want another turn
upon the spit, before we can take 'em along."

"Durn the chickens an' the cook too! What air any dunghill fowl to
compare wi' a wild turkey o' the purayra an' how im I to shoot one,
ai'ter the sun hev clomb ten mile up the sky? The major sayed I war to
git him a gobbler, whativer shed happen. 'Tain't so dumation easy to
loll turkey gobbler arter sun up, wi' a clamjamferry like this comin'
clost upon a fellur's heels? Ye musn't surpose, surgint, that thet ere
bird air as big a fool as the sodger o' a fort. Of all the cunnin'
critters, as ferquents these hyur purayras, a turkey air the cunninest
an' to git helf way roun' one o' 'em, ye must be up along wi' the sun
and preehap a leetle urlier."

"True, Mr. Stump. I know the major wants a wild turkey. He told me so
and expects you to procure one on the way."

"No doubt he do an' preehap expex me likeways to purvide him wi' a
bufner's tongue, an' hump seein' as thur ain't sech a anymal on the
purayras o' South Texas nor hain't a been for good twenty yurs past
noterthstandin' what European writers o' books hev said to the contrary,
an' 'specially French 'uns, as I've heern. Thur ain't no buffler 'bout
hyur. Thur's baar, an' deer, an' goats, an' plenty o' gobblers but to
hev one o' these critters for yur dinner, ye must git it urly enuf for
yur break fist. Unless I hev my own time, I won't promise to guide yur
party, an' git gobbler both. So, surgint, ef ye expex yur grand kumpny
to chaw turkey meat this day, yell do well to be makin' tracks for the
purayra."

Stirred by the hunter's representation, the sergeant did all that was
possible to hasten the departure of himself and his parti-colored
company and, shortly after, the provision train, with Zeb Stump as its
guide, was wending its way across the extensive plain that lies between
the Leona and the "River of Nuts."

The parade ground had been cleared of the wagon and its escort scarce
twenty minutes, when a party of somewhat different appearance commenced
assembling upon the same spot.

There were ladies on horseback attended, not by grooms, as at the "meet"
in an English hunting-field, but by the gentlemen who were to accompany
them their friends and acquaintances, fathers, brothers, lovers, and
husbands. Most, if not all, who had figured at Poindexter's dinner
party, were soon upon the ground.

The planter himself was present, as also his son Henry, his nephew
Cassius Calhoun, and his daughter Louise the young lady mounted upon the
spotted mustang, that had figured so conspicuously on the occasion of
the entertainment at Casa del Corvo.

The affair was a reciprocal treat, a simple return of hospitality the
major and his officers being the hosts, the planter and his friends the
invited guests. The entertainment about to be provided, if less
pretentious in luxurious appointments, was equally appropriate to the
time and place. The guests of the cantonment were to be gratified by
witnessing a spectacle grand as rare a chase of wild steeds!

The arena of the sport could only be upon the wild horse prairies some
twenty miles to the southward of Fort Inge. Hence the necessity for an
early start, and being preceded by a vehicle laden with an ample
commissariat.

Just as the sunbeams began to dance upon the crystal waters of the
Leona, the excursionists were ready to take their departure from the
parade ground, with an escort of two score dragoons that had been
ordered to ride in the rear. Like the party that preceded them, they too
were provided with a guide not an old backwoodsman in battered felt hat,
and faded blanket coat, astride a scraggy roadster but a horseman
completely costumed and equipped, mounted upon a splendid steed, in
every way worthy to be the chaperone of such a distinguished expedition.

"Come, Maurice!" cried the major, on seeing that all had assembled,
"we're ready to be conducted to the game. Ladies and gentlemen! This
young fellow is thoroughly acquainted with the haunts and habits of the
wild horses. If there's a man in Texas, who can show us how to hunt
them, 'tis Maurice the mustanger."

"Faith, you flatter me, major!" rejoined the young Irishman, turning
with a courteous air towards the company "I have not said so much as
that. I can only promise to show you where you may find them."

"Modest fellow!" soliloquized one, who trembled, as she gave thought to
what she more than half suspected to be an untruth.

"Lead on, then!" commanded the major and, at the word, the gay
cavalcade, with the mustanger in the lead, commenced moving across the
parade ground while the star spangled banner, unfurled by the morning
breeze, fluttered upon its staff as if waving them an elegant adieu!

A twenty mile ride upon prairie turf is a mere bagatelle before
breakfast, an airing. In Texas it is so regarded by man, woman, and
horse.

It was accomplished in less than three hours without further
inconvenience than that which arose from performing the last few miles
of it with appetites uncomfortably keen.

Fortunately the provision wagon, passed upon the road, came close upon
their heels and, long before the sun had attained the meridian line, the
excursionists were in full picnic under the shade of a gigantic pecan
tree, that stood near the banks of the Nueces.

No incident had occurred on the way worth recording. The mustanger, as
guide, had ridden habitually in the advance of the company, with one or
two exceptions, thinking of him only in his official capacity, unless
when startled by some feat of horsemanship such as leaping clear over a
prairie stream, or dry arroyo, which others were fain to ford, or cross
by the crooked path.

There may have been a suspicion of bravado in this behavior, a desire to
exhibit. Cassius Calhoun told the company there was. Perhaps the
ex-captain spoke the truth for once.

If so, there was also some excuse. Have you ever been in a hunting
field, at home, with riding habits trailing the sward, and plumed hats
proudly nodding around you? You have and then what? Be cautious how you
condemn the Texan mustanger. Reflect, that he, too, was under the
artillery of bright eyes, a score pair of them, some as bright as
overlooked love out of a lady's saddle. Think, that Louise Poindexter's
were among the number; think of that, and you will scarce feel surprised
at the ambition to "shine."

There were others equally demonstrative of personal accomplishments of
prowess that might prove manhood. The young dragoon, Hancock, frequently
essayed to show that he was not new to the saddle and the lieutenant of
mounted rifles, at intervals, strayed from the side of the commissary's
niece, for the performance of some equestrian feat, without looking
exclusively to her, his reputed sweetheart, as he listened to the
whisperings of applause.

Ah, daughter of Poindexter! Whether in the salons of civilized
Louisiana, or the prairies of savage Texas, peace could not reign in thy
presence! Go where thou wilt, romantic thoughts must spring up, wild
passions be engendered around thee!



14. THE MANADA.


Had their guide held the prairies in complete control its denizens
subject to his secret will responsible to time and place he could not
have conducted the excursionists to a spot more likely to furnish the
sport that had summoned them forth.

Just as the sparkling Johannisberger, obtained from the German wine
stores of San Antonio had imparted a brighter blue to the sky, and a
more vivid green to the grass, the cry "Musteños!" was heard above the
hum of conversation, interrupting the half spoken sentiment, with the
peal of merry laughter. It came from a Mexican vaquero, who had been
stationed as a vidette on an eminence near at hand.

Maurice at the moment partaking of the hospitality of his employers,
freely extended to him suddenly quaffed off the cup and springing to his
saddle, cried out:

"Cavallada?"

"No," answered the Mexican "manada"

"What do the fellows mean by their gibberish?" inquired Captain Calhoun.

"Musteños is only the Mexican for mustangs," replied the major "and by
'manada' he means they are wild mares, a drove of them. At this season
they herd together, and keep apart from the horses unless when--"

"When what?" impatiently asked the ex-officer of volunteers,
interrupting the explanation.

"When they are attacked by asses," innocently answered the major.

A general peal of laughter, rendered doubtful the naiveté of the major's
response, imparting to it the suspicion of a personality not intended.

For a moment Calhoun writhed under the awkward misconception of the
auditory, but only for a moment. He was not the man to succumb to an
unlucky accident of speech. On the contrary, he perceived the chance of
a triumphant reply and took advantage of it.

"Indeed!" he drawled out, without appearing to address himself to any
one in particular. "I was not aware that donkeys were so dangerous in
these parts."

As Calhoun said this, he was not looking at Louise Poindexter or he
might have detected in her eyes a glance to gratify him.

The young Creole, despite an apparent coolness towards him, could not
withhold admiration at anything that showed cleverness. His case might
not be so hopeless?

The young dragoon, Hancock, did not think it so; nor yet the lieutenant
of rifles. Both observed the approving look, and both became imbued with
the belief that Cassius Calhoun had or might have in his keeping, the
happiness of his cousin.

The conjecture gave a secret chagrin to both, but especially to the
dragoon.

There was but short time for him to reflect upon it the manada was
drawing near.

"To the saddle!" was the thought upon every mind, and the cry upon every
tongue.

The bit was rudely inserted between teeth still industriously grinding
the yellow corn, the bridle drawn over shoulders yet smoking after the
quick scurry of twenty miles through the close atmosphere of a tropical
morn and, before a hundred could have been deliberately counted, every
one, ladies and gentlemen alike, was in the stirrup, ready to ply whip
and spur.

By this time the wild mares appeared coming over the crest of the ridge,
upon which the vidette had been stationed. He, himself a horse catcher
by trade, was already mounted, and in their midst endeavoring to fling
his lasso over one of the herd. They were going at mad gallop, as if
fleeing from a pursuer some dreaded creature that was causing them to
"whigher" and snort! With their eyes strained to the rear, they saw
neither the sumpter wagon, nor the equestrians clustering around it, but
were continuing onward to the spot which chanced to lie directly in the
line of their flight.

"They are chased!" remarked Maurice, observing the excited action of the
animals.

"What is it, Crespino?" he cried out to the Mexican, who, from his
position, must have seen any pursuer that might be after them.

There was a momentary pause, as the party awaited the response. In the
crowd were countenances that betrayed uneasiness, some even alarm. It
might be Indians who were in pursuit of the mustangs!

"Un asino cimmaron!" was the phrase that came from the mouth of the
Mexican, though by no means terminating the suspense of the picnickers.
"Un macho!" he added.

"Oh! That's it! I thought it was!" muttered Maurice "The rascal must be
stopped, or he'll spoil our sport. So long as he's after them, they'll
not make halt this side the sky line. Is the macho coming on?"

"Close at hand, Don Mauricio. Fling your rope over him, if you can. If
not, cripple him with a shot anything to put an end to his capers."

The character of the pursuer was still a mystery to most, if not all,
upon the ground for only the mustanger knew the exact signification of
the phrases "un asino cimmaron," "un macho."

"Explain, Maurice!" commanded the major.

"Look yonder!" replied the young Irishman, pointing to the top of the
hill.

The two words were sufficient. All eyes became directed towards the
crest of the ridge, where an animal, usually regarded as the type of
slowness and stupidity, was seen advancing with the swiftness of a bird
upon the wing.

But very different is the "asino cimmaron" from the ass of civilization,
the donkey becudgelled into stolidity.

The one now in sight was a male, almost as large as any of the mustangs
it was chasing and if not fleet as the fleetest, still able to keep up
with them by the sheer pertinacity of its pursuit!

The tableau of nature, thus presented on the green surface of the
prairie, was as promptly produced as it could have been upon the stage
of a theatre, or the arena of a hippodrome.

Scarce a score of words had passed among the spectators, before the wild
mares were close up to them and then, as if for the first time,
perceiving the mounted party, they seemed to forget their dreaded
pursuer, and shied off in a slanting direction.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" shouted the guide to a score of people,
endeavoring to restrain their steeds "keep your places, if you can. I
know where the herd has its haunt. They are heading towards it now and
we shall find them again, with a better chance of a chase. If you pursue
them at this moment, they'll scatter into yonder chapparal and ten to
one if we evermore get sight of them.

"Hola, Señor Crespino! Send your bullet through that brute. He's near
enough for your escopette, is he not?"

The Mexican, detaching a short gun, "escopeta", from his saddle flap,
and hastily bringing its butt to his shoulder, fired at the wild ass.

The animal brayed on hearing the report, but only as if in defiance. He
was evidently untouched. Crespino's bullet had not been truly aimed.

"I must stop him!" exclaimed Maurice, "or the mares will run on till the
end of daylight."

As the mustanger spoke, he struck the spur sharply into the flanks of
his horse. Like an arrow projected from its bow, Castro shot off in
pursuit of the jackass, now galloping regard-lessly past.

Half a dozen springs of the blood bay, guided in a diagonal direction,
brought his rider within casting distance and like a flash of lightning;
the loop of the lasso was seen descending over the long ears.

On launching it, the mustanger halted, and made a half wheel the horse
going round as upon a pivot and with like mechanical obedience to the
will of his rider, bracing himself for the expected pluck.

There was a short interval of intense expectation, as the wild ass,
careering onward, took up the slack of the rope. Then the animal was
seen to rise erect on its hind legs, and fall heavily backward upon the
sward where it lay motionless, and apparently as dead, as if shot
through the heart!

It was only stunned, however, by the shock, and the quick tightening of
the loop causing temporary strangulation, which the Mexican mustanger
prolonged to eternity, by drawing his sharp edged machete across its
throat.

The incident caused a postponement of the chase. All awaited the action
of the guide who, after "throwing" the macho, had dismounted to recover
his lasso.

He had succeeded in releasing the rope from the neck of the prostrate
animal, when he was seen to coil it up with a quickness that betokened
some new cause of excitement at the same time that he ran to regain his
saddle.

Only a few of the others most being folly occupied with their own
excited steeds observed this show of haste on the part of the mustanger.
Those who did, saw it with surprise. He had counseled patience in the
pursuit. They could perceive no cause for the eccentric change of
tactics, unless it was that Louise Poindexter, mounted on the spotted
mustang, had suddenly separated from the company, and was galloping off
after the wild mares, as if resolved on being foremost of the field!

But the hunter of wild horses had not construed her conduct in this
sense. That uncourteous start, could scarce be an intention except on
the part of the spotted mustang? Maurice had recognized the manada, as
the same from which he had himself captured it and, no doubt, with the
design of rejoining its old associates, it was running away with its
rider!

So believed the guide and the belief became instantly universal.

Stirred by gallantry, half the field spurred off in pursuit: Calhoun,
Hancock, and Crossman leading, with half a score of young planters,
lawyers, and legislators close following each as he rode off reflecting
to himself, what a bit of luck it would be to bring up the runaway.

But few, if any, of the gentlemen felt actual alarm. All knew that
Louise Poindexter was a splendid equestrian, a spacious plain lay before
her, smooth as a racetrack the mustang might gallop till it tired itself
down, it could not throw her, and there could be little chance of her
receiving any serious injury?

There was one who did not entertain this confident view. It was he who
had been the first to show anxiety the mustanger himself.

He was the last to leave the ground. Delayed in the rearrangement of his
lasso, a moment more in remounting, he was a hundred paces behind every
competitor, as his horse sprang forward upon the pursuit.

Calhoun was a like distance in the lead, pressing on with all the
desperate energy of his nature, and all the speed he could extract from
the heels of his horse. The dragoon and rifleman were a little in his
rear and then came the "ruck."

Maurice soon passed through the thick of the field, overlapped the
leaders one by one and forging still further ahead, showed Cassius
Calhoun the heels of his horse.

A mattered curse was sent hissing through the teeth of the ex-officer of
volunteers, as the blood bay, bounding past, concealed from his sight
the receding form of the spotted mustang.

The sun, looking down from the zenith, gave light to a singular tableau.
A herd of wild mares going at reckless speed across the prairie, one of
their own kind with a lady upon its back, following about four hundred
yards behind at a like distance after the lady, a steed of red bay
color, bestridden by a cavalier picturesquely attired, and apparently
intent upon overtaking her, still further to the rear a string of
mounted men some in civil, some in military, garb behind these a troop
of dragoons going at full gallop, having just parted from a mixed group
of ladies and gentlemen also mounted, but motionless, on the plain, or
only stirring around the same spot with excited gesticulations!

In twenty minutes the tableau was changed. The same personages were upon
the stage, the grand tapis vert of the prairie, but the grouping was
different, or, at all events, the groups were more widely apart. The
manada had gained distance upon the spotted mustang, the mustang upon
the blood-bay and the blood-bay ah! His competitors were no longer in
sight, or could only have been seen by the far piercing eye of the
caracara, soaring high in the sapphire heavens.

The wild mares the mustang and its rider the red horse, and his had the
savanna to themselves!



15. THE RUNAWAY OVERTAKEN.


For another mile the chase continued, without much change.

The mares still swept on in full flight, though no longer screaming, or
in fear. The mustang still uttered an occasional neigh, which its old
associates seemed not to notice, while its rider held her seat in the
saddle unshaken, and without any apparent alarm.

The blood-bay appeared more excited, though not so much as his master
who was beginning to show signs either of despondency or chagrin.

"Come, Castro!" he exclaimed, with a certain spitefulness of tone. "What
the deuce is the matter with your heels to day of all others? Remember,
you overtook her before though not so easily, I admit. But now she's
weighted. Look yonder, you dull brute! Weighted with that which is worth
more than gold, worth every drop of your blood, and mine too. The yegua
pinta seems to have improved her paces. Is it from training or does a
horse run faster when ridden?

"What if I lose sight of her? In truth, it begins to look queer! It
would be an awkward situation for the young lady. Worse than that
there's danger in it real danger. If I should lose sight of her, she'd
be in trouble to a certainty!"

Thus muttering, Maurice rode on his eyes now fixed upon the form still
flitting away before him at intervals interrogating, with uneasy
glances, the space that separated him from it.

Up to this time he had not thought of hailing the rider of the runaway.

His shouts might have been heard, but no words of warning, or
instruction. He had refrained partly on this account partly because he
was in momentary expectation of overtaking her and partly because he
knew that acts, not words, were wanted to bring the mustang to a stand.

All along he had been flattering himself that he would soon be near
enough to fling his lasso over the creature's neck, and control it at
discretion. He was gradually becoming relieved of this hallucination.

The chase now entered among copses that thickly studded the plain, fast
closing into a continuous chapparal. This was a new source of uneasiness
to the pursuer. The runaway might take to the thicket, or become lost to
his view amid the windings of the wood.

The wild mares were already invisible at intervals. They would soon be
out of sight altogether. There seemed no chance of their old associate
overtaking them.

What mattered that? A lady lost on a prairie, or in a chapparal alone,
or in the midst of a manada either contingency pointed to certain
danger.

A still more startling peril suggested itself to the mind of the
mustanger so startling as to find expression in excited speech.

"By heavens!" he ejaculated, his brow becoming more clouded than it had
been from his first entering upon the chase. "If the stallions should
chance this way! 'Tis their favorite stamping ground, among these motes.
They were hero but a week' ago and this yes 'tis the month of their
madness!"

The spur of the mustanger again drew blood, till its rowels were red and
Castro, galloping at his utmost speed, glanced back upbraidingly over
his shoulder.

At this crisis the manada disappeared from the sight, both of the
blood-bay and his master and most probably at the same time from that of
the spotted mustang and its rider. There was nothing mysterious in it.
The mares had entered between the closing of two copses, where the
shrubbery hid them from view.

The effect produced upon the runaway appeared to proceed from some
magical influence. As if their disappearance was a signal for
discontinuing the chase, it suddenly slackened pace and the instant
after came to a standstill!

Maurice, continuing his gallop, came up with it in the middle of a
meadow like glade standing motionless as marble its rider, reins in
hand, sitting silent in the saddle, in an attitude of easy elegance, as
if waiting for him to ride up!

"Miss Poindexter!" he gasped out, as he spurred his steed within
speaking distance, "I am glad that you have recovered command of that
wild creature. I was beginning to be alarmed about."

"About what, sir?" was the question that startled the mustanger.

"Your safety of course," he replied, somewhat stammering.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Gerald but I was not aware of having been in any
danger. Was I really so?"

"Any danger!" echoed the Irishman, with increased astonishment. "On the
back of a runaway mustang in the middle of a pathless prairie!"

"And what of that? The thing couldn't throw me. I'm too clever in the
saddle, sir."

"I know it, madame but that accomplishment would have availed you very
little, had you lost yourself, a thing you were like enough to have done
among these chapparal copses, where the oldest Texan can scarce find his
way."

"Oh lost myself! That was the danger to be dreaded?"

"There are others, besides. Suppose you had fallen in with--"

"Indians!" interrupted the lady, without waiting for the mustanger to
finish his hypothetical speech. "And if I had," what would it have
mattered? Are not the Comanches en paz at present? Surely they wouldn't
have molested me, gallant fellows as they are? So the major told us, as
we came along. You my word, sir, I should seek, rather than shun, such
an encounter. I wish to see the noble savage on his native prairie, and
on horseback not, as I've hitherto beheld him, reeling around the
settlements in a state of debasement from too freely partaking of our
fire water."

"I admire your courage, miss but if I had the honor of being one of your
friends, I should take the liberty of counseling a little caution. The
'noble savage' you speak of is not always sober upon the prairies and
perhaps not so very gallant, as you've been led to believe. If you had
met him--"

"If I had met him, and he had attempted to misbehave himself, I would
have given him the go by, and ridden straight back to my friends. On
such a swift creature as this, he must have been well mounted to have
overtaken me. You found some difficulty did you not?"

The eyes of the young Irishman, already showing astonishment, became
expanded to increased dimensions surprise and incredulity being equally
blended in their glance.

"But," said he, after a speechless pause, "you don't mean to say that
you could have controlled that the mustang was not running away with
you? Am I to understand?"

"No-no-no!" hastily rejoined the fair equestrian, showing some slight
embarrassment. "The mare certainly made off with me that is, at the
first, but I found, that is at the last I found I could easily pull her
up. In fact I did so you saw it?"

"And could you have done it sooner?"

A strange thought had suggested the interrogatory and with more than
ordinary interest the questioner awaited the reply.

"Perhaps-perhaps! I might no doubt, if I had dragged a little harder
upon the rein. But you see, sir, I like a good gallop especially upon a
prairie, where there's no fear of running over pigs, poultry, or
people."

Maurice looked amaze. In all his experience even in his own native land,
famed for feminine braverie above all in the way of bold riding he had
met no match for the clever equestrian before him.

His astonishment, mixed with admiration, hindered him from making a
ready rejoinder.

"To speak truth," continued the young lady, with an air of charming
simplicity, "I was net sorry at being run off with. One sometimes gets
tired of too much talk of the kind called complimentary. I wanted fresh
air, and to be alone. So you see, Mr. Gerald, it was rather a bit of
good fortune since it saved explanations and adieus."

"You wanted to be alone?" responded the mustanger, with a disappointed
look. "I am sorry I should have made the mistake to have intruded upon
you. I assure you, Miss Poindexter; I followed, because I believed you
to be in danger."

"Most gallant of you, sir and now that I know there was danger, I am
truly grateful. I presume I have guessed aright: you meant the Indians?"

"No not Indians exactly at least, it was not of them I was thinking."

"Some other danger? What is it, sir? You will tell me, so that I may be
more cautious for the future?"

Maurice did not make immediate answer. A sound striking upon his ear had
caused him to turn away as if inattentive to the interrogatory.

The Creole, perceiving there was some cause for his abstraction,
likewise assumed a listening attitude. She heard a shrill scream,
succeeded by another and another, close followed by a loud hammering of
hoofs the conjunction of sounds causing the still atmosphere to vibrate
around her.

It was no mystery to the hunter of horses. The words that came quick
from his lips though not designed were a direct answer to the question
she had put.

"The wild stallions!" he exclaimed, in a tone that betokened alarm. "I
knew they must be among those motes and they are!"

"Is that the danger of which you have been speaking?"

"It is."

"What fear of them? They are only mustangs!"

"True, and at other times there is no cause to fear them. But just now,
at this season of the year, they become as savage as tigers, and equally
as vindictive. Ah! The wild steed in his rage is an enemy more to be
dreaded than wolf, panther, or bear."

"What are we to do?" inquired the young lady, now, for the first time,
giving proof that she felt fear by riding close up to the man who had
once before rescued her from a situation of peril, and gazing anxiously
in his face, as she awaited the answer.

"If they should charge upon us," answered Maurice, "there are but two
ways of escape. One, by ascending a tree, and abandoning our horses to
their fury."

"The other?" asked the Creole, with a sang froid that showed a presence
of mind likely to stand the test of the most exciting crisis. "Anything
but abandon our animals! 'Twould be but a shabby way of making our
escape!"

"We shall not have an opportunity of trying it. I perceive it is
impracticable. There's not a tree within sight large enough to afford us
security. If attacked, we have no alternative but to trust to the
fleetness of our horses. Unfortunately," he continued, with a glance of
inspection towards the spotted mare, and then at his own horse, "they've
had too much work this morning. Both are badly blown. That will be our
greatest source of danger. The wild steeds are sure to be fresh."

"Do you intend us to start now?"

"Not yet. The longer we can breathe our animals the better. The
stallions may not come this way or if so, may not molest us. It'will
depend on their mood at the moment. If battling among themselves, we may
look out for their attack. Then they have lost their reason if I may so
speak and will recklessly rush upon one of their own kind even with a
man upon his back. Ha! 'tis as I expected they are in conflict. I can
tell by their cries! And driving this way, too!"

"But, Mr. Gerald why should we not ride off at once, in the opposite
direction?"

"That would be of no use. There's no cover to conceal us, on that side
nothing but open plain. They'll be out upon it before we could get a
sufficient start, and would soon overtake us. The place we must make for
the only safe one I can think of lies the other way. They are now upon
the direct path to it, if I can judge by what I hear and, if we start
too soon, we may ride into their teeth. We must wait, and try to steal
away behind them. If we succeed in getting past, and can keep our
distance for a two mile gallop, I know a spot, where we shall be as safe
as if inside the corrals of Casa del Corvo. You are sure you can control
the mustang?"

"Quite sure," was the prompt reply all idea of deception being abandoned
in presence of the threatening peril.



16. CHASED BY WILD STALLIONS.


The two sat expectant in their saddles, she apparently with more
confidence than he, for she confided in him. Still, but imperfectly
comprehending it, she knew there must be some great danger. When such a
man showed signs of fear, it could not be otherwise. She had a secret
happiness in thinking that a portion of this fear was for her own
safety.

"I think we may venture now" said her companion, after a short period
spent in listening, "they appear to have passed the opening by which we
must make our retreat. Look well to your riding, I entreat you! Keep a
firm seat in the saddle, and a sure hold of the rein. Gallop by my side,
where the ground will admit of it, but in no case let more than the
length of my horse's tail be between us. I must perforce go ahead to
guide the way. Ha! They are coming direct for the glade. They're already
close to its edge. Our time is up!"

The profound stillness, that but a short while before pervaded the
prairie, no longer reigned over it. In its stead had arisen a fracas,
which resembled the outpouring of some overcrowded asylum, for in the
shrill neighing of the steeds might have been fancied the screams of
maniacs, only ten times more vociferous. They were mingled with a
thunder like hammering of hoofs, a swishing and crashing of branches,
savage snorts, accompanied by the sharp snapping of teeth, the dull
"thud" of heels coming in contact with ribs and rounded hips squealing
that betokened spite or pain all forming a combination of sounds that
jarred harshly upon the ear, and caused the earth to quake, as if
oscillating upon its orbit!

It told of a terrible conflict, carried on by the wild stallions that,
still unseen, were fighting indiscriminately among themselves, as they
held their way among the motes.

Not much longer unseen. As Maurice gave the signal to start, the
speckled crowd showed itself in an opening between two copses. In a
moment more it filled the gangway like gap, and commenced disgorging
into the glade, with the impetus of an avalanche!

It was composed of living forms, the most beautiful known in nature, for
in this man must give way to the horse. Not the unsexed horse of
civilization, with hunched shoulders, bandied limbs, and bowed frontlet
scarce one in a thousand of true equine shape and this, still farther,
mutilated by the shears of the coper and gentleman jockey, but the wild
steed of the savannas, foaled upon the green grass, his form left free
to develop as the flowers that shed their fragrance around him.

Eye never beheld a more splendid sight than a cavallada of wild
stallions, prancing upon a prairie especially at that season when,
stirred by strong passions, they seek to destroy one another. The
spectacle is more than splendid, it is fearful too fearful to be enjoyed
by man, much less by a timid woman. Still more, when the spectator views
it from an exposed position, liable to become the object of their
attack.

In such a situation were the riders of the blood-bay and spotted
mustang. The former knew it, by past experience, the latter could not
fail to perceive it by the evidence before her.

"This way!" cried Maurice, lancing his horse's flanks with the spur, and
bending so as to oblique to the rear of the cavallada.

"By heaven they've discovered us! On-on! Miss Poindexter! Remember you
are riding for your life!"

The stimulus of speech was not needed. The behavior of the stallions was
of itself sufficient to show, that speed alone could save the spotted
mustang and its rider.

On coming out into the open ground, and getting sight of the ridden
horses, they had suddenly desisted from their internecine strife and, as
if acting under the orders of some skilled leader, come to a halt. In
line, too, like cavalry checked up in the middle of a charge!

For a time, their mutual hostility seemed to be laid aside, as if they
felt called upon to attack a common enemy, or resist some common danger!

The pause may have proceeded from surprise but, whether or not, it was
favorable to the fugitives. During the twenty seconds it continued, the
latter had made good use of their time, and accomplished the circuit
required to put them on the path of safety.

Only on the path, however. Their escape was still problematical: for the
steeds, perceiving their intention, wheeled suddenly into the line of
pursuit, and went galloping after, with snorts and screams that betrayed
a spiteful determination to overtake them.

From that moment, it became a straight unchanging chase across country,
a trial of speed between the horses without riders, and the horses that
were ridden.

At intervals did Maurice carry his chin to his shoulder and though still
preserving the distance gained at the start, his look was not the less
one of apprehension.

Alone, he would have laughed to scorn his pursuers. He knew that the
blood-bay, himself a prairie steed, could surpass any competitor of his
race. But the mare was delaying him. She was galloping slower than he
had ever seen her, as if unwilling, or not coveting escape like a horse,
with his head turned away from home!

"What can it mean?" muttered the mustanger, as he checked his pace, to
accommodate it to that of his companion. "If there should be any baulk
at the crossing, we're lost! A score of seconds will make the
difference."

"We keep our distance, don't we?" inquired his fellow fugitive, noticing
his troubled look.

"So far, yes. Unfortunately there's an obstruction ahead. It remains to
be seen how we shall get over it. I know you are a clever rider, and can
take a long leap. But your mount? I'm not so sure of the mare. You know
her better than I. Do you think she can carry you over?"

"Over what, sir?"

"You'll see in a second. We should be near the place now."

The conversation thus carried on was between two individuals riding side
by side, and going at a gallop of nearly a mile to the minute!

As the guide had predicted, they soon came within sight of the
obstruction, which proved to be an arroyo a yawning fissure in the plain
fall, fifteen feet in width, as many in depth, and trending on each side
to the verge of vision.

To turn aside, either to the right or left would be to give the pursuers
the advantage of the diagonal, which the fugitives could no longer
afford.

The chasm must be crossed, or the stallions would overtake them.

It could only be crossed by a leap, fifteen feet at the least. Maurice
knew that his own horse could go over it; he had done it before. But the
mare?

"Do you think she can do it?" he eagerly asked, as, in slackened pace,
they approached the edge of the barranca.

"I am sure she can," was the confident reply.

"But are you sure you can sit her over it?"

"Ha! ha! ha!" scornfully laughed the Creole. "What a question for an
Irishman to ask! I'm sure, sir, one of your own countrywomen would be
offended at your speech. Even I, a native of swampy Louisiana, don't
regard it as at all gallant. Sit her over it! Sit her anywhere she can
carry me."

"But, Miss Poindexter," stammered the guide, still doubting the powers
of the spotted mustang, "suppose she cannot? If you have any doubts, had
you not better abandon her? I know that my horse can bear us both to the
other side, and with safety. If the mustang be left behind, in all
likelihood we shall escape further pursuit. The wild steeds"

"Leave Luna behind? Leave her to be trampled to death, or torn to pieces
as you say she would? No-no, Mr. Gerald. I prize the spotted mare too'
much for that. She goes with me over the chasm, if we can. If not, we
both break our necks at the bottom. Come, my pretty pet! This is he who
chased, captured, and conquered you. Show him you're not yet so subdued,
but that you can escape, when close pressed, from the toils of either
friend or enemy. Show him one of those leaps, of which you've done a
dozen within the week. Now for a flight in the air!"

Without even waiting for the stimulus of example, the courageous Creole
rode recklessly at the arroyo and cleared it by one of those leaps of
which she had "done a dozen, within the week."

There were three thoughts in the mind of the mustanger, rather might
they be called emotions, as he sate watching that leap. The first was
simple astonishment the second, intense admiration. The third was not so
easily denned. It had its origin in the words "prize the spotted mare
too much for that."

"Why?" reflected he, as he drove his spur rowels into the flanks of the
blood-bay and the reflection lasted as long as Castro was suspended in
mid air over the yawning abysm.

Cleverly as the chasm was crossed, it did not ensure the safety of the
fugitives. It would be no obstruction to the steeds. Maurice knew it,
and looked back with undiminished apprehension.

Rather was it increased. The delay, short as it was, had given the
pursuers an advantage. They were nearer than ever! They would not be
likely to make a moment's pause, but clear the crevasse at a single
bound, of their sure footed gallop.

And then-what then?

The mustanger put the question to himself. He grew paler, as the reply
puzzled him.

On alighting from the leap, he had not paused for a second, but gone
galloping on as before, close followed by his fugitive companion. His
pace, however, was less impetuous. He seemed to ride with irresolution,
or as if some half formed resolve was restraining him.

When about a score lengths from the edge of the arroyo, he reined up and
wheeled round as if he had suddenly formed the determination to ride
back!

"Miss Poindexter!" he called out to the young lady, at that moment just
up with him. "You must ride on alone."

"But why, sir?" asked she, as she jerked the muzzle of the mustang close
up to its counter, bringing it almost instantaneously to a stand.

"If we keep together we shall be overtaken. I must do something to stay
those savage brutes. Here there is a chance nowhere else. For heaven's
sake don't question me! Ten seconds of lost time, and 'twill be too
late. Look ahead yonder. You perceive the sheen of water. 'Tis a prairie
pond. Ride straight towards it. You will find yourself between two high
fences. They come together at the pond. You'll see a gap, with bars. If
I'm not up in time, gallop through, dismount, and put the bars up behind
you."

"And you, Sir? You are going to undergo some great danger?"

"Have no fear for me! Alone, I shall run but little risk. 'Tis
Mustang--For mercy's sake, gallop forward! Keep the water under your
eyes. Let it guide you like a beacon fire. Remember to close the gap
behind you. Away-away!"

For a second or two the young lady appeared irresolute, as if reluctant
to part company with the man who was making such efforts, to ensure her
safety perhaps at the peril of his own.

By good fortune she was not one of those timid maidens, who turn frantic
at a crisis, and drag to the bottom the swimmer who would save them. She
had faith in the capability of her counselor, believed that he knew what
he was about and, once more spurring the mare into a gallop, she rode
off in a direct line for the prairie pond.

At the same instant, Maurice had given the rein to his horse, and was
riding in the opposite direction back to the place where they had leaped
the arroyo!

On parting from his companion, he had drawn from his saddle holster the
finest weapon ever wielded upon the prairies either for attack or
defense, against Indian, buffalo, or bear. It was the six chambered
revolver of Colonel Colt, not the spurious improvement of Deane, Adams,
and a host of retrograde imitators but the genuine article from the
"land of wooden nutmegs," with the Hartford brand upon its breech.

"They must get over the narrow place where we crossed," muttered he, as
he faced towards the stallions, still advancing on the other side of the
arroyo.

"If I can but fling one of them in his tracks, it may hinder the others
from attempting the leap or delay them long enough for the mustang to
make its escape. The big sorrel is leading. He will make the spring
first. The pistol's good for a hundred paces. He's within range now!"

Simultaneous with the last words came the crack of the six shooter. The
largest of the stallions, a sorrel in color rolled headlong upon the
sward his carcass falling transversely across the line that led to the
leap.

Half a dozen others, close following, were instantly brought to a stand
and then the whole cavallada!

The mustanger stayed not to note their movements. Taking advantage of
the confusion caused by the fall of their leader, he reserved the fire
of the other five chambers and, wheeling to the west, spurred on after
the spotted mustang, now far on its way towards the glistening pond.

Whether dismayed by the fall of their chief or whether it was that his
dead body had hindered them from approaching the only place where the
chasm could have been cleared at a leap, the stallions abandoned the
pursuit and Maurice had the prairie to himself as he swept on after his
fellow fugitive.

He overtook her beyond the convergence of the fences on the shore of the
pond. She had obeyed him in everything except as to the closing of the
gap. He found it open the bars lying scattered over the ground. He found
her still seated in the saddle, relieved from all apprehension for his
safety, and only trembling with a gratitude that longed to find
expression in speech.

The peril was passed.



17. THE MUSTANG TRAP.


No longer in dread of any danger, the young Creole looked
interrogatively around her.

There was a small lake in Texan phraseology, a "pond" with countless
horse tracks visible along its shores, proving that the place was
frequented by wild horses, their excessive number showing it to be a
favorite watering place. There was a high rail fence constructed so as
to enclose the pond, and a portion of the contiguous prairie, with two
diverging wings, carried far across the plain, forming a funnel shaped
approach to a gap which, when its bars were up, completed an enclosure
that no horse could either enter or escape from.

"What is it for?" inquired the lady, indicating the construction of
split rails.

"A mustang trap," said Maurice.

"A mustang trap?"

"A contrivance for catching wild horses. They stray between the wings
which, as you perceive, are carried far out upon the plain. The water
attracts them or they are driven towards it by a band of mustangers who
follow, and force them on through the gap. Once within the corral, there
is no trouble in taking them. They are then lassoed at leisure."

"Poor things! Is it yours? You are a mustanger? You told us so?"

"I am but I do not hunt the wild horse in this way. I prefer being
alone, and rarely consort with men of my calling. Therefore I could not
make use of this contrivance, which requires at least a score of
drivers. My weapon, if I may dignify it by the name, is this the lasso."

"You use it with great skill? I've heard that you do, besides having
myself witnessed the proof."

"It is complimentary of you to say so. But you are mistaken. There are
men on these prairies 'to the manner born', Mexicans who regard, what
you are pleased to call skill, as sheer clumsiness."

"Are you sure, Mr. Gerald, that your modesty is not prompting you to
overrate your rivals? I have been told the very opposite."

"By whom?"

"Your friend, Mr. Zebulon Stump."

"Ha-ha! Old Zeb is but indifferent authority on the subject of the
lasso."

"I wish I could throw the lasso," said the young Creole. "They tell me
'tis not a lady like accomplishment. What matters so long as it is
innocent, and gives one a gratification?"

"Not lady like! Surely 'tis as much so as archery, or skating? I know a
lady who is very expert at it."

"An American lady?"

"No, she's Mexican, and lives on the Rio Grande but sometimes comes
across to the Leona, where she has relatives.

"A young lady?"

"Yes. About your own age, I should think, Miss Poindexter."

"Size?"

"Not so tall as you."

"But much prettier, of course? The Mexican ladies, I've heard, in the
matter of good looks, far surpass us plain Americanos."

"I think Creoles are not included in that category," was the reply,
worthy of one whose lips had been in contact with the famed boulder of
Blarney.

"I wonder if I could ever learn to fling it?" pursued the young Creole,
pretending not to have been affected by the complimentary remark. "Am I
too old? I've been told that the Mexicans commence almost in childhood
that that is why they attain to such wonderful skill?"

"Not at all," replied Maurice, encouragingly. "It's possible, with a
year or two's practice, to become a proficient lassoer. I, myself, have
only been three years at it and--"

He paused, perceiving he was about to commit himself to a little
boasting.

"And you are now the most skilled in all Texas?" said his companion,
supplying the presumed finale of his speech.

"No, no!" laughingly rejoined he. "That is but a mistaken belief on the
part of Zeb Stump, who judges my skill by comparison, making use of his
own as a standard."

"Is it modesty?" reflected the Creole. "Or is this man mocking me? If I
thought so, I should go mad!"

"Perhaps you are anxious to get back to your party?" said Maurice,
observing her abstracted air. "Your father may be alarmed by your long
absence? Your brother your cousin"

"Ah, true!" she hurriedly rejoined, in a tone that betrayed either
pique, or compunction. "I was not thinking of that. Thanks, sir, for
reminding me of my duty. Let us go back!"

Again in the saddle, she gathered up her reins, and plied her tiny spur
both acts being performed with an air of languid reluctance, as if she
would have preferred lingering a little longer in the "mustang trap."

Once more upon the prairie, Maurice conducted his protégée by the most
direct route towards the spot where they had parted from the picnic
party.

Their backward way, led them across a peculiar tract of country, what in
Texas is called a "weed prairie," an appellation bestowed by the early
pioneers, who were not very choice in their titles.

The Louisianian saw around her a vast garden of gay flowers, laid out in
one grand parterre, whose borders were the blue circle of the horizon a
garden designed, planted, nurtured, by the hand of Nature.

The most plebeian spirit cannot pass through such a scene without
receiving an impression calculated to refine it. I've known the
illiterate trapper, habitually blind to the beautiful pause in the midst
of his "weed prairie," with the flowers rising breast high around him,
gaze for a while upon their gaudy corollas waving beyond the verge of
his vision then continue his silent stride with a gentler feeling
towards his fellow man, and a firmer faith in the grandeur of his God.

"Pardieu! 'tis very beautiful!" exclaimed the enthusiastic Creole,
reining up as if by an involuntary instinct.

"You admire these wild scenes, Miss Poindexter?"

"Admire them? Something more, sir! I see around me all that is bright
and beautiful in nature verdant turf, trees, flowers, all that we take
such pains to plant or cultivate; and such, too, as we never succeed in
equaling. There seems nothing wanting to make this picture complete 'tis
a park perfect in everything!"

"Except the mansion?"

"That would spoil it for me. Give me the landscape where there is not a
house in sight slate, chimney, or tile to interfere with the outlines of
the trees. Under their shadow could I live; under their shadow let me--"

The word: "love" uppermost in her thoughts, was upon the tip of her
tongue.

She dexterously restrained herself from pronouncing it, changing it to
one of very different signification "die."

It was cruel of the young Irishman not to tell her that she was speaking
his own sentiments repeating them to the very echo. To this was the
prairie indebted for his presence. But for a kindred inclination
amounting almost to a passion he might never have been known as
Maurice the mustanger.

The romantic sentiment is not satisfied with a "sham." It will soon
consume itself, unless supported by the consciousness of reality. The
mustanger would have been humiliated by the thought, that he chased the
wild horse as a mere pastime a pretext to keep him upon the prairies. At
first, he might have condescended to make such an acknowledgment but he
had of late become thoroughly imbued with the pride of the professional
hunter.

His reply might have appeared chillingly prosaic.

"I fear, miss, you would soon tire of such a rude life no roof to
shelter you no society no"

"And you, sir how is it you have not grown tired of it? If I have been
correctly informed your friend, Mr. Stump, is my authority you've been
leading this life for several years. Is it so?"

"Quite true I have no other calling."

"Indeed! I wish I could say the same. I envy you your lot I'm sure I
could enjoy existence amid these beautiful scenes for ever and ever!"

"Alone? Without companions? Without even a roof to shelter you?"

"I did not say that. But, you've not told me. How do you lire? Have you
a house?"

"It does not deserve such a high sounding appellation," laughingly
replied the mustanger. "She would, more correctly serve for the
description of my jacalé, which may be classed among the lowliest in the
land."

"Where is it? Anywhere near where we've been today?"

"It is not very far from where we are now. A mile, perhaps. You see
those tree tops to the west? They shade my hovel from the sun, and
shelter it from the storm."

"Indeed! How I should like to have a look at it! A real rude hut, you
say?"

"In that I have but spoken the truth."

"Standing solitary?"

"I know of no other within ten miles of it."

"Among trees, and picturesque?"

"That depends upon the eye that beholds it."

"I should like to see it, and judge. Only a mile you say?"

"A mile there the same to return would be two."

"That's nothing. It would not take us a score of minutes."

"Should we not be trespassing on the patience of your people?"

"On your hospitality, perhaps? Excuse me, Mr. Gerald!" continued the
young lady, a slight shadow suddenly overcastting her countenance. "I
did not think of it. Perhaps you do not live alone? Some other shares
your jacalé as you call it?"

"Oh, yes I have a companion one who has been with me since I--"

The shadow became sensibly darker.

Before the mustanger could finish his speech, his listener had pictured
to herself a certain image, that might answer to the description of his
companion, a girl of her own age perhaps more inclining to embonpoint,
with a skin of chestnut brown eyes of almond shape, set piquantly
oblique to the lines of the nose teeth, of more than pearly purity a
tinge of crimson upon the cheeks, hair like Castro's tail, beads and
bangles around neck, arms, and ankles a short kirtle elaborately
embroidered moccasins covering small feet and fringed leggings, laced
upon limbs of large development. Such were the style and equipments of
the supposed companion, who had suddenly become outlined in the
imagination of Louise Poindexter.

"Your fellow tenant of the jacalé might not like being intruded upon by
visitors, more especially a stranger?"

"On the contrary, he's but too glad to see visitors at any time, whether
strangers or acquaintances. My foster brother, is the last man to shun
society of which, poor fellow! he sees precious little on the Alamo."

"Your foster brother?"

"Yes. Phelim O'Neal by name, like myself a native of the Emerald Isle,
and shire of Galway, only perhaps speaking a little better brogue than
mine."

"Oh! The Irish brogue. I should so like to hear it spoken by a native of
Galway. I am told that theirs is the richest. Is it so, Mr. Gerald?"

"Being a Galwegian myself, my judgment might not be reliable, but if you
will condescend to accept Phelim's hospitality for half an hour, he
will, no doubt, give you an opportunity of judging for yourself."

"I should be delighted. 'Tis something so new. Let papa and the rest of
them wait. There are plenty of ladies without me, or the gentlemen may
amuse themselves by tracing up our tracks. 'Twill be as good a horse
hunt, as they are likely to have. Now, sir, I'm ready to accept your
hospitality."

"There's not much to offer you, I fear, Phelim has been several days by
himself, and as he's but an indifferent hunter, his larder is likely to
be low. 'Tis fortunate you had finished luncheon before the stampede."

It was not Phelim's larder that was leading Louise Poindexter out of her
way, nor yet the desire to listen to his Connemara pronunciation. It was
not curiosity to look at the jacalé of the mustanger, but a feeling of a
far more irresistible kind, to which she was yielding, as if she
believed it to be her fate!

She paid a visit to the lone hut, on the Alamo she entered under its
roof she scanned with seeming interest its singular penates and noted,
with pleased surprise, the books, writing materials, and other chattels
that betokened the refinement of its owner, she listened with apparent
delight to the palthogue of the Connemara man, who called her a "coleen
bawn;" she partook of Phelim's hospitality condescendingly tasting of
everything offered, except that which was most urgently pressed upon
her, "a dhrap of the crayther, drawn fresh from the dimmy jan" and
finally made her departure from the spot, apparently in the highest
spirits.

Alas! Her delight was short lived, lasting only so long as it was
sustained by the excitement of the novel adventure. As she re-crossed
the flower prairie, she found time for making a variety of reflections
and there was one that chilled her to the very core of her heart.

Was it the thought that she had been acting wrongly, in keeping her
father, her brother, and friends in suspense about her safety? Or had
she become conscious of playing a part open to the suspicion of being
unfeminine?

Not either. The cloud that darkened her brow in the midst of that
blossoming brightness was caused by a different, and far more
distressing, reflection. During all that day, in the journey from the
fort, after overtaking her in the chase, in the pursuit while protecting
her, lingering by her side on the shore of the lake, returning across
the prairie, under his own humble roof in short everywhere her companion
had only been polite, had only behaved as a gentleman!



18. JEALOUSY UPON THE TRAIL.


Of the two score rescuers, who had started in pursuit of the runaway,
but few followed far. Having lost sight of the wild mares, the mustang,
and the mustanger, they began to lose sight of one another and before
long, became dispersed upon the prairie going single, in couples, or in
groups of three and four together. Most of them, unused to tracking up a
trail, soon strayed from that taken by the manada branching oft' upon
others, made, perhaps, by the same drove upon some previous stampede.

The dragoon escort, in charge of a young officer a fresh fledgling from
West Point ran astray upon one of these ramifications, carrying the
hindmost of the field along with it.

It was a rolling prairie through which the pursuit was conducted, here
and there intersected by straggling belts of brushwood. These, with the
inequalities of the surface, soon hid the various pursuing parties from
one another and in twenty minutes after the start, a bird looking from
the heavens above, might have beheld half a hundred horsemen,
distributed into half a score of groups apparently having started from a
common centre spurring at full speed towards every quarter of the
compass!

But one was going in the right direction, a solitary individual, mounted
upon a large strong limbed chestnut horse, that without any claim to
elegance of shape, was proving the possession both of speed and bottom.
The blue frock coat of half military cut, and forage cap of
corresponding color, were distinctive articles of dress habitually worn
by the ex-captain of volunteer cavalry Cassius Calhoun. He it was who
directed the chestnut on the true trail while with whip and spur he was
stimulating the animal to extraordinary efforts. He was himself
stimulated by a thought, sharp as his own spurs, that caused him to
concentrate all his energies upon the object in hand.

Like a hungry hound he was laying his head along the trail, in hopes of
an issue that might reward him for his exertions.

What that issue was he had but vaguely conceived; but an occasional
glance towards his holsters from which protruded the butts of a brace of
pistols told of some sinister design that was shaping itself in his
soul.

But for a circumstance that assisted him, he might, like the others,
have gone astray. He had the advantage of them, however, in being guided
by two shoe tracks he had seen before. One, the larger, he recollected
with a painful distinctness. He had seen it stamped upon a charred
surface, amid the ashes of a burnt prairie. Yielding to an undefined
instinct, he had made a note of it in his memory, and now remembered it.

Thus directed, the ci devant captain arrived among the copses, and rode
into the glade where the spotted mustang had been pulled up in such a
mysterious manner. Hitherto his analysis had been easy enough. At this
point it became conjecture. Among the hoof-prints of the wild mares, the
shoe tracks were still seen, but no longer going at a gallop. The two
animals thus distinguished must have been halted, and standing' in
juxtaposition.

Whither next? Along the trail of the manada, there was no imprint of
iron, nor elsewhere! The surface on all sides was hard, and strewn with
pebbles. A horse going in rude gallop, might have indented it but not
one passing over it at a tranquil pace.

And thus had the spotted mustang and blood-bay parted from that spot.
They had gone at a walk for some score yards, before starting on their
final gallop towards the mustang trap.

The impatient pursuer was puzzled. He rode round and round, and along
the trail of the wild mares, and back again, without discovering the
direction that had been taken by either of the ridden horses.

He was beginning to feel something more than surprise, when the sight of
a solitary horseman advancing along the trail interrupted his
uncomfortable conjectures.

It was no stranger who was drawing near. The colossal figure, clad in
coarse habiliments, bearded to the buttons of his blanket coat, and
bestriding the most contemptible looking steed that could have been
found within a hundred miles of the spot, was an old acquaintance.
Cassius Calhoun knew Zebulon Stump, and Zeb Stump knew Cash Calhoun,
long before either had set foot upon the prairies of Texas.

"You hain't seed nuthin' o' the young lady, hev ye, Mister Calhoon?"
inquired the hunter, as he rode up, with an unusual impressiveness of
manner. "No, ye hain't," he continued, as if deducing his inference from
the blank looks of the other.

"Dog-gone my cats! I wonder what the hev becomed of her! Curious, too
sech a rider as she air, ter let the durned goat o' a thing run away wi'
her. Wal! thur's not much danger .to be reeprehended. The mustanger air
putty sartin to throw his rope aroun' the critter, an' that 'll put an
eend to its capers. Why hev ye stopped hyur?"

"I'm puzzled about the direction they've taken. Their tracks show they
have been halted here, but I can see the shod hoofe no farther."

"Whoo! whoo! yur right, Mister Cashus! They her been halted hynr an'
been clost thegither too. They hain't gone no further on the trail o'
the wild maars. Sartin they hain't. Whar then?"

The speaker scanned the surface of the plain with an interrogative
glance as if there, and not from Cassius Calhoun, expecting an answer to
his question.

"I cannot see their tracks anywhere," replied the ex-captain.

"No, kan't ye? I kin though. Lookee hyur! Don't ye see them thur bruises
on the grass?"

"No."

"Durn it! thur plain es the nose on a Jew's face. Thur's a big shoe, an'
a little un clost aside o' it. Thet's the way they've' rod off, which
show that they hain't follered the wild maars no further than hyur. We'd
better keep on arter them?"

"By all means!"

Without further parley, Zeb started along the new trail which, though
still indiscernible to the eye of the other, was to him as conspicuous
as he had figuratively declared it.

In a little while it became visible to his companion on their arrival at
the place where the fugitives had once more urged their horses into a
gallop to escape from the cavallada, and where the shod tracks again
deeply indented the turf.

Shortly after their trail was again lost or would have been to a
scrutiny less keen than that of Zeb Stump among the hundreds of other
hoof-marks seen now upon the sward.

"Hilloo!" exclaimed the old hunter, in some surprise at the new sign.
"What's been a doin' hyur? This air some'at kewrious."

"Only the tracks of the wild mares!" suggested Calhoun. "They appear to
have made a circuit, and come round again?"

"If they hev it's been arter the others rud past them. The chase must a
changed sides, I reck'n."

"What do you mean, Mr. Stump?"

"That i'stead o' them gallupin' arter the maars, the maars hev been
gallupin' arter them."

"How can you tell that?"

"Don't ye see that the shod tracks air kivered by them o' the maars?
Maars no! By the 'turns! airthquake! them's not maar tracks. They air a
inch bigger. Thur's been studs this way a hul cavayurd o' them.
Geehosofat! I hope they hain't"

"Haven't what?"

"Gone arter Spotty. If they hev, then thur will be danger to Miss
Peintdexter. Gome on!"

Without waiting for a rejoinder, the hunter started off at a shambling
trot, followed by Calhoun, who kept calling to hint for an explanation
of his ambiguous words.

Zeb did not deign to offer any excusing himself by a backward sweep of
the hand, which seemed to say, "Do not bother me now I am busy."

For a time he appeared absorbed in taking up the trail of the shod
horses not so easily done, as it was in places entirely obliterated by
the thick trampling of the stallions. He succeeded in making it out by
piecemeal still going on at a trot.

It was not till he had arrived within a hundred yards of the arroyo that
the serious shadow disappeared from his face and, checking the pace of
his mare, he vouchsafed the explanation once more demanded from him.

"Oh! That was the danger," said Calhoun, on hearing the explanation.
"How do you know they have escaped it?"

"Look thur!"

"A dead horse! Freshly killed, he appears? What does that prove?"

"That the mowstanger hes killed him."

"It frightened the others off, you think, and they followed no further?"

"They follered no further, but it wa'n't adzackly thet es scared 'em
off. Thur's the thing as kep them from follerin'. Ole Hickory, what a
jump!"

The speaker pointed to the arroyo, on the edge of which both riders had
now arrived.

"You don't suppose they leaped it?" said Calhoun. "Impossible."

"Leaped it clur as the crack o' a rifle. Don't ye see thur toe marks,
both on this side an' the t'other? An' Miss Peintdexter fust, too! By
the jumpin' Geehosofat, what a gurl she air sure enuf! They must both a
jumped afore the stellyun war shot else they kedn't a got at it. Thur's
no other place whar a hoss ked go over. Geeroozalem! wa'n't it ounnin'
o' the mowstanger to throw the stud in his tracks, jest in the very
gap?"

"You think that he and my cousin crossed here together?"

"Not exactly thegither," explained Zeb, without suspecting the motive of
the interrogatory. "As I've sayed, Spotty went fust. You see the
critter's tracks yonner on t'other side?"

"I do."

"Wal don't ye see they air kivered wi' them o' the mow stanger's hoss?"

"True-true."

"As for the stellyuns, they hain't got over ne'er a one o' the hul
cavayurd. I kin see how it hez been. The young fellur pulled up on
t'other side, an' sent a bullet back inter this brute's karkidge. 'Twar
jest like closin' the gap ahint him an' the pursooers, seein' it shet,
guv up the chase, an' scampered off in a different direckshun. Thur's
the way they her gone up the side o' the gully!"

"They may have crossed at some other place, and continued the pursuit?"

"If they dud, they'd hev ten mile to go, afore they ked git back hyur
five up, an' five back agin. Not a bit o' that, Mister Calhoon. Ye
needn't be uneezy 'bout Miss Lewaze bein' pnrsooed by them any farther.
Arter the jump, she's rod off along wi' the mowstanger both on 'em as
quiet as a kupple o' lambs. Thur wa'n't no danger then an' by this time,
they oughter be Dog-goned well on torst rejeinin' the people as stayed
by the purvision waggon."

"Come on!" cried Calhoun, exhibiting as much impatience as when he
believed his cousin to be in serious peril. "Come on, Mr. Stump! Let us
get back as speedily as possible!"

"Not so fast, if you pleeze," rejoined Zeb, permitting himself to slide
leisurely out of his saddle, and then drawing his knife from his sheath.
"I'll only want ye to wait for a matter o' ten minutes, or thereabout."

"Wait! For what?" peevishly inquired Calhoun.

"Till I kin strip the hide off o' this hyur Borrel. It appear to be a
skin o' the fust qualerty an' oughter fetch a five dollar bill in the
settlements. Five dollar bills ain't picked up every day on these hyur
pnrayras."

"Damn the skin!" angrily ejaculated the impatient Southerner. "Come on,
an' leave it!"

"Ain't a goin' to do anythin' o' the sort," coolly responded the hunter,
as he drew the sharp edge of his blade along the belly of the prostrate
steed. "You kin go on if ye like, Mister Calhoon but Zeb Stump don't
start till he packs the hide o' this hyur stellyun on the kropper o' his
old maar. Thet he don't."

"Come, Zeb what's the use of talking about my going back by myself? You
know I can't find my way?"

"That air like enough. I didn't say ye ked."

"Look here, you obstinate old case! Time's precious to me just at this
minute. It 'll take you a full half hour to skin the horse."

"Not twenty minutes."

"Well, say twenty minutes. Now, twenty minutes are of more importance to
me than a five dollar bill. You say that's the value of the skin? Leave
it behind and I agree to make good the amount."

"Wal that air darned gin'rous, I admit Dog-goned gin'rous. But I mussent
except yur offer. It 'ud be a mean trick o' me mean enuf for a yeller
bellied Mexican to take yur money for seen a sarvice as thet the more so
es I ain't no stranger to ye, an' myself a goin' the same road. On the
t'other hand, I kan't afford to lose the five dollars' worth o' hoss
hide, which ud be rotten as punk to say nuthin' o' it's bein, tored into
skreeds by the buzzarts and coyoats afore I mout find a chance to kum
this way agin."

"'Tis very provoking! What am I to do?"

"You air in a hurry? Wal I'm sorry to discommerdate ye. But stay! Thur's
no reezun for yur waitin' on me. Thur's nuthin' to hinder ye from
findin' yur way to the wagon. Te see that tree stannin' up agin the sky
line the tall poplar yonner?"

"I do."

"Wal do you remember ever to hev seed' it afore? It air a queery lookw'
plant, appearin' more like a church steeple than a tree."

"Yes-yes!" said Calhoun. "Now you've pointed it out, I do remember it.
We rode close past it while in pursuit of the wild mares?"

"You dud that very thing. An' now, as ye know it, what air to hinder you
from ridin' past it agin and follering the trail o' the maars back'ard?
That ud bring ye to yur startin' peint where, ef I ain't out o' my
reck'nin', ye'll find yur cousin, Miss Peintdexter, an' the hul o' yur
party enjeying themselves wi' that 'ere French stuff, they call
shampain. I hope they'll stick to it, and spare the Monongaheela, of
which licker I shed like to hev a triflin' suck arter I git back
myself."

Calhoun had not waited for the wind up of this characteristic speech. On
the instant after recognizing the tree, he had struck the spurs into the
sides of his chestnut, and gone off at a gallop, leaving old Zeb at
liberty to secure the coveted skin.

"Geeroozalem!" ejaculated the hunter, glancing up, and noticing the
quick unceremonious departure. "It don't take much o' a head piece to
tell why he air in sech a durned hurry. I ain't myself much guv torst
guessin', but if I ain't dog-goned mistaken it air a clar case o'
jellacy on the trail!"

Zeb Stump was not astray in his conjecture. It was jealousy that urged
Cassius Calhoun to take that hasty departure black jealousy, that had
first assumed shape in a kindred spot in the midst of a charred prairie
that had been every day growing stronger from circumstances observed,
and others imagined that was now intensified so as to have become his
prevailing passion.

The presentation and taming of the spotted mustang the acceptance of
that gift, characteristic of the giver, and gratifying to the receiver,
who had made no effort to conceal her gratification these, and other
circumstances, acting upon the already excited fancy of Cassius Calhoun,
had conducted him to the belief that in Maurice the mustanger he would
find his most powerful rival.

The inferior social position of the horse hunter should have hindered
him from having such belief, or even a suspicion.

Perhaps it might have done so, had he been less intimately acquainted
with the character of Louise Poindexter. But, knowing her as he did
associating with her from the hour of childhood thoroughly understanding
her independence of spirit the braverie of her disposition, bordering
upon very recklessness he could place no reliance on the mere idea of
gentility. With most women this may be depended upon as a barrier, if
not to mésalliance, at least to absolute imprudence but in the impure
mind of Cassius Calhoun, while contemplating the probable conduct of his
cousin, there was not even this feeble support to lean upon!

Chafing at the occurrences of the day to him crookedly inauspicious he
hurried back towards the spot where the picnic bad been held. The
steeple like tree guided him back to the trail of the manada and beyond
that there was no danger of straying. He had only to return along the
path already trodden by him.

He rode at a rapid pace, faster than was relished by his now tired
steed, stimulated by bitter thoughts, which for more than an hour were
his sole companions their bitterness more keenly felt in the tranquil
solitude that surrounded him.

He was but little consoled by a sight that promised other companionship
that of two persons on horseback, riding in advance, and going in the
same direction as himself, upon the same path. Though he saw but their
backs and at a long distance ahead there was no mistaking the identity
of either. They were the two individuals that had brought that
bitterness upon his spirit.

Like himself they were returning upon the trail of the wild mares which,
when first seen, they had just struck, arriving upon it from a lateral
path. Side by side their saddles almost chafing against each other to
all appearance absorbed in a conversation of intense interest to both,
they saw not the solitary horseman approaching them in a diagonal
direction.

Apparently less anxious than he, to rejoin the party of picnickers, they
were advancing at a slow pace the lady a little inclining to the rear.

Their proximity to one another their attitudes in the saddle their
obvious inattention to outward objects the snail like pace at which they
were proceeding these, along with one or two other slighter
circumstances observed by Calhoun, combined to make an impression on his
mind or rather to strengthen one already made that almost drove him mad.

To gallop rapidly up, and rudely terminate the tète à tète was but the
natural instinct of the chivalric Southerner. In obedience to it he
spitefully plied the spur and once more forced his jaded chestnut into
an unwilling canter.

In a few seconds, however, he slackened pace as if changing his
determination. The sound of his horse's hoofs had not yet warned the
others of his proximity though he was now less than two hundred yards
behind them! He could hear the silvery tones of his cousin's voice
bearing the better part of the conversation. How interesting it must be
to both to have hindered them from perceiving his approach!

If he could but overhear what they were saying?

It seemed a most unpropitious place for playing eavesdropper and yet
there might be a chance?

The seeming interest of the dialogue to the individuals engaged in it
gave promise of such opportunity. The turf of the savannah was soft as
velvet. The hoof gliding slowly over it gave forth not the slightest
sound.

Calhoun was still too impatient to confine himself to a walk but his
chestnut was accustomed to that gait, peculiar to the horse of the South
Western States the "pace" and into this was he pressed.

With hoofs horizontally striking the sward elevated scarce an inch above
the ground he advanced swiftly and noiselessly so quick withal, that in
a few seconds he was close upon the heels of the spotted mustang, and
the red steed of the mustanger!

He was then checked to a pace corresponding to theirs while his rider,
leaning forward, listened with an eagerness that evinced some terrible
determination. His attitude proclaimed him in the vein for vituperation
of the rudest kind ready with ribald tongue or, if need be, with knife
and pistol!

His behavior depended on a contingency on what might be overheard.

As chance, or fate, willed it, there was nothing. If the two equestrians
were insensible to external sounds, their steeds were not so absorbed.
In a walk the chestnut stepped heavily the more so from being fatigued.
His footfall proclaimed his proximity to the sharp ears, both of the
blood-bay and spotted mustang that simultaneously flung up their heads,
neighing as they did so.

Calhoun was discovered.

"Ha! cousin Cash!" cried the lady, betraying more of pique than surprise
"you there? Where's father, and Harry, and the rest of the people?"

"Why do you ask that, Loo? I reckon you know as well as I."

"What! Haven't you come out to meet us? And they too ah! Your chestnut
is all in a sweat! He looks as if you had been riding a long race like
us?"

"Of course he has. I followed you from the first in hopes of being of
some service to you."

"Indeed! I did not know that you were after us. Thank you, cousin! I've
just been saying thanks to this gallant gentleman, who also came after,
and has been good enough to rescue both Luna and myself from a very
unpleasant dilemma, a dreadful danger I should rather call it. Do you
know that we've been chased by a drove of wild steeds, and had actually
to ride for our lives?"

"I'am aware of it."

"You saw the chase then?"

"No. I only knew it by the tracks."

"The tracks! And were you able to tell by that?"

"Yes, thanks to the interpretation of Zeb Stump."

"Oh! He was with you? But did you follow them to follow far did you
follow them?"

"To a crevasse in the prairie. You leaped over it, Zeb said. Did you?"

"Luna did."

"With you on her back?"

"I wasn't anywhere else! What a question, cousin Cash! Where would you
expect me to have been? Clinging to her tail? Ha! ha! ha!"

"Did you leap it?" inquired the laugher, suddenly changing tone. "Did
you follow us any further?"

"No, Loo. From the crevasse I came direct here, thinking you had got
back before me. That's how I've chanced to come up with you."

The answer appeared to give satisfaction.

"Ah! I'm glad you've overtaken us. We've been riding slowly. Luna is so
tired. Poor thing! I don't know how I shall ever get her back to the
Leona."

Since the moment of being joined by Calhoun, the mustanger had not
spoken a word. However pleasant may have been his previous intercourse
with the young Creole, he had relinquished it, without any apparent
reluctance and was now riding silently in the advance, as if by tacit
understanding he had returned to the performance of the part for which
he had been originally engaged.

For all that, the eyes of the ex-captain was bent blightingly upon him
at times, in a demoniac glare when he saw or fancied that another eye
was turned admiringly in the same direction.

A long journey, performed by that trio of travelers might have led to a
tragically termination. Such finale was prevented by the appearance of
the picnickers who soon after surrounded the returned runaway, drowning
every other thought in the chorus of their congratulations.



19. WHISKY AND WATER.


In the embryo city springing up under the protection of Fort Inge, the
"hotel" was the most conspicuous building. This is but the normal
condition of every Texan town, whether new or founded forty years ago
and none are older, except the sparse cities of Hispano-Mexican origin
where the presidio and convent took precedence, now surpassed by, and in
some instances transformed into, the "tavern."

The Fort Inge establishment, though the largest building in the place,
was, nevertheless, neither very grand nor imposing. Its exterior had but
little pretence, to architectural style. It was a structure of hewn
logs, having for ground plan the letter T according to the grotesque
alphabet, the shank being used for eating and sleeping rooms, while the
head was a single apartment, entirely devoted to drinking, smoking and
expectorating included. This last was the bar-room, or "saloon."

The sign outside, swinging from the trunk of a post-oak, that had been
pollarded some ten feet above the ground, exhibited on both sides the
likeness of a well known military celebrity, the hero of that quarter of
the globe, General Zachariah Taylor. It did not need looking at the
lettering beneath, to ascertain the name of the hotel. Under the
patronage of such a portrait, it could only be called "Rough and Ready."

There was a touch of the apropos about this designation. Outside things
appeared rough enough, while inside, especially if you entered by the
"saloon," there was a readiness to meet you halfway, with a mint julep,
a sherry cobbler, a gin sling, or any other mixed drink known to
trans-Mississippian tipplers, provided always that you were ready with
the picayunes to pay for them.

The saloon in question would not call for description, had you ever
traveled in the Southern or South Western, States of America. If so, no
Lethean draught could ever efface from your memory, the "bar-room" of
the hotel or tavern, in which you have had the unhappiness to sojourn.
The counter extending longitudinally by the side, the shelved wall
behind, with its rows of decanters and bottles, containing liquors, of
not only all the colours of the rainbow, but every possible combination
of them the elegant young fellow, standing or sidling between counter
and shelves, ycleped "clerk", don't call him a "barkeeper," or you may
get a decanter in your teeth, this elegant young gentleman, in blouse of
blue cottonade, or white linen coat, or maybe in his shirt sleeves the
latter of finest linen and lace ruffled, in the year of our Lord
eighteen hundred and fifty this elegant young gentleman, who, in mixing
you a sherry cobbler, can look you straight in the face, talk to you the
politics of the day, while the ice, and the wine, and the water, are
passing from glass to glass, like an iris sparkling behind his
shoulders, or an aureole surrounding his perfumed head! Traveller
through the Southern States of America! you cannot fail to remember him.

If so, my words will recall him, along with his surroundings, the saloon
in which he is the presiding administrator, with its shelves and colored
decanters, its counter, its floor sprinkled with white sand, at times
littered with cigar stumps, and the brown asterisks produced by
expectoration, its odour of musk, absinthe, and lemon peel, in which
seem to luxuriate the black fly, the blue bottle, and the sharp tongued
mosquito. All these must be sharply outlined on the retina of your
memory.

The hotel, or tavern, "Rough and Ready," though differing very little
from other Texan houses of entertainment, had some points in particular.
Its proprietor, instead of being a speculative Yankee, was a German in
this part of the world, as elsewhere, found to be the best purveyors of
food. He kept his own bar, so that on entering the saloon, instead of
the elegant young gentleman with ruffled shirt and odorous chevelure,
your "liquor'' was mixed for you by a staid Teuton, who looked as sober
as if he never tasted, notwithstanding the temptation of wholesale
price, the delicious drinks, served out to his customers. Oberdoffer was
the name he had imported with him, from his Fatherland, transformed by
his Texan customers into "Old Duffer."

There was one other peculiarity about the bar-room of the "Rough and
Ready," though it scarce deserved to be so designated, since it was not
uncommon elsewhere. As already stated, the building was shaped like a
capital T; the saloon representing the head of the letter. The counter,
extended along one side, that contiguous to the shank while at each end
was a door that opened outward, into the public square of the incipient
city.

This arrangement had been designed to promote the circulation of the
air, a matter of primary importance in an atmosphere, where the
thermometer for half the year, stands at 90°F in the shade.

The hotels of Texas or the South Western States, I may say every part of
the American Union, serve the double purpose of exchange and club house.
Indeed, it is owing to the cheap accommodation thus afforded often of
the most convenient kind, that the latter can scarce be said to exist.

Even in the larger cities of the Atlantic States, the "club" is by no
means a necessity. The moderate charges of the hotels, along with their
excellent cuisine and elegant accommodations, circumscribe the
prosperity of this institution, which in America is and ever must be an
unhealthy exotic.

The remark is still truer of the Southern and South Western cities,
where the "saloon" and "bar-room" are the chief places of resort and
rendezvous.

The company, too, is there of a more miscellaneous character. The proud
planter does not disdain, for he does not dare to drink in the same room
with the "poor white trash", often as proud as himself.

There is no peasant in that part of the world, least of all in the state
called Texas and in the saloon of "Rough and Ready" might often be seen
assembled representatives of every class and calling to be met with
among the settlements.

Perhaps not upon any occasion, since "Old Duffer" had hung out the sign
of his tavern, was he favoured with a larger company, or served more
customers across his counter, than upon that night, after the return of
the horse hunting party to Fort Inge.

With the exception of the ladies, almost every one who had taken part in
the expedition, seemed to think that a half hour spent at the "Rough and
Ready", was necessary as a "night-cap", before retiring to rest and as
the Dutch clock, quaintly ticking among the colored decanters, indicated
the hour of eleven, one after another, officers of the Fort, planters
living near along the river, settlers, commissariat contractors,
"sportsmen" and others who might be called nondescripts, came dropping
in, each as he entered marching straight up to the counter, calling for
his favorite drink, and then falling back, to converse with some group
already occupying the floor.

One of these groups was conspicuous. It consisted of some eight or ten
individuals, half of them in uniform. Among the latter, were the three
officers already introduced, the captain of infantry and the two
lieutenants Hancock of the dragoons, and Crossman of the mounted rifles.

Along with these was an officer older than any of them, also higher in
authority, as could be told by the embroidery on his shoulder strap,
that proclaimed him of the rank of major. As he was the only "field
officer" at Fort Inge, it is unnecessary to say he was the commandant of
the cantonment.

These gentlemen were conversing as freely as if all were subalterns of
equal rank the subject of the discourse being the incidents of the day.

"Now tell us, major!" said Hancock "you must know. Where did the girl
gallop to?"

"How should I know?" answered the officer appealed to. "Ask her cousin,
Mr. Cassius Calhoun."

"We have asked him, but without getting any satisfaction. It's
clear he knows no more than we. He only met them on the return and
not very far from the place where we had our bivouac. They were gone a
precious long time and judging by the sweat of their horses they must
have had a hard ride of it. They might have been to the Rio Grande, for
that matter, and beyond it."

"Did you notice Calhoun as he came back?" inquired the captain of
infantry. "There was a scowl upon his face, that betokened some very
unpleasant emotion within his mind, I should say."

"He did look rather unhappy," replied the major "but surely, Captain
Sloman, you don't attribute it to--?"

"Jealousy. I do, and nothing else."

"What! of Maurice the mustanger? Poh-poh! Impossible, at least very
improbable."

"And why, major?"

"My dear Sloman, Louise Poindexter is a lady and Maurice Gerald--"

"May be a gentleman for aught that is known to the contrary."

"Pshaw!" scornfully exclaimed Crossman "a trader in horses! The major is
right, the thing's improbable, impossible."

"Ah, gentlemen!" pursued the officer of infantry, with a significant
shake of the head. "You don't know Miss Poindexter, so well as I. An
eccentric young lady to say the least of her. You may have already
observed that for yourselves."

"Come, come, Sloman!" said the major, in a bantering way; "you are
inclined to be talking scandal, I fear. That would be a scandal. Perhaps
you are yourself interested in Miss Poindexter, notwithstanding your
pretensions to be considered a Joseph? Now, I could understand your
being jealous if it were handsome Hancock here, or Crossman supposing
him to be disengaged. But as for a common mustanger poh-poh!"

"He's an Irishman, major, this mustanger and if he be what I have some
reason to suspect--"

"Whatever he is," interrupted the major, casting a side glance towards
the door, "he's there to answer for himself and as he's a sufficiently
plain spoken fellow, you may learn from him all about the matter that
seems to be of so much interest to you."

"I don't think you will," muttered Sloman, as Hancock and two or three
others turned towards the new comer, with the design of carrying out the
major's suggestion.

Silently advancing across the sanded floor, the mustanger had taken his
stand at an unoccupied space in front of the counter.

"A glass of whisky and water, if you please?" was the modest request
with which he saluted the landlord.

"Visky und vachter!" echoed the latter, without any show of eagerness,
to wait upon his new guest. "Ya, woe, visky und vachter! It ish two
picayunsh the glass."

"I was not inquiring the price," replied the mustanger, "I asked to be
served with a glass of whisky and water. Have you got any?"

"Yesh-yesh," responded the German, rendered obsequious by the sharp
rejoinder. "Plenty plenty of visky und vachter. Here it ish."

While his simple potation was being served out to him, Maurice received
nods of recognition from the officers, returning them with a free, but
modest air. Most of them knew him personally, on account of his business
relations with the Fort.

They were on the eve of interrogating him, as the major had suggested
when the entrance of still another individual caused them to suspend
their design.

The new comer was Cassius Calhoun. In his presence it would scarce have
been delicacy to investigate the subject any further.

Advancing with his customary swagger towards the mixed group of military
men and civilians, Calhoun saluted them as one who had spent the day in
their company, and had been absent only for a short interval. If not
absolutely intoxicated, it could be seen that the ex-officer of
volunteers was under the influence of drink. The unsteady sparkle of his
eyes, the unnatural pallor upon his forehead, still further clouded by
two or three tossed tresses that fell over it, with the somewhat
grotesque set of his forage cap, told that he had been taking wine
beyond the limits of wisdom.

"Come, gentlemen!" cried he, addressing to the major's party, at the
same time stepping up to the counter, "let's hit the wagon a crack, or
old Dunder-und-blitzen behind the bar, will say we 're wasting his
lights. Drinks all round! What say you?"

"Agreed-agreed!" replied several voices.

"You, major?"

"With pleasure, Captain Calhoun."

According to universal custom, the intended imbibers fell into line
along the counter, each calling out the name of the drink most to his
liking at the moment.

Of these were ordered almost as many kinds as there were individuals in
the party Calhoun himself shouting out "Brown sherry for me" and
immediately adding "with a dash of bitters."

"Prandy und pitters, you calls for, Mishter Calhoon?" said the landlord,
as he leant obsequiously across the counter towards the reputed partner
of an extensive estate.

"Certainly, you stupid Dutchman! I said brown sherry, didn't I?"

"All rights, mein herr; all rights! Prandy und pitters prandy und
pitters," repeated the German Boniface, as he has-tened to place the
decanter before his ill mannered guest.

With the large accession of the major's party, to several others already
in the act of imbibing, the whole front of the long counter became
occupied with scarce an inch to spare.

Apparently by accident, though it may have been design on the part of
Calhoun, he was the outermost man on the extreme right of those who had
responded to his invitation.

This brought him in juxtaposition with Maurice Gerald, who alone as
regarded boon companionship was quietly drinking his whisky and water,
and smoking a cigar he had just lighted. The two were back to back
neither having taken any notice of the other.

"A toast!" cried Calhoun, taking his glass from the counter. "Let us
have it!" responded several voices. "America for the Americans, and
confusion to all foreign interlopers especially the damned Irish!"

On delivering the obnoxious sentiment, he staggered back a pace, which
brought his body in contact with that of the mustanger at the moment
standing with the glass raised to his lips.

The collision caused the spilling of a portion of the whisky and water
which fell over the mustanger's breast.

Was it an accident? No one believed it was, even for a moment.
Accompanied by such a sentiment the act could only have been an affront
intended and premeditated.

All present, expected to see the insulted man spring instantly upon his
insulter. They were disappointed, as well as surprised, at the manner in
which the mustanger seemed to take it. There were some, who even fancied
he was about to submit to it.

"If he does," whispered Hancock in Sloman's ear, "he ought to be kicked
out of the room."

"Don't you be alarmed about that," responded the infantry officer, in
the same sotto voce. "You'll find it different. I'm not given to
betting, as you know, but I'd lay a month's pay upon it the mustanger
don't back out and another, that Mr. Cassius Calhoun will find him an
ugly customer to deal with, although just now he seems more concerned
about his fine shirt, than the insult put upon him. Odd devil he is!"

While this whispering was being carried on, the man to whom it related
was still standing by the bar to use a hackneyed phrase, "the observed
of all observers."

Having deposited his glass upon the counter, he had drawn a silk
handkerchief from his pocket, and was wiping from his embroidered shirt
bosom the defilement of the spilt whisky.

There was an imperturbable coolness about the action, scarce compatible
with the idea of cowardice and those who had doubted him perceived that
they had made a mistake, and that there was something to come. In
silence they awaited the development.

They had not long to wait. The whole affair speculations and whisperings
included, did not occupy twenty seconds of time and then did the action
proceed, or the speech which was likely to usher it in.

"I am an Irishman" said the mustanger, as he returned his handkerchief
to the place from which he had taken it.

Simple as the rejoinder may have appeared, and long delayed as it had
been, there was no one present who mistook its meaning. If the hunter of
wild horses had tweaked the nose of Cassius Calhoun, it would not have
added emphasis to that acceptance of his challenge. Its simplicity but
proclaimed the serious determination of the acceptor.

"You?" scornfully retorted Calhoun, turning round, and standing with his
arms akimbo. "You?" he continued, with his eyes measuring the mustanger
from head to foot, "you an Irishman? Great God, sir, I should never have
thought so! I should have taken you for a Mexican, judging by your rig,
and the elaborate stitching of your shirt."

"I can't perceive how my rig should concern you, Mr. Cassius Calhoun and
as you've done my shirt no service by spilling half my liquor upon it, I
shall take the liberty of unstarching yours in a similar fashion."

So saying, the mustanger took up his glass and, before the ex-captain of
volunteers could duck his head, or get out of the way, the remains of
the mixed Monongahela were "swilled" into his face, sending him off into
a fit of alternate sneezing and coughing that appeared to afford
satisfaction to more than a majority of the bystanders.

The murmur of approbation was soon suppressed. The circumstances were
not such as to call for speech and the exclamations that accompanied the
act, were succeeded by a hush of silence. All saw that the quarrel could
not be otherwise than a serious one. The affair must end in a fight. No
power on earth could prevent it from coming to that conclusion.



20. AN UNSAFE POSITION.


On receiving the alcoholic douche, Calhoun had clutched his six-shooter
and drawn it from its holster. He only waited to get the whisky out of
his eyes before advancing upon his adversary.

The mustanger, anticipating this action, had armed himself with a
similar weapon, and stood ready to return the fire of his antagonist,
shot for shot.

The more timid of the spectators, had already commenced making their
escape out of doors, tumbling over one another, in their haste to get
out of harm's way.

A few stayed in the saloon from sheer irresolution a few others, of
cooler courage, from choice, or perhaps actuated by a more astute
instinct, which told them that in attempting to escape, they might get a
bullet in the back.

There was an interval some six seconds of silence, during which a pin
might have been heard falling upon the floor. It was but the interlude
that often occurs between resolution and action when the mind has
completed its task, and the body has yet to begin.

It might have been more brief with other actors on the scene. Two
ordinary men would have blazed away at once, and without reflection. But
the two now confronting each other were not of the common kind. Both had
seen street fighting before, had taken part in it and knew the
disadvantage of an idle shot. Each was determined to take sure aim on
the other. It was this that prolonged the interval of inaction.

To those outside, who dared not even look through the doors, the
suspense was almost painful. The cracking of the pistols, which they
expected every moment to hear, would have been a relief. It was almost a
disappointment when, instead, they heard the voice of the major who was
among the few who had stayed inside raised in a loud authoritative tone.

"Hold!" commanded he, in the accent of one accustomed to be obeyed, at
the same time whisking his saber out of its scabbard, and interposing
its long blade between the disputants.

"Hold your fire I command you both. Drop your muzzles or by the Almighty
I'll take the arm off the first of you that touches trigger! Hold, I
say!"

"Why?" shouted Calhoun, purple with angry passion. "Why, Major Ringwood?
After an insult like that, and from a low fellow"

"Yon were the first to offer it, Captain Calhoun."

"Damn me if I care! I shall be the last to let it pass unpunished. Stand
out of the way, major. The quarrel is not yours, you have no right to
interfere!"

"Indeed! Ha! ha! Sloman! Hancock! Crossman! Hear that? I have no right
to interfere! Hark ye, Mr. Cassius Calhoun, ex-captain of volunteers!
Know you where you are, sir? Don't fancy yourself in the state of
Mississippi, among your slave whipping chivalry. This, sir, is a
military post, under military law, my humble self its present
administrator. I therefore command you to return your six-shooter to the
holster from which you have taken it. This instant too, or you shall go
to the guardhouse, like the humblest soldier in the cantonment!"

"Indeed!" sneeringly replied the Mississippian. "What a fine country you
intend Texas to become! I suppose a man mustn't fight, however much
aggrieved, without first obtaining a license from Major Ringwood? Is
that to be the law of the land?"

"Not a bit of it," retorted the major. "I'm not the man, never was, to
stand in the way of the honest adjustment of a quarrel. You shall be
quite at liberty you and your antagonist to kill one another, if it so
please you, but not just now. You must perceive, Mr. Calhoun, that your
sport endangers the lives of other people, who have not the slightest
interest in it. I've no idea of being bored by a bullet not intended for
me. Wait till the rest of us can withdraw to a safe distance and you may
crack away to your heart's content. Now, sir, will that be agreeable to
you?"

Had the major been a man of ordinary character his commands might have
been disregarded. But to his official weight, as chief officer of the
post, was added a certain reverence due to seniority in age, along with
respect for one who was himself known to wield a weapon with dangerous
skill, and who allowed no trifling with his authority.

His saber had not been unsheathed by way of empty gesticulation. The
disputants knew it and by simultaneous consent lowered the muzzles of
their pistols, still holding them in hand.

Calhoun stood, with sullen brow, gritting his teeth, like a beast of
prey, momentarily withheld from making attack upon its victim, while the
mustanger appeared to take things as coolly as if neither angry, nor an
Irishman.

"I suppose you are determined upon fighting?" said the major, knowing
that there was not much chance of adjusting the quarrel.

"I have no particular wish for it," modestly responded Maurice. "If Mr.
Calhoun will apologize for what he has said, and also what he has done"

"He ought to do it: he began the quarrel!" suggested several of the
bystanders.

"Never!" scornfully responded the ex-captain. "Cash Calhoun ain't
accustomed to that sort of thing. Apologize indeed! And to a
masquerading monkey like that!"

"Enough!" cried the young Irishman, for the first time showing serious
anger; "I gave him a chance for his life. He refuses to accept it and
now, by the Mother of God, we don t both leave this room alive! Major! I
insist that you and your friends withdraw. I can stand his insolence no
longer!"

"Ha-ha-ha!" responded the Southerner, with a yell of derisive laughter
"a chance for my life! Clear out, all of ye clear out and let me at
him!"

"Stay!" cried the major, hesitating to torn his back upon the duelist.
"It's not quite safe. You may fancy beginning your game of touch trigger
a second too soon. We must get out of doors before you do. Besides,
gentlemen!" he continued, ad dressing himself to those around him,
"there should be some system about this. If they are to fight, let it be
fair for both sides. Let them be armed alike and go at it on the
square!"

"By all means!" chorused the half-score of spectators, turning their
eyes towards the disputants, to see if they accepted the proposal.

"Neither of you can object?" continued the major, interrogatively.

"I sha'n't object to anything that's fair," assented the Irishman,
"devil a bit!"

"I shall fight with the weapon I hold in my hand," doggedly declared
Calhoun.

"Agreed! The same weapon for me!" was the rejoinder of his adversary.

"I see you both carry Colt's six shooter No. 2," said the major,
scanning the pistols held in hand. "So far all right! You're armed
exactly alike."

"Have they any other weapons?" inquired young Hancock, suspecting that
under the cover of his coat the ex-captain had a knife.

"I have none," answered the mustanger, with a frankness that left no
doubt as to his speaking the truth.

All eyes were turned upon Calhoun, who appeared to hesitate about making
a reply. He saw he must declare himself.

"Of course," he said, "I have my toothpick as well. You don't want me to
give up that? A man ought to be allowed to use whatever weapon he has
got."

"But, Captain Calhoun," pursued Hancock, "your adversary has no knife.
If you are not afraid to meet him on equal terms, you should surrender
yours."

"Certainly he should!" cried several of the bystanders. "He must! He
must!"

"Come, Mr. Calhoun!" said the major, in a soothing tone. "Six shots
ought to satisfy any reasonable man, without having recourse to the
steel. Before you finish firing, one or the other of you--"

"Damn the knife!" interrupted Calhoun, unbuttoning his coat. Then
drawing forth the proscribed weapon and flinging it to the farthest
corner of the saloon, he added, in a tone of bravado, intended to
encowardice his adversary. "I sha'n't want it for such a spangled
jay-bird as that. I'll fetch him out of his boots at the first shot."

"Time enough to talk when you've done something to justify it. Cry boo
to a goose, but don t fancy your big words are going to frighten me, Mr.
Calhoun! Quick, gentlemen! I'm impatient to put an end to his boasting
and blasphemy!"

"Hound!" frantically hissed out the chivalric Southerner. "Low dog of an
Irish dam! I'll send you howling to your kennel! I'll--."

"Shame, Captain Calhoun!" interrupted the major, seconded by other
voices. "This talk is idle, as it is impolite in the presence of
respectable company. Have patience a minute longer and you may then say
what you like. Now, gentlemen!" he continued, addressing himself to the
surrounding, "there is only one more preliminary to be arranged. They
must engage not to begin firing till we have got out of their way?"

A difficulty here presented itself. How was the engagement to be given?
A simple promise would scarce be sufficient in a crisis like that? The
combatants one of them at least would not be over scrupulous as to the
time of pulling trigger.

"There must be a signal," pursued the major. "Neither should fire till
that is given. Can any one suggest what it is to be?"

"I think I can," said the quiet Captain Sloman, advancing as he spoke.
"Let the gentlemen go outside along with us. There is as you perceive a
door at each end of the room. I see no difference between them. Let them
enter again one at each door, with the understanding that neither is to
fire before setting foot across the threshold."

"Capital! the very thing!" replied several voices.

"And what for a signal?" demanded the major. "A shot?"

"No. Ring the tavern bell!"

"Nothing could be better nothing fairer," conclusively declared the
major, making for one of the doors that led outward into the square.

"Mein Gott, major!" screamed the German Boniface, rushing out from
behind his bar where, up to this time, he had been standing transfixed
with fear. "Mein Gott, surely the shentlemens pe not going to shoot
their pisthols inside the shaloon! Ach! they'll preak all my pottles,
and my shplendid looking glashes, an' my crystal clock, that hash cost
me von two hundred dollars. They'll shpill my pesht liquors ach! Major,
it'll ruin me mein Gott it will!"

"Never fear, Oberdoffer!" rejoined the major, pausing to reply. "No
doubt you'll be paid for the damage. At all events, you had better
betake yourself to some place of safety. If you stay in your saloon
you'll stand a good chance of getting a bullet through your body, and
that would be worse than the preaking of your pottles."

Without further parley, the major parted from the unfortunate landlord,
and hurried across the threshold into the street, whither the
combatants, who had gone out by separate doors, had already preceded
him.

"Old Duffer," left standing in the middle of his sanded floor, did not
remain long in that perilous position. In six seconds after the major's
coat-tail had disappeared through the outer door, an inner one closed
upon his own skirts and the bar-room, with its camphene lamps, its
sparkling decanters, and its costly mirrors, was left in untenanted
silence no other sound being heard save the ticking of its crystal
clock.



21. A DUEL WITHIN DOORS.


Once outside, the major took no further part in the affair. As the
commanding officer of the post, it would have been out of place for him
to have given encouragement to a fight even by his interfering to see
that it should be a fair one. This, however, was attended to by the
younger officers who at once set about arranging the conditions of the
duel.

There was not much time consumed. The terms had been expressed already
and it only remained to appoint some one of the party to superintend the
ringing of the bell, which was to be the signal for the combat to
commence.

This was an easy matter, since it made no difference who might be
entrusted with the duty. A child might have sounded the summons for the
terrible conflict that was to follow.

A stranger, chancing at that moment to ride into the rude square of
which the hotel "Rough and Ready" formed nearly a side, would have been
sorely puzzled to comprehend what was coming to pass. The night was
rather dark, though there was still light enough to make known the
presence of a conglomeration of human beings, assembled in the proximity
of the hotel. Most were in military garb since, in addition to the
officers who had lately figured inside the saloon, others, along with
such soldiers as were permitted to pass the sentries, had hastened down
from the Fort on receiving intelligence that something unusual was going
on within the "square." Women, too, but scantily robed soldiers' wives,
washerwomen, and "senoritas" of more questionable calling had found
their way into the street, and were endeavoring to extract from those
who had forestalled them an explanation of the fracas.

The conversation was carried on in low tones. It was known that the
commandant of the post was present, as well as others in authority and
this checked any propensity there might hove been for noisy
demonstration.

The crowd, thus promiscuously collected, was not in close proximity with
the hotel, but standing well out in the open ground, about a dozen yards
from the building. Towards it, however, the eyes of all were directed,
with that steady stare which tells of the attention being fixed on some
engrossing spectacle. They were watching the movements of two men, whose
positions were apart one at each end of the heavy block-house, known to
be the bar-room of the hotel and where, as already stated, there was a
door.

Though separated by the interposition of two thick log walls, and
mutually invisible, these men were maneuvering as if actuated by a
common impulse. They stood contiguous to the entrance doors, at opposite
ends of the bar room, through both of which glared the light of the
camphene lamps falling in broad divergent bands, upon the rough gravel
outside. Neither was in front of the contiguous entrance but a little to
one side, just clear of the light. Neither was in an upright attitude,
but crouching not as if from fear, but like a runner about to make a
start, and straining upon the spring.

Both were looking inwards into the saloon, where no sound could be heard
save the ticking of a clock. Their attitudes told of their readiness to
enter it, and that they were only restrained by waiting for some
pre-concerted signal.

That their purpose was a serious one could be deduced from several
circumstances. Both were in their shirt sleeves, hatless, and stripped
of every rag that might form an impediment to action, while on their
faces was the stamp of stern determination, alike legible in the
attitudes they had assumed.

But there was no fine reflection needed, to discover their design. The
stranger, chancing to come into the square, could have seen at a glance
that it was deadly. The pistols in their hands, cocked and tightly
clutched the nervous energy of their attitudes the silence of the crowd
of spectators and the concentrated interest with which the two men were
regarded, proclaimed more emphatically than words, that there was danger
in what they were doing in short, that they were engaged in some sort of
a strife, with death for its probable consummation!

So it was at that moment when the crisis had come. The duelists stood,
each with eye intent upon the door, by which he was to make entrance
perhaps into eternity! They only waited for a signal to cross the
threshold and engage in a combat that must terminate the existence of
one or the other perhaps both.

Were they listening for that fatal formulary: One-Two-Fire?

No. Another signal had been agreed upon and it was given.

A stentorian voice was heard calling out the simple monosyllable:

"Ring!"

Three or four dark figures could be seen, standing by the shorn trunk on
which swung the tavern bell. The command instantly set them in motion
and along with the oscillation of their arms, dimly seen through the
darkness, could be heard the sonorous tones of a bell. That bell, whose
sounds had been hitherto heard, only as symbols of joy calling men
together to partake of that, which perpetuates life was now listened to
as a summons of death!

The "ringing in" was of short duration. The bell had made less than a
score of vibrations, when the men engaged at the rope saw that their
services were no longer required. The disappearance of the duelists, who
had rushed inside the saloon, the quick, sharp cracking of pistols, the
shivering of broken glass, admonished the ringers that theirs was but a
superfluous noise and, dropping the rope, they stood like the rest of
the crowd, listening to the conflict inside.

No eyes, save those of the combatants themselves, were witnesses to that
strange duel.

At the first dong of the bell, both combatants had re-entered the room.
Neither made an attempt to skulk outside. To have done so, would have
been a ruin to reputation. A hundred eyes were upon them and the
spectators understood the conditions of the duel that neither was to
fire before crossing the threshold.

Once inside, the conflict commenced, the first shots filling the room
with smoke. Both kept their feet, though both were wounded their blood
spurting out over the sanded floor.

The second shots were also fired simultaneously, but at random, the
smoke hindering the aim.

Then, came a single shot, quickly followed by another, and succeeded by
an interval of quiet.

Previous to this, the combatants had been heard rushing about through
the room. This noise was no longer being made.

Instead there was profound silence. Had they killed one another? Were
both dead? No! Once more, the double detonation announced that both
still lived. The suspension had been caused as they stood peering
through the smoke in the endeavor to distinguish one another. Neither
spoke or stirred in fear of betraying his position.

Again there was a period of tranquility, similar to the former, but more
prolonged.

It ended by another exchange of shots, almost instantly succeeded by the
felling of two heavy bodies upon the floor.

There was the sound of sprawling, the overturning of chairs then a
single shot the eleventh and this was the last that was fired!

The spectators outside saw only a cloud of sulphurous smoke, oozing out
of both doors, and dimming the light of the camphene lamps. This, with
an occasional flash of brighter effulgence, close followed by a crack,
was all that occurred to give satisfaction to the eye.

But the ear, that was gratified by a greater variety. There were heard
shots, after the bell had become silent, other sounds the sharp
shivering of broken glass, the duller crash of falling furniture, rudely
overturned in earnest struggle the trampling of feet upon the boarded
floor at intervals the clear ringing crack of the revolvers but neither
of the voices of the men whose insensate passions were the cause of all
this commotion!

The crowd in the street heard the confused noises, and noted the
intervals of silence, without being exactly able to interpret them. The
reports of the pistols were all they had to proclaim the progress of the
duel. Eleven had been counted and in breathless silence they were
listening for the twelfth.

Instead of a pistol report their ears were gratified by the sound of a
voice, recognized as that of the mustanger.

"My pistol is at your head! I have one shot left make an apology, or
die!"

By this the crowd had become convinced that the fight was approaching
its termination. Some of the more fearless, looking in, beheld a strange
scene. They saw two men, lying prostrate on the plank floor, both with
bloodstained habiliments, both evidently disabled, the white sand around
them reddened with their gore, tracked with tortuous trails, where they
had crawled closer, to get a last shot at each other one of them, in
scarlet scarf and slashed velvet trousers, slightly surmounting the
other, and holding a pistol to his head that threatened to deprive him
of life.

Such was the tableau, that presented itself to the spectators, as the
sulphurous smoke, drifted out by the current between the two doors, gave
them a chance of distinguishing objects within the saloon.

At the same instant, a different voice from that which had already
spoken. It was that of Calhoun no longer in roistering bravado, but in
low whining accents, almost a whisper.

"Enough, damn' it! Drop your shooting iron, I apologize."



22. AN UNKNOWN DONOR.


In Texas, a duel is not even a nine days' wonder. It oftener ceases to
be talked about, by the end of the third day and at the expiration of a
week, is no longer thought of, except by the principals themselves, or
their immediate friends and relatives.

This is so, even when the parties are well known, and of respectable
standing in society. When the duelists are of humble position, or as is
often the case, strangers in the place a single day, may suffice to doom
their achievement to oblivion to dwell only in the memory of the
combatant who has survived, it oftener one than both and perhaps some
ill starred spectator, who has been bored by a bullet, or received the
slash of a knife, not designed for him.

More than once have I been witness to a "street fight" improvised upon
the pavement where some innocuous citizen, sauntering carelessly along,
has become the victim even unto death of this irregular method of
seeking "satisfaction."

I have never heard of any punishment awarded, or damages demanded, in
such cases. They are regarded as belonging to the "chapter of
accidents!"

Though Cassius Calhoun and Maurice Gerald were both comparatively
strangers in the settlement, the latter being only seen on occasional
visits to the Fort, the affair between them caused something more than
the usual interest and was talked about for the full period of the nine
days. The character of the former, as a noted bully, and that of the
latter as a man of singular habitudes, gave to their duello a certain
sort of distinction and the merits and demerits of the two men, were
freely discussed for days after the affair had taken place, nowhere with
more earnestness than upon the spot where they had shed each other's
blood, in the bar-room of the hotel.

The conqueror had gained credit and friends. There were few who favored
his adversary and not a few who were gratified at the result for, short
as had been the time since Calhoun's arrival, there was more than one
saloon lounger who had felt the smart of his insolence.

For this it was presumed, the young Irishman had administered a cure and
there was almost universal satisfaction at the result.

How the ex-captain carried his discomfiture no one could tell. He was no
longer to be seen swaggering in the saloon of the "Rough and Ready"
though the cause of his absence was well understood. It was not chagrin,
but his couch to which he was confined by wounds, that, if not
skillfully treated, might consign him to his coffin.

Maurice was in like manner, compelled to stay within doors. The injuries
he had received, though not so severe as those of his antagonist, were
nevertheless of such a character, as to make it necessary for him to
keep to his chamber a small, and scantily furnished bedroom in "Old
Duffer's" hotel, where notwithstanding the éclát derived from his
conquest, he was somewhat scurvily treated.

In the hour of his triumph, he had fainted from loss of blood. He could
not be taken elsewhere though, in the shabby apartment to which he had
been consigned, he might have thought of the luxurious care that
surrounded the couch of his wounded antagonist. Fortunately Phelim was
by his side, or he might have been still worse attended to.

"Be Sant Pathrick! it's a shame," half soliloquized this faithful
follower. "A burnin' shame to squeeze a gintleman into a hole like this,
not bigger than a pigstoy! A gintleman like you, Masther Maurice. An'
thin such aytin' and drinkin'. Och! a well fid Oirish pig wud turn up
its nose at such traytment. An' fwhat div yez think I've heerd Owld
Duffer talkin' about below?"

"I hav'n't the slightest idea, my dear Phelim, nor do I care a straw to
know what you've heard Mr. Oberdoffer saying below, but if you don't
want him to hear what you are saying above, you'll moderate your voice a
little. Remember, ma bohil, that the partitions in this place are only
lath and plaster."

"Divil take the partitions and divil born them, av he loikes. Av yez
don't care for fwhat's sed, I don't care far fwhat's heeurd not the
snappin' av me fingers. The Dutchman can't trate us any worse than he's
been doin' already. For all that, Masther Maurice, I thought it bist to
lit you know."

"Let me know then. What is it he has been saying?" "Will, thin I heerd
him tellin' wan av his croneys that besoides the mate an' the dhrink,
an' the washin', an' lodgin', he intinded to make you pay for the
bottles, and glasses, an' other things, that was broke on the night av
the shindy."

"Me pay?"

"Yis, yerself, Masther Maurice an' not a pinny charged to the Yankee.
Now I call that downright rascally mane an' nobody but a dhirty Dutchman
wud iver hiv thought av it. Av there be anythin' to pay, the man that's
bate should be made to showlder the damage, an' that wasn't a discindant
av the owld Geralds av Ballyballagh. Hoo-hooch! wudn't I loike to shake
a ehaylaylah about Duffer's head for the matther of two minutes? Wudn't
I?" "What reason did he give for saying that I should pay? Did you hear
him state any?"

"I did, masther the dhirtiest av all raisuns. He aid that you were the
bird in the hand; an' he wud kape ye till yez sittled the score."

"He'll find himself slightly mistaken about that and would perhaps do
better by presenting his bill to the bird in the bush. I shall be
willing to pay for half the damage done, but not more. You may tell him
so, if he speaks to you about it. And, in troth, Phelim, I don't know
how I am to do even that. There must have been a good many breakages. I
remember a great deal of jingling while we were at it. If I don't
mistake there was a smashed mirror, or clock dial, or something of the
kind."

"A big lookin' glass, masther an' a crystal somethin' that was set over
the clock. They say two hunderd dollars. I don't belave they were worth
wan half av the money."

"Even so, it is a serious matter to me just at this crisis. I fear,
Phelim, you will have to make a journey to the Alamo, and fetch away
some of the household goods we have hidden there. To get clear of this
secrape, I shall have to sacrifice my spurs, my silver cup, and perhaps
my gun!"

"Don't say that, masther! How are we to live, if the gun goes?"

"As we best can, ma bohil. On horseflesh, I suppose and the lasso will
supply that."

"Be Japers! It wndn't be much worse than the mate Owld Duffer sits afore
us. It gives me the bellyache ivery time I ate it."

The conversation was here interrupted by the opening of the chamber
door, which was done without knocking. A slatternly servant whose sex it
would have been difficult to determine from outward indices appeared in
the doorway, with a basket of palm-sinnet held extended at the
termination of a long sinewy arm.

"Pwhat is it, Girtrude?" asked Phelim, who, from some previous
information, appeared to be acquainted with the feminine character of
the intruder.

"A shentlemans prot this."

"A gentleman! Who, Gertrude?"

"Not know, mein herr he wash a stranger shentlemans."

"Brought by a gentleman. Who can he be? See what it is, Phelim."

Phelim undid the fastenings of the lid, and exposed the interior of the
basket. It was one of considerable bulk, since inside were discovered
several bottles, apparently containing wines and cordials, packed among
paraphernalia of sweetmeats, and other delicacies both of the
confectionery and the kitchen. There was no note accompanying, the
present not even a direction, but the trim and elegant style in which it
was done up, proved that it had proceeded from the hands of a lady.

Maurice turned over the various articles, examining each, as Phelim
supposed, to take note of its value. Little was he thinking of this,
while searching for the "invoice."

There proved to be none, not a scrap of paper, not so much as a card!

The generosity of the supply, well timed as it was bespoke the donor to
be some person in affluent circumstances. Who could it be?

As Maurice reflected, a fair image came uppermost in his mind which he
could not help connecting with that of his unknown benefactor. Could it
be Louise Poindexter?

In spite of certain improbabilities, he was fain to believe it might
and, so long as the belief lasted, his heart was quivering with a sweet
beatitude.

As he continued to reflect, the improbabilities appeared too strong for
this pleasant supposition his faith became overturned and there remained
only a vague unsubstantial hope.

"A gintleman lift it," spoke the Connemara man, in semi soliloquy. A
gintleman, she sez a kind gintleman, I say! Who div yez think he was,
masther?"

"I haven't the slightest idea unless it may have been some of the
officers of the Fort, though I could hardly expect one of them to think
of me in this fashion."

"Nayther yez need. It wasn't wan av them. No officer, or gintleman
ayther, phut them things in the basket."

"Why do you think that?"

"Fwhy div I think it! Och, maither! Is it yerself to ask the quistyun?
Isn't there the smell av swate fingers about it? Jist look at the nate
way them papers is tied up. That purty kreel was niver packed by the
hand av a man. It was done by a wuman and I'll warrant a real lady at
that."

"Nonsense, Phelim! I know no lady who should take so much interest in
me."

"Aw, murdher! What a thumpin' big fib! I know wan that shud. It wud be
black ungratytude av she didn't afther what yez did for her. Didn't yez
save her life into the bargain?"

"Of whom are you speaking?"

"Now, don't be desateful, masther. Yez know that I mane the purty
crayther that come to the hut ridin' Spotty that you presinted her,
widout resavin' a dollar for the mare. If it wasn't her that sint ye
this hamper, thin Phaylim Onale is the biggest numskull that was iver
born about Ballyballagh. Be the Vargin, masther, speakin' of the owld
place phuts me in mind of its paple. Fwhat wud the blue eyed colleen
say, if she knew yez were in such danger heeur?"

"Danger! It's all over. The doctor has said so and that I may go out of
doors, in a week from now. Don't distress yourself about that."

"Troth, masther, yez be only talkm'. That isn't the danger I was
drhamin' av. Yez know will enough what I mane. Maybe yez have
resaved a wound from bright eyes, worse than that from lid bullets. Or,
maybe, somebody Use has an' that's why ye've had the things sint ye."

"You're all wrong, Phelim. The thing must have come from the Fort, but
whether it did, or not, there's no reason why we should stand upon
ceremony with its contents. So, here goes to make trial of them!"

Notwithstanding the apparent relish with which the invalid partook of
the products, both of cellar and cuisine, while eating and drinking, his
thoughts were occupied with a still more agreeable theme with a string
of dreamy conjectures, as to whom he was indebted for the princely
present.

Gould it be the young Creole the cousin, of his direst enemy, as well as
his reputed sweetheart?

The thing appeared improbable.

If not she, who else could it be?

The mustanger would have given a horse a whole drove to have been
assured that Louise Poindexter was the provider of that luxurious
refection.

Two days elapsed, and the donor still remained unknown.

Then the invalid was once more agreeably surprised, by a second present
very similar to the first another basket, containing other bottles, and
crammed with fresh "confections."

The Bavarian wench, was again questioned, but with no better result. A
"shentlemans" had "prot" it the same "stranger shentlemans" as before.
She could only add that "the shentlemans" was very "schwartz" wore a
glazed hat, and came to the tavern mounted upon a mule.

Maurice did not appear to be gratified with this description of the
unknown donor though no one not even Phelim was made the confidant of
his thoughts.

In two days afterwards they were toned down to their former sobriety on
the receipt of a third "basket," prot by the "schwartz gentleman" in the
glazed hat, which came mounted upon a mule.

The change could not be explained by the belongings in the basket almost
the counterpart of what had been sent before. It might be accounted for
by the contents of a billet doux, which accompanied the gift attached by
a ribbon to the wickerwork of palm-sinnet.

"'Tis only Isidora!" muttered the mustanger, as he glanced at the
superscription upon the note.

Then opening it with an air of indifference, he read

"Querido Señor!

"Soy quedando por una semana en la casa del tio Silvio, De vuestra
desfortuna he, oido tambien que V, esta mal ciudado en la fonda. He
mandado algunas cositas. Sea graciota usarlos, como una chiquitita
memoria del servicio grande de que vuestra deudor estoy. En la silla soy
escribando, con las espuelas preparadas sacar sangre de las ijadas del
mio cavallo. En un memento mas, partira por el Rio Grande.

"Bienkichor, de mi vida Salvador, y de que a una mujer esta mas querida,
la honra-adios-adios!

"Al Señor Don Mauricio Gerald."

Literally translated, and in the idiom of the Spanish language, the note
ran thus:

"Dear Sir,--I have been staying for a week at the house of Uncle Silvio.
Of your mischance I have heard, also that you are indifferently cared
for, at the hotel. I have sent you some little things. Be good enough to
make use of them, as a slight souvenir of the great service for which I
am your debtor. I write in the saddle, with my spurs ready to draw blood
from the flanks of my horse. In another moment I am off, for the Rio
Grande!

"Benefactor, preserver of my life, of what to a woman is dearer my
honour Adieu! Adieu!

"Thanks-thanks, sweet Isidora!" muttered the mustanger, as he refolded
the note, and threw it carelessly upon the coverlet of his couch. "Ever
grateful, considerate, kind! But for Louise Poindexter, I might have
loved you!"



23. VOWS OF VENGEANCE.


Calhoun, chafing in his chamber, was not the object of such assiduous
solicitude. Notwithstanding the luxurious appointments that surrounded
him, he could not comfort himself with the reflection that he was cared
for by living creature. Truly selfish in his own heart, he had no faith
in friendships and while confined to his couch not without some fears
that it might be his death bed he experienced the misery of a man
believing that no human being cared a straw whether he should live or
die.

Any sympathy shown to him was upon the score of relationship. It could
scarce have been otherwise. His conduct towards his cousins had not been
such as to secure their esteem, while his uncle, the proud Woodley
Poindexter, felt towards him something akin to aversion, mingled with a
subdued fear.

It is true that this feeling was only of recent origin and arose out of
certain relations that existed between uncle and nephew. As already
hinted, they stood to one another in the relationship of debtor and
creditor, or mortgagor and mortgagee, the nephew being the latter. To
such an extent had this indebtedness been carried, that Cassius Calhoun
was in effect the real owner of Casa del Corvo and could at any moment
have proclaimed himself its master.

Conscious of his power he had of late been using it to affect a
particular purpose that is, the securing for his wife, the woman he had
long fiercely loved his cousin Louise. He had come to know, that he
stood but little chance of obtaining her consent, for she had taken but
slight pains to conceal her indifference to his suit. Trusting to the
peculiar influence established over her father, he had determined on
taking no slight denial.

These circumstances considered, it was not strange that the ex-officer
of volunteers, when stretched upon a sick bed, received less sympathy
from his relatives than might otherwise have been extended to him.

While dreading death, which for a length of time, he actually did, he
had become a little more amiable to those around him. The agreeable
mood, however, was of short continuance and, once assured of recovery,
all the natural savageness of his disposition was restored, along with
the additional bitterness arising from his recent discomfiture.

It had been the pride of his life, to exhibit himself as a successful
bully, the master of every crowd that might gather around him. He could
no longer claim this credit in Texas and the thought harrowed his heart
to its very core.

To figure as a defeated man, before all the women of the settlement,
above all in the eyes of her he adored, defeated by one whom he
suspected of being his rival in her affections, a mere nameless
adventurer was too much to be endured with equanimity. Even an ordinary
man would have been pained by the infliction. Calhoun writhed under it.

He had' no idea of enduring it, as an ordinary man would have done. If
he could not escape from the disgrace, he was determined to revenge
himself upon its author and as soon as he had recovered from the
apprehensions entertained about the safety of his life, he commenced
reflecting upon this very subject.

Maurice, the mustanger, must die! If not by his (Calhoun's) own hand,
then by the hand of another, if such a one was to be found in the
settlement. There could not be much difficulty in procuring a
confederate. There are bravoes upon the broad prairies of Texas, as well
as within the walls of Italian cities. Alas! There is no spot upon earth
where gold cannot command the steel of the assassin.

Calhoun possessed gold more than sufficient for such a purpose and to
such purpose did he determine upon devoting at least a portion of it.

In the solitude of his sick chamber, he set about maturing his plans,
which comprehended the assassination of the mustanger.

He did not purpose doing the deed himself. His late defeat had rendered
him fearful of chancing a second encounter with the same adversary even
under the advantageous circumstances of a surprise. He had become too
much encowardized, to play the assassin. He wanted an accomplice, an arm
to strike for him. Where was he to find it?

Unluckily he knew, or fancied he knew, the very man. There was a Mexican
at the time making abode in the village like Maurice himself a mustanger
but one of those with whom the young Irishman had shown a disinclination
to associate.

As a general rule, the men of this peculiar calling, are amongst the
greatest reprobates, who have their home in the land of the "Lone Star."
By birth and breed, they are mostly Mexicans, or mongrel Indians,
though, not infrequently, a Frenchman, or American, finds it a congenial
calling. They are usually the outcasts of civilized society, oftener its
outlaws who, in the excitement of the chase, and its concomitant
dangers, find, perhaps, some sort of salvo for a conscience that has
been severely tried.

While dwelling within the settlements, these men are not infrequently
the pests of the society that surrounds them, ever engaged in broil and
debauch and when abroad in the exercise of their calling, they are not
always to be encountered with safety. More than once is it recorded in
the history of Texas how a company of mustangers has, for the nonce,
converted itself into a band of cuadrilla of salteadores or disguised as
Indians, levied black mail upon the train of the prairie traveler.

One of this kidney was the individual who had become recalled, to the
memory of Cassius Calhoun. The latter remembered having met the man in
the bar-room of the hotel, upon several occasions, but more especially
on the night of the duel. He remembered that he had been one of those
who had carried him home, on the stretcher and from some extravagant
expressions he had made use of, when speaking of his antagonist, Calhoun
had drawn the deduction, that the Mexican was no friend to Maurice the
mustanger.

Since then, he had learnt that he was Maurice's deadliest enemy, himself
excepted.

With these data to proceed upon the ex-captain had called the Mexican to
his counsels, and the two were often closeted together in the chamber of
the invalid.

There was nothing in all this, to excite suspicion, even had Calhoun
cared for that. His visitor was a dealer in horses and horned cattle.
Some transaction in horseflesh might be going on between them. So, any
one would have supposed. And so, for a time, thought the Mexican himself
for in their first interview, but little other business was transacted
between them. The astute Mississippian knew better than to declare his
ultimate designs to a stranger who, after completing an advantageous
horse trade, was well supplied with whatever he chose to drink, and
cunningly cross questioned as to the relations in which he stood towards
Maurice the mustanger.

In that first interview, the ex-officer of volunteers learnt enough, to
know that he might depend upon his man for any service he might require
even to the committal of murder.

The Mexican made no secret of his heartfelt hostility to the young
mustanger. He did not declare the exact cause of it, but Calhoun could
guess, by certain innuendos introduced during the conversation, that it
was the same as that, by which he was himself actuated the same to which
may be traced almost every quarrel that has occurred among men, from
Troy to Texas: a woman!

The Helen in this case appeared to be some dark eyed don-çella dwelling
upon the Rio Grande, where Maurice had been in the habit of making an
occasional visit, in whose eyes he had found favor, to the disadvantage
of her own conpaisano.

The Mexican did not give the name and Calhoun, as he listened to his
explanations, only hoped in his heart that the damsel who had slighted
him might have won the heart of his rival.

During his days of convalescence, several interviews had taken place
between the ex-captain and the intended accomplice in his purposes of
vengeance enough, one might suppose, to have rendered them complete.

Whether they were so, or not, and what the nature of their hellish
designs, were things known only to the brace of kindred confederates.
The outside world but knew that Captain Cassius Calhoun and Miguel Diaz,
known by the nickname "El Coyote," appeared to have taken a fancy for
keeping each other's company, while the more respectable portion of it
wondered at such an ill starred association.



24. ON THE AZOTEA.


There are no sluggards on a Texan plantation. The daybreak begins the
day and the bell, conch, or cow horn, that summons the dark skinned
proletarians to their toil, is alike the signal for their master to
forsake his more luxurious couch.

Such was the custom of Casa del Corvo under its original owners and the
fashion was followed by the family of the American planter, not from any
idea of precedent, but simply in obedience to the suggestions of Nature.
In a climate of almost perpetual spring, the sweet matinal moments are
not to be wasted in sleep. The siesta belongs to the hours of noon, when
all nature appears to shrink under the smiles of the solar luminary, as
if surfeited with their superabundance.

On his reappearance at morn the sun is greeted with renewed joy. Then do
the tropical birds spread their resplendent plumage the flowers their
dew besprinkled petals to receive his fervent kisses. All nature again
seems glad to acknowledge him as its god.

Resplendent as any bird that flutters among the foliage of south western
Texas fair as any flower that blooms within its glades was she who
appeared upon the housetop of Casa del Corvo.

Aurora herself, rising from her roseate conch, looked not fresher than
the young Creole, as she stood contemplating the curtains of that very
couch, from which a Texan sun was slowly uplifting his globe of burning
gold.

She was standing upon the edge of the azotea that fronted towards the
east, her white hand resting upon the copestone of the parapet, still
wet with the dews of the night. Under her eyes was the garden, enclosed
within a curve of the river beyond the bluff formed by the opposite bank
and further still, the wide spreading plateau of the prairie.

Was she looking at a landscape, which could scarce fail to challenge
admiration? No.

Equally was she unconscious of the ascending sun though, like some fair
pagan, did she appear to be in prayer at its uprising!

Listened she to the voices of the birds, from garden and grove swelling
harmoniously around her?

On the contrary, her ear was not bent to catch any sound, nor her eye
intent upon any object. Her glance was wandering, as if her thoughts
went not with it, but were dwelling upon some theme, neither present nor
near.

In contrast with the cheerful brightness of the sky, there was a shadow
upon her brow despite the joyous warbling of the birds; there was the
sign of sadness on her cheek.

She was alone. There was no one to take note of this melancholy mood,
nor inquire into its cause.

The cause was declared in a few low murmured words, which fell, as if
involuntarily, from her lips.

"He may be dangerously wounded perhaps even to death?"

Who was the object of this solicitude so hypothetically expressed?

The invalid that lay below, almost under her feet, in a chamber of the
hacienda her cousin Cassius Calhoun? It could scarce be he. The doctor
had the day before pronounced him out of danger, and on the way to quick
recovery. Any one listening to her soliloquy after a time continued in
the same sad tone would have been convinced it was not he.

"I may not send to inquire. I dare not even ask after him. I fear to
trust any of our people. He may be in some poor place perhaps
un-courteously treated perhaps neglected? Would that I could convey to
him a message something more without any one being the wiser! I wonder
what has become of Zeb Stump?"

As if some instinct whispered her, that there was a possibility of Zeb
making his appearance, she turned her eyes towards the plain on the
opposite side of the river, where a road led up and down. It was the
common highway, between Fort Inge and the plantations on the lower
Leona. It traversed the prairie at some distance from the river bank
approaching it only at one point, where the channel curved in to the
base of the bluffs. A reach of the road, of half a mile in length, was
visible in the direction of the Fort as also a cross path that led to a
ford thence running on to the hacienda. In the opposite direction down
the stream the view was open for a like length, until the chapparal on
both sides closing in, terminated the savanna.

The young lady scanned the road leading towards Fort Inge. Zeb Stump
should come that way. He was not in sight nor was any one else.

She could not feel disappointment. She had no reason to expect him. She
had but raised her eyes in obedience to an instinct.

Something more than instinct caused her, after a time, to turn round,
and scrutinize the plain in the opposite quarter.

If expecting some one to appear that way, she was not disappointed. A
horse was just stepping out from among the trees, where the road
debouched from the chapparal. He was ridden by one, who, at first sight,
appeared to be a man, clad in a sort of Arab costume but who, on closer
scrutiny, and despite the style of equitation, á la Duchesse de Berri,
was unquestionably of the other sex a lady. There was not much of her
face to be seen; but through the shadowy opening of the rebozo, rather
carelessly tapado, could be traced an oval facial outline, somewhat
brownly "complected," but with a carmine tinting upon the cheeks, and
above this a pair of eyes whose sparkle appeared to challenge comparison
with the brightest object either on the earth, or in the sky.

Neither did the loosely falling folds of the lady's scarf, nor her
somewhat outré attitude in the saddle, hinder the observer from coming
to the conclusion, that her figure was quite as attractive as her nice.

The man following upon the mule, six lengths of his animal in the rear,
by his costume as well as the respectful distance observed was evidently
only an attendant.

"Who can that woman be?" was the muttered interrogatory of Louise
Poindexter, as with quick action she raised the lorgnette to her eyes,
and directed it upon the oddly appareled figure. "Who can she be?" was
repeated in a tone of greater deliberation, as the glass came down, and
the naked eyes was entrusted to complete the scrutiny. "A Mexican, of
course, the man on the mule her servant. Some grand señora, I suppose? I
thought they had all gone to the other side of the Rio Grande. A basket
carried by the attendant. I wonder what it contains and what errand she
can have to the Fort, it may be the village. 'Tis the third time I've
seen her passing within this week? She must be from some of the
plantations below!"

"What an outlandish style of riding! Pardieu! I'm told it's not uncommon
among the daughters of Anahuac. What if I were to take to it myself? No
doubt it's much the easiest way, though if such a spectacle were seen in
the States it would be styled unfeminine. How our Puritan mammas would
scream out against it! I think I hear them. Ha, ha, ha!"

The mirth thus begotten was but of momentary duration. There came a
change over the countenance of the Creole, quick as a drifting cloud
darkens the disc of the sun. It was not a return to that melancholy so
late shadowing, it though something equally serious as might be told by
the sudden blanching of her cheeks.

The cause could only be looked for, in the movements of the scarfed
equestrian on the other side of the river. An antelope had sprung up,
out of some low shrubbery growing by the road side. The creature
appeared to have made its first bound from under the counter of the
horse, a splendid animal, that, in a moment after, was going at full
gallop in pursuit of the affrighted "pronghorn"; while his rider, with
her rebozo suddenly flung from her face, its fringed ends streaming
behind her back, was seen describing, with her right arm, a series of
circular sweeps in the air!

"What is the woman going to do?" was the muttered interrogatory of the
spectator upon the house top. "Ha! As I live, 'tis a lasso!"

The señora, was not long in giving proof of skill, in the use of the
national implement by flinging its noose around the antelope's neck, and
throwing the creature in its tracks!

The attendant rode up to the place where it lay struggling, dismounted
from his mule and, stooping over the prostrate pronghorn, appeared to
administer the coup de grace. Then, flinging the carcass over the croup
of his saddle, he climbed back upon his mule, and spurred after his
mistress who had already recovered her lasso, readjusted her scarf, and
was riding onward, as if nothing had occurred worth waiting for!

It was at that moment, when the noose was seen circling in the air that
the shadow had reappeared upon the countenance of the Creole. It was not
surprise that caused it, but an emotion of a different character, a
thought far more unpleasant.

Nor did it pass speedily away. It was still there though a white hand
holding the lorgnette to her eye might have hindered it from being seen
still there, as long as the mounted figures were visible upon the open
road and even after they had passed out of sight behind the screening of
the acacias.

"I wonder oh, I wonder if it be she! My own age, he said not quite so
tall. The description suits so far as one may judge at this distance.
Has her home on the Rio Grande. Comes occasionally to the Leona, to
visit some relatives. Who? Who are they? Why did I not ask him the name?
I wonder--oh, I wonder if it be she!"



25. A GIFT UNGIVEN.


For some minutes after the lady of the lasso and her attendant had
passed out of sight, Louise Poindexter pursued the train of reflection
started by the somewhat singular episode of which she had been
spectator. Her attitude, and air, of continued dejection told that her
thoughts had not been directed into a more cheerful channel.

Rather the reverse. Once or twice, before had her mind given way to
imaginings, connected with that accomplished equestrienne and more than
once had she speculated upon her purpose in riding up the road. The
incident just witnessed had suddenly changed her conjectures into
suspicions of an exceedingly unpleasant nature.

It was a relief to her, when a horseman appeared coming out of the
chapparal, at the point where the others had ridden in a still greater
relief, when he was seen to swerve into the cross path that conducted to
the hacienda, and was recognized, through the lorgnette, as Zeb Stump
the hunter.

The face of the Creole became bright again almost to gaiety. There was
something ominous of good, in the opportune appearance of the honest
backwoodsman.

"The man I wanted to see!" She exclaimed in joyous accents. "He can bear
me a message and perhaps tell who she is. He must have met her on the
road. That will enable me to introduce the subject, without Zeb having
any suspicion of my object. Even with him I must be circumspect after
what has happened. Ah, me! Not much should I care, if I were sure of his
caring for me. How provoking his indifference! And to me Louise
Poindexter! Pardieu! Let it proceed much further, and I shall try to
escape from the toils, if I should crush my poor heart in the attempt!"

It need scarce be said that the individual, whose esteem was so coveted,
was not Zeb Stump.

Her next speech, however, was addressed to Zeb, as he reined up in front
of the hacienda.

"Dear Mr. Stump!" hailed a voice, to which the old hunter delighted to
listen. "I'm so glad to see you. Dismount, and come up here! I know
you're a famous climber, and won't mind a flight of stone stairs.
There's a view from this house-top that will reward you for your
trouble."

"Thur's suthin' on the house-top theear," rejoined the hunter, "the view
o' which 'ud reward Zeb Stump for climbin' to the top o' a steamboat
chimbly; 'an thet's yurself, Miss Lewaze. I'll kum up, soon as I ha'
stabled the ole maar, which shell be dud in the shakin' o' a goat's
tail. Gee up, ole gal!" he con tinned, addressing himself to the mare,
after he had dismounted, "Hold up yur head, an' may be Plute hyur 'll
gie ye a wheen o' corn shucks for yur breakfist."

"Ho-ho! Mass 'Tump," interposed the sable coachman, making his
appearance in the patio. "Dat same do dis nigga, gub um de shucks wi' de
yaller corn inside of dem. Ho-ho! You gwup 'tairs to de young missa, an'
Plute he no 'gleck yar ole mar."

"Yur a dod-rotted good sample o' a nigger, Plute an' the nix occashun I
shows about hyur, I'll fetch you a 'possum, wi' the meat on it as tender
as a two year old chicken. Thet's what I'm boun' ter do."

After delivering himself of this promise, Zeb commenced ascending the
stone stairway, not by single steps, but by two, and sometimes three, at
a stride.

He was soon upon the housetop where he was once more welcomed by the
young mistress of the mansion.

Her excited manner, and the eagerness with which she conducted him to a
remote part of the azotea, told the astute hunter, that he had been
summoned thither for some other purpose, than enjoying the prospect.

"Tell me, Mr. Stump!" said she, as she clutched the sleeve of the
blanket coat in her delicate fingers, and looked inquiringly into Zeb's
grey eye "Yon must know all. How is he? Are his wounds of a dangerous
nature?"

"If you refar to Mister Cal-hoon--"

"No-no-no. I know all about him. It's not of Mr. Calhoun I'm speaking."

"Wall, Miss Lewaze thur air only one other as I know of in these parts
thet hev got wownds an' thet air's Maurice the mowstanger. Mout it be
thet ere individooal yur inquirin'abeout?"

"It is-it is! You know I cannot be indifferent to his welfare,
notwithstanding the misfortune of his having quarreled with my cousin.
You are aware that he rescued me twice, I may say from imminent peril.
Tell me is he in great danger?"

Such earnestness could no longer be trifled with. Zeb, without further
parley, made reply:

"Ne'er a morsel o' danger. Thur's a bullet hole jest above the ankle
joint. It don't signerfy more'n the scratch o' a kitting. Thur's another
hev goed through the flesh o' the young fellur's left arm. It don't
signerfy neyther only thet it drawed a good sup o' the red out o' him.
Howsomdever, he's all right now; an' expecks to be out o' doors in a
kupple o' days, or tharabout. He sez that an hour in the seddle, an' a
skoot acrosst the purayra, 'ud do him more good than all the doctors in
Texas. I reckon it wud, but the doctor it's the surgint o' the Fort as
attends on him, he won't let him git to grass yit a bit."

"Where is he?"

"He air stayin' at the hotel, whar the skrimmage tuk place."

"Perhaps he is not well waited upon? It's a rough place, I've heard. He
may not have any delicacies, such as an invalid stands in need of? Stay
here, Mr. Stump, till I come up to you again. I have something I wish
to send to him. I know I can trust you to deliver it. Wont you? I'm sure
you will. I shall be with you in six seconds."

Without waiting to note the effect of her speech, the young lady tripped
lightly along the passage, and as lightly descended the stone stairway.

Presently she reappeared, bringing with her a good sized hamper, which
was evidently filled with eatables, with something to send them down.

"Now dear old Zeb, you will take this to Mr. Gerald? It's only some
little things, that Florinda has put up, some cordials and jellies and
the like, such as sick people at times have a craving for. They are not
likely to be kept in the hotel. Don't tell him where they come from,
neither him, nor any one else. You won't? I know you won't, you dear
good giant."

"Ye may depend on Zeb Stump for thet, Miss Lewaze. Nobody air' a goin'
to be a bit the wiser about who sent these hyur, delekissies though, for
the matter o' cakes an' kickshaws, an' all that sort o' thing, the
mowstanger hain't had much reezun to complain. He hev been serplied wi'
enuf o' them to hev filled the bellies o' a hul school o'
shugarbabbies."

"Ha! Supplied already! By whom?"

"Wal, thet theer this chile can't inform ye, Miss Lewaze not beknowin'
it hisself. I on'y hyurd they wur fetched to the tavern in baskets, by
some sort o' a sarvingt man as air a Mexikin. I've seed the man myself.
Fact, I've jest this minnit met him, ridin' arter a wuman sot stridy
legs in her seddle, as most o' these Mexikin weemen ride. I reck'n he be
her sarvingt, as he war keepin' a good ways ahint, and toatin' a basket
jest like one o' them Maurice hed got arready. Like enuf it air another
lot o' kickshaws they wur takin' to the tavern."

There was no need to trouble Zeb Stump with further cross-questioning. A
whole history was supplied by that single speech. The case was painfully
clear. In the regard of Maurice Gerald, Louise Poindexter had a rival,
perhaps something more. The lady of the lasso was either his fiancée, or
his mistress!

It was not by accident, though to Zeb Stump it may have seemed so, that
the hamper, steadied for a time, upon the coping of the balustrade, and
still retained in the hand of the young Creole, escaped from her clutch,
and fell with a crash upon the stones below. The bottles were broken,
and their contents spilled into the stream, that surged along the
basement of the wall.

The action of the arm that produced this effect, apparently springing
from a spasmodic and involuntary effort, was nevertheless due to design
and Louisa Poindexter, as she leant over the parapet, and contemplated
the ruin she had caused, felt as if her heart was shattered, like the
glass that lay glistening below!

"How unfortunate!" said she, making a feint, to conceal her chagrin.
"The dainties are destroyed, I declare! What will Florinda say? After
all, if Mr. Gerald be so well attended to, as you say he is, he'll not
stand in need of them. I'm glad to hear he hasn't been neglected, one
who has done me a service. But, Mr. Stump, you needn't say anything of
this, or that I inquired after him. You know, his late antagonist, is
our near relative and it might cause scandal in the settlement. Dear
Zeb, you promise me?"

"Swa-ar it ef ye like. Neery word, Miss Lewaze, neery word; ye kin
depend on ole Zeb."

"I know it. Come! The sun is growing hot up here. Let us go down, and
see whether we can find you such a thing, as a glass of your favorite
Monongahela. Come!"

With an assumed air of cheerfulness, the young Creole glided across the
azotea and, trilling the "New Orleans Waltz," once more commenced
descending the escalera.

In eager acceptance of the invitation, the old hunter followed close
upon her skirts and although, by habit, stoically indifferent to
feminine charms and with his thoughts at that moment chiefly bent upon
the promised Monongahela, he could not help admiring those ivory
shoulders, brought so conspicuously under his eyes.

But for a short while, was he permitted to indulge in the luxurious
spectacle. On reaching the bottom of the stair his fair hostess bade him
a somewhat abrupt adieu. After the revelations he had so unwittingly
made, his conversation seemed no longer agreeable and she, late desirous
of interrogating, was now contented to leave him alone with the
Monongahela, as she hastened to hide her chagrin in the solitude of her
chamber.

For the first time in her life, Louise Poindexter felt the pangs of
jealousy. It was her first real love, for she was in love with Maurice
Gerald.

A solicitude like that, shown for him by the Mexican señora, could
scarce spring from simple friendship? Some closer tie must have been
established between them? So ran the reflections of the now suffering
Creole.

From what Maurice had said, from what she had herself seen, the lady of
the lasso was just such a woman, as should win the affections of such a
man. Hers were accomplishments he might naturally be expected to admire.

Her figure had appeared perfect, under the magnifying effect of the
lens. The face had not been so fairly viewed, and was still
undetermined. Was it in correspondence with the form? Was it such as to
secure the love of a man so much master of his passions, as the
mustanger appeared to be?

The mistress of Casa del Corvo could not rest, till she had satisfied
herself on this score. As soon as Zeb Stump had taken his departure, she
ordered the spotted mare to be saddled and, riding out alone, she sought
the crossing of the river and thence proceeded to the highway on the
opposite side.

Advancing in the direction of the Fort, as she expected, she soon
encountered the Mexican señora on her return, no señora according to the
exact signification of the term, but a señorita, a young lady, not older
than herself.

At the place of their meeting, the road ran under the shadow of the
trees. There was no sun to require the coifing of the rebozo upon the
crown of the Mexican equestrian. The scarf had fallen upon her
shoulders, laying bare a head of hair, in luxuriance rivaling the tail
of a wild steed, in color the plumage of a crow. It formed the framing
of a face that, despite a certain darkness of complexion, was charmingly
attractive.

Good breeding permitted only a glance at it in passing, which was
returned by a like courtesy on the part of the stranger. But as the two
rode on, back to back, going in opposite directions, neither could
restrain herself from turning round in the saddle, and snatching a
second glance at the other.

Their reflections were not very dissimilar, if Louise Poindexter had
already learnt something of the individual thus encountered, the latter
was not altogether ignorant of her existence.

We shall not attempt to portray the thoughts of the señorita, consequent
on that encounter. Suffice it to say, that those of the Creole, were
even more somber than when she sallied forth, on that errand of
inspection and that the young mistress of Casa del Corvo rode back to
the mansion, all the way seated in her saddle in an attitude, that
betokened the deepest dejection.

"Beautiful!" said she, after passing her supposed rival upon the road.
"Yes too beautiful to be his friend!"

Louise was speaking to her own conscience or she might have been charier
of her praise.

"I cannot have any doubt," continued she, "of the relationship that
exists between them. He loves her! He loves her! It accounts for his
cold indifference to me? I've been mad to risk my heart's happiness in
such an illustrated entanglement!

"And now to disentangle it! Now to banish him from my thoughts! Ah! 'tis
easily said! Can I?"

"I shall see him no more. That, at least, is possible. After what has
occurred, he will not come to our house. We can only meet by accident
and that accident I must be careful to avoid. Oh, Maurice Gerald! Tamer
of wild steeds! You have subdued a spirit that may suffer long perhaps
never recover from the lesson!"



26. STILL ON THE AZOTEA.


To banish from the thoughts, one who has been passionately loved, is a
simple impossibility. Time may do much to subdue the pain of an
unreciprocated passion, and absence more. But neither time, nor absence,
can hinder the continued recurrence of that longing for the lost loved
one, or quiet the heart aching with that void that has never been
satisfactorily filled.

Louise Poindexter had imbibed a passion, that could not be easily
stifled. Though of brief existence, it had been of rapid growth,
vigorously overriding all obstacles to its indulgence. It was already
strong enough to overcome such ordinary scruples as parental consent, or
the inequality of rank and had it been reciprocated, neither would have
stood in the way, so far as she herself was concerned. For the former,
she was of age and felt as most of her countrywomen, do capable of
taking care of herself. For the latter, who ever really loved that cared
a straw for class, or caste? Love has no such meanness in its
composition. At all events, there was none such in the passion of Louise
Poindexter.

It could scarce be called the first illusion of her life. It was,
however, the first, where disappointment was likely to prove dangerous
to the tranquility of her spirit.

She was not unaware of this. She anticipated unhappiness for a while,
hoping that time would enable her to subdue the expected pain.

At first, she fancied she would find a friend in her own strong will and
another in the natural buoyancy of her spirit. But as the days passed,
she found reason to distrust both for in spite of both, she could not
erase from her thoughts the image of the man who had so completely
captivated her imagination.

There were times when she hated him, or tried to do so when she could
have killed him, or seen him killed, without making an effort to save
him! They were but moments each succeeded by an interval of more
righteous reflection, when she felt that the fault was hers alone, as
hers only the misfortune.

No matter for this. It mattered not if he had been her enemy the enemy
of all mankind. If Lucifer himself, to whom in her wild fancy she had
once likened him, she would have loved him all the same!

And it would have proved nothing abnormal in her disposition, nothing to
separate her from the rest of womankind, all the world over. In the mind
of man, or woman either, there is no connection between the moral and
the passional. They are as different from each other as fire from water.
They may chance to run in the same channel, but they may go
diametrically opposite. In other words, we may love the very being we
hate aye, the one we despise!

Louise Poindexter could neither hate, nor despise, Maurice Gerald. She
could only endeavor to feel indifference.

It was a vain effort, and ended in failure. She could not restrain
herself, from ascending to the azotea and scrutinizing the road, where
she had first beheld the cause of her jealousy. Each day, and almost
every hour of the day, was the ascent repeated.

Still more. Notwithstanding her resolve, to avoid the accident of an
encounter with the man who had made her miserable, she was oft in the
saddle and abroad, scouring the country around riding through the
streets of the village with no other object than to meet him.

During the three days that followed that unpleasant discovery, once
again had she seen from the housetop as before the lady of the lasso en
route up the road, as before accompanied by her attendant with the
pannier across his arm that Pandora's box that had bred such mischief in
her mind, while she herself stood trembling with jealousy, envious of
the other's errand.

She knew more now, though not much. Only had she learnt the name and
social standing of her rival. The Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos,
daughter of a wealthy haciendado, who lived upon the Rio Grande, and
niece to another whose estate lay upon the Leona, a mile beyond the
boundaries of her fathers new purchase. An eccentric young lady, as some
thought, who could throw a lasso, tame a wild steed, or anything else
excepting her own caprices.

Such was the character of the Mexican señorita, as known to the American
settlers on the Leona.

Knowledge of it did not remove the jealous suspicions of the Creole. On
the contrary, it tended to confirm them. Such practices were her own
predilections. She had been created with an instinct to admire them. She
supposed that others must do the same. The young Irishman was not likely
to be an exception.

There was an interval of several days during which the lady of the lasso
was not seen again.

"He has recovered from Ins wounds?" reflected the Creole. "He no longer
needs such unremitting attention."

She was upon the azotea at the moment of making this reflection
lorgnette in hand, as she had often been before.

It was in the morning, shortly after sunrise the hour when the Mexican
had been wont to make her appearance. Louise had been looking towards
the quarter whence the señorita might have been expected to come.

On turning her eyes in the opposite direction, she beheld that which
caused her something more than surprise. She saw Maurice Gerald, mounted
on horseback, and riding down the road!

Though seated somewhat stiffly in the saddle, and going at a slow pace,
it was certainly he. The glass declared his identity, at the same time
disclosing the fact, that his left arm was suspended in a sling.

On recognizing him, she shrank behind the parapet as she did so, giving
utterance to a suppressed cry.

Why that anguished utterance? Was it the sight of the disabled arm, or
the pallid face for the glass had enabled her to distinguish both?

Neither one, nor the other. Neither could be a cause of surprise.
Besides, it was an exclamation far differently, intoned to those of
either pity or astonishment. It was an expression of sorrow, which had
for its origin some heartfelt chagrin.

The invalid was convalescent. He no longer needed to be visited by his
nurse. He was on the way to visit her!

Cowering behind the parapet, screened by the flower spike of the yucca,
Louise Poindexter watched the passing horseman. The lorgnette enabled
her to note every movement made by him, almost to the play of his
features.

She felt some slight gratification on observing that he turned his race
at intervals and fixed his regard upon Casa del Corvo. It was increased,
when on reaching a copse that stood by the side of the road, and nearly
opposite the house, he reined up behind the trees, and for a long time
remained in the same spot, as if reconnoitering the mansion.

She almost conceived a hope that he might be thinking of its mistress!

It was but a gleam of joy, departing like the sunlight under the certain
shadow of an eclipse. It was succeeded by a sadness that might be
appropriately compared to such shadow, for to her the world at that
moment seemed filled with gloom.

Maurice Gerald had ridden on. He had entered the chapparal and become
lost to view with the road upon which he was riding.

Whither was he bound? Whither, but to visit Doña Isidora Covarubio de
los Llanos?

It mattered not that he returned within less than an hour. They might
have met in the woods, within eyeshot of that jealous spectator, but for
the screening of the trees. An hour was sufficient interview for lovers,
who could every day claim unrestricted indulgence.

It mattered not; that in passing upwards he again cast regards towards
Casa del Corvo again halted behind the copse, and passed some time in
apparent scrutiny of the mansion.

It was but mockery or exultation. He might well feel triumphant but why
should he be cruel, with kisses upon his lips, the kisses he had
received from the Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos?



27. I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!


Louise Poindexter upon the azotea again; again to be subjected to a
fresh chagrin! That broad stone stairway, trending up to the house-top,
seemed to lead only to spectacles that gave her pain. She had mentally
vowed no more to ascend it, at least for a long time. Something stronger
than her strong will, successfully combated the keeping of that vow. It
was broken ere the sun of another day, had dried the dew from the grass
of the prairie.

As on the day before, she stood by the parapet scanning the road on the
opposite side of the river; as before, she saw the horseman with the
slung arm ride past as before, she crouched to screen herself from
observation.

He was going downwards, as on the day preceding. In like manner did he
cast long glances towards the hacienda, and made halt behind the clump
of trees that grew opposite.

Her heart fluttered between hope and fear. There was an instant when she
felt half inclined to show herself. Fear prevailed and in the next
instant he was gone.

Whither?

The self asked interrogatory was but the same as of yesterday. It met
with a similar response.

Whither, if not to meet Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos?

Could there be a doubt of it?

If so, it was soon to be determined. In less than twenty minutes after,
a parded steed was seen upon the same road and in the same direction
with a lady upon its back.

The jealous heart of the Creole could hold out no longer. No truth could
cause greater torture than she was already suffering through suspicion.
She had resolved on assuring herself, though the knowledge should prove
fatal to the last faint remnant of her hopes.

She entered the chapparal where the mustanger had ridden in, scarce
twenty minutes before. She rode on beneath the flitting shadows of the
acacias. She rode in silence upon the soft turf keeping close to the
side of the path, so that the hoof might not strike against stones. The
long pinnate fronds, drooping down to the level of her eyes, mingled
with the plumes in her hat. She sate her saddle crouchingly, as if to
avoid being observed all the while, with earnest glance scanning the
open space before her.

She reached the crest of a hill, which commanded a view beyond. There
was a house in sight surrounded by tall trees. It might have been termed
a mansion. It was the residence of Don Silvio Martinez, the uncle of
Doña Isidora. So much had she learnt already.

There were other houses to be seen upon the plain below, but on this
one, and the road leading to it, the eyes of the Creole became fixed in
a glance of uneasy interrogation.

For a time she continued her scrutiny without satisfaction. No one
appeared either at the house, or near it. The private road leading to
the residence of the haciendado, and the public highway, were alike
without living forms. Some horses were straying over the pastures, but
not one with a rider upon his back.

Could the lady have ridden out to meet him, or Maurice gone in?

Were they at that moment in the woods, or within the walls of the house?
If the former, was Don Silvio aware of it? If the latter, was he at home
an approving party to the assignation?

With such questions was the Creole afflicting herself, when the neigh of
a horse broke abruptly on her ear, followed by the chinking of a shod
hoof against the stones of the causeway.

She looked below for she had halted upon the crest of a steep acclivity.
The mustanger was ascending it riding directly towards her. She might
have seen him sooner, had she not been occupied with the more distant
view.

He was alone, as he had ridden past Casa del Corvo. There was nothing to
show that he had recently been in company, much less in the company of
an inamorata.

It was too late for Louise to shun him. The spotted mustang had replied
to the salutation of an old acquaintance. Its rider was constrained to
keep her ground, till the mustanger came up.

"Good day, Miss Poindexter?" said he for upon the prairies it is not
etiquette for the lady to speak first. "Alone?"

"Alone, sir. And why not?"

"'Tis a solitary ride among the chaparrals. But true I think I've heard
you say you prefer that sort of thing?"

"You appear to like it yourself, Mr. Gerald. To you, however, it is not
so solitary, I presume?"

"In faith I do like it and just for that very reason. I have the
misfortune to live at a tavern, or hotel as mine host is pleased to
call it and one gets so tired of the noises especially an invalid, as I
have the bad luck to be that a ride along this quiet road is something
akin to luxury. The cool shade of these acacias, which the Mexicans have
vulgarized by the name of mezquites, with the breeze that keeps
constantly circulating through their fan, like foliage would invigorate
the feeblest of frames. Don't you think so, Miss Poindexter?"

"You should know best, sir," was the reply vouchsafed, after some
seconds of embarrassment. "You, who have so often tried it?"

"Often! I have been only twice down this road since I have been able to
sit in my saddle. But, Miss Poindexter, may I ask how you knew that I
have been this way at all?"

"Oh!" rejoined Louise, her color going and coming as she spoke, "how
could I help knowing it for I am in the habit of spending much time on
the housetop. The view, the breeze, the music of the birds, ascending
from the garden below, makes it a delightful spot especially in the cool
of the morning. Our roof commands a view of this road. Being up there,
how could I avoid seeing you as you passed that is, so long as you were
not under the shade of the acacias?"

"You saw me, then?" said Maurice, with an embarrassed air, which was not
caused by the innuendo conveyed in her last words which he could not
have comprehended, but by a remembrance of how he had himself behaved
while riding along the reach of open road.

"How could I help it?" was the ready reply. "The distance is scarce six
hundred yards. Even a lady, mounted upon a steed much smaller than
yours, was sufficiently conspicuous to be identified. When I saw her
display, her wonderful skill, by strangling a poor little antelope with
her lasso, I knew it could be no other than she whose accomplishments
you were as good as to give me an account of." "Isidora?" "Isidora!"

"Ah true! She has been here for some time." "And has been very kind to
Mr. Maurice Gerald?" "Indeed, it is true. She has been very kind though
I have had no chance of thanking her. With all her friendship for poor
me, she is a great hater of us foreign invaders and would not condescend
to step over the threshold of Mr. Oberdoffer's hotel."

"Indeed! I suppose she preferred meeting you under the shade of the
acacias!"

"I have not met her at all, at least not for many months and may not for
months to come, now that she has gone back to her home on the Rio
Grande."

"Are you speaking the truth, sir? You have not seen her since she is
gone away from the house of her uncle?"

"She has," replied Maurice, exhibiting surprise. "Of course, I have not
seen her. I only knew she was here by her sending me some delicacies
while I was ill. In truth, I stood in need of them. The hotel cuisine is
none of the nicest, nor was I the most welcome of Mr. Oberdoffer's
guests. Doña Isidora has been but too grateful for the slight service I
once did her."

"A service! May I ask what it was, Mr. Gerald?"

"Oh, certainly. It was merely a chance. I had the opportunity of being
useful to the young lady, in once rescuing her from some rude Indians
Wild Cat and his Seminoles into whose hands she had fallen, while making
a journey from the Rio Grande to visit her uncle on the Leona, Don
Silvio Martinez, whose house you can see from here. The brutes had got
drunk and were threatening not exactly her life though, that was in some
danger, but well, the poor girl was in trouble with them, and might have
had some difficulty in getting away, had I not chanced to ride up."

"A slight service, you call it? You are modest in your estimate, Mr.
Gerald. A man who should do that much for--"

"What would you do for him?" asked the mustanger, placing a significant
emphasis on the final word.

"I should love him," was the prompt reply.

"Then," said Maurice, spurring his horse close up to the side of the
spotted mustang, and whispering into the ear of its rider, with an
earnestness strangely contrasting to his late reticence, "I would give
half my life to see you in the hands of Wild Cat and his drunken
comrades the other half, to deliver you from the danger."

"Do you mean this, Maurice Gerald? Do not trifle with me, I am not a
child. Speak the truth! Do you mean it?

"I do! As heaven is above me, I do!"

The sweetest kiss I ever had in my life was when a woman a fair
creature, in the hunting field leant over in her saddle and kissed me as
I sate in mine.

The fondest embrace ever received by Maurice Gerald, was that given by
Louise Poindexter when, standing up in her stirrup, and laying her hand
upon his shoulder, she cried in an agony of earnest passion

"Do with me as thou wilt; I love you! I love you!"



28. A PLEASURE FORBIDDEN.


Ever since Texas became the scene of an Anglo-Saxon immigration, I might
go a century farther back and say, from the time of its colonization by
the descendants of the Conquistadores, the subject of primary importance
has been the disposition of its aborigines.

Whether these, the lawful lords of the soil, chanced to be in a state of
open war or whether, by some treaty with the settlers, they were
consenting to a temporary peace made but slight difference, so far as
they were talked about. In either case they were a topic of daily
discourse. In the former, it related to the dangers to be hourly
apprehended from them in the latter, to the probable duration of such
treaty as might for the moment be binding them to hold their tomahawks
entombed.

In Mexican times, these questions formed the staple of conversation, at
desayuno, almuerzo, comida, y cena; in American times, up to this
present hour, they have been the themes of discussion at the breakfast,
dinner, and supper tables. In the planter's piazza, as in the hunter's
camp, bear, deer, cougar, and peccary, are not named with half the
frequency, or half the fear inspiring, emphasis allotted to the word
"Indian." It is this that scares the Texan child instead of the
stereotyped nursery ghost, keeping it awake upon its moss stuffed
mattress disturbing almost as much the repose of its parent.

Despite the surrounding of strong walls more resembling those of a
fortress than a gentleman's dwelling the inmates of Casa del Corvo were
not excepted from this feeling of apprehension, universal along the
frontier. As yet they knew little of the Indians, and that little only
from report but, day by day, they were becoming better acquainted with
the character of this natural "terror" that interfered with the slumbers
of their fellow settlers.

That it was no mere "bogie", they had begun to believe, but if any of
them remained incredulous, a note received from the major commanding the
Fort about two weeks after the horse-hunting expedition was calculated
to cure them of their incredulity.

It came in the early morning, carried by a mounted rifleman. It was put
into the hands of the planter just as he was about sitting down to the
breakfast table, around which were assembled the three individuals who
composed his household his daughter Louise, his son Henry, and his
nephew Cassius Calhoun.

"Startling news!" he exclaimed, after hastily reading the note. "Not
very pleasant if true and I suppose there can be no doubt of that, since
the major appears convinced."

"Unpleasant news, papa?" asked his daughter, a spot of red springing to
her cheek as she put the question.

The spoken interrogatory was continued by others, not uttered aloud.

"What can the major have written to him? I met him yesterday while
riding in the chapparal. He saw me in company with--Can it be that? Mon
Dieu! If father should hear it--"

"The Comanches on the war-trail' so writes the major."

"Oh, that's all!" said Louise, involuntarily giving voice to the phrase,
as if the news had nothing so very fearful in it. "You frightened us,
sir. I thought it was something worse."

"Worse! What trifling, child, to talk so! There is nothing worse, in
Texas, than Comanches on the war-trail, nothing half so dangerous."

Louise might have thought there was a danger, at least as difficult to
be avoided. Perhaps she was reflecting upon a pursuit of wild steeds, or
thinking of the trail of a lasso.

She made no reply. Calhoun continued the conversation.

"Is the major sure of the Indians being up? What does he say, uncle?"

"That there have been rumors of it for some days past, though not
reliable. Now it is certain. Last night Wild Cat, the Seminole chief,
came to the Fort with a party of his tribe, bringing the news that the
painted pole has been erected in the camps of the Comanches, all over
Texas, and that the war dance has been going on for more than a month.
That several parties are already out upon the maraud, and may be looked
for among the settlements at any moment."

"And Wild Cat himself, what of him?" asked Louise, an unpleasant
reminiscence suggesting the inquiry. "Is that renegade Indian to be
trusted, who appears to be as much an enemy to the whites, as to the
people of his own race?"

"Quite true, my daughter. You have described the chief of the Seminoles
almost in the same terms as I find him spoken of, in a postscript to the
major's letter. He counsels us to beware of the two faced old rascal,
who will be sure to take sides with the Comanches, whenever it may suit
his convenience to do so."

"Well," continued the planter, laying aside the note, and betaking
himself to his coffee and waffles, "I trust we aha'n't see any redskins
here either Seminoles, or Comanches. In making their marauds, let us
hope they will not like the look of the crenelled parapets of Casa del
Corvo, but give the hacienda a wide berth."

Before any one could respond, a sable face appearing at the door of the
dining room, which was the apartment in which breakfast was being eaten,
caused a complete change in the character of the conversation.

The countenance belonged to Pluto, the coachman.

"What do you want, Piute?" inquired his owner.

"Ho, ho! Massr Woodley, dis chile want nuffin 't all. Only look in, to
tell Missa Looey dat soon's she done eat her brekfass, de spotty am
unner de saddle, all ready for chuck de bit into him mouf. Ho! ho! dat
critter do dance 'bout on de pavestone as if it wa' mad to 'treak it
back to de smoove tuff of de praira."

"Going out for a ride, Louise?" asked the planter, with a shadow upon
his brow, which he made but little effort to conceal.

"Yes, papa I was thinking of it."

"You must not."

"Indeed!"

"I mean, that you must not ride out alone. It is not proper."

"Why do you think so, papa? I have often ridden out alone."

"Yes perhaps too often."

This last remark brought the slightest tinge of color to the cheeks of
the young Creole though she seemed uncertain what construction she was
to put upon it.

Notwithstanding its ambiguity, she did not press for an explanation. On
the contrary, she preferred shunning it as was shown by her reply.

"If you think so, papa, I shall not go out again. Though, to be cooped
up here, in this dismal dwelling, while you gentlemen are all abroad
upon business, is that the life you intend me to lead in Texas?"

"Nothing of the sort, my daughter. I have no objection to your riding
out as much as you please, but Henry must be with you, or your cousin
Cassius. I only lay an embargo on your going alone. I have my reasons."

"Reasons! What are they?"

The question came involuntarily to her lips. It had scarce passed them,
ere she regretted having asked it. By her uneasy air it was evident she
had apprehensions as to the answer.

The reply appeared partially to relieve her.

"What other reasons do you want," said the planter, evidently
endeavoring to escape from the suspicion of duplicity by the statement
of a convenient fact "what better, than the contents of this letter from
the major? Remember, my child, you are not in Louisiana, where a lady
may travel anywhere without fear of either insult, or outrage but in
Texas, where she may dread both, where even her life may be in danger.
Here there are Indians."

"My excursions don't extend so far from the house, that I need have any
fear of Indians. I never go more than five miles, at the most."

"Five miles!" exclaimed the ex-officer of volunteers, with a sardonic
smile, "you would be as safe at fifty, cousin Loo. You are just as
likely to encounter the redskins within a hundred yards of the door, as
at the distance of a hundred miles. When they are on the war-trail, they
may be looked for anywhere, and at any time. In my opinion, uncle
Woodley is right, you are very foolish to ride out alone."

"Oh! You say so?" sharply retorted the young Creole, turning
disdainfully towards her cousin. "And pray, sir, may I ask of what
service your company would be to me, in the event of my encountering the
Comanches, which I don't believe there's the slightest danger of my
doing? A pretty figure, we'd cut the pair of us, in the midst of a war
party of painted savages! Ha! ha! The danger would be yours, not mine,
since I should certainly ride away, and leave you to your own devices.
Danger, indeed, within five miles of the house! If there's a horseman in
Texas, savages not excepted, who can catch up with my little Luna in a
five mile stretch, he must ride a swift steed, which is more than you
do, Mr. Cash!"

"Silence, daughter!" commanded Poindexter. "Don't let me hear you talk
in that absurd strain. Take no notice of it, nephew. Even if there were
no danger from Indians, there are other outlaws in these parts, quite as
much to be shunned as they. Enough that I forbid you to ride abroad, as
you have of late been accustomed to do."

"Be it as you will, papa," rejoined Louise, rising from the breakfast
table and with an air of resignation preparing to leave the room. "Of
course I shall obey you at the risk of losing my health, for want of
exercise. Go, Pluto!" she added, addressing herself to the darkey, which
still stood grinning in the doorway, "turn Luna loose into the corral
the pastures anywhere. Let her stray back to her native prairies, if the
creature be so inclined she's no longer needed here."

With this speech, the young lady swept out of the sala, leaving the
three gentlemen, who still retained their seats by the table, to reflect
upon the satire intended to be conveyed by her words.

They were not the last to which she gave utterance in that same series.
As she glided along the corridor leading to her own chamber, others, low
murmured, and mechanically escaped from her lips. They were in the shape
of interrogatories, a string of them self asked, and only to be answered
by conjecture.

"What can papa have heard? Is it but his suspicions? Can any one have
told him? Does he know that we have met?"



29. EL COYOTE AT HOME.


Calhoun took his departure from the breakfast table almost as abruptly
as his cousin but, on leaving the sala, instead of returning to his own
chamber, he sallied forth from the house.

Still suffering from wounds, but half healed, he was nevertheless
sufficiently convalescent to go abroad, into the garden, to the stables,
the corrals anywhere around the house.

On the present occasion, his excursion was intended to conduct him to a
more distant point. As if under the stimulus of what had turned up in
the conversation, or perhaps by the contents of the letter that had been
read, his feebleness seemed for the time to have forsaken him and,
vigorously plying his crutch, he proceeded up the river in the direction
of Fort Inge.

In a barren tract of land, that lay about half way between the hacienda
and the Fort and that did not appear to belong to any one, he arrived at
the terminus of his limping expedition. There was a grove of mezquite,
with some larger trees shading it and in the midst of this, a rude hovel
of "wattle and dab," known in South-Western Texas as jacalé.

It was the domicile of Miguel Diaz, the Mexican mustanger, a lair
appropriate to the semi savage, who had earned for himself the
distinctive appellation of El Coyote ("Prairie Wolf").

It was not always, that the wolf could be found in his den, for his
jacalé deserved no better description. It was but his occasional
sleeping place, during those intervals of inactivity, when by the
disposal of a drove of captured mustangs, he could afford to stay for a
time within the limits of the settlement, indulging in such gross
pleasures, as its proximity afforded. Calhoun was fortunate in finding
him at home, though not quite so fortunate as to find him in a state of
sobriety. He was not exactly intoxicated, having after a prolonged spell
of sleep, partially recovered from this, the habitual condition of his
existence.

"H'la ñor!" he exclaimed in his provincial patois, slurring the
salutation, as his visitor darkened the door of the jacalé. "Who'd have
expected to see you? Sientese! Be seated. Take a chair. There's one. A
chair! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

The laugh was called up at contemplation of that which he had
facetiously termed a chair. It was the skull of a mustang, intended to
serve as such and which, with another similar piece, a rude table of
cleft yucca tree, and a couch of cane reeds, upon which the owner of the
jacalé was reclining, constituted the sole furniture of Miguel Diaz's
dwelling.

Calhoun, fatigued with his halting promenade, accepted the invitation of
his host, and sate down upon the horse skull.

He did not permit much time to pass, before entering upon the object of
his errand.

"Señor Diaz!" said he, "I have come for--."

"S'ñor Americano!" exclaimed the half drunken horse hunter, cutting
short the explanation, "why waste words upon that? Carrambo! I know well
enough for what you've come. You want me to wipe out that devilish
Irlandes!"

"Well!"

"Well I promised you I would do it, for five hundred pesos at the proper
time and opportunity. I will. Miguel Diaz never played false to his
promise. But the time's not come, ñor capitan, nor yet the opportunity.
Carajo! To kill a man outright requires skill. It can't be done even on
the prairies without danger of detection; and if detected, ha! What
chance for me? You forget, ñor capitan, that I'm a Mexican. If I were of
your people, I might slay Don Mauricio and get clear on the score of its
being a quarrel. Maldito! With us Mexicans, it is different. If we stick
our machete into a man, so as to let out his life's blood, it is called
murder and you Americanos, with your stupid juries of twelve honest men,
would pronounce it so aye, and hang a poor fellow for it. Chingaro! I
can't risk that. I hate the Irlandes as much as you, but I'm not going
to chop off my nose, to spite my own face. I must wait for the time, and
the chance--carrai, the time and the chance."

"Both are come!" exclaimed the tempter, bending earnestly towards the
bravo. "You said you could easily do it, if there was any Indian trouble
going on?"

"Of course I said so. If there was that--."

"You have not heard the news, then?"

"What news?"

"That the Comanches are starting on the war-trail."

"Carajo!" exclaimed El Coyote, springing up from his conch of reeds, and
exhibiting all the activity of his namesake, when roused by the scent of
prey. Santissima Virgen! Do you speak the truth, ñor capitan?"

"Neither more, nor less. The news has just reached the Fort. I have it,
on the best authority the officer in command."

"In that case," answered the Mexican, reflectingly, "in that case, Don
Mauricio may die. The Comanches can kill him. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

"You are sure of it?"

"I should be surer, if his scalp were worth a thousand dollars, instead
of five hundred."

"It is worth that sum."

"What sum?"

"A thousand dollars."

"You promise it?"

"I do."

"Then the Comanches shall scalp him, ñor capitan. You may return to Casa
del Corvo, and go to sleep with confidence that, whenever the
opportunity arrives, your enemy will lose his hair. You understand me?"

"I do."

"Get ready your thousand pesos"

"They await your acceptance."

"Carajo! I shall earn them in a trice. Adios! adios!"

"Santissima Virgen!" exclaimed the profane ruffian, as his visitor
limped out of sight. "What a magnificent fluke of fortune! A perfect
chiripé. A thousand dollars for killing the man I intended to kill on my
own account, without charging anybody a single claco for the deed!

"The Comanches upon the war-trail! Chingaro! Can it be true? If so, I
must look up my old disguises, gone to neglect through these three long
years of accursed peace. Viva la guerra de los Indios! Success to the
pantomime of the prairies!"



30. A SAGITTARY CORRESPONDENCE.


Louise Poindexter, passionately addicted to the sports termed "manly,"
could scarce have overlooked archery.

She had not. The bow, and its adjunct the arrow, were in her hands as
toys which she could control to her will.

She had been instructed in their manège by the Houma Indians; a remnant
of whom the last descendants of a once powerful tribe may still be
encountered upon the "coast" of the Mississippi, in the proximity of
Point Coupé and the bayou Atchafalaya.

For a long time her bow had lain unbent, unpacked, indeed, ever since it
had formed part of the paraphernalia brought over-land in the wagon
train. Since her arrival at Casa del Corvo, she had found no occasion to
use the weapon of Diana and her beautiful bow of Osage-orange wood, and
quiver of plumed arrows, had lain neglected in the lumber-room.

There came a time when they were taken forth, and honored with some
attention. It was shortly after that scene at the breakfast-table when
she had received the paternal command to discontinue her equestrian
excursions.

To this she had yielded implicit obedience, even beyond what was
intended, since not only had she given up riding out alone, but declined
to do so in company.

The spotted mustang stood listless in its stall, or pranced frantically
around the corral wondering why its spine was no longer crossed, or its
ribs compressed, by that strange caparison, that more than aught else
reminded it of its captivity.

It was not neglected, however. Though no more mounted by its fair
mistress, it was the object of her daily almost hourly solicitude. The
best corn in the granaderias of Casa del Corvo was selected, the most
nutritious grass that grows upon the savanna, the gramma, furnished for
its manger while for drink it had the cool crystal water from the
current of the Leona.

Pluto took delight in grooming it and, under his currycomb and brushes,
its coat had attained a gloss which rivaled that upon Pluto's own sable
skin.

While not engaged attending upon her pet, Miss Poindexter divided the
residue of her time, between indoor duties and archery. The latter she
appeared to have selected as the substitute for that pastime of which
she was so passionately fond, and in which she was now denied
indulgence.

The scene of her sagittary performances was the garden, with its
adjacent shrubbery an extensive enclosure, three sides of which were
fenced in by the river itself, curving round it like the shoe of a
racehorse, the fourth being a straight line traced by the rearward wall
of the hacienda.

Within this circumference a garden, with ornamental grounds, had been
laid out, in times long gone by as might have been told by many ancient
exotics seen standing over it. Even the statues spoke of a past age not
only in their decay, but in the personages they were intended to
represent. Equally did they betray the chisel of the Spanish sculptor.
Among them you might see commemorated the figure and features of the
great Condé; of the Campeador; of Ferdinand and his energetic queen, of
the discoverer of the American world, of its two chief conquistadores,
Cortez and Pizarro and of her, alike famous for her beauty and devotion,
the Mexican Malinché.

It was not amidst these sculptured stones that Louise Poindexter
practiced her feats of archery, though more than once might she have
been seen standing before the statue of Malinché, and scanning the
voluptuous outline of the Indian maiden's form, not with any severe
thought of scorn, that this dark skinned daughter of Eve had succumbed
to such a conqueror as Cortez.

The young Creole felt, in her secret heart, that she had no right to
throw a stone at that statue. To one less famed than Cortez, though in
her estimation equally deserving of fame, she had surrendered what the
great conquistador had won from Marina, her heart of hearts.

In her excursions with the bow, which were of diurnal occurrence, she
strayed not among the statues. Her game was not there to be found, but
under the shadow of tall trees that, keeping the curve of the river,
formed a semicircular grove between it and the garden. Most of these
trees were of indigenous growth, wild Chinas, mulberries, and pecans
that in the laying out of the grounds had been permitted to remain where
Nature, perhaps some centuries ago, had scattered their seed.

It was under the leafy canopy of these fair forest trees, the young
Creole delighted to sit or stray along the edge of the pellucid river,
that rolled dreamily by.

Here she was free to be alone which of late appeared to be her
preference. Her father, in his sternest mood, could not have denied her
so slight a privilege. If there was danger upon the outside prairie,
there could be none within the garden enclosed, as it was, by a river
broad and deep, and a wall that could not have been scaled without the
aid of a thirty round ladder. So far from objecting to this solitary
strolling, the planter appeared something more than satisfied that his
daughter, had taken to these tranquil habits and the suspicions which he
had conceived not altogether without a cause, were becoming gradually
dismissed from his mind.

After all, he might have been misinformed? The tongue of scandal takes
delight in torturing and he may have been chosen as one of its victims?
Or, perhaps, it was but a casual thing the encounter, of which he had
been told, between his daughter and Maurice the mustanger? They may have
met by accident in the chapparal? She could not well pass, without
speaking to, the man who had twice rescued her from a dread danger.
There might have been nothing in it, beyond the simple acknowledgment of
her gratitude?

It looked well that she had, with such willingness, consented to
relinquish her rides. It was but little in keeping with her usual
custom, when crossed. Obedience to that particular command could, not
have been irksome and argued innocence uncontaminated, virtue still
intact.

So reasoned the fond father, who beyond conjecture, was not permitted to
scrutinize too closely the character of his child. In other lands, or in
a different class of society, he might possibly have asked direct
questions, and required direct answers to them. This is not the method
upon the Mississippi, where a son of ten years old a daughter of less
than fifteen would rebel against such scrutiny, and call it inquisition.

Still less might Woodley Poindexter strain the statutes of parental
authority the father of a Creole belle for years used to that proud
homage whose incense often stills, or altogether destroys, the simpler
affections of the heart.

Though her father, and by law her controller, he knew to what a short
length his power might extend, if exerted in opposition to her will.

He was, therefore, satisfied with her late act of obedience rejoiced to
find that instead of continuing her reckless rides upon the prairie, she
now contented herself within the range of the garden with bow and arrow
slaying the small birds that were so unlucky as to come under her aim.

Father of fifty years old, why reason in this foolish fashion? Have you
forgotten your own youth, the thoughts that then inspired you, the
deceits you practiced under such inspiration, the counterfeits you
assumed, the "stories" you told to cloak what, after all, may have been
the noblest impulse of your nature?

The father of the fair Louise appeared to have become oblivious to
recollections of this kind, for his early life was not without facts to
have furnished them. They must have been forgotten, else he would have
taken occasion to follow his daughter into the garden, and observe her
himself unobserved while disporting herself in the shrubbery that
bordered the river bank.

By doing so, he would have discovered that her disposition was not as
cruel as may have been supposed. Instead of transfixing the innocent
birds that fluttered in such foolish confidence around her, her greatest
feat in archery appeared to be the impaling a piece of paper upon the
point of her arrow, and sending the shaft thus charged across the river,
to fall harmlessly into a thicket on the opposite side.

He would have witnessed an exhibition still more singular. He would have
seen the arrow thus spent after a short interval, as if dissatisfied
with the place into which it had been shot, and desirous of returning to
the fair hand whence it had taken its departure come back into the
garden with the same, or a similar piece of paper, transfixed upon its
shaft!

The thing might have appeared mysterious even supernatural to an
observer unacquainted with the spirit and mechanism of that abnormal
phenomenon. There was no observer of it, save the two individuals who
alternately bent the bow, shooting with a single arrow and by them it
was understood.

"Love laughs at locksmiths." The old adage is scarce suited to Texas,
where lock-making is an unknown trade.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," expresses pretty much the same
sentiment, appropriate to all time and every place. Never was it more
correctly illustrated than in that exchange of bow shots across the
channel of the Leona.

Louise Poindexter had the will, Maurice Gerald had suggested the way.



31. A STREAM CLEVERLY CROSSED.


The sagittary correspondence could not last for long. They are but
lukewarm lovers, who can content themselves with a dialogue carried on
at bowshot distance. Hearts brimful of passion must beat and burn
together in close proximity, each feeling the pulsation of the other.
"If there be an Elysium on earth, it is this!"

Maurice Gerald was not the man, nor Louise Poindexter the woman, to shun
such a consummation.

It came to pass not under the tell-tale light of the sun, but in the
lone hour of midnight, when but the stars could have been witnesses of
their social dereliction.

Twice had they stood together in that garden grove twice had they
exchanged love vows under the steel grey light of the stars and a third
interview had been arranged between them.

Little suspected the proud planter, perhaps prouder of his daughter than
anything else he possessed, that she was daily engaged in an act of
rebellion, the wildest against which parental authority may pronounce
itself.

His own daughter, his only daughter, of the best blood of Southern
aristocracy, beautiful, accomplished everything to secure him a splendid
alliance, holding nightly assignation with a horse hunter!

Could he have but dreamt it when slumbering upon his soft couch, the
dream would have startled him from his sleep like the call of the
eternal trumpet!

He had no suspicion, not the slightest. The thing was too improbable,
too monstrous, to have given cause for one. Its very monstrosity would
have disarmed him, had the thought been suggested.

He had been pleased at his daughter's compliance with his late
injunctions, though he would have preferred her obeying them to the
letter, and riding out in company with her brother, or cousin, which she
still declined to do. This, however, he did not insist upon. He could
well concede so much to her caprice, since her staying at home, could be
no disadvantage to the cause that had prompted him to the stern counsel.

Her ready obedience had almost influenced him to regret the prohibition.
Walking in confidence by day, and sleeping in security by night, he
fancied, it might soon be recalled.

It was one of those nights, known only to a southern sky, when the full
round moon, rolls clear across a canopy of sapphire, when the mountains
have no mist, and look as though you could lay your hand upon them, when
the wind is hushed, and the broad leaves of the tropical trees droop
motionless from their boughs, themselves silent, as if listening to the
concert of singular sounds, carried on in their midst and in which
mingle the voices of living creatures, belonging to every department of
animated nature beast, bird, reptile, and insect.

Such a night was it, as you would select for a stroll in company with
the being the one and only being who, by the mysterious dictation of
Nature, has entwined herself around your heart, a night upon which you
feel a wayward longing to have white arms entwined around your neck, and
bright eyes before your face, with that voluptuous gleaming that can
only be felt to perfection, under the mystic light of the moon.

It was long after the infantry drum had beaten tatoo, and the cavalry
bugle sounded the signal for the garrison of Fort Inge, to go to bed, in
fact it was much nearer the hour of mid night when a horseman rode away
from the door of Oberdoffer's hotel and, taking the down river road, was
soon lost to the sight of the latest loiterer who might have been
strolling' through the streets of the village.

It is already known, that this road passed the hacienda of Casa del
Corvo, at some distance from the house, and on the opposite side of the
river. It is also known that at the same place it traversed a stretch of
open prairie, with only a piece of copse-wood, midway between two
extensive tracts of chapparal.

This clump of isolated timber, known in prairie parlance as a "motte" or
"island" of timber, stood by the side of the road, along which the
horseman had continued, after taking his departure from the village.

On reaching the copse he dismounted led his horse in among the underwood
"hitched" him, by looping his bridle rein around the topmost twigs of an
elastic bough; then detaching a long rope of twisted horsehair from the
"horn" of his saddle, and inserting his arm into its coil, he glided out
to the edge of the "island," on that side that lay towards the hacienda.

Before forsaking the shadow of the copse, he cast a glance towards the
sky, and at the moon sailing supremely over it. It was a glance of
inquiry, ending in a look of chagrin, with some muttered phrases that
rendered it more emphatic.

"No use waiting for that beauty to go to bed? She's made up her mind;
she won't go home till morning. Ha! Ha!"

The droll conceit, which has so oft amused the nocturnal inebriate of
great cities, appeared to produce a like effect upon the night patroller
of the prairie; and for a moment the shadow, late darkening his brow,
disappeared. It returned anon, as he stood gazing across the open space
that separated him from the river bottom, beyond which lay the hacienda
of Casa del Corvo, clearly outlined upon the opposite bluff.

"If there should be any one stirring about the place? It's not likely at
this hour, unless it be the owner of a bad conscience who can't sleep.
Troth! There's one such within those walls. If he be abroad there's a
good chance of his seeing me on the open ground not that I should care a
straw, if it were only myself to be compromised. By Saint Patrick, I see
no alternative, but risk it! It's no use waiting upon the moon, deuce
take her! She doesn't go down for hours and there's not the sign of a
cloud. It won't do to keep her waiting. No, I must chance it in the
clear light. Here goes!"

Saying this, with a swift, but stealthy step, the dismounted horseman
glided across the treeless tract, and soon reached the escarpment of the
cliff, that formed the second height of land rising above the channel of
the Leona.

He did not stay ten seconds in this conspicuous situation, but by a path
that zigzagged down the bluff and with which he appeared familiar he
descended to the river "bottom."

In an instant after he stood upon the bank, at the convexity of the
river's bend, and directly opposite the spot where a skiff was moored,
under the somber shadow of a gigantic cotton tree.

For a short while, he stood gazing across the stream, with a glance that
told of scrutiny. He was scanning the shrubbery on the other side, in
the endeavor to make out, whether any one was concealed beneath its
shadow.

Becoming satisfied that no one was there, he raised the loop end of his
lasso, for it was this he carried over his arm and, giving it half a
dozen whirls in the air, cast it across the stream.

The noose settled over the cutwater of the skiff and, closing around the
stem, enabled him to tow the tiny craft to the side on which he stood.

Stepping in, he took hold of a pair of oars that lay along the planking
at the bottom and, placing them between the tholepins, pulled the boat
back to its moorings.

Leaping out, he secured it as it had been before, against the drift of
the current and then, taking stand under the shadow of the cotton tree,
he appeared to await either a signal, or the appearance of some one,
expected by appointment.

His maneuvers up to this moment, had they been observed, might have
rendered him amenable to the suspicion, that he was a housebreaker,
about to "crack the crib" of Casa del Corvo.

The phrases that fell from his lips, however, could they have been
heard, would have absolved him of any such vile or vulgar intention. It
is true he had designs upon the hacienda, but these did not contemplate
its cash, plate, or jewellery if we except the most precious jewel it
contained the mistress of the mansion herself.

It is scarce necessary to say, that the man who had hidden his horse in
the "motte," and so cleverly effected the crossing of the stream, was
Maurice the mustanger.



32. LIGHT AND SHADE.


He had not long to chafe under the trysting-tree, if such it were. At
the very moment when he was stepping into the skiff, a casement window
that looked to the rear of the hacienda commenced turning upon its
hinges, and was then for a time held slightly ajar, as if some one
inside was intending to issue forth, and only hesitated in order to be
assured that the "coast was clear."

A small white hand, decorated with jewels that glistened under the light
of the moon grasping the sash, told that the individual who had opened
the window, was of the gentler sex, the tapering fingers, with their
costly garniture, proclaimed her a lady while the majestic figure soon
after exhibited outside, on the top of the stairway that led down to the
garden, could be no other than that of Louise Poindexter.

It was she.

For a second, or two, the lady stood listening. She heard, or fancied
she heard, the dip of an oar. She might be mistaken for the stridulation
of the cicadas, filled the atmosphere with confused sound. No matter.
The hour of assignation had arrived and she was not the one to stand
upon punctilios as to time, especially after spending two hours of
solitary expectation in her chamber that had appeared like as many days.

With noiseless tread descending the stone stairway, she glided
sylph-like among the statues and shrubs unto, arriving under the shadow
of the cotton wood, she flung herself into arms eagerly outstretched to
receive her.

Who can describe the sweetness of such embrace, strange to say, sweeter
from being stolen? Who can paint the delicious emotions experienced at
such a moment too sacred to be touched by the pen?

It is only after long throes of pleasure had passed, and the lovers had
begun to converse in the more sober language of life, that it becomes
proper, or even possible to report them.

Thus did they speak to each other, the lady taking the initiative:

"Tomorrow night, you will meet me again tomorrow night, dearest
Maurice?"

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow--if I were free to say the word."

"And why not? Why are you not free to say it?"

"Tomorrow, by break of day, I am off for the Alamo."

"Indeed! Is it imperative you should go?"

The interrogatory was put in a tone that betrayed displeasure. A vision
of a sinister kind always came before the mind of Louise Poindexter at
mention of the lone hut on the Alamo.

And why? It had afforded her hospitality. One would suppose that her
visit to it, could scarce fail to be one of the pleasantest
recollections of her life. And yet it was not!

"I have excellent reasons for going," was the reply she received.

"Excellent reasons! Do you expect to meet any one there?"

"My follower Phelim, no one else. I hope the poor fellow is still above
the grass. I sent him out, about ten days ago, before there was any
tidings of these Indian troubles."

"Only Phelim you expect to meet? Is it true, Gerald? Dearest! Do not
deceive me! Only him?"

"Why do you ask the question, Louise?"

"I cannot tell you why. I should die of shame to speak my secret
thoughts."

"Do not fear to speak them! I could keep no secret from you, in truth, I
could not. So tell me' what it is, love!"

"Do you wish me, Maurice?"

"I do, of course I do. I feel sure that whatever it may be, I shall be
able to explain it. I know that my relations with you are of a
questionable character, or might be so deemed, if the world knew of
them. It is for that very reason I am going back to the Alamo."

"And to stay there?"

"Only for a single day or two, at most. Only to gather up my household
goods, and bid a last adieu to my prairie life."

"Indeed!"

"You appear surprised?"

"No! Only mystified. I cannot comprehend you. Perhaps I never shall!"

"Tis very simple, the resolve I have taken. I know you will forgive me,
when I make it known to you."

"Forgive you, Maurice! For what do you ask forgiveness?"

"For keeping it a secret from you, that--that I am not what I seem."

"God forbid, you should be otherwise than what you seem to me noble,
grand, beautiful, rare among men! Oh, Maurice! You know not how I
esteem, how I love you!"

"Not more than I esteem and love you. It is that very esteem that now
counsels me to a separation."

"A separation?"

"Yes love, but it is to be hoped, only for a short time."

"How long?"

"While a steamer can cross the Atlantic, and return."

"An age! And why this?"

"I am called to my native country Ireland, so much despised, as you
already know. 'Tis only within the last twenty hours, I received the
summons. I obey it the more eagerly, that it tells me I shall be able
soon to return, and prove to your proud father that the poor
horse-hunter who won his daughter's heart, have I won it, Louise?"

"Idle questioner! Won it? You know you have more than won it, conquered
it to a subjection from which it can never escape. Mock me not, Maurice,
or my stricken heart henceforth, and for evermore, your slave!"

During the rapturous embrace that followed this passionate speech, by
which a highborn and beautiful maiden confessed to having surrendered
herself heart, soul, and body to the man who had made conquest of her
affections, there was silence perfect and profound.

The grasshopper amid the green herbage, the cicada on the tree leaf, the
mock bird on the top of the tall cotton wood, and the nightjar soaring
still higher in the moonlit air, apparently actuated by a simultaneous
instinct, ceased to give utterance to their peculiar cries as though one
and all, by their silence, designed to do honor to the sacred ceremony
transpiring in their presence!

But that temporary cessation of sounds was due to a different cause. A
footstep grating upon the graveled walk of the garden and yet touching
it so lightly, that only an acute ear could have perceived, the contact
was the real cause why the nocturnal voices had suddenly become stilled.

The lovers, absorbed in the sweet interchange of a mutual affection,
heard it not. They saw not that dark shadow, in the shape of man or
devil, flitting among the flowers now standing by a statue, now cowering
under cover of the shrubbery, until at length it became stationary
behind the trunk of a tree, scarce ten paces from the spot where they
were kissing each other!

Little did they suspect, in that moment of celestial happiness when all
nature was hushed around them, that the silence was exposing their
passionate speeches, and the treacherous moon, at the same time,
betraying their excited actions.

That shadowy listener, crouching guilty like behind the tree, was a
witness to both. Within easy earshot, he could hear every word even the
sighs and soft low murmurings of their love while under the silvery
light of the moon, with scarce a sprig coming between, he could detect
their slightest gestures.

It is scarce necessary to give the name of the dastardly eavesdropper.
That of Cassius Calhoun will have suggested itself.

It was he.



33. A TORTURING DISCOVERY.


How came the cousin of Louise Poindexter to be astir at that late hour
of the night, or, as it was now, the earliest of the morning? Had he
been forewarned of this interview of the lovers or was it merely some
instinctive suspicion that had caused him to forsake his sleeping
chamber, and make a tour of inspection within the precincts of the
garden?

In other words, was he an eavesdropper by accident, or a spy acting upon
information previously communicated to him?

The former was the fact. Chance alone, or chance aided by a clear night,
had given him the clue to a discovery that now filled his soul with the
fires of hell.

Standing upon the house-top at the hour of midnight, what had taken him
up there cannot be guessed, breathing vile tobacco smoke into an
atmosphere before perfumed with the scent of the night blooming cereus,
the ex-captain of cavalry did not appear distressed by any particular
anxiety. He had recovered from the injuries received in his encounter
with the mustanger and although that bit of evil fortune did not fail to
excite within him the blackest chagrin, whenever it came up before his
mind, its bitterness had been, to some extent, counteracted by hopes of
revenge towards a plan for which he had already made some progress.

Equally with her father, he had been gratified that Louise was contented
of late to stay within doors, for it was himself who had secretly
suggested the prohibition to her going abroad. Equally had he remained
ignorant as to the motive of that garden archery, and in a similar
manner had misconceived it. In fact he had begun to flatter himself,
that, after all, her indifference to himself might be only a feint on
the part of his cousin, or an illusion upon his. She had been less
cynical for some days and this had produced upon him the pleasant
impression, that he might have been mistaken in his jealous fears.

He had as yet discovered no positive proof that she entertained a
partiality for the young Irishman and as the days passed without any
renewed cause for disquiet, he began to believe that in reality there
was none.

Under the soothing influence of this restored confidence, had he mounted
up to the azotea and, although it was the hour of midnight, the careless
insouciance with which he applied the light to his cigar, and afterwards
stood smoking it, showed that he could not have come there for any very
important purpose. It may have been to exchange the sultry atmosphere of
his sleeping room, for the fresher air outside or he may have been
tempted forth by the magnificent moon, though he was not much given to
such romantic contemplation.

Whatever it was, he had lighted his cigar, and was apparently enjoying
it, with his arms crossed upon the coping of the parapet, and his face
turned towards the river.

It did not disturb his tranquility to see a horseman ride out from the
chapparal on the opposite side, and proceed onward across the open
plain.

He knew of the road that was there. Some traveler, he supposed, who
preferred taking advantage of the cool hours of the night a night, too,
that would have tempted the weariest wayfarer to continue his journey.
It might be a planter who lived below, returning home from the village,
after lounging a hoar too long in the tavern saloon.

In daytime, the individual might have been identified by the moonlight,
it could only be made out that there was a man on horseback.

The eyes of the ex-officer accompanied him as he trotted along the road,
but simply with mechanical movement, as one musingly contemplates some
common waif drifting down the current of a river.

It was only after the horseman had arrived opposite the island of
timber, and was seen to pull up, and then ride into it, that the
spectator upon the house-top became stirred to take an interest in his
movements.

"What the devil can that mean?" muttered Calhoun to himself, as he
hastily plucked the cigar stump from between his teeth. "Damn the man,
he's dismounted!" continued he, as the stranger re-appeared, on foot, by
the inner edge of the copse.

"And coming this way, towards the bend of the river straight as he can
streak it!

"Down the bluff into the bottom and with a stride that shows him well
acquainted with the way. Surely to God be don't intend making his way
across into the garden? He'd have to swim for that and anything he could
get there would scarce pay him for his pains. What the old Scratch can
be his intention? A thief?"

This was Calhoun's first idea rejected almost as soon as conceived. It
is true that in Spanish-American countries even the beggar goes on
horseback. Much more might the thief?

For all this, it was scarce probable, that a man would make a midnight
expedition to steal fruit, or vegetables, in such cavalier style.

What else could he be after?

The odd maneuver of leaving his horse under cover of the copse, and
coming forward on foot, and apparently with caution, as far as could be
seen in the uncertain light, was of itself evidence that the man's
errand could scarce be honest, and that he was approaching the premises
of Casa del Corvo with some evil design.

What could it be?

Since leaving the upper plain, he had been no longer visible to Calhoun
upon the house-top. The underwood skirting, the stream on the opposite
side, and into which he had entered, was concealing him.

"What can the man be after?"

After putting this interrogatory to himself, and for about the tenth
time each with increasing emphasis the composure of the ex-captain was
still further disturbed by a sound that reached his ear, exceedingly
like a plunge in the river. It was slight, but clearly the concussion of
some hard substance brought in contact with water.

"The stroke of an oar," muttered he, on hearing it. "Is, by the holy
Jehovah! He's got hold of the skiff, and is crossing over to the garden.
What on earth can he be after?"

The questioner did not intend staying on the house-top to determine. His
thought was to slip silently downstairs, rouse the male members of the
family, along with some of the servants; and attempt to capture the
intruder by a clever ambuscade.

He had raised his arm from the copestone, and was in the act of stepping
back from the parapet, when his ear was saluted by another sound, that
caused him again to lean forward and look into the garden below.

This new noise, bore no resemblance to the stroke of an oar, nor did it
proceed from the direction of the river. It was the creaking of a door
as it turned upon its hinge, or, what is much the same, a casement
window while it came from below almost directly underneath the spot
where the listener stood.

On craning over to ascertain the cause, he saw, what blanched his cheeks
to the whiteness of the moonlight that shone upon them what sent the
blood curdling through every corner of his heart.

The casement that had been opened, was that which belonged to the
bed-chamber of his cousin Louise. He knew it. The lady herself was
standing outside upon the steps that led to the level of the garden, her
face turned downward, as if she was meditating a descent.

Loosely attired in white, as though in the negligé of a robe de chambre,
with only a small kerchief coifed over her crown, she resembled some
fair nymph of the night, some daughter of the moon, whom Luna delighted
to surround with a silvery effulgence!

Calhoun reasoned rapidly. He could not do otherwise than connect her
appearance outside the casement with the advent of the man who was
making his way across the river.

And who could this man be? Who but Maurice the mustanger?

A clandestine meeting! And by appointment!

There could be no doubt of it and if there had, it would have been
dissolved, at seeing the white robed figure glide noiselessly down the
stone steps, and along the graveled walks, till it at length disappeared
among the trees that shadowed the mooring place of the skiff.

Like one paralyzed with a powerful stroke, the ex-captain continued for
some time upon the azotea, speechless and without motion. It was only
after the white drapery had disappeared, and he heard the low murmur of
voices rising from among the trees, that he was stimulated to resolve
upon some course of proceeding.

He thought no longer of awaking the inmates of the house at least not
then. Better first to be himself the sole witness of his cousin's
disgrace and then and then--

In short, he was not in a state of mind to form any definite plan and,
acting solely under the blind stimulus of a fell instinct, he hurried
down the escalera, and made his way through the house, and out into the
garden.

He felt feeble as he pressed forward. His legs had tottered under him
while descending the stone steps. They did the same as he glided along
the graveled walk. They continued to tremble as he crouched behind the
tree trunk that hindered him from being seen while playing spectator of
a scene that afflicted him to the utmost depths of his soul.

He heard their vows, their mutual confessions of love, the determination
of the mustanger to be gone by the break of the morrow's day, as also
his promise to return, and the revelation to which that promise led.

With bitter chagrin, he heard how this determination was combated by
Louise, and the reasons why she at length appeared to consent to it.

He was witness to that final and rapturous embrace, which caused him to
strike his foot nervously against the pebbles, and make that noise that
had scared the cicadas into silence.

Why at that moment, did he not spring forward put a termination to the
intolerable tète-a-tète and with a blow of his bowie knife lay his rival
low at his own feet and that of his mistress? Why had he not done this
at the beginning for to him there needed no further evidence, than the
interview itself, to prove that his cousin had been dishonored?

There was a time when he would not have been so patient. What, then, was
the punctilio that restrained him? Was it the presence of that piece of
perfect mechanism', that, with a sheen of steel, glistened upon the
person of his rival, and which, under the bright moonbeams, could be
distinguished as a "Colt's six shooter?"

Perhaps it may have been. At all events, despite the terrible temptation
to which his soul was submitted, something not only hindered him from
taking an immediate vengeance, but in the mid-moments of that maddening
spectacle, the final embrace prompted him to turn away from the spot,
and with an earnestness, even keener than he had yet exhibited, hurry
back in the direction of the house leaving the lovers, still unconscious
of having been observed, to bring their sweet interview to an ending
sure to be procrastinated.



34. A CHIVALROUS DICTATION.


Where went Cassius Calhoun?

Certainly not to his own sleeping-room. There was no sleep for a spirit
suffering like his.

He went not there, but to the chamber of his cousin. Not hers, now
untenanted, with its couch unoccupied, its coverlet undisturbed but to
that of her brother, young Henry Poindexter.

He went direct as crooked corridors would permit him in haste, without
waiting to avail him of the assistance of a candle.

It was not needed. The moonbeams penetrating through the open bars of
the reja, filled the chamber with light sufficient for his purpose. They
disclosed the outlines of the apartment, with its simple furniture a
washstand, a dressing table, a couple of chairs, and a bed with
"mosquito curtains."

Under these last was the youth reclining in that sweet silent slumber
experienced only by the innocent. His finely formed head rested calmly
upon the pillow, over which lay scattered a profusion of shining curls.

As Calhoun lifted the muslin "bar," the moonbeams fell upon his face,
displaying its outlines of the manliest aristocratic type.

What a contrast between those two sets of features, brought into such
close proximity! Both physically handsome, but morally, as Hyperion to
the Satyr.

"Awake, Harry! Awake!" was the abrupt salutation extended to the
sleeper, accompanied by a violent shaking of his shoulder.

"Oh! Ah! You, cousin Cash? What is it? Not the Indians, I hope?"

"Worse than that, worse! Worse! Quick! Rouse yourself and see! Quick, or
it will be too late! Quick, and be the witness of your own disgrace, the
dishonor of your house. Quick or the name of Poindexter will be the
laughing stock of Texas!"

After such summons, there could be no inclination for sleep, at least on
the part of a Poindexter and at a single bound, the youngest
representative of the family, cleared the mosquito curtains, and stood
upon his feet in the middle of the floor in an attitude of speechless
astonishment.

"Don't wait to dress," cried his excited counselor, "stay, you may put
on your pants. Damn the clothes! There's no time for standing upon
trifles. Quick! Quick!"

The simple costume the young planter was accustomed to wear, consisting
of trousers and Creole blouse of Attakapas cottonade, were adjusted to
his person in less than twenty seconds of time and in twenty more,
obedient to the command of his cousin, without understanding why he had
been so unceremoniously summoned forth he was hurrying along the
graveled walks of the garden.

"What is it, Cash?" he inquired, as soon as the latter showed signs of
coming to a stop. "What does it all mean?"

"See for yourself! Stand close to me! Look through yonder opening in the
trees, which leads down to the place where your skiff is kept. Do you
see anything there?"

"Something white. It looks like a woman's dress. It is that. It's a
woman!"

"It is a woman. Who do you suppose she is?"

"I can't tell. Who do you say she is?"

"There's another figure a dark one by her side."

"It appears to be a man? It is a man!"

"And who do you suppose he is?"

"How should I know, cousin Cash? Do you?"

"I do. That man is Maurice the mustanger!"

"And the woman?"

"Is Louise, your sister in his arms!"

As if a shot had struck him through the heart, the brother bounded
upward, and then onward, along the path.

"Stay!" said Calhoun, catching hold of, and restraining him. "You forget
that you are unarmed! The fellow, I know, has weapons upon him. Take
this, and this," continued he, passing his own knife and pistol into the
hands of his cousin. "I should have used them myself, long ere this, but
I thought it better that you her brother should be the avenger of your
sister's wrongs. On, my boy! See that you don't hurt her, but take care
not to lose the chance at him. Don't give him a word of warning. As soon
as they are separated, send a bullet into his belly and if all six
should fail, go at him with the knife. I'll stay near, and take care of
you, if you should get into danger. Now! Steal upon him, and give the
scoundrel hell!"

It needed not this blasphemous injunction, to inspire Henry Poindexter
to hasty action. The brother of a sister a beautiful sister erring,
undone!

In six seconds he was by her side, confronting her supposed seducer.

"Low villain!" he cried, "unclasp your loathsome arm from the waist of
my sister. Louise! Stand aside, and give me a chance of killing him!
Aside, sister! Aside, I say!"

Had the command been obeyed, it is probable that Maurice Gerald would at
that moment have ceased to exist, unless he had found heart to kill
Henry Poindexter which, experienced as he was in the use of his six
shooter, and prompt in its manipulation, he might have done.

Instead of drawing the pistol from its holster, or taking any steps for
defense, he appeared only desirous of disengaging himself from the fair
arms still clinging around him, and for whose owner he alone felt alarm.

For Henry to fire at the supposed betrayer, was to risk taking his
sister's life; and, restrained by the fear of this, he paused before
pulling trigger.

That pause produced a crisis favorable to the safety of all three, the
Creole girl, with a quick perception of the circumstances, suddenly
released her lover from the protecting embrace and, almost in the same
instant, threw her arms around those of her brother. She knew there was
nothing to be apprehended from the pistol of Maurice. Henry alone had to
be held doing mischief.

"Go, go!" she shouted to the former, while struggling to restrain the
infuriated youth. "My brother is deceived by appearances. Leave me to
explain. Away, Maurice! Away!"

"Henry Poindexter," said the young Irishman, as he turned to obey the
friendly command, "I am not the sort of villain you have been pleased to
pronounce me. Give me but time, and I shall prove, that your sister has
formed a truer estimate of my character than, her father, brother, or
cousin. I claim but six months. If at the end of that time I do not show
myself worthy of her confidence her love then shall I make you welcome
to shoot me at sight, as you would the cowardly coyote, that chanced to
cross your track. Till then, I bid you adieu."

Henry's struggle to escape from his sister's arms perhaps stronger than
ms own grew less energetic as he listened to these words. They became
feebler and feebler at length ceasing when a plunge in the river
announced that the midnight intruder into the enclosed grounds of Casa
del Corvo was on his way back to the wild prairies he had chosen for his
home.

It was the first time he had re-crossed the river in that primitive
fashion. On the two previous occasions he had passed over in the skiff,
which had been drawn back to its moorings by a delicate hand, the tow
rope consisting of that tiny lasso that had formed part of the caparison
presented along with the spotted mustang.

"Brother! You are wronging him! Indeed you are wronging him!" were the
words of expostulation that .followed close upon his departure. "Oh,
Henry dearest Hal, if you but knew how noble he is! So far from desiring
to do me an injury, 'tis only this moment he has been disclosing a plan
to prevent scandal, I mean to make me happy. Believe me, brother, he is
a gentleman and if he were not, if only the common man you take him for,
I could not help what I have done, I could not, for I love him!"

"Louise! Tell me the truth! Speak to me, not as to your brother, but as
to your own self. From what I have this night seen, more than from your
own words, I know that you love this man. Has he taken advantage of
your, your unfortunate passion?"

"No-no-no. As I live he has not. He is too noble for that, even had I,
Henry! He is innocent! If there be cause for regret, I alone am to
blame. Why-oh! Brother! Why did you insult him?"

"Have I done so?"

"You have Henry, rudely, grossly."

"I shall go after, and apologize. If you speak truly, sister, I owe him
that much. I shall go this instant. I liked him from the first you know
I did? I could not believe him capable of a cowardly act. I can't now.
Sister! Come back into the house with me. And now, dearest Loo! You had
better go to bed. As for me, I shall be off instanter to the hotel,
where I may still hope to overtake him. I cannot rest till I have made
reparation for my rudeness."

So spoke the forgiving brother and gently leading his sister by the
hand, with thoughts of compassion, but not the slightest trace of anger,
he hastily returned to the hacienda intending to go after the young
Irishman, and apologize for the use of words that, under the
circumstances, might have been deemed excusable.

As the two disappeared within the doorway, a third figure, hitherto
crouching among the shrubbery, was seen to rise erect, and follow them
up the stone steps. This last was their cousin, Cassius Calhoun.

He, too, had thoughts of going after the mustanger.



35. AN UN COURTEOUS HOST.


"The chicken hearted fool! Fool myself, to have trusted to such a hope!
I might have known she'd cajole the young calf, and let the scoundrel
escape. I could have shot him from behind the tree, dead as a drowned
rat! And without risking anything, even disgrace! Not a particle of
risk. Uncle Woodley would have thanked me; the whole settlement would
have said I had done right. My cousin, a young lady betrayed by a common
scamp, a horse trader, who would have said a word against it? Such a
chance! Why have I missed it? Death and the devil it may not trump up
again!"

Such were the reflections of the ex-captain of cavalry, while at some
paces distance following his two cousins on their return to the
hacienda.

"I wonder," muttered he, on re-entering the patio, "whether the
blubbering baby be in earnest? Going after to apologize to the man who
has made a fool of his sister! Ha-ha! It would be a good joke were it
not too serious to be laughed at. He is in earnest, else why that row in
the stable? 'Tis he bringing out his horse! It is, by the Almighty!"

The door of the stable, as is customary in Mexican haciendas, opened
upon the paved patio.

It was standing ajar, but just as Calhoun turned his eyes upon it, a man
coming from the inside pushed it wide open and then stepped over the
threshold, with a saddled horse following close after him.

The man had a Panama hat upon his head, and a cloak thrown loosely
around his shoulders. This did not hinder Calhoun from recognizing his
cousin Henry, as also the dark brown horse that belonged to him.

"Fool! So you've let him off?" spitefully muttered the ex-captain, as
the other came within whispering distance. "Give me back my bowie and
pistol. They're not toys suited to such delicate fingers as yours! Bah!
Why did you not use them as I told you? You've made a mess of it!"

"I have," tranquilly responded the young planter. "I know it. I've
insulted and grossly too a noble fellow."

"Insulted a noble fellow! Ha-ha-ha! You're mad, by heavens, you're mad!"

"I should have been, had I followed your counsel, cousin Cash.
Fortunately I did not go so far. I have done enough to deserve being
called worse than fool though perhaps, under the circumstances, I may
obtain forgiveness for my fault. At all events, I intend to try for it,
and without losing time."

"Where are you going?"

"After Maurice the mustanger to apologize to him for my misconduct."

"Misconduct! Ha-ha-ha! Surely you are joking?"

"No. I'm in earnest. If you come along with me, you shall see!"

"Then I say again you are mad! Not only mad, but a natural born idiot!
You are, by Jesus Christ and General Jackson!"

"You're not very polite, cousin Cash though, after the language I've
been lately using myself, I might excuse you. Perhaps you will one day
imitate me, and make amends for your rudeness."

Without adding another word, the young gentleman one of the somewhat
rare types of Southern chivalry, sprang to his saddle gave the word to
his horse and rode hurriedly through the saguan.

Calhoun stood upon the stones, till the footfall of the horse became but
faintly distinguishable in the distance.

Then, as if acting under some sudden impulse, he hurried along the
verandah to his own room entered, it reappeared in a rough overcoat,
crossed back to the stable, went in, came out again with his own horse
saddled and bridled led the animal along the pavement, as gently as if
he was stealing him and once outside upon the turf, sprang upon his
back, and rode rapidly away.

For a mile or more he followed the same road that had been taken by
Henry Poindexter. It could not have been with any idea of overtaking the
latter since, long before, the hoof strokes of Henry's horse had ceased
to be heard and proceeding at a slower pace, Calhoun did not ride as if
he cared about catching up with his cousin.

He had taken the up river road. When about midway between Casa del Corvo
and the Fort, he reined up and after scrutinizing the chapparal around
him, struck off by a bridle path leading back toward the bank of the
river. As he turned into it he might have been heard muttering to
himself--

"A chance still left, a good one, though not so cheap as the other. It
will cost me a thousand dollars. What of that, as long as I get rid of
this Irish curse, who has poisoned every hour of my existence! If true
to his promise, he takes the route to his home by an early hour in the
morning. What time, I wonder. These men of the prairies call it late
rising, if they be abed till daybreak! Never mind. There's yet time for
the Coyote to get before him on the road! I know that. It must be the
same as we followed to the wild horse prairies. He spoke of his hut upon
the Alamo. That's the name of the creek, where we had our picnic. The
hovel cannot be far from here! The Mexican must know the place, or the
trail leading to it, which last will be sufficient for his purpose and
mine. A fig for the shanty itself! The owner may never reach it. There
may be Indians upon the road! There must be, before daybreak in the
morning!"

As Calhoun concluded this string of strange reflections, he had arrived
at the door of another "shanty" that of the Mexican mustanger. The
jacalé was the goal of his journey.

Having slipped out of his saddle, and knotted his bridle to a branch, he
set foot upon the threshold.

The door was standing wide open. From the inside proceeded a sound,
easily identified as the snore of a slumberer.

It was not as of one who sleeps either tranquilly, or continuously. At
short intervals it was interrupted now by silent pauses, anon by
hog-like grunting, interspersed with profane words, not perfectly
pronounced, but slurred from a thick tongue, over which, but a short
while before, must have passed a stupendous quantity of alcohol.

"Carrambo! Carrai! Carajo-chingara! Mil diablos!" mingled with more,
perhaps less reverential exclamations of, "Sangre de Cristo! Jesus!
Santissima Virgen! Santa Maria! Dios! Madre de Dios!" and the like, were
uttered inside the jacalé, as if the speaker was engaged in an
apostrophic conversation with all the principal characters of the Popish
Pantheon.

Calhoun paused upon the threshold, and listened.

"Mai-dit-dit-o!" muttered the sleeper, concluding the exclamation with a
hiccup. "Buen-buenos nove-dad-es! Good news, por sangre
Chrees-Chreest-o! Si S'nor Merican-cano! Nove-dad-es s'perbos! Los
Indyos Co-co-manchees on the war-trail, el rastro de guerra. God bless
the Comanchees!"

"The brute's drunk!" said his visitor, mechanically speaking aloud.

"H'la S'nor!" exclaimed the owner of the jacalé, aroused to a state of
semi-consciousness by the sound of a human voice. "Quien llama! Who has
the honor that is, have I the happiness I, Miguel Diaz-el Co-coyote, as
the leperos call me. Ha, ha! Coyo-coyot. Bah! What's in a name? Yours,
S'nor? Mil-demonios! Who are you?"

Partially raising himself from his reed couch, the inebriate remained
for a short time in a sitting attitude glaring, half interrogatively,
half unconsciously, at the individual whose voice had intruded into his
drunken dreams.

The unsteady examination lasted only for a score of seconds. Then the
owner of the jacalé, with an unintelligible speech, subsided into a
recumbent position when a savage grunt, succeeded by a prolonged snore,
proved him to have become oblivious to the fact that his domicile
contained a guest.

"Another chance lost!" said the latter, hissing the words through his
teeth, as he turned disappointedly from the door. "A sober fool and a
drunken knave, two precious tools where-with to accomplish a purpose
like mine! Curse the luck! All this night it's been against me! It may
be three long hours before this pig sleeps off the swill that has
stupefied him. Three long hours, and then what would be the use of him?
'Twould be too late, too late!"

As he said this, he caught the rein of his bridle, and stood by the head
of his horse, as if uncertain what course to pursue.

"No use my staying here! It might be daybreak before the damned liquor
gets out of his skull. I may as well go back to the hacienda and wait
there; or else--or else--"

The alternative, that at this crisis presented itself, was not spoken
aloud. Whatever it may have been, it had the effect of terminating the
hesitancy that hung over him, and stirring him to immediate action.

Roughly tearing his rein from the branch, and passing it over his
horse's head, he sprang into the saddle, and rode off from the jacalé in
a direction, the very opposite to that in which he had approached it.



36. THREE TRAVELLERS ON THE SAME TRACK.


No one can deny that a ride upon a smooth surfed prairie, is one of the
most positive pleasures of sublunary existence. No one will deny it,
which has had the good fortune to experience the delightful sensation.
With a spirited horse between your thighs, a well-stocked valise
strapped to the cantle of your saddle, a flask of French brandy slung
handy over the "horn," and a plethoric cigar-case protruding from under
the flap of your pistol holster, you may set forth upon a day's journey,
without much fear of feeling weary by the way.

A friend riding by your side like yourself alive to the beauties of
nature, and sensitive to its sublimities will make the ride, though
long, and otherwise arduous, a pleasure to be remembered for many, many
years.

If that friend chance to be some fair creature, upon which you have
fixed your affections, then will you experience a delight to remain in
your memory for ever.

Ah! if all prairie travelers were to be favored with such companionship,
the wilderness of Western Texas would soon become crowded with tourists,
the great plains would cease to be "pathless," the savannas would swarm
with snobs.

"Tis better as it is. As it is, you may launch yourself upon the prairie
and once beyond the precincts of the settlement from which you have
started, unless you keep to the customary road," indicated only by the
hoof-prints of half a dozen horsemen who have preceded you may ride on
for hours, days, weeks, months, perhaps a whole year, without
encountering aught that bears the slightest resemblance to yourself, or
the image in which you have been made.

Only those who have traversed the great plain of Texas can form a true
estimate of its illimitable vastness, impressing the mind with
sensations similar to those we feel in the contemplation of infinity.

In some sense may the mariner comprehend my meaning. Just as a ship may
cross the Atlantic Ocean and in tracks most frequented by sailing craft
without sighting a single sail, so upon the prairies of South-western
Texas, the traveler may journey on for months, amid a solitude that
seems eternal!

Even the ocean itself does not give such an impression of endless space.
Moving in its midst you perceive no change no sign to tell you that you
are progressing. The broad circular surface of azure blue, with the
concave hemisphere of a tint, but a few shades lighter, are always
around and above you, seeming ever the same. You think they are so and
fancy yourself, at rest in the centre of a sphere and a circle. You are
thus to some extent hindered from having a clear conception of
"magnificent distances."

On the prairie it is different. The "landmarks" there are such, in the
shape of "mottes," mounds, trees, ridges, and rocks constantly changing
before your view, admonish you that you are passing through space and
this very knowledge imbues you with the idea of vastness.

It is rare for the prairie traveler to contemplate such scenes alone
rarer still upon the plains of South-western Texas. In twos at least,
but oftener in companies of ten or a score, go those who need it to
tempt the perils of that wilderness claimed by the Comanches as
ancestral soil.

For all this, a solitary traveler may at times be encountered: for on
the same night that witnessed the tender and stormy scenes in the garden
of Casa del Corvo, no less than three such made the crossing of the
plain that stretches south westward from the banks of the Leona River.

Just at the time that Calhoun was making his discontented departure from
the jacalé of the Mexican mustanger, the foremost of these nocturnal
travelers was clearing the outskirts of the village going in a direction
which, if followed far enough, would conduct him to the Nueces River, or
one of its tributary streams.

It is scarcely necessary to say, that he was on horseback. In Texas
there are no pedestrians, beyond the precincts of the town or
plantation.

The traveler in question bestrode a strong steed; whose tread, at once
vigorous and elastic, proclaimed it capable of carrying its rider
through a long journey, without danger of breaking down.

Whether such a journey was intended, could not have been told by the
bearing of the traveler himself. He was equipped, as any Texan cavalier
might have been, for a ten mile ride, perhaps to his own house. The
lateness of the hour forbade the supposition that he could be going from
it. The serapé on his shoulders somewhat carelessly hanging might have
been only put on to protect them against the dews of the night.

But as there was no dew on that particular night, or any outlying
settlement in the direction he was heading, to the horseman was more
like to have been a real traveler, en route for some distant point upon
the prairies.

For all this, he did not appear to be in haste or uneasy as to the hour
at which he might reach his destination.

On the contrary, he seemed absorbed in some thought, which linked itself
with the past sufficiently engrossing to render him unobservant of
outward objects, and negligent in the management of his horse.

The latter, with the rein lying loosely upon his neck, was left to take
his own way though instead of stopping, or straying, he kept steadily
on, as if over ground oft trodden before.

Thus leaving the animal to its own guidance and pressing it neither with
whip nor spur, the traveler rode tranquilly over the prairie, till lost
to view not by the intervention of any object, but solely through the
dimness of the light, where the moon became misty in the far distance.

Almost on the instant of his disappearance and as if the latter had been
taken for a cue, a second horseman spurred out from the suburbs of the
village and proceeded along the same path.

From the fact of his being habited in a fashion to defend him against
the chill air of the night, he too might have been taken for a traveler.

A cloak clasped across his breast hung over his shoulders, its ample
skirts draping backward to the hips of his horse.

Unlike the horseman who had preceded him, he showed signs of haste
plying both whip and spur as he pressed on.

He appeared intent on overtaking some one. It might be the individual
whose form had just faded out of sight?

This was all the more probable from the style of his equitation at short
intervals bending forward in his saddle, and scanning the horizon before
him, as if expecting to see some form outlined above the line of the
sky.

Continuing to advance in this peculiar fashion, he also disappeared from
view exactly at the same point, where his precursor had ceased to be
visible to any one whose gaze might have been following him from the
Fort or village. An odd contingency, if such it were that just at that
very instant a third horseman rode forth from the outskirts of the
little Texan town, and, like the other two, continued advancing in a
direct line across the prairie.

He, also, was costumed as if for a journey. A "blanket coat" of scarlet
color shrouded most of his person from sight its ample skirts spread
over his thighs, half concealing a short jager rifle, strapped aslant
along the flap of his saddle.

Like the foremost of the three, he exhibited no signs of a desire to
move rapidly along the road. He was proceeding at a slow pace, even for
a traveler. For all that, his manner betokened a state of mind far from
tranquil and in this respect he might be likened to the horseman who had
more immediately preceded him.

But there was an essential difference between the actions of the two
men. Whereas the cloaked cavalier appeared desirous of overtaking some
one in advance, he in the red blanket coat seemed altogether to occupy
himself in reconnoitring towards his rear.

At intervals he would slue himself round in the stirrups, sometimes half
turn his horse and scan the track over which he had passed all the while
listening, as though he expected to hear some one who should be coming
after him.

Still keeping up this singular surveillance, he likewise in due time
reached the point of disappearance, without having overtaken any one, or
been himself overtaken.

Though at nearly equal distances apart while making the passage of the
prairie, not one of the three horsemen was within sight of either of
the' others. The second, half way between the other two, was beyond
reach of the vision of either, as they were beyond his.

At the same glance no eye could have taken in all three, or any two of
them unless it had been that of the great Texan owl perched upon the
summit of some high eminence, or the "whip-poor-will" soaring still
higher in pursuit of the moon loving moth.

An hour later, and at a point of the prairie ten miles farther from Fort
Inge, the relative positions of the three travelers had undergone a
considerable change.

The foremost was just entering into a sort of alley, or gap in the
chapparal forest, which here extended right and left across the plain,
for as the eyes could trace it. The alley might have been likened to a
strait in the sea, its smooth surfed surface contrasting with the darker
foliage of the bordering thickets, as water with dry land. It was
illumined throughout a part of its length a half mile or so the moon
showing at its opposite extremity. Beyond this the dark tree line closed
it in, where it angled round into somber shadow.

Before entering the alley, the foremost of the trio of travelers, and
for the first time, exhibited signs of hesitation. He reined up; and for
a second or two sate in his saddle regarding the ground before him. His
attention was altogether directed to the opening through the trees in
his front. He made no attempt at reconnoitring his rear.

His scrutiny, from whatever cause, was of short continuance.

Seemingly satisfied, he muttered an injunction to his horse, and rode
onward into the gap.

Though he saw not him, he was seen by the cavalier in the cloak,
following upon the same track, and now scarce half a mile behind.

The latter, on beholding him, gave utterance to a slight exclamation.

It was joyful, nevertheless as if he was gratified by the prospect of at
length overtaking the individual whom he had been for ten miles so
earnestly pursuing.

Spurring his horse to a still more rapid pace, he also entered the
opening but only in time to get a glimpse of the other, just passing
under the shadow of the trees, at the point where the avenue angled.

Without hesitation, he rode after soon disappearing at the same place,
and in a similar manner.

It was a longer interval before the third and hindmost of the horsemen
approached the pass, which led through the chapparal.

He did approach it, however but instead of riding into it, as the others
had done, he turned off at an angle towards the edge of the timber and,
after leaving his horse among the trees, crossed a corner of the
thicket, and came out into the opening on foot.

Keeping along it to all appearance still more solicitous about something
that might be in his rear than anything that was in front of him he at
length arrived at the shadowy turning where, like the two others, he
abruptly disappeared in the darkness.

An hour elapsed, during which the nocturnal voices of the chapparal that
had been twice temporarily silenced by the hoof stroke of a horse, and
once by the footsteps of a man had kept up their choral cries by a
thousand stereotyped repetitions.

Then there came a further interruption more abrupt in its commencement,
and of longer continuance. It was caused by a sound, very different from
that made by the passage of either horseman or pedestrian over the
prairie turf.

It was the report of a gun, quick, sharp, and clear the "bang" that
denotes the discharge of a rifle.

As to the authoritative wave of the conductor's baton the orchestra
yields instant obedience, so did the prairie minstrels simultaneously
take their cue from that abrupt detonation that inspired one and all of
them with a peculiar awe.

The tiger cat miaulling in the midst of the chapparal, the coyote
howling along its skirts, even the jaguar who need not fear any forest
foe that might approach him, acknowledged his dread of that quick, sharp
explosion to him unexplainable by instantly discontinuing his cries.

As no other sound succeeded the shot, neither the groan of a wounded
man, nor the scream of a stricken animal, the jaguar soon recovered
confidence, and once more essayed to frighten the denizens of the
thicket with his hoarse growling.

Friends and enemies birds, beasts, insects, and reptiles disregarding
his voice in the distance, reassumed the thread of their choral strain
until the chapparal was restored to its normal noisy condition, when two
individuals standing close together, can only hold converse by speaking
in the highest pitch of their voices!



37. A MAN MISSING.


The breakfast bell of Casa del Corvo had sounded its second and last
summons preceded by a still earlier signal from a horn, intended to call
in the stragglers from remote parts of the plantation.

The "field hands," laboring near, had collected around the "quarter" and
in groups, squatted upon the grass, or seated upon stray logs, were
discussing their diet by no means spare of "hog and hominy" corn-bread
and "corn-coffee," with a jocosity that proclaimed a keen relish of
these, their ordinary comestibles.

The planter's family assembled in the sala were about to begin
breakfast, when it was discovered that one of its members was missing.

Henry was the absent one.

At first there was but little notice taken of the circumstance. Only the
conjecture that he would shortly make his appearance.

As several minutes passed without his coming in, the planter quietly
observed that it was rather strange of Henry to be late, and wonder
where he could be.

The breakfast of the South-western American, is usually a well appointed
meal. It is eaten at a fixed hour and table-d-hóte fashion, all the
members of the family meeting at the table.

This habit is exacted by a sort of necessity, arising out of the nature
of some of the viands peculiar to the country many of which, as
"Virginia biscuit," "buckwheat cakes," and "waffles," are only relished
coming fresh from the fire, so that the hour when breakfast is being
eaten in the dining room, is that in which the cook is broiling her skin
in the kitchen.

As the laggard, or late riser, may have to put up with cold biscuit, and
no waffles or buckwheat cakes, there are few such on a Southern
plantation.

Considering this custom, it was somewhat strange, that Henry Poindexter
had not yet put in an appearance.

"Where can the boy be?'" asked his father, for the fourth time, in that
tone of mild conjecture that scarce calls for reply.

None was made by either of the other two guests at the table. Louise
only gave expression to a similar conjecture. For all that, there was
strangeness in her glance as in the tone of her voice that might have
been observed by one closely scrutinizing her features.

It could scarce be caused by the absence of her brother from the
breakfast table? The circumstance was too trifling to call up an emotion
and clearly at that moment was she subject to one.

What was it? No one put the inquiry. Her father did not notice anything
odd in her look. Much less Calhoun, who was himself markedly laboring to
conceal some disagreeable thought under the guise of an assumed naiveté.

Ever since entering the room he had maintained a studied silence keeping
his eyes averted, instead of, according to his usual custom, constantly
straying towards his cousin.

He sate nervously in his chair and once or twice might have been seen to
start, as a servant entered the room.

Beyond doubt he was under the influence of some extraordinary agitation.

"Very strange Henry not being here to his breakfast!" remarked the
planter, for about the tenth time. "Surely he is not abed till this
hour? No-no, he never lies so late. And yet if abroad, he couldn't be at
such a distance as not to have heard the horn. He may be in his room? It
is just possible. Pluto!"

"Ho-ho! d'ye call me, Mass' Woodley? I'se hya."

The sable coacher, acting as table waiter, was in the sala, hovering
around the chairs.

"Go to Henry's sleeping room. If he's there, tell him we're at breakfast
half through with it."

"He no dar, Mass' Woodley."

"You have been to his room?"

"Ho-ho! Yas. Dat am I'se no been to de room itseff but I'se been to de
'table, to look atter Massa Henry hoss; an gib um him fodder an' corn.
Ho-ho! Dat same ole hoss he ain't dar; nor han't a been all of dis
mornin'. I war up by de fuss skreek of day. No hoss dar, no saddle, no
bridle and of coass no Massa Henry. Ho-ho! He been an' gone out 'fore
anb'dy wor 'tirrin' 'bout de place."

"Are you sure?" asked the planter, seriously stirred by the
intelligence.

"Satin shoo, Mass' Woodley. Dar's no hoss doins in dat ere 'table,
ceppin de sorrel of Massa Cahoon. Spotty am in de 'closure outside.
Massa Henry hoss ain't nowha."

"It don't follow that Master Henry himself is not in his room. Go
instantly, and see!"

"Ho-ho! I'se go on de instum, massr but f'r all dat dis chile no speck
find de young genl'um dar. Ho! ho! wha'ebber de ole hoss am, darr Massr
Henry am too."

"There's something strange in all this," pursued the planter, as Pluto
shuffled out of the sala. "Henry from home; and at night too. Where can
he have gone? I can't think of any one he would be visiting at such
unseasonable hours! He must have been out all night, or very early,
according to the nigger's account! At the Fort, I suppose, with those
young fellows. Not at the tavern, I hope?"

"Oh, no! He wouldn't go there," interposed Calhoun, who appeared as much
mystified by the absence of Henry as was Poindexter himself. He
refrained, however, from suggesting any explanation, or saying aught of
the scenes to which he had been witness on the preceding night.

"It is to be hoped he knows nothing of it," reflected the young Creole.
"If not, it may still remain a secret between brother and myself. I
think I can manage Henry. But why is he still absent? I've sate up all
night waiting for him. He must have overtaken Maurice, and they have
fraternized. I hope so even though the tavern may have been the scene of
their reconciliation. Henry is not much given to dissipation, but after
such a burst of passion, followed by his sudden repentance, he may have
strayed from his usual habits? Who could blame him if he has? There can
be little harm in it since he has gone astray in good company?"

How far the string of reflections might have extended it is not easy to
say since it did not reach its natural ending.

It was interrupted by the reappearance of Pluto whose important air, as
he re entered the room, proclaimed him the bearer of eventful tidings.

"Well!" cried his master, without waiting for him to speak, "is he
there?"

"No, Mass' Woodley," replied the black, in a voice that betrayed a large
measure of emotion, "he are not dar Massa Henry am not. But--but," he
hesitatingly continued, "dis chile grieb to say dat--dat--him hoss am
dar."

"His horse there! Not in his sleeping-room, I suppose?"

"No, massa nor in de 'table neider, but out da, by de big gate."

"His horse at the gate? And why, pray, do you grieve about that?"

"'Ecause, Mass' Woodley, 'ecause do hoss, dat am Massa Henry hoss,
'ecause de animal..."

"Speak out, you stammering nigger! What because? I suppose the horse has
his head upon him? Or is it his tail that is missing?"

"Ah, Mass' Woodley, dis nigga fear dat am missin' wuss dan eider him
head or him tail. I'ze feer'd dat de ole hoss hab loss him rider!"

"What! Henry thrown from his horse? Nonsense, Pluto! My son is too good
a rider for that. Impossible that he should have been pitched out of the
saddle, impossible!"

"Ho! ho! I doan say he war trown out of de saddle. Gorramity! I fear do
trouble wuss dan dat. O! dear ole Massa, I tell you no mo. Come to de
gate of de hashashanty, and see fo youseff."

By this time the impression conveyed by Pluto's speech, much more by his
manner, notwithstanding its ambiguity, had become sufficiently alarming
and not only the planter himself, but his daughter and nephew, hastily
forsaking their seats, and preceded by the sable coachman, made their
way to the outside gate of the hacienda.

A sight was there awaiting them, calculated to inspire all three with
the most terrible apprehensions.

A negro man, one of the field slaves of the plantation, stood holding a
horse, that was saddled and bridled. The animal wet with the dews of the
night, and having been evidently uncared for in any stable, was snorting
and stamping the ground, as if, but lately escaped from some scene of
excitement, in which he had been compelled to take part.

He was speckled with a color darker than that of the dew drops darker
than his own coat of bay brown. The spots scattered over his shoulders
the streaks that ran parallel with the downward direction of his limbs,
the blotches showing conspicuously on the saddle flaps, were all of the
color of coagulated blood. Blood had caused those spots, streaks, and
blotches!

Whence came that horse?

From the prairies. The negro had caught him, on the outside plain, as,
with the bridle trailing among his feet, he was instinctively straying
towards the hacienda.

To whom did he belong?

The question was not asked. All present knew him to be the horse of
Henry Poindexter.

Nor did any one ask whose blood bedaubed the saddle flaps. The three
individuals most interested could think only of that one, who stood to
them in the triple relationship of son, brother, and cousin.

The dark red spots, on which they were distractedly gazing, had spurted
from the veins of Henry Poindexter. They had no other thought.



38. THE AVENGERS.


Hastily, perhaps too truly, construing the sinister evidence, the
half-frantic father leaped into the bloody saddle, and galloped direct
for the Fort.

Calhoun, upon his own horse, followed close after.

The hue and cry soon spread abroad. Rapid riders carried it up and down
the river, to the remotest plantations of the settlement.

The Indians were out, and near at hand, reaping their harvest of scalps!
That of young Poindexter was the first fruits of their sanguinary
gleaning!

Henry Poindexter the noble generous youth who had not an enemy in all
Texas! Who but Indians could have spilled such innocent blood? Only the
Comanches could have been so cruel?

Among the horsemen, who came quickly together on the parade ground of
Fort Inge, no one doubted that the Comanches had done the deed. It was
simply a question of how, when, and where.

The blood drops pretty clearly, proclaimed the first. He who had shed
them must have been shot, or speared, while sitting in his saddle. They
were mostly on the off side where they presented an appearance, as if
something had been slaked over them. This was seen both on the shoulders
of the horse, and the flap of the saddle. Of course it was the body of
the rider as it slipped lifeless to the earth.

There were some who spoke with equal certainty as to the time old
frontiersmen experienced in such matters.

According to them the blood was scarce "ten hours old," in other words,
must have been shed about ten hours before.

It was now noon. The murder must have been committed at two o'clock in
the morning.

The third query was, perhaps, the most important at least now that the
deed was done.

Where had it been done? Where was the body to be found?

After that, where should the assassins be sought for?

These were the questions discussed by the mixed council of settlers and
soldiers, hastily assembled at Fort Inge, and presided over by the
commandant of the Fort the afflicted father standing speechless by his
side.

The last was of special importance. There are thirty two points in the
compass of the prairies, as well as in that which guides the ocean
wanderer and, therefore, in any expedition going in search of a war
party of Comanches, there would be thirty two chances to one against its
taking the right track.

It mattered not that the home of these nomadic savages was in the west.
That was a wide word and signified anywhere within a semicircle of some
hundreds of miles.

Besides, the Indians were now upon the war-trail and, in an isolated
settlement such as that of the Leona, as likely to make their appearance
from the east. More likely, indeed, since such is a common strategic
trick of these astute warriors.

To have ridden forth at random would have been sheer folly with such
odds against going the right way, as thirty two to one.

A proposal to separate the command into several parties, and proceed in
different directions, met with little favor from any one. It was
directly negatived by the major himself.

The murderers might be a thousand; the avengers were but the tenth of
that number, consisting of some fifty dragoons who chanced to be in
garrison, with about as many mounted civilians. The party must be kept
together or run the risk of being attacked, and perhaps cut off, in
detail!

The argument was deemed conclusive. Even the bereaved father and cousin,
who appeared equally the victim of a voiceless grief, consented to shape
their course according to the counsels of the more prudent majority,
backed by the authority of the major himself.

It was decided that the searchers should proceed in a body.

In what direction? This still remained the subject of discussion.

The thoughtful captain of infantry, now became a conspicuous figure, by
suggesting that some inquiry should be made, as to what direction had
been last taken by the man who was supposed to be murdered. Who last saw
Henry Poindexter?

His father and cousin were first appealed to.

The former had last seen his son at the supper table and supposed him to
have gone thence to his bed.

The answer of Calhoun was less direct, and, perhaps, less satisfactory.
He had conversed with his cousin at a later hour, and had bidden him
good night, under the impression that he was retiring to his room.

Why was Calhoun concealing what had really occurred? Why aid he refrain
from giving a narration of that garden scene to which he had been
witness?

Was it, that he feared humiliation by disclosing the part he had himself
played?

Whatever was the reason, the truth was shunned and an answer given, the
sincerity of which was suspected by more than one who listened to it.

The evasiveness might have been more apparent, had there been any reason
for suspicion, or had the bystanders been allowed longer time to reflect
upon it.

While the inquiry was going on, light came in from a quarter hitherto
unthought-of. The landlord of the Rough and Ready, who had come uncalled
to the council, after forcing his way through the crowd, proclaimed
himself willing to communicate some facts worth their hearing in short,
the very facts they were endeavoring to find out when Henry Poindexter
had been last seen, and what the direction he had taken.

Oberdoffer's testimony, delivered in a semi Teutonic tongue, was to the
effect that Maurice the mustanger who had been staying at his hotel ever
since his fight with Captain Calhoun, had that night ridden out at a
late hour, as he had done for several nights before.

He had returned to the hotel at a still later hour and finding it open
on account of a party of bons vivants, who had supped there, had done
that which he had not done for a long time before, demanded his bill,
and to Old Duffer's astonishment as the latter naively confessed settled
every cent of it!

Where he had procured the money "Gott" only knew, or why he left the
hotel in such a hurry. Oberdoffer himself only knew that he had left it,
and taken all his 'trapsh' along with him just as he was in the habit
of doing, whenever he went off upon one of his horse catching
expeditions.

On one of these the village Boniface supposed him to have gone.

What had all this to do with the question before the council? Much
indeed though it did not appear till the last moment of his examination,
when the witness revealed the more pertinent facts that about twenty
minutes after the mustanger had taken his departure from the hotel,
"Heinrich Poindexter" knocked at the door, and inquired after Mr.
Maurice Gerald that on being told the latter was gone, as also the time,
and probable direction he had taken, the "young gentleman" rode off at a
quick pace, as if with the intention of overtaking him.

This was all Mr. Oberdoffer knew of the matter and all he could be
expected to tell.

The intelligence, though containing several points, but ill understood,
was nevertheless a guide to the expeditionary party. It famished a sort
of clue to the direction they ought to take. If the missing man had gone
off with Maurice the mustanger, or after him, he should be looked for on
the road the latter himself, would be likely to have taken.

Did any one know where the horse hunter had his home?

No one could state the exact locality, though there were several who
believed it was somewhere among the head waters of the Nueces, on a
creek called the "Alamo."

To the Alamo, then, did they determine upon proceeding in quest of the
missing man, or his dead body perhaps, also, to find that of Maurice the
mustanger and, at the same time, avenge upon the savage assassins two
murders instead of one.



39. THE POOL OF BLOOD.


Notwithstanding its number, larger than usual for a party of borderers
merely in search of a strayed neighbor, the expedition pursued its way
with considerable caution.

There was reason. The Indians were upon the war-trail.

Scouts were sent out in advance and professed "trackers" employed to
pick up, and interpret the "sign."

On the prairie, extending nearly ten miles to the westward of the Leona,
no trail was discovered. The turf, hard and dry, only showed the tracks
of a horse when going in a gallop. None such were seen along the route.

At ten miles' distance from the Fort the plain is traversed by a tract
of chapparal, running north-west and south-east. It is a true Texan
jungle, laced by lianas, and almost impenetrable for man and horse.

Through this jungle, directly opposite the Fort, there is an opening,
through which passes a path the shortest that leads to the head waters
of the Nueces. It is a sort of natural avenue among the trees that stand
closely crowded on each side, but refrain from meeting. It may be
artificial some old "war-trail" of the Comanches, first trodden by their
expeditionary parties on the maraud to Tamaulipas, Coahuila, or New
Leon.

The trackers knew that it conducted to the Alamo and, therefore, guided
the expedition into it.

Shortly after entering among the trees, one of the latter, who had gone
afoot in the advance, was seen standing by the edge of the thicket, as
if waiting to announce some recently discovered fact.

"What is it?" demanded the major, spurring ahead of the others, and
riding up to the tracker. "Sign?"

"Aye, that there is, major and plenty of it. Look there! In that bit of
softish ground you see--"

"The tracks of a horse."

"Of two horses, major," said the man, correcting the officer with an air
of deference.

"True. There are two."

"Farther on they become four, though they're all made by the same two
horses. They have gone up this openin' a bit, and come back again."

"Well, Spangler, my good fellow what do you make of it?"

"Not much," replied Spangler, who was one of the paid scouts of the
cantonment "not much of that; I hav'n't been far enough up the openin'
to make out what it means, only far enough to know that a man has been
murdered."

"What proof have you of what you say? Is there a dead body?"

"No. Not as much as the little finger; not even a hair of the head, so
far as I can see."

"What then?"

"Blood, a regular pool of it, enough to have cleared out the carcass of
a buffalo. Come and see for yourself. But," continued the scout in a
muttered undertone, "if you wish me to follow up the sign as it ought to
be done; you'll order the others to stay back 'specially them as are now
nearest you."

This observation appeared to be more particularly pointed at the planter
and his nephew as the tracker, on making it, glanced furtively towards
both.

"By all means," replied the major. "Yes, Spangler, you shall have every
facility for your work. Gentlemen! may I request you to remain where you
are for a few minutes. My tracker, here, has to go through a performance
that requires him to have the ground to himself. He can only take me
along with him."

Of course the major's request was a command, courteously conveyed, to
men who were not exactly his subordinates. It was obeyed, however, just
as if they had been and one and all kept their places, while the
officer, following his scout, rode away from the ground.

About fifty yards further on, Spangler came to a stand.

"You see that, major?" said he, pointing to the ground.

"I should be blind if I didn't" replied the officer. "A pool of blood as
you say, big enough to have emptied the veins of a buffalo. If it has
come from those of a man, I should say, that whoever shed it is no
longer in the land of the living."

"Dead!" pronounced the tracker. "Dead before that blood had turned
purple as it is now."

"Whose do you think it is, Spangler?"

"That of the man we're in search of the son of the old gentleman down
there. That's why I didn't wish him to come forward."

"He may as well know the worst. He must find it out in time."

"True what you say, major but we had better first find out how the young
fellow has come to be thrown in his tracks. That's what is puzzling me."

"How? By the Indians, of course! The Comanches have done it?"

"Not a bit of it," rejoined the scout, with an air of confidence.

"Hu! Why do you say that, Spangler?"

"Because, you see, if the Indians had been here, there would be forty
horse tracks instead of four, and them made by only two horses."

"There's truth in that. It isn't likely a single Comanche would have had
the daring, even to assassinate--"

"No Comanche, major, no Indian of any kind committed this murder. There
are two horse tracks along the opening. As you see, both are shod; and
they're the same that have come back again. Comanches don't ride shod
horses, except when they've stolen them. Both these were ridden by white
men. One set of the tracks has been made by a mustang, though it was a
big 'un. The other is the hoof of an American horse. Goin' west the
mustang was foremost; you can tell that by the overlap. Comin' back the
States horse was in the lead, the other followin' him though it's hard
to say how far behind. I may be able to tell better, if we keep on to
the place where both must have turned back. It can't be a great ways
off."

"Let us proceed thither, then," said the major. "I shall command the
people to stay where they are."

Having issued the command, in a voice loud enough to be heard by his
following, the major rode away from the blood-stained spot, preceded by
the tracker.

For about four hundred yards further on, the two sets of tracks were
traceable, but by the eyes of the major, only where the turf was softer
under the shadow of the trees. So far the scout said the horses had
passed and returned in the order already declared by him that is, the
mustang in the lead while proceeding westward, and in the rear while
going in the opposite direction.

At this point the trail ended, both horses, as was already known, having
returned on their own tracks.

Before taking the back track, however, they had halted, and stayed some
time in the same place under the branches of a spreading cottonwood. The
turf, much trampled around the trunk of the tree, was evidence of this.

The tracker got off his horse to examine it and, stooping to the earth,
carefully scrutinized the sign.

"They've been here together," he said, after several minutes spent in
his analysis, "and for some time though neither is been out of the
saddle. They've been on friendly terms, too which makes it all the more
unexplainable. They must have quarreled afterwards."

"If you are speaking the truth, Spangler, you must be a witch. How on
earth can you know all that?"

"By the sign, major; by the sign. It's simple enough. I see the shoes of
both horses lapping over each other a score of times and in such a way
that shows they must have been together the animals, it might be,
restless and movin' about. As for the time, they've taken long enough to
smoke a cigar apiece close to the teeth too. Here are the stumps not
enough left to fill a fellow's pipe."

The tracker, stooping as he spoke, picked up a brace of cigar stamps,
and handed them to the major.

"By the same token," he continued, "I conclude that the two horsemen,
whoever they were, while under this tree could not have had any very
hostile feelings, the one to the other. Men don't smoke in company, with
the design of cutting each other's throats, or blowing out one another's
brains, the instant afterwards. The trouble between them must have come
on, after the cigars were smoked out. That it did come there, can be no
doubt. As sure, major, as you're sittin' in your saddle, one of them has
wiped out the other. I can only guess which has been wiped out, by the
errand we're on. Poor Mr. Poindexter will never more see his son alive."

"'Tis very mysterious," remarked the major.

"It is, by jingo!"

"And the body, too where can it be?"

"That's what perplexes me most of all. If't had been Indians, I wouldn't
a thought much o' its being missin'. They might carried the man off with
them to make a target of him, if only wounded and if dead, to eat him,
maybe. But there's been no Indians here; not a redskin. Take my word for
it, major, one o' the two men who rid these horses, has wiped out the
other and startlingly, he have wiped him out in the literary sense of
the word. What he's done with the body, beats me and perhaps only he can
tell."

"Most strange!" exclaimed the major, pronouncing the words with emphasis
"most mysterious!"

"It's possible we may yet unravel some o' the mystery," pursued
Spangler. "We must follow up the tracks of the horses, after they
started from this that is, from where the deed was done. We may make
something out of that. There's nothing more to be learnt here. We may as
well go back, major. Am I to tell him?"

"Mr. Poindexter, you mean?"

"Yes. You are convinced that his son is the man who has been murdered?"

"Oh, no not so much as that comes to. Only convinced that the horse the
old gentleman is now riding, is one of the two that's been over this
ground last night, the States horse I feel sure. I have compared the
tracks and if young Poindexter was the man who was on his back, I fear
there's not much chance for the poor fellow. It looks ugly that the
other rid after him."

"Spangler! Have you any suspicion as to who the other may be?"

"Not a spark, major. If't hadn't been for the tale of Old Duffer, I'd
never have thought of Maurice the mustanger. True, it's the track o' a
shod mustang but I don't know it to be his. Surely it can't be? The
young Irishman aint the man to stand nonsense from nobody, but as little
air he the one to do a deed like this, that is, if it's been
cold-blooded killing."

"I think as you about that."

"And you may think so, major. If young Poindexter's been killed, and by
Maurice Gerald, there's been a fair stand-up fight between them, and the
planter's son has gone under. That's how I shed reckon it up. As to the
disappearance o' the dead body for them two quarts o' blood could only
have come out o' a body that's now dead, that trees me. We must follow
the trail, howsoever and maybe it'll fetch us to some sensible
conclusion. Am I to tell the old gentleman what I think o't?"

"Perhaps better not. He knows enough already. It will at least fall
lighter upon him, if he finds things out by piecemeal. Say nothing of
what we've seen. If you can take up the trail of the two horses after
going off from the place where the blood is, I shall manage to bring the
command after you without any one suspecting what we've seen."

"All right, major," said the scout, "I think I can guess where the off
trail goes. Give me ten minutes upon it, and then come on to my signal."

So saying the tracker rode back to the "place of blood" and after what
appeared a very cursory examination, turned off into a lateral opening
in the chapparal.

Within the promised time, his shrill whistle announced that he was
nearly a mile distant, and in a direction altogether different from the
spot that had been profaned by some sanguinary scene.

On hearing the signal, the commander of the expedition, who had in the
meantime returned to his party, gave orders to advance while he himself,
with Poindexter and the other principal men, moved ahead, without his
revealing to any one of his retinue the chapter of strange disclosures
for which he was indebted to the "instincts" of his tracker.



40. THE MARKED BULLET.


Before coming up with the scout, an incident occurred to vary the
monotony of the march. Instead of keeping along the avenue, the major
had conducted his command in a diagonal direction through the chapparal.
He had done this to avoid giving unnecessary pain to the afflicted
father who would otherwise have looked upon the life blood of his son,
or at least what the major believed to be so. The gory spot was shunned,
and as the discovery was not yet known to any other, save the major
himself, and the tracker who had made it. The party moved on in
ignorance of the existence of such a dread sign.

The path they were now pursuing was a mere cattle track, scarce broad
enough for two to ride abreast. Here and there were glades, where it
widened out for a few yards, again running into the thorny chapparal.

On entering one of these glades, an animal sprang out of the bushes, and
bounded off over the sward. A beautiful creature it was, with its
fulvous coat ocellated with rows of shining rosettes, its strong lithe
limbs supporting a smooth cylindrical body, continued into a long
tapering tail, the very type of agility a creature rare even in these
remote solitudes, the jaguar.

Its very rarity rendered it the more desirable as an object to test the
skill of the marksman and, notwithstanding the serious nature of the
expedition, two of the party were tempted to discharge their rifles at
the retreating animal.

They were Cassius Calhoun, and a young planter who was riding by his
side.

The jaguar dropped dead in its tracks, a bullet having entered its body,
and traversed the spine in a longitudinal direction.

Which of the two was entitled to the credit of the successful shot?
Calhoun claimed it, and so did the young planter.

The shots had been fired simultaneously, and only one of them had hit.

"I shall show you," confidently asserted the ex-officer, dismounting
beside the dead jaguar, and unsheathing his knife. "You see, gentlemen,
the ball is still in the animal's body? If it's mine, you'll find my
initials on it: C. C. with a crescent. I mould my bullets, so that I can
always tell when I've killed my game."

The swaggering air with which ho held up the leaden missile after
extracting it, told that he had spoken the truth. A few of the more
curious, drew near and examined the bullet. Sure enough it was moulded
as Calhoun had declared, and the dispute ended in the discomfiture of
the young planter.

The party soon after came up with the tracker, waiting to conduct them
along a fresh trail.

It was no longer a track made by two horses, with shod hooves. The turf
showed only the hoof-marks of one and so indistinctly, that at times
they were indiscernible to all eyes, save those of the tracker himself.

The trace carried them through the thicket, from glade to glade after a
circuitous march bringing them back into the lane-like opening, at a
point still further to the west.

Spangler, though far from being the most accomplished of his calling,
took it up as fast as the people could ride after him. In his own mind
he had determined the character of the animal whose footmarks he was
following. He knew it to be a mustang, the same that had stood under the
cottonwood, whilst its rider was smoking a cigar the same whose
hoof-mark he had seen deeply indented in a sod saturated with human
blood.

The track of the States horse he had also followed for a short distance,
in the interval, when he was left alone. He saw that it would conduct
him back to the prairie through which they had passed and thence, in all
likelihood, to the settlements on the Leona.

He had forsaken it to trace the footsteps of the shod mustang more
likely to lead him to an explanation of that red mystery of murder
perhaps to the den of the assassin.

Hitherto perplexed by the hoof-prints of two horses alternately
overlapping each other, he was not less puzzled now, while scrutinizing
the tracks of but one.

They went not direct, as those of an animal urged onwards upon a journey
but here and there zigzagging; occasionally turning upon themselves in
short curves then forward for a stretch and then circling again, as if
the mustang was either not mounted, or its rider was asleep in the
saddle!

Could these be the hoof-prints of a horse with a man upon his back an
assassin skulking away from the scene of assassination, his conscience
freshly excited by the crime?

Spangler did not think so. He knew not what to think. He was mystified
more than ever. So confessed him to the major, when being questioned, as
to the character of the trail.

A spectacle that soon afterwards came under his eyes simultaneously seen
by every individual of the party so far from solving the mystery, had
the effect of rendering it yet more inexplicable.

More than this. What had hitherto been but an ambiguous affair, a
subject for guess and speculation was suddenly transformed into a horror
of that intense kind that can only spring from thoughts of the
supernatural.

No one could say that this feeling of horror had arisen without reason.

When a man is seen mounted on a horse's back, seated firmly in the
saddle, with limbs astride in the stirrups, body erect, and hand holding
the rein in short, everything in air and attitude required of a rider
when, on closer scrutiny, it is observed that there is something wanting
to complete the idea of a perfect equestrian and, on still closer
scrutiny, that this something is the head, it would be strange if the
spectacle did not startle the beholder, terrifying him to the very core
of his heart.

And this very sight came before their eyes causing them simultaneously
to rein up, and with as much suddenness, as if each had rashly ridden
within less than his horse's length of the brink of an abyss!

The sun was low down, almost on a level with the sward. Facing westward,
his disc was directly before them. His rays, glaring redly in their
eyes, hindered them from having a very accurate view, towards the
quarter of the west. Still could they see that strange shape above
described a horseman without a head!

Had only one of the party declared himself to have seen it, he would
have been laughed at by his companions as a lunatic. Even two might have
been stigmatized in a similar manner.

But what everybody saw at the same time could not be questioned; and
only he would have been thought crazed, who should have expressed
incredulity about the presence of the abnormal phenomenon.

No one did. The eyes of all were turned in the same direction, their
gaze intently fixed on what was either a horseman without the head, or
the best counterfeit that could have been contrived.

Was it this? If not, what was it?

These interrogatories passed simultaneously through the minds of all. As
no one could answer them, even to himself, no answer was vouchsafed.
Soldiers and civilians sate silent in their saddles each expecting an
explanation, which the other was unable to supply.

There could be heard only mutterings, expressive of surprise and terror.
No one even offered a conjecture.

The headless horseman, whether phantom or real, when first seen, was
about entering the avenue near the debaucher of which the searchers had
arrived. Had he continued his course, he must have met them in the
teeth, supposing their courage to have been equal to the encounter.

As it was, he had halted at the same instant as themselves and stood
regarding them with a mistrust that may have been mutual.

There was an interval of silence on both sides, during which a cigar
stump might have been heard falling upon the sward. It was then the
strange apparition was most closely scrutinized by those who had the
courage for the majority of the men sate shivering in their stirrups
through sheer terror, incapable even of thought!

The few who dared face the mystery, with any thought of accounting for
it, were baffled in their investigation by the glare of the setting sun.
They could only see that there was a horse of large size and noble
shape, with a man upon his back. The figure of the man was less easily
determined, on account of the limbs being inserted into overalls, while
his shoulders were enveloped in an ample cloak like covering.

What signified his shape, so long as it wanted that portion most
essential to existence? A man without a head on horseback, sitting
erect in the saddle, in an attitude of ease and grace with spurs
sparkling upon his heels, the bridle rein held in one hand the other
where it should be, resting lightly upon his thigh!

Great God! What could it mean?

Was it a phantom? Surely it could not be human?

They who viewed it, were not the men to have faith either in phantoms,
or phantasmagoria. Many of them had met Nature in her remotest
solitudes, and wrestled with her in her roughest moods. They were not
given to a belief in ghosts.

But the confidence of the most incredulous was shaken by a sight so
strange so absolutely unnatural and to such an extent, that the stoutest
hearted of the party was forced mentally to repeat the words:

"Is it a phantom? Surely it cannot he human!"

Its size favored the idea of the supernatural. It appeared double that
of an ordinary man upon an ordinary horse. It was more like a giant on a
gigantic steed, though this might have been owing to the illusory light
under which it was seen the refraction of the sun's rays passing
horizontally through the tremulous atmosphere of the parched plain.

There was but little time to philosophize, not enough to complete a
careful scrutiny of the unearthly apparition, which every one present,
with hand spread over his eyes to shade them from the dazzling glare,
was endeavoring to make.

Nothing of color could be noted neither the garments of the man, nor the
hairy coat of the horse. Only the shape could be traced, outlined in
sable silhouette against the golden background of the sky and this in
every change of attitude, whether fronting the spectators, or turned
stern towards them, was still the same still that inexplicable
phenomenon a horseman without a head!

Was it a phantom? Surely it could not be human?

"'Tis old Nick upon horseback!" cried a fearless frontiersman, who would
scarce have quailed to encounter his satanic majesty even in that guise.
"By the eternal Almighty, it's the devil himself!"

The boisterous laugh which succeeded the profane utterance of the
reckless speaker, while it only added to the awe of his less courageous
comrades, appeared to produce an effect on the headless horseman.
Wheeling suddenly round his horse at the same time sending forth a
scream that caused either the earth or the atmosphere to tremble he
commenced galloping away.

He went direct towards the sun and continued this course until only by
his motion could he be distinguished from one of those spots, that have
puzzled the philosopher at length altogether disappearing, as though he
had ridden into the dazzling disc!



41. CUATRO CAVALLEROS.


The party of searchers, under the command of the major, was not the only
one that went forth from Fort Inge on that eventful morning.

Nor was it the earliest to take saddle. Long before, in fact close
following the dawn of day, a much smaller party, consisting of only four
horsemen, was seen setting out from the suburbs of the village, and
heading their horses in the direction of the Nueces.

These could not be going in search of the dead body of Henry Poindexter.
At that hour, no one suspected that the young man was dead, or even that
he was missing. The riderless horse had not yet come in to tell the tale
of woe. The settlement was still slumbering, unconscious that innocent
blood had been spilt.

Though setting out from nearly the same point, and proceeding in a like
direction, there was not the slightest similarity between the two
parties of mounted men. Those earliest astart were all of pure Iberian
blood or this commingled with Aztecan. In other words they were
Mexicans.

It required neither skill, nor close scrutiny to discover this. A glance
at themselves and their horses, their style of equitation, the slight
muscular development of their thighs and hips more strikingly observable
in their deep tree saddles, the gaily colored serapés shrouding their
shoulders, the wide velveteen calzoneros on their legs, the big spurs on
their boots, and broad brimmed sombreros on their heads, declared them
either Mexicans, or men who had adopted the Mexican costume.

That they were the former, there was not a question. The sallow hue; the
pointed Vandyke beard, covering the chin, sparsely; though not from any
thinning by the shears the black, close cropped chevelure, the regular
facial outline, were all indisputable characteristics of the
Hispano-Moro-Aztecan race, who now occupy the ancient territory of the
Montezuma's.

One of the four, was a man of larger frame, than any of his companions.
He rode a better horse, was more richly appareled, carried upon his
person arms and equipments of a superior finish and was otherwise
distinguished, so as to leave no doubt about his being the leader of the
cuartilla.

He was a man of between thirty and forty years of age nearer to the
latter than the former though a smooth, rounded cheek furnished with a
short and carefully trimmed whisker gave him the appearance of being
younger than he was.

But for a cold animal eye, and a heaviness of feature that betrayed a
tendency to behave with brutality, if not with positive cruelty the
individual in question might have been described as handsome.

A well formed mouth, with twin rows of white teeth between the lips,
even when these were exhibited in a smile, did not remove this
unpleasant impression. It but reminded the beholder of the sardonic
grin, that may have been given by Satan, when, after the temptation had
succeeded, he gazed contemptuously back upon the mother of mankind.

It was not his looks, which had led to his having become known among his
comrades by a peculiar nick-name that of an animal well known upon the
plains of Texas.

His deeds and disposition had earned for him the unenviable soubriquet
"El Coyote?"

How came he to be crossing the prairie at this early hour of the
morning, apparently sober, and acting as the leader of others when on
the same morning, but a few hours before, he was seen drunk in his
jacalé, so drunk as to be unconscious of having a visitor, or, at all
events, incapable of giving that visitor a civil reception?

The change of situation, though sudden and to some extent strange, is
not so difficult of explanation. It will be understood after an account
has been given of his movements, from the time of Calhoun's leaving him,
till the moment of meeting him in the saddle, in company with his three
conpaisanos.

On riding away from his hut, Calhoun had left the door, as he had found
it, ajar and in this way did it remain until the morning; El Coyote all
the time continuing his sonorous slumber.

At daybreak, he was aroused by the raw air that came drifting over him,
in the shape of a chilly fog. This to some extent sobered him and,
springing up from his skin covered truck, he commenced staggering over
the floor all the while uttering anathemas against the cold, and the
door for letting it in.

It might be expected that he would have shut to the latter on the
instant, but he did not. It was the only aperture, excepting some holes
arising from dilapidation, by which light was admitted into the interior
of the jacalé and light he wanted, to enable him to carry out the design
that had summoned him to his feet.

The grey dawn, just commencing to creep in through the open doorway,
scarce sufficed for his purpose and it was only after a good while spent
in groping about, interspersed with a series of stumblings, and
accompanied by a string of profane exclamations, that he succeeded in
finding that he was searching for a large two-headed gourd, with a strap
around its middle, used as a canteen for carrying water, or more
frequently mezcal.

The odor escaping from its uncorked end told that it had recently
contained this potent spirit but, that it was now empty, was announced
by another profane ejaculation that came from the lips of its owner, as
he made the discovery.

"Sangre de Cristo!" he cried, in an accent of angry disappointment,
giving the gourd a shake to assure him of its emptiness. "Not a drop,
not enough to drown a chiga! And my tongue sticking to my teeth. My
throat feels as if I had bolted a brazero of red hot charcoal. Por Dios!
I can't stand it. What's to be done? Daylight? It is. I must up to the
pueblita. It's possible that Señor Doffer may have his trap open by this
time to catch the early birds. If so, he'll find a customer in the
Coyote. Ha, ha, ha!"

Slinging the gourd strap around his neck, and thrusting his head through
the slit of his serapé, he set forth for the village.

The tavern was but a few hundred yards from his hut, on the same side of
the river, and approachable by a path, that he could have traveled with
his eyes under "tapojos." In twenty minutes after, he was staggering
past the sign post of the "Rough and Ready."

He chanced to be in luck. Oberdoffer was in his bar-room, serving some
early customers, a party of soldiers who had stolen out of quarters to
swallow their morning dram.

"Mein Gott, Mishter Dees!" said the landlord, saluting the newly arrived
guest, and without ceremony forsaking six credit customers, for one that
he knew to be cash. "Mein Gott! Is it you I sees so, early ashtir? I
knowsh vat you vant. You vant your pig coord fill mit ze Mexican
spirits, ag--ag--vat you call it?"

"Aguardiente! You've guessed it, cavallero. That's just what I want."

"A tollar von tollar ish the price."

"Carrambo! I've paid it often enough to know that. Here's the coin, and
there's the canteen. Fill, and be quick about it!"

"Ha! You ish in a hurry, mein herr. Fel--I won't keeps you waitin; I
suppose you ish off for the wild horsh prairish. If there's anything
goot among the droves, I'm afeart that the Irishmans will pick it up
before you. He went off lasht night. He left my housh at a late hour
after midnight it wash a very late hour, to go a shourney! But he's a
queer cushtomer is that mushtanger, Mister Maurish Sherralt. Nobody
knows his ways. I shouldn't say anythings againsht him. He hash been a
goot cushtomer to me. He has paid his bill like a rich man, and he hash
plenty peside. Mein Gott! His pockets wash cramm mit tollars!"

On hearing that the Irishman had gone off to the "horsh prairish," as
Oberdoffer termed them, the Mexican by his demeanor betrayed more than
an ordinary interest in the announcement.

It was proclaimed, first by a slight start of surprise, and then by an
impatience of manner that continued to mark his movements, while
listening to the long rigmarole that followed.

It was clear that he did not desire anything of this to be observed.
Instead of questioning his informant upon the subject thus started, or
voluntarily displaying any interest in it, he rejoined in a careless
drawl,

"It doesn't concern me, cavallero. There are plenty of mustenos on the
plains, enough to give employment to, all the horse-catchers in Texas.
Look alive, señor, and let's have the aguardiente!"

A little chagrined at being thus rudely checked in his attempt, at a
gossip, the German Boniface hastily filled the gourd canteen and,
without essaying further speech, handed it across the counter, took the
dollar in exchange, chucked the coin into his till, and then moved back
to his military customers, more amiable because drinking upon the score,

Diaz, notwithstanding the eagerness he had lately exhibited to obtain
the liquor, walked out of the bar-room, and away from the hotel, without
taking the stopper from his canteen, or even appearing to think of it!

His excited air was no longer that of a man merely longing for a glass
of ardent spirits. There was something stronger stirring within, that
for the time rendered him oblivious of the appetite.

Whatever it may have been, it did not drive him direct to his home, for
not until he had paid a visit to three other hovels somewhat similar to
his own all situated in the suburbs of the pueblita, and inhabited by
men like himself not till then, did he return to his jacalé.

It was on getting back, that he noticed for the first time the tracks of
a shod horse and saw where the animal had been tied to a tree that stood
near the hut.

"Carrambo!" he exclaimed, on perceiving this sign, "the Capitan
Americano has been here in the night. Por Dios! I remember something I
thought I had dreamt it. I can guess his errand. He has heard of Don
Mauricio's departure. Perhaps he'll repeat his visit, when he thinks I'm
in a proper state to receive him? Ha! ha! It doesn't matter now. The
thing's all understood; and I sha'n't need any further instructions from
him, till I've earned his thousand dollars. Mil pesos! What a splendid
fortune! Once gained, I shall go back to the Rio Grande, and see what
can be done with Isidora."

After delivering the above soliloquy, he remained at his hut only long
enough to swallow a few mouthfuls of roasted tasajo washing them down
with as many gulps of mezcal. Then having caught and caparisoned his
horse, buckled on his huge heavy spurs, strapped his short carbine to
the saddle, thrust a pair of pistols into their holsters, and belted the
leathern sheathed machete on his hip, he sprang into the stirrups, and
rode rapidly away.

The short interval that elapsed, before making his appearance on the
open plain, was spent in the suburbs of the village waiting for the
three horsemen who accompanied him, and who had been forewarned of their
being wanted to act as his coadjutors, in some secret exploit that
required their assistance.

Whatever it was, his trio of confrères appeared to have been made
acquainted with the scheme, or at all events that the scene of the
exploit was to be on the Alamo. When a short distance out upon the
plain, seeing Diaz strike off in a diagonal direction, they called out
to warn him, that he was not going the right way.

"I know the Alamo well," said one of them, himself a mustanger. "I've
hunted horses there many a time. It's south-west from here. The nearest
way to it is through an opening in the chapparal you see out yonder. You
are heading too much to the west, Don Miguel!"

"Indeed!" contemptuously retorted the leader of the cuartilla. "You're a
gringo, Señor Vicente Barajo! You forget the errand we're upon and that
we are riding shod horses? Indians don't go out from Fort Inge and then
direct to the Alamo to do no matter what. I suppose you understand me?"

"Oh true!" answered Señor Vicente Barajo, "I beg your pardon, Don
Miguel. Carrambo! I did not think of that."

And without further protest, the three coadjutors of El Coyote fell into
his tracks, and followed him in silence scarce another word passing
between him and them, till they had struck the chapparal, at a point
several miles above the opening of which Barajo had made mention.

Once under cover of the thicket, the four men dismounted and, after
tying their horses to the trees,' commenced a performance that could
only be compared to a scene in the gentlemen's dressing room of a
suburban theatre, preliminary to the representation of some savage and
sanguinary drama.



42. VULTURES ON THE WING.


He who has traveled across the plains of Southern Texas cannot fail to
have witnessed a spectacle of common occurrence, a flock of black
vultures upon the wing.

An hundred or more in the flock, swooping in circles, or wide spiral
gyrations now descending almost to touch the prairie sward, or the spray
of the chapparal, anon soaring upward by a power in which the wing bears
no part their pointed pinions, sharply cutting against the clear sky;
they constitute a picture of rare interest, one truly characteristic of
a tropical clime.

The traveler who sees it for the first time, will not fail to rein up
his horse, and sit in his saddle, viewing it with feelings of curious
interest. Even he who is accustomed to the spectacle will not pass on
without indulging in a certain train of thought, which it is calculated
to call forth.

There is a tale told by the assemblage of base birds. On the ground
beneath them, whether seen by the traveler or not, is stretched some
stricken creature, quadruped, or it may be man dead, or it may be dying.

On the morning that succeeded that somber night, when the three solitary
horsemen made the crossing of the plain, a spectacle similar to that
described might have been witnessed above the chapparal into which they
had ridden. A flock of black vultures, of both species, was disporting
above the tops of the trees, near the point where the avenue angled.

At daybreak not one could have been seen. In less than an hour after,
hundreds were hovering above the spot, on wide-spread wings, their
shadows sailing darkly over the green spray of the chapparal.

A Texan traveler entering the avenue, and observing the ominous
assemblage, would at once have concluded, that there was death upon his
track.

Going farther, he would have found confirmatory evidence, in a pool of
blood trampled by the hooves of horses.

Not exactly over this were the vultures engaged in their aerial
evolutions. The centre of their swoopings appeared to be a point, some
distance off, among the trees and there, no doubt, would be discovered
the quarry that had called them together.

At that early hour there was no traveler, Texan, or stranger to test the
truth of the conjecture but, for all that, it was true.

At a point in the chapparal, about a quarter of a mile from the
blood-stained path, lay stretched upon the ground the object that was
engaging the attention of the vultures.

It was not carrion, nor yet a quadruped, but a human being, a man!

A young man, too, of noble lineaments and graceful shape so far as could
be seen under the cloak that shrouded his recumbent form with a face
fair to look upon, even in death.

Was he dead?

At first sight any one would have said so, and the black birds believed
it. His attitude and countenance seemed to proclaim it beyond question.

He was lying upon his back, with face upturned to the sky, no care being
taken to shelter it from the sun. His limbs, too, were not in a natural
posture, but extended stiffly along the stony surface, as if he had lost
the power to control them.

A colossal tree was near, a live-oak, but it did not shadow him. He was
outside the canopy of its frontage and the sun's beams, just beginning
to penetrate the chapparal, were slanting down upon his pale face, paler
by reflection from a white Panama hat that but partially shaded it.

His features did not seem set in death and as little was it like sleep.
It had more the look of death than sleep. The eyes were but half closed
and the pupils could be seen glancing through the lashes, glassy and
dilated.

Was the man dead?

Beyond doubt, the black birds believed that he was.

But the black birds were judging only by appearances. Their wish was
parent to the thought. They were mistaken.

Whether it was the glint of the sun striking into his half-screened
orbs, or nature becoming restored after a period of repose, the eyes of
the prostrate man, were seen to open to their full extent, while a
movement was perceptible throughout his whole frame.

Soon after he raised himself a little and, resting upon his elbow,
stared confusedly around him.

The vultures soared upward into the air, and for the time maintained a
higher flight.

"Am I dead, or living?" muttered he to himself. "Dreaming or awake?
Which is it? Where am I?"

The sunlight was blinding him. He could see nothing, till he had shaded
his eyes, with his hand, then only indistinctly.

"Trees above, around me! Stones underneath! That I can tell by the
aching of my bones. A chapparal forest! How came I into it?

"Now I have it," continued he, after a short spell of reflection. "My
head was dashed against a tree. There it is, the very limb that lifted
me out of the saddle. My left leg pains me. Ah! I remember it came in
contact with the trunk. By heavens, I believe it is broken!"

As he said this, he made an effort to raise himself into an erect
attitude. It proved a failure. His sinister limb would lend him no
assistance, it was swollen at the knee joint, either shattered or
dislocated.

"Where is the horse? Gone off, of course. By this time, in the stables
of Casa del Corvo. I need not care now. I could not mount him, if he
were standing by my side.

"The other?" he added, after a pause. "Good heavens! What a spectacle it
was! No wonder it scared the one I was riding!

"What am I to do? My leg may be broken. I can't stir from this spot,
without some one to help me. Ten chances to one a hundred a thousand
against any one coming this way at least not till I've become food for
those filthy birds. Ugh! The hideous brutes they stretch out their
beaks, as if already sure of making a meal upon me!

"How long have I been lying here? The sun doesn't seem very high. It was
just daybreak, as I climbed into the saddle. I suppose I've been
unconscious about an hour. By my faith, I'm in a serious scrape? In all
likelihood a broken limb, it feels broken, with no surgeon to set it, a
stony couch, in the heart of a Texan chapparal, the thicket around me,
perhaps for miles; no chance to escape from it of myself, no hope of
human creature coming to help me, wolves on the earth, and vultures in
the air! Great God! Why did I mount, without making sure of the rein? I
may have ridden my last ride!"

The countenance of the young man became clouded and the cloud grew
darker, and deeper, as he continued to reflect upon the perilous
position in which a simple accident had placed him.

Once more he essayed to rise to his feet, and succeeded only to find,
that he had, but one leg on which he could rely! It was no use, standing
upon it and he lay down again.

Two hours were passed without any change in his situation during which
he had caused the chapparal to ring with a loud hallooing. He only
desisted from this, under the conviction that there was no one at all
likely to hear him.

The shouting caused thirst, or at all events hastened the advent of this
appetite surely coming on as the concomitant of the injuries he had
received.

The sensation was soon experienced to such an extent that everything
else even the pain of his wounds, became of trifling consideration.

"It will kill me, if I stay here?" reflected the sufferer. "I must make
an effort to reach water. If I remember aright, there's a stream
somewhere in this chapparal, and not such a great way off. I must get to
it, if I have to crawl upon my hands and knees. Knees! And only one in a
condition to support me! There's no help for it, but try. The longer I
stay here, the worse it will be. The sun grows hotter. It already burns
into my brain. I may lose my senses, and then the wolves the vultures--"

The horrid apprehension caused silence and shuddering.

After a time he continued

"If I but knew the right way to go. I remember the stream well enough.
It runs towards the chalk prairie. It should be south east, from here. I
shall try that way. By good luck the sun guides me. If I find water all
may yet be well. God, give me strength to reach it!"

With this prayer upon his lips, he commenced making his way through the
thicket creeping over the stony ground, and dragging after him his
disabled leg, like some huge Saurian whose vertebras have been
disjointed by a blow!

Lizard like, he continued his crawl.

The effort was painful in the extreme, but the apprehension from which
he suffered was still more painful, and urged him to continue it.

He well knew there was a chance of falling victim to thirst, almost a
certainty, if he did not succeed in finding water.

Stimulated by this knowledge he crept on.

At short intervals, he was compelled to pause, and recruit his strength
by a little rest. A man does not travel far, on his hands and knees,
without feeling fatigued. Much more, when one of the four members cannot
be employed in the effort.

His progress was slow and irksome. Besides, it was being made under the
most discouraging circumstances. He might not be going in the right
direction? Nothing but the dread of death could have induced him to keep
on.

He had made about a quarter of a mile from the point of starting, when
it occurred to him that a better plan of locomotion, might be adopted,
one that would, at all events, vary the monotony of his march.

"Perhaps," said he, "I might manage to hobble a bit, if I only had a
crutch? Ho! My knife is still here. Thank fortune for that! And there's
a sapling of the right size a bit of black-jack. It will do."

Drawing the knife, a "bowie" from his belt, he cut down the dwarf-oak
and soon reduced it, to a rude kind of crutch; a fork in the tree
serving for the head.

Then rising erect, and fitting the fork into his armpit, he proceeded
with his exploration.

He knew the necessity of keeping to one course and, as ho had chosen the
south east, he continued in this direction.

It was not so easy. The sun was his only compass, but this had now
reached the meridian, and, in the latitude of Southern Texas, at that
season of the year, the midday sun is almost in the zenith. Moreover, he
had the chapparal to contend with, requiring constant devours to take
advantage of its openings. He had a sort of guide in the sloping of the
ground for he knew that downward he was more likely to find the stream.

After proceeding about a mile, not in one continued march, but by short
stages, with intervals of rest between, he came upon a track made by the
wild animals, which frequent the chapparal. It was slight, but running
in a direct line, a proof that it led to some point of peculiar
consideration, in all likelihood a watering place stream, pond, or
spring.

Any of these three would serve his purpose and, without longer looking
to the sun, or the slope of the ground, he advanced along the trail, now
hobbling upon his crutch and at times, when tired of this mode, dropping
down upon his hands and crawling as before.

The cheerful anticipations he had indulged in, on discovering the trail,
soon came to a termination. It became blind. In other words it ran out
ending in a glade surrounded by impervious masses of underwood. He saw,
to his dismay, that it led from the glade, instead of towards it. He had
been following it the wrong way!

Unpleasant as was the alternative, there was no other than to return
upon his track. To stay in the glade would have been to die there.

He retraced the trodden path, going on beyond the point where he had
first struck it.

Nothing but the torture of thirst could have endowed him with strength
or spirit to proceed. And this was every moment becoming more
unendurable.

The trees through which he was making way, were mostly acacias,
interspersed with cactus and wild agaves. They afforded scarce any
shelter from the sun, which now in mid heaven, glared down through their
gossamer foliage, with the fervor of fire itself.

The perspiration, oozing through every pore of his skin, increased the
tendency to thirst until the appetite became an agony!

Within reach of his hand were the glutinous legumes of the mezquites,
filled with mellifluous moisture. The agaves and cactus plants, if
tapped, would have exuded an abundance of juice. The former was too
sweet, the latter too acrid to tempt him.

He was acquainted with the character of both. He knew that, instead of
allaying his thirst, they would only have added to its intensity.

He passed the depending pods, without plucking them. He passed the
succulent stalks, without tapping them.

To augment his anguish, he now discovered that the wounded limb was,
every moment, becoming more unmanageable. It had swollen to enormous
dimensions. Every step caused him a spasm of pain. Even if going in the
direction of the doubtful streamlet, he might never succeed in reaching
it? If not, there was no hope for him. He could but lie down in the
thicket, and die!

Death would not be immediate. Although suffering acute pain in his head,
neither the shock it had received, nor the damage done to his knee, were
like to prove speedily fatal. He might dread a more painful way of dying
than from wounds. Thirst would be his destroyer, of all shapes of death
perhaps the most agonizing.

The thought stimulated him to renewed efforts and despite the slow
progress he was able to make, despite the pain experienced in making it,
he toiled on.

The black birds hovering above, kept pace with his halting step and
laborious crawl. Now more than a mile from the point of their first
segregation, they were all of them, still there, their numbers even
augmented by fresh detachments, that had become warned of the expected
prey. Though aware that the quarry still lived and moved, they saw that
it was stricken. Instinct perhaps, rather than experience, told them it
must soon succumb.

Their shadows crossed and re-crossed the track upon which he advanced
filling him with ominous fears for the end.

There was no noise, for these birds are silent in their flight even when
excited by the prospect of a repast. The hot sun had stilled the voices
of the crickets and tree-toads. Even the hideous "horned frog" reclined
listless along the earth, sheltering its tuberculated body under the
stones.

The only sounds to disturb the solitude of the chapparal were those made
by the sufferer himself, the swishing of his garments, as they brushed
against the hirsute plants that beset the path and occasionally his
cries, sent forth in the faint hope of their being heard.

By this time, blood was mingling with the sweat upon his skin. The
spines of the cactus, and the claw-like thorns of the agaves, had been
doing their work and scarce an inch of the epidermis upon his face,
hands, and limbs, that was not rent with a laceration.

He was near to the point of despondence in real truth; he had reached it
for after a spell of shouting he had flung himself prostrate along the
earth, despairingly indifferent about proceeding farther.

In all likelihood it was the attitude that saved him. Lying with his ear
close to the surface, he heard a sound so slight, that it would not have
been otherwise discernible.

Slight as it was, he could distinguish it, as the very sound for which
his senses were sharpened. It was the murmur of moving water!

With an ejaculation of joy, he sprang to his feat, as if nothing were
amiss and made direct towards the point whence proceeded the sound.

He plied his improvised crutch with redoubled energy. Even the disabled
leg appeared to sustain him. It was strength and the love of life,
struggling against decrepitude and the fear of death.

The former proved victorious and, in ten minutes after, he lay stretched
along the sward, on the banks of a crystal streamlet wondering why the
want of water could have caused him such indescribable agony!



43. THE CUP AND THE JAR.


Once more the mustanger's hut! Once more his henchman, astride of a
stool in the middle of the floor! Once more his hound lying astretch
upon the skin covered hearth, with snout half buried in the cinders!

The relative positions of the man and the dog are essentially the same
as when seen on a former occasion, their attitudes almost identical.
Otherwise there is a change in the picture since last painted a
transformation at once striking and significant.

The horse hide door, standing ajar, still hangs upon its hinges and the
smooth coats of the wild steeds shine lustrously along the walls. The
slab table too, is there, the trestle bedstead, the two stools, and the
"shake down" of the servitor.

But the other "chattels" wont to be displayed against the skin tapestry
are either out of sight, or displaced. The double gun has been removed
from its rack, the silver cup, hunting horn, and dog call, are no longer
suspended from their respective pegs the saddle, bridles, ropes, and
serapes are unslung; and the books, ink, pens, and papeterie have
entirely disappeared.

At first sight it might be supposed that Indians have paid a visit to
the jacalé, and pillaged it of its penates.

But no. Had this been the case, Phelim would not be sitting so
unconcernedly on the stool, with his carroty scalp still upon his head.

Though the walls are stripped, nothing has been carried away. The
articles are still there, only with a change of place and the presence
of several corded packages, lying irregularly over the floor among which
is the leathern portmanteau proclaims the purpose of the transposition.

Though a clearing out has not been made, it is evident that one is
intended.

In the midst of the general displacement, one piece of plenishing was
still seen in its accustomed corner, the demijohn. It was seen by
Phelim, oftener than any other article in the room, for no matter in
what direction he might turn his eyes, they were sure to come round
again to that wicker covered vessel that stood so temptingly in the
angle.

"Ach! me jewel, it's there yez are!" said he, apostrophizing the
demijohn for about the twentieth time, "wid more than two quarts av the
crayther inside yer bewtifall belly, and not doin' ye a bit av good,
nayther. If the tinth part av it was inside av me, it wud be a moighty
binnefit to me intistines. Trath wud it that same. Wudn't it, Tara?"

On hearing his name pronounced, the dog raised his head and looked
inquiringly around, to see what was wanted of him.

Perceiving that his human companion was but talking to himself, he
resumed his attitude of repose.

"Faix! I don't want any answer to that, owld boy. It's meself that knows
it, widout tillin'. A hape av good a glass of that same potyeen would do
me; and I dar'n't touch a dhrap, afther fwhat the masther sid to me
about it. Afther all that packin', too, till me throat is stickin' to me
tongue, as if I had been thryin' to swallow a pitch plaster. Sowl! it's
a shame av Masther Maurice to make me promise agaynst touchin' the
dhrink eepacially when it's not goin' to be wanted. Didn't he say he
wudn't stay more than wan night, whin he come back heeur an shure he
won't conshume two quarts in wan night unless that owld sinner Stump
comes along wid him. Bad luck to his greedy gut! He gets more av the
Manongahayla than the masther himsilf.

"There's wan consolashun, an' thank the Lard for it, we're goin' back to
the owld sad, an' the owld place at Ballyballagh. Won't I have a skinful
when I get thare av the raal stuff too, instid of this Amerikyan rotgut!
Hooch-hoop-horoo! The thought av it's enough to sit a man mad wid
deloight. Hooch-hoop-horoo!"

Tossing his wide awake up among the rafters, and catching it as it came
down again, the excited Galwegian several times repeated his ludicrous
shibboleth. Then becoming tranquil he sat for awhile in silence his
thoughts dwelling with pleasant anticipation on the joys that awaited
him at Ballyballagh.

They soon reverted to the objects around him more especially to the
demijohn in the corner. On this once more his eyes became fixed in a
gaze, in which increasing covetousness was manifestly visible.

"Arrah, me jewel!" said he, again apostrophizing the vessel, "ye're
extramely bewtifull to look at that same ye arr. Shure now, yez wudn't
till upon me, if I gave yez a thrifle av a kiss? Ye wudn't be the
thraiter to bethray me? Wan smack only. Thare can be no harum in that.
Trath, I don't think the masther 'ud mind it, when he thinks av the
trouble I've had wid this packin', an' the dhry dust gettin' down me
throat. Shure he didn't mane me to kape that promise for this time which
differs intirely from all the rest, by razon av our goin' away. A dhry
flittin', they say, makes a short sittin'. I'll tell the masther that,
whin he comes back an' shure it 'll pacify him. Besoides, there's
another ixcuse. He's all av tin hours beyant his time an' I'll say I
took a thriflin' dhrap to kape me from thinkin' long for him. Shure he
won't say a word about it. Be Sant Pathrick! I'll take a smell at the
dimmyjan, an' trust to good luck for the rist. Loy down, Tara! I'm not
agoin' out."

The staghound had risen, seeing the speaker step towards the door.

But the dumb creature had misinterpreted the purpose which was simply to
take a survey of the path by which the jacalé was approached, and make
sure, that, his master was not likely to interrupt him in his intended
dealings with the demijohn.

Becoming satisfied that the coast was clear, he glided back across the
floor uncorked the jar and, raising it to his lips, swallowed something
more than a "thriflin' dhrap av its contints."

Then putting it back in its place, he returned to his seat on the stool.

After remaining quiescent for a considerable time, he once more
proceeded to soliloquize now and then changing his speech to the
apostrophic form Tara and the demijohn being the individuals honored by
his discourse.

"In the name av all the angels, an' the divils to boot, I wondher what's
kapin' the masther! He sid he wud be heeur by eight av the clock in the
marnin', and it's now good six in the afthernoon, if thare's any truth
in a Tixas sun. Shure thare's somethin' detainin' him? Don't yez think
so, Tara?"

This time Tara did vouchsafe the affirmative "sniff" having poked his
nose too far into the ashes.

"See the powers! Then, I hope it's no harum that's befallen him! If
there has, owld dog, fwhat 'ud become av you an' me? Thare might be no
Ballyballagh for miny a month to come; unliss we cowld pay our passage
wid these thraps av the masther's. The drinkm' cup raid silver it is wud
cover the whole expinse av the voyage. Be japers! Now that it stroikes
me, I niver had a dhrink out av that purty little vessel. I'm shure the
liquor must taste swater that way. Does it, I won dher trath, now's just
the time to thry."

Saying this, he took the cup out of the portmanteau, in which he had
packed it and, once more uncorking the demijohn, poured out a portion of
its contents of about the measure of a wine glassful.

Quaffing it off at a single gulp, he stood smacking his lips as if to
assure himself of the quality of the liquor.

"Sowl! I don't know that it does taste better," said he, still holding
the cup in one hand, and the jar in the other. "Afther all, I think,
it's swater out av the dimmyjan itself. That is, as far as I cyan
remimber. But it isn't givin' the gawblet fair play. It's so long since
I had the jar to me mouth, that I a'most forget how it tasted that way.
I cowld till betther if I thryed thim thegither. I'll do that, before I
decoide."

The demijohn was now raised to his lips and, after several "glucks" was
again taken away.

Then succeeded a second series of smacking, in true connoisseur fashion,
with the head held reflecting steadfast.

"Trath! an' I'm wrong agane!" said he, accompanying the remark with
another doubtful shake of the head. "Althegither asthray. It's swater
from the silver. Or, is it only me imaginayshin that's desavin' me? It's
worth while to make shure, an I can only do that by tastin' another
thrifle out av the cup. That wud be givin' fair play to both av the
vessels for I've dhrunk twice from the jar, an' only wanst from the
silver. Fair play's a jewil all the world over and thare's no raison why
this bewtiful little mug showldn't be trated as dacently as that big
basket av a jar. Be japers! But it shall tho'!".

The cup was again called into requisition and once more a portion of the
contents of the demijohn were transferred to it to be poured immediately
after down the insatiable throat of the unsatisfied connoisseur.

Whether he eventually decided in favor of the cup, or whether he
retained his preference for the jar, is not known. After the fourth
potation, which was also the final one, he appeared to think he had
tasted sufficiently for the time, and laid both vessels aside.

Instead of returning to his stool, however, a new idea came across his
mind which was to go forth from the hut, and see whether there was any
sign to indicate the advent of his master.

"Come, Tara!" cried he, striding towards the door. "Let us stip up to
the bluff beyant, and take a look over the big plain. If masther's
comin' at all, he shud be in sight by this. Gome along, ye owld dog!
Masther Maurice 'll think all the betther av us, for bein' a little
uneasy about his gettin' back."

Taking the path through the wooded bottom with the stag hound close at
his heels the Galwegian ascended the bluff, by one of its sloping
ravines, and stood upon the edge of the upper plateau.

From this point he commanded a view of a somewhat sterile plain that
stretched away eastward, more than a mile, from the spot where he was
standing.

The sun was on his back, low down on the horizon, but shining from a
cloudless sky. There was nothing to interrupt his view. Here and there,
a stray cactus plant, or a solitary stem of the arborescent yucca,
raised its hirsute form above the level of the plain. Otherwise the
surface was smooth and a coyote could not have crossed it without being
seen.

Beyond, in the far distance, could be traced the darker outline of trees
where a tract of chapparal, or the wooded selvedge of a stream stretched
transversely across the llano.

The Galwegian bent his gaze over the ground, in the direction in which
he expected his master should appear and stood silently watching for
him.

Ere long his vigil was rewarded. A horseman was seen coming out from
among the trees upon the other aide, and heading towards the Alamo.

He was still more than a mile distant but, even at that distance, the
faithful servant could identify his master. The striped serapé of
brilliant hues a true Navajo blanket, which Maurice was accustomed to
take with him when traveling was not to be mistaken. It gleamed gaudily
under the glare of the setting sun its bands of red, white, and blue,
contrasting with the somber tints of the sterile plain.

Phelim only wondered, that his master should have it spread over his
shoulders on such a sultry evening instead of folded up, and strapped to
the cantle of his saddle!

"Trath, Tara! It looks quare, doesn't it? It's hot enough to roast a
stake upon these stones an' yit the masther don't seem to think so. I
hope he hasn't caught a cold from stayin' in that close crib at owld
Duffer's tavern. It wasn't fit for a pig to dwell in. Our own shanty 's
a splendid parlor to it."

The speaker was for a time silent, watching the movements of the
approaching horseman by this time about half a mile distant, and still
drawing nearer.

When his voice was put forth again it was in a tone altogether changed.
It was still that of surprise, with an approach towards merriment. But
it was mirth that doubted of the ludicrous and seemed to struggle under
restraint.

"Mother av Moses!" cried he. "What can the masther mane? Not contint
with havin' the blanket upon his shoulders, be japers, he's got it over
his head!

"He's playin' us a thrick, Tara. He wants to give you and me a
surproise. He wants to have a joke agaynst us!

"Sowl! But it's quare anyhow. It looks as if he had no head. In faix
does it! Ach! what cyan it mane? Be the Holly Virgin! it's enough to
frighten wan, av they didn't know it was the masther!

"Is it the masther? Be the powers, it's too short for him! The head?
Saint Patrick presarve us, whare is it? It cyan't be smothered up in the
blankyet? Thare's no shape thare! Be Jaysus, thare's somethin wrong!
What does it mane, Tara?"

The tone of the speaker had again undergone a change. It was now close
bordering upon terror as was also the expression of his countenance.

The look and attitude of the staghound were not very different. He stood
a little in advance half cowering, half inclined to spring forward with
eyes glaring wildly, while fixed upon the approaching horseman now
scarce two hundred yards from the spot!

As Phelim put the question that terminated his last soliloquy, the hound
gave out a lugubrious howl, which seemed intended for an answer.

Then, as if urged by some canine instinct, he bounded off towards the
strange object, which puzzled his human companion, and was equally
puzzling him.

Bushing straight on, he gave utterance to a series of shrill yelps far
different from the soft sonorous baying, with which he was accustomed to
welcome the coming home of the mustanger.

If Phelim was surprised at what he had already seen, he was still
further astonished by what now appeared to him.

As the dog drew near, still yelping as he ran, the blood-bay which the
ex-groom had long before identified as his master's horse turned sharply
round, and commenced galloping back across the plain!

While performing the wheel, Phelim saw, or fancied he saw that, which
not only astounded him, but caused the blood to run chill through his
veins, and his frame to tremble to the very tips of his toes.

It was a head that of the man on horseback but, instead of being in its
proper place, upon his shoulders, it was held in the rider's hand, just
behind the pommel of the saddle!

As the horse turned side towards him, Phelim saw, or fancied he saw, the
face ghastly and covered with gore half hidden behind the shaggy hair of
the holster!

He saw no more. In another instant his back was turned towards the plain
and, in another, he was rushing down the ravine, as fast as his
enfeebled limbs would carry him!



44. A QUARTETTE OF COMANCHES.


With his flame-colored curls bristling upward, almost raising the hat
from his head, the Galwegian continued his retreat pausing not scarce
looking back, till he had re entered the jacalé, closed the skin door
behind him, and barricaded it with several large packages that lay near.

Even then he did not feel secure. What protection could there be in a
shut door, barred and bolted besides, against that which was not
earthly?

And surely what he had seen was not of the earth, not of this world! Who
on earth had ever witnessed such a spectacle, a man mounted upon
horseback, and carrying his head in his hand? Who had ever heard of a
phenomenon so unnatural? Certainly not "Phaylim Onale."

His horror still continuing, he rushed to and from across the floor of
the hut; now dropping down upon the stool, anon rising up, and gliding
to the door but without daring either to open it, or look out through
the chinks.

At intervals he tore the hair out of his head, striking his clenched
hand against his temples, and roughly rubbing his eyes as if to make
sure that he was not asleep, but had really seen the shape that was
horrifying him.

One thing alone gave him a moiety of comfort though, it was of the
slightest. While retreating down the ravine, before his head had sunk
below the level of the plain, he had given a glance backward. He had
derived some gratification from that glance as it showed the headless
rider afar off on the prairie, and with back turned toward the Alamo,
going on at a gallop.

But for the remembrance of this, the Galwegian might have been still
more terrified if that were possible while striding back and forth upon
the floor of the jacalé.

For a long time he was speechless not knowing what to say and only
giving utterance to such exclamations as came mechanically to his lips.

As the time passed, and he began to feel, not so much a return of
confidence, as of the power of ratiocination, his tongue became restored
to him and a continuous fire of questions and exclamations succeeded.
They were all addressed to himself. Tara was no longer there, to take
part in the conversation.

They were put, moreover, in a low whispered tone, as if in fear that his
voice might be heard outside the jackal.

"Ochone! Ochone! it cyan't av been him! Sant Pathrick protict me, but
fwhat was it thin?

"Thare was iverything av his the horse the sthriped blankyet them
spotted wather guards upon his legs an' the head itself all except the
faytures. Thim I saw too, but wasn't shure about eyedintifycashin for
who kud till a face all covered over wid rid blood?

"Ach! it cudn't be Masther Maurice at all, at all!

"It's all a dhrame. I must have been aslape, an' dhramin? Or, was it the
whisky that did it?

"Shure, I wasn't dhrunk enough for that. Two goes out av the little cup,
an' two more from the dimmyjan not over a kupple av naggins in all! That
wudn't make me dhrunk. I've taken twice that, widout as much as thrippin
in my spache. Trath have I. Besoides, if I had been the worse for the
liquor, why am I not so still?

"Thare's not half an hour passed since I saw it an' I'm as sober as a
judge upon the binch av magistrates.

"Sowl! a dhrap 'ud do me a power av good just now. If I don't take wan,
I'll not get a wink av slape. I'll be shure to kape awake all the night
long thinkin' about it. Ochone! ochone! what cyan it be anyhow? An'
where cyan the masther be, if it wasn't him? Howly Sant Pathrick! Look
down an watch oyer a miserable sinner, that's lift all alone be himself,
wid nothin' but ghosts an' goblins around him!"

After this appeal to the Catholic saint, the Connemara man addressed
himself with still more zealous devotion to the worship of a very
different divinity, known among the ancients as Bacchus.

His suit in this quarter proved perfectly successful for in less than an
hour after he had entered upon his genuflexions at the shrine of the
pagan god represented by the demijohn of Monongahela whisky he was
shrived of all his sufferings if not of his sins and lay stretched along
the floor of the jacalé, not only oblivious of the spectacle that had so
late terrified him to the very centre of his soul, but utterly
unconscious of his soul's existence.

There is no sound within the hut of Maurice the mustanger not even a
clock, to tell, by its continuous ticking, that the hours are passing
into eternity, and that another midnight is mantling over the earth.

There are Bounds outside but only as usual. The rippling of the stream
close by, the whispering of the leaves stirred by the night wind, the
chirrup of cicadas, the occasional cry of some wild creature, are but
the natural voices of the nocturnal forest.

Midnight has arrived, with a moon that assimilates it to morning. Her
light illumines the earth here and there penetrating through the shadowy
trees, and flinging broad silvery lists between them.

Passing through these alternations of light and shadow apparently
avoiding the former, as much as possible goes a group of mounted men.

Though few in number, as there are only four of them, they are
formidable to look upon. The vermilion glaring redly over their naked
skins, the striped and spotted tattooing upon their cheeks, the scarlet
feathers standing stiffly upright above their heads, and the gleaming of
weapons held in their hands, all bespeak strength of a savage and
dangerous kind.

Whence come they?

They are in the war costume of the Comanche. Their paint proclaims it.
There is the skin fillet around the temples, with the eagle plumes stuck
behind it. The bare breasts and arms the buckskin breech clouts,
everything in the shape of sign by which these Ishmaelites of Texas may
be recognized, when out upon the maraud.

They must be Comanches and, therefore, have come from the west.

Whither go they?

This is a question more easily answered. They are closing in upon the
hut, where lies the unconscious inebriate. The jacalé of Maurice Gerald
is evidently the butt of their expedition.

That their intentions are hostile; is to be inferred from the fact of
their wearing, the war costume. It is also apparent from their manner of
making approach. Still further, by their dismounting at some distance
from the hut, securing their horses in the underwood, and continuing
their advance on foot.

Their stealthy tread taking care to plant the foot lightly upon the
fallen leaves, the precaution to keep inside the shadow the frequent
pauses, spent in looking ahead and listening the silent gestures with
which these movements are directed by him who appears to be the leader
all proclaim design, to reach the jacalé unperceived by whoever may
chance to be inside it.

In this they are successful so far as may be judged by appearances. They
stand by the stockade walls, without any sign being given to show that
they have been seen,

The silence inside is complete, as that they are themselves observing.
There is nothing heard not so much as the screech of a hearth cricket.

And yet the hut is inhabited. But a man may get drunk beyond the power
of speech, snoring, or even audibly breathing and in this condition is
the tenant of the jackal.

The four Comanches steal up to the door and in skulking attitudes
scrutinize it.'

It is shut but there are chinks at the sides.

To these the savages set their ears all at the same time and stand
silently listening.

No snoring, no breathing, no noise of any kind! "It is possible," says
their chief to the follower nearest him speaking in a whisper, but in
good grammatical Castilian, "just possible he has not yet got home
though by the time of hi starting he should have reached here long
before this. He may have ridden out again? Now I remember there's a
horse shed at the back. If the man be inside the house, the beast should
be found in the shed. Stay here, camarados, till I go round and see."

Six seconds suffice to examine the substitute for a stable. No horse in
it.

As many more are spent in scrutinizing the path that leads to it. No
horse has been there at least not lately.

These points determined, the chief returns to his followers still
standing by the doorway in front.

"Maldito!" he exclaims, giving freer scope to his voice, "he's not here,
nor has he been this day."

"We had better go inside, and make sure?" suggests one of the common
warriors, in Spanish fairly pronounced. "There can be no harm in our
seeing how the Irlandes has housed himself out here?"

"Certainly not!" answers a third, equally well versed in the language of
Cervantes. "Let's have a look at his larder too. I'm hungry enough to
eat raw tasajo."

"Por Dios!" adds the fourth and last of the quartette, in the same
sonorous tongue. "I've heard that he keeps a cellar. If so--."

The chief does not wait for his follower to finish the hypothetical
speech. The thought of a cellar appears to produce a powerful effect
upon him stimulating to immediate action.

He sets his heel upon the skin door, with the intention of pushing it
open.

It resists the effort.

"Carrambo! It's barred inside! Done to keep out intruders in his
absence! Lions, tigers, bears, buffaloes and perhaps Indians. Ha! ha!
ha!"

Another kick is given with greater force. The door still keeps its
place.

"Barricaded with something, something heavy too. It won't yield to
kicking.' No matter. I'll soon see what's inside."

The machete is drawn from its sheath and a large hole cut through the
stretched skin, that covers the light framework of wood.

Into this the Indian thrusts his arm and groping about, discovers the
nature of the obstruction.

The packages are soon displaced, and the door thrown open.

The savages enter, preceded by a broad moonbeam, that lights them on
their way, and enables them to observe the condition of the interior.

A man lying in the middle of the floor!

"Carajo!"

"Is he asleep?"

"He must be dead not to have heard us?"

"Neither," says the chief, after stooping to examine him, "only dead
drunk boracho, embriaguado! He's the servitor of the Irlandes. I've seen
this fellow before. From his manner, one may safely conclude, that his
master is not at home, nor has been lately. I hope the brute hasn't used
up the cellar in getting himself into this comfortable condition. Ah! a
jar. And smelling like a rose! There's a rattle among these rods.
There's stuff inside. Thank the Lady Guadaloupe for this!"

A few seconds suffice for distributing what remains of the contents of
the demijohn. There is enough to give each of the four a drink, with two
to their chief who, notwithstanding his high rank, has not the superior
politeness to protest against this unequal distribution. In a trice the
jar is empty.

What next?

The master of the house must come home, some time or other. An interview
with him is desired by the men, who have made a call upon him
particularly desired, as may be told by the unseasonable hour of their
visit. The chief is especially anxious to see him.

What can four Comanche Indians want with Maurice the mustanger?

Their talk discloses their intentions for among themselves they make no
secret of their object in being there.

They have come to murder him!

Their chief is the instigator, the others are only his instruments and
assistants.

The business is too important to permit of his trifling. He will gain a
thousand dollars by the deed, besides a certain gratification
independent of the money motive. His three braves will earn a hundred
each, a sum sufficient to tempt the cupidity of a Comanche, and purchase
him for any purpose.

The travesty need not be carried any further. By this time the mask must
have fallen off. Our Comanches are mere Mexicans; their chief, Miguel
Diaz, the mustanger.

"We must lie in, wait for him."

This is the counsel of El Coyote.

"He cannot be much longer now, whatever may have detained him. You,
Barajo, go up to the bluff, and keep a look out over the plain. The rest
remain here with me. He must come that way from the Leona. We can meet
him at the bottom of the gorge under the big cypress tree. 'Tis the best
place for our purpose."

"Had we not better silence him?" hints the bloodthirsty Barajo, pointing
to the Galwegian fortunately unconscious of what is transpiring around
him.

"Dead men tell no tales!" adds another of the conspirators, repeating
the proverb in its original language.

"It would tell a worse tale were we to kill him," rejoins Diaz.
"Besides, it's of no use. He's silent enough as it is, the droll devil.
Let the dog have his day. I've only bargained for the life of his
master. Come, Barajo! Vayate! vayate! Up to the cliff. We can't tell the
moment Don Mauricio may drop in upon us. A miscarriage must not be made.
We may never have such a chance again. Take your stand at the top of the
gorge. From that point you have a view of the whole plain. He cannot
come near without your seeing him, in such moonlight as this. As soon as
you've set eyes on him, hasten down and let us know. Be sure you give us
time to get under the cypress."

Barajo is proceeding to yield obedience to this chapter of instructions,
but with evident reluctance. He has, the night before, been in ill luck,
having lost to El Coyote a large sum at the game of monte. He is
desirous of having his revanche for he well knows how his confreres will
spend the time in his absence.

"Quick, Señor Vicente," commands Diaz, observing his dislike to the duty
imposed upon him "if we fail in this business, you will lose more than
you can gain at an albur of monté. Go, man!" continues El Coyote, in an
encouraging way. "If he comes not within the hour, some one will relieve
you. Go!"

Barajo obeys, and, stepping out of the jackal, proceeds to his post upon
the top of the cliff.

The others seat themselves inside the hut having already established a
light.

Men of their class and calling generally go provided with the means of
killing time, or, at all events, hindering it from hanging on their
hands.

The slab table is between them, upon which is soon displayed, not their
supper, but a pack of Spanish cards, which every Mexican vagabondo
carries under his serapé.

Cavallo and soto (queen and knave) are laid face upward a monté table is
established the cards are shuffled and the play proceeds.

Absorbed in calculating the chances of the game, an hour passes without
note being taken of the time.

El Coyote is banker, and also croupier.

The cries "Cavallo en la puertal" "Soto mozo!" ("The queen in the gate!"
"The knave winner!") at intervals announced in set phrase echo from the
skin covered walls.

The silver dollars are raked along the rough table, their sharp chink
contrasting with the soft shuffle of the cards.

All at once a more stentorous sound interrupts the play, causing a
cessation of the game.

It is the screech of the inebriate, who, awaking from his trance of
intoxication, perceives for the first time the queer company that share
with him the shelter of the jacalé.

The players spring to their feet, and draw their machetes. Phelim stands
a fair chance of being skewered on three long Toledos.

He is only saved by a contingency, another interruption that has the
effect of staying the intent.

Barajo appears in the doorway panting for breath.

It is scarce necessary for him to announce his errand, though he
contrives to gasp out,--

"He is coming on the bluff already at the head of the cañada quick,
comrades, quick!"

The Galwegian is saved. There is scarce time to kill him even were it
worth while.

But it is not at least so think the masqueraders who leave him to resume
his disturbed slumber, and rush forth to accomplish the more profitable
assassination.

In a score of seconds they are under the cliff, at the bottom of the
sloping gorge by which it must be descended.

They take stand under the branches of a spreading cypress and await the
approach of their victim.

They listen for the hoof strokes that should announce it. These are soon
heard. There is the clinking of a shod hoof not in regular strokes, but
as if a horse was passing over an uneven surface. One is descending the
slope!

He is not yet visible to the eyes of the ambuscaders. Even the gorge is
in gloom like the valley below, shadowed by tall trees.

There is but one spot where the moon throws light upon the turf a narrow
space outside the somber shadow that conceals the assassins.
Unfortunately this does not lie in the path of their intended victim. He
must pass under the canopy of the cypress!

"Don't kill him!" mutters Miguel Diaz to his men, speaking in an earnest
tone. "There's no need for that just yet. I want to have him alive for
the matter of an hour or so. I have my reasons. Lay hold of him and his
horse. There can be no danger, as he will be taken by surprise, and
unprepared. If there be resistance, we must shoot him down but let me
fire first."

The confederates promise compliance.

They have soon an opportunity of proving the sincerity of their promise.
He for whom they are waiting has accomplished the descent of the slope,
and is passing under the shadow of the cypress.

"Abajo las armas! A tierra!" ("Down with your weapons. To the ground!")
cries El Coyote, rushing forward and seizing the bridle, while the other
three fling themselves upon the man who is seated in the saddle.

There is no resistance, either by struggle or blow, no blade drawn, no
shot discharged, not even a word spoken' in protest!

They see a man standing upright in the stirrups they lay their hands
upon limbs that feel solid flesh and bond, and yet seem insensible to
the touch!

The horse alone shows resistance. He rears upon his hind legs, makes
ground backward, and draws his captives after him.

He carries them into the light, where the moon is shining outside the
shadow. Merciful heaven! What does it mean? His captors let go their
hold, and fall back with a simultaneous shout. It is a scream of wild
terror!'

Not another instant do they stay under the cypress, but commence
retreating at top speed towards the thicket where their own steeds have
been left tied.

Mounting in mad haste, they ride rapidly away.

They have seen that which has already stricken terror into hearts more
courageous than theirs, a horseman without a head!



45. A TRAIL GONE BLIND.


Was it a phantom? Sorely it could not be human?

So questioned El Coyote and his terrified companions. So, too, had the
scared Galwegian interrogated himself, until his mind, clouded by
repeated appeals to the demijohn, became temporarily relieved of the
terror.

In a similar strain, had run the thoughts of more than a hundred others,
to whom the headless horseman had shown himself the party of searchers
who accompanied the major.

It was at an earlier hour, and a point in the prairie five miles farther
east, that to these the weird figure had made itself manifest.

Looking westward, with the sun glare in their eyes, they had seen only
its shape, and nothing more at least nothing to connect it with Maurice
the mustanger.

Viewing it from the west, with the sun at his back, the Galwegian had
seen enough, to make out a resemblance to his master, if not an absolute
identification.

Under the light of the moon, the four Mexicans, who knew Maurice Gerald
by sight, had arrived at a similar conclusion.

If the impression made upon the servant, was one of the wildest awe,
equally had it stricken the conspirators.

The searchers, though less frightened by the strange phenomenon, were
none the less puzzled to explain it.

Up to the instant of its disappearance, no explanation had been
attempted save that jocularly conveyed in the bizarre speech of the
borderer.

"What do you make of it, gentlemen?" said the major, addressing those
that had clustered around him, "I confess it mystifies me."

"An Indian trick?" suggested one. "Some decoy to draw us into an
ambuscade?"

"A most unlikely lure, then" remarked another "certainly the last that
would attract me."

"I don't think it's Indian," said the major "I don't know what to think.
What's your opinion of it, Spangler?"

The tracker shook his head, as if equally uncertain.

"Do you think it's an Indian in disguise?" urged the officer, pressing
him for an answer.

"I know no more than you, major," replied he. "It should be something of
that kind for what else can it be? It must either be a man, or a dummy!"

"That's it a dummy!" cried several, evidently relieved by the
hypothesis.

"Whatever it is: man, dummy, or devil," said the frontiersman, who had
already pronounced upon it, "that's no reason why we should be
frightened from following its trail. Has it left any, I wonder?"

"If it has," replied Spangler, "we'll soon see. Ours goes the same way
so fur as can be judged from here. Shall we move forward, major?"

"By all means. We must not be turned from our purpose by a trifle like
that. Forward!"

The horsemen again advanced, some of them not without a show of
reluctance. There were among them men, who, if left to themselves, would
have taken the back track. Of this number was Calhoun, who, from the
first moment of sighting the strange apparition, had shown signs of
affright even beyond the rest of his companions. His eyes had suddenly
assumed an unnatural glassiness; his lips were white as ashes, while his
drooping jaw laid bare two rows of teeth, which he appeared with
difficulty to restrain from chattering!

But for the universal confusion, his wild manner might have been
observed. So long as the singular form was in sight, there were eyes
only for it and when it had at length disappeared, and the party
advanced along the trail, the ex-captain hung back, riding unobserved
among the rearmost.

The tracker had guessed aright. The spot upon which the ghostly shape
had for the moment stood still, lay direct upon the trail they were
already taking up.

But, as if to prove the apparition a spirit, on reaching the place there
were no tracks to be seen!

The explanation, however, was altogether natural. Where the horse had
wheeled round, and for miles beyond, the plain was thickly strewn with
white shingle. It was, in trapper parlance, a "chalk prairie." The
stones showed displacement and here and there an abrasion that appeared
to have been made by the hoof of a horse. But these marks were scarce
discernible, and only to the eyes of the skilled tracker.

It was the case with the trail they had been taking up that of the shod
mustang and as the surface had lately been disturbed by a wild herd, the
particular hoof-marks could no longer be distinguished.

They might have gone further, in the direction taken by the headless
rider. The sun would have been their guide, and after that the evening
star. But it was the rider of the shod mustang they were desirous to
overtake and the half hour of daylight that followed was spent in
fruitless search for his trail gone blind among the shingle.

Spangler proclaimed himself at fault, as the sun disappeared over the
horizon.

They had no alternative but to ride back to the chapparal, and bivouac
among the bushes.

The intention was to make a fresh trial for the recovery of the trail,
at the earliest hour of the morning.

It was not fulfilled, at least as regarded time. The trial was postponed
by an unexpected circumstance.

Scarce had they formed camp, when a courier arrived, bringing a dispatch
for the major. It was from the commanding officer of the district, whose
head quarters were at San Antonio de Bexar. It had been sent to Fort
Inge, and thence forwarded.

The major made known its tenor by ordering "boots and saddles" to be
sounded and before the sweat had become dry upon the horses, the
dragoons were once more upon their backs.

The dispatch had conveyed the intelligence, that the Comanches were
committing outrage, not upon the Leona, but fifty miles farther to the
eastward, close to the town of San Antonio itself.

It was no longer a mere rumor. The maraud had commenced by the murder of
men, women, and children, with the firing of their houses.

The major was commanded to lose no time, but bring what troops he could
spare to the scene of operations. Hence his hurried decampment.

The civilians might have stayed, but friendship even parental affection,
must yield to the necessities of nature. Most of them had set forth,
without further preparation than the saddling of their horses, and
shouldering their guns and hunger now called them home.

There was no intention to abandon the search. That was to be resumed as
soon as they could change horses, and establish a better system of
commissariat. Then would it be continued as one and all declared, to the
"bitter end."

A small party was left with Spangler to take up the trail of the
American horse, which according to the tracker's forecast would lead
back to the Leona. The rest returned along with the dragoons.

Before parting with Poindexter and his friends, the major made known to
them what he had hitherto kept back the facts relating to the bloody
sign, and the tracker's interpretation of it. As he was no longer to
take part in the search, he thought it better to communicate to those
who should, a circumstance so important.

It pained him to direct suspicion upon the young Irishman, with whom in
the way of his calling, he had held some pleasant intercourse. But duty
was paramount and, notwithstanding his disbelief in the mustanger's
guilt, or rather his belief in its improbability, he could not help
acknowledging that appearances were against him.

With the planter and his party it was no longer a suspicion. Now that
the question of Indians was disposed of, men boldly proclaimed Maurice
Gerald a murderer.

That the deed had been done no one thought of doubting. Oberdoffer's
story had furnished the first chapter of the evidence. Henry's horse
returning with the blood stained saddle the last. The intermediate links
were readily supplied partly by the interpretations of the tracker, and
partly by conjecture.

No one paused to investigate the motive, at least with any degree of
closeness. The hostility of Gerald was accounted for by his quarrel with
Calhoun, on the supposition that it might have extended to the whole
family of the Poindexter!

It was very absurd reasoning but men upon the track of a supposed
murderer rarely reason at all. They think only of destroying him.

With this thought did they separate intending to start afresh on the
following morning, throw themselves once more upon the trail of the two
men who were missing, and follow it up, till one or both should be
found, living or dead.

The party left with Spangler remained upon the spot which the major had
chosen as a camping ground.

They were in all less than a dozen. A larger number was deemed
unnecessary. Comanches, in that quarter, were no longer to be looked
for, nor was there any other danger that called for strength of men. Two
or three would have been sufficient for the duty required of them.

Nine or ten stayed, some out of curiosity, others for the sake of
companionship. They were chiefly young men, sons of planters and the
like. Calhoun was among them, the acknowledged chief of the party though
Spangler, acting as guide, was tacitly understood to be the man to whom
obedience should be given.

Instead of going to sleep, after the others had ridden away, they
gathered around a roaring fire, already kindled within the thicket
glade.

Among them, was no stint for supper, either of eatables or drinkables.
The many who had gone back, knowing they would not need them had
surrendered their haversacks, and the "heel taps" of their canteens, to
the few who remained. There was liquor enough, to last through the
night, even if spent in continuous carousing.

Despite their knowledge of this, despite the cheerful crackling of the
logs, as they took their seats around the fire they were not in high
spirits.

One and all appeared to be under some influence that, like a spell,
prevented them from enjoying a pleasure perhaps not surpassed upon
earth.

You may talk of the tranquil joys of the domestic hearth. At times, upon
the prairie, I have myself thought of, and longed to return to them. But
now, looking back upon both, and calmly comparing them, one with the
other, I cannot help exclaiming:

"Give me the circle of the camp fire, with half a dozen of my hunter
comrades around it once again give me that, and be welcome to the wealth
I have accumulated, and the trivial honors I have gained thrice welcome
to the care and the toil that must still be exerted in retaining them."

The somber abstraction of their spirits was easily explained. The weird
shape was fresh in their thoughts. They were yet under the influence of
an indefinable awe.

Account for the apparition as they best could, and laugh at it as they
at intervals affected to do, they could not clear their minds of this
unaccountable incubus, nor feel satisfied with any explanation that had
been offered.

The guide Spangler partook of the general sentiment, as did their leader
Calhoun.

The latter, appeared more affected by it than any of the party! Seated,
with moody brow, under the shadow of the trees, at some distance from
the fire, he had not spoken a word since the departure of the dragoons.
Nor did he seem disposed to join the circle of those who were basking in
the blaze but kept himself apart, as if not caring to come under the
scrutiny of his companions.

There was still the same wild look in his eyes the same scared
expression upon his features that had shown itself before sunset.

"I say, Cash Calhoun!" cried one of the young fellows by the fire, who
was beginning to talk "tall," under the influence of the oft repeated
potations "come up, old fellow, and join us in a drink! We all respect
your sorrow and will do what we can to get satisfaction, for you and
yours. But a man mustn't always mope, as you're doing. Come along here,
and take a 'smile' of the Monongaheela! It'll do you a power of good, I
promise you."

Whether it was that he was pleased at the interpretation put upon his
silent attitude which the speech told mm had been observed or whether he
had become suddenly inclined towards a feeling of good fellowship,
Calhoun accepted the invitation and stepping up to the fire, fell into
line with the rest of the roisterers. Before seating himself, he took a
pull at the proffered flask.

From that moment his air changed, as if by enchantment. Instead of
showing somber, he became eminently hilarious, so much so as to cause
surprise to more than one of the party. The behavior seemed odd for a
man, whose cousin was supposed to have been murdered that very morning.

Though commencing in the character of an invited guest, he soon
exhibited himself as the host of the occasion. After the others had
emptied their respective flasks, he proved himself possessed of a supply
that seemed inexhaustible. Canteen after canteen came forth from his
capacious saddle bags, the legacy left by many departed friends, who had
gone back with the major.

Partaking of these at the invitation of their leader encouraged by his
example the young planter "bloods" who encircled the camp fire, talked,
sang, danced, roared, and even rolled around it until the alcohol could
no longer keep them awake. Then, yielding to exhausted nature, they sank
back upon the sward, some perhaps to experience the dread slumber a
first intoxication.

The ex-officer of volunteers was the last of the number, who laid
himself along the grass.

If the last to lie down, he was the first to get up. Scarce had the
carousal ceased scarce had the sonorous breathing of his companions
proclaimed them asleep when he rose into an erect attitude, and with
cautious steps stole out from among them.

With like stealthy tread he kept on to the confines of the camp to the
spot where his horse stood "bitched" to a tree.

Releasing the rein from its knot, and throwing it over the neck of the
animal, he clambered into the saddle, and rode noiselessly away.

In all these actions, there was no evidence that he was intoxicated. On
the contrary, they proclaimed a clear brain, bent upon some purpose
previously determined.

What could it be?

Urged by affection, was he going forth to trace the mystery of the
murder, by finding the body of the murdered man? Did he wish to show his
zeal by going alone?

Some such design might have been interpreted from a series of speeches
that fell carelessly from his lips, as he rode through the chapparal.

"Thank God, there's a clear moon and six good hours before those
youngsters will think of getting to their feet! I'll have time to search
every corner of the thicket, for a couple of miles around the place and
if the body be there I cannot fail to find it. But what could that thing
have meant? If I'd been the only one to see it, I might have believed
myself mad. But they all saw it every one of them. Almighty heavens!
What could it have been?"

The closing speech ended in an exclamation of terrified surprise,
elicited by a spectacle that at the moment presented itself to the eyes
of the ex-officer, causing him to rein up his horse, as if some dread
danger was before him.

Coming in by a side path, he had arrived on the edge of the opening
already described. He was just turning into it, when he saw, that he was
not the only horseman, who at that late hour was traversing the
chapparal.

Another, to all appearance as well mounted as himself, was approaching
along the avenue not slowly as he, but in a quick trot.

Long before the strange rider had come near, the moonlight, shining rail
upon him, enabled Calhoun to see that he was headless!

There could be no mistake about the observation. Though quickly made, it
was complete. The white moon beams, silvering his shoulders, were
reflected from no face, above or between them! It could be no illusion
of the moon's light. Calhoun had seen that same shape under the glare of
the sun.

He now saw more, the missing head, ghastly and gory, half shrouded
behind the hairy holsters! More still, he recognized the horse, the
striped serapé upon the shoulders of the rider, the water-guards upon
his legs, the complete caparison, all the belongings of Maurice the
mustanger!

He had ample time to take in these details. At a stand in the embouchure
of the side path, terror held him transfixed to the spot. His horse
appeared to share the feeling. Trembling in its tracks, the animal made
no effort to escape; even when the headless rider pulled up in front,
and, with a snorting, rearing steed, remained for a moment confronting
the frightened party.

It was only after the blood bay had given utterance to a wild "whigher,"
responded to by the howl of a hound close following at his heels and
turned into the avenue to continue his interrupted trot, only then that
Calhoun became sufficiently released from the spell of horror to find
speech.

"God of heaven!" he cried, in a quivering voice, "what can it mean? Is
it man, or demon, that mocks me? Has this whole day been a dream? Or am
I mad-mad-mad?"

The scarce coherent speech was succeeded by action, instantaneous but
determined. Whatever the purpose of his exploration, it was evidently
abandoned: for, turning his horse with a wrench upon the rein, he rode
back by the way he had come only at a far faster pace, pausing not till
he had re-entered the encampment.

Then stealing up to the edge of the fire, he lay down among the
slumbering inebriates, not to sleep, but to stay trembling in their
midst, till daylight disclosed a haggard pallor upon his cheeks, and
ghastly glances sent forth from his sunken eyes.



46. A SECRET CONFIDED.


The first dawn of day witnessed an unusual stir in and around the
hacienda of Casa del Corvo.

Its courtyard was crowded with men armed, though not in the regular
fashion. They carried long hunting rifles, haying a caliber of sixty to
the pound double barreled shot guns, single barreled pistols, revolvers
knives with long blades and even tomahawks!

In their varied attire of red flannel shirts, coats of colored blanket,
and "Kentucky jeans," trousers of brown "homespun," and blue
"cottonade," hats of felt and caps of skin, tall boots of tanned
leather, and leggings of buck these stalwart men furnished a faithful
picture of an assemblage, such as may be often seen in the frontier
settlements of Texas.

Despite the bizarrerie of their appearance, and the fact of their
carrying weapons, there was nothing in either to proclaim their object
in thus coming together. Had it been for the most pacific purpose, they
would have been armed and appareled just the same.

But their object is known.

A number of the men so met, had been out on the day before, along with
the dragoons. Others had now joined the assemblage settlers who lived
farther away, and hunters who had been from home.

The muster on this morning was greater than on the preceding day even
exceeding the strength of the searching party when supplemented by the
soldiers.

Though all were civilians, there was one portion of the assembled crowd
that could boast of an organization. Irregular it may be deemed,
notwithstanding the name by which its members were distinguished. These
were the "Regulators."

There was nothing distinctive about them, either in their dress, arms,
or equipments. A stranger would not have known a Regulator from any
other individual. They knew one another.

Their talk was of murder, of the murder of Henry Poindexter coupled with
the name of Maurice the mustanger.

Another subject was discussed of a somewhat cognate character. Those who
had seen it, were telling those who had not, of the strange spectacle
that had appeared to them the evening before on the prairie.

Some were at first incredulous, and treated the thing as a joke. But the
wholesale testimony and the serious manner in which it was given could
not long be resisted and the existence of the headless horseman became a
universal belief.

Of course there was an attempt to account for the odd phenomenon, and
many forms of explanation were suggested. The only one, that seemed to
give even the semblance of satisfaction, was that already set forward by
the frontiersman, that the horse was real enough, but the rider was a
counterfeit.

For what purpose such a trick should be contrived, or who should be its
contriver, no one pretended to explain.

For the business that had brought them together, there was but little
time wasted in preparation. All were prepared already.

Their horses were outside, some of them held in hand by the servants of
the establishment, but most "hitched" to whatever would hold them.

They had come warned of their work, and only waited for Woodley
Poindexter on this occasion their chief, to give the signal for setting
forth.

He only waited in the hope of procuring a guide one who could conduct
them to the Alamo who could take them to the domicile of Maurice the
mustanger.

There was no such person present. Planters, merchants, shopkeepers,
lawyers, hunters, horse and slave dealers, were all alike ignorant of
the Alamo.

There was but one man belonging to the settlement supposed to be capable
of performing the required service, old Zeb Stump. But Zeb could not be
found. He was absent, on one of his stalking expeditions and the
messengers sent to summon him were returning, one after another, to
announce a bootless errand.

There was a woman, in the hacienda itself, who could have guided the
searchers upon their track to the very hearthstone of the supposed
assassin.

Woodley Poindexter knew it not and perhaps well for him it was so. Had
the proud planter suspected that in the person of his own child, there
was a guide who could have conducted him to the lone hut on the Alamo,
his sorrow for a lost son would have been stifled by anguish for an
erring daughter.

The last messenger sent in search of Stump came back to the hacienda
without him. The thirst for vengeance could be no longer stayed, and the
avengers went forth.

They were scarce out of sight of Casa del Corvo, when the two
individuals, who could have done them such signal service, became
engaged in conversation within the walls of the hacienda itself.

There was nothing clandestine in the meeting, nothing designed. It was a
simple contingency, Zeb Stump having just come in from his stalking
excursion, bringing to the hacienda a portion of the "plunder", as he
was wont to term it, procured by his unerring rifle.

Of course to Zeb Stump, Louise Poindexter was at home. She was even
eager for the interview so eager, as to have kept almost a continual
watch along the river road, all the day before, from the rising to the
setting of the sun.

Her vigil, resumed on the departure of the noisy crowd, was soon after
rewarded by the sight of the hunter, mounted on his old mare the latter
laden with the spoils of the chase slowly moving along the road on the
opposite side of the river, and manifestly making for the hacienda.

A glad sight to her, that rude, but grand shape of colossal manhood. She
recognized in it the form of a true friend, one to whose keeping she
could safely entrust her most secret confidence. And she had now such a
secret to confide to him, that for a night and a day had been painfully
pent up within her bosom.

Long before Zeb had set foot upon the nagged pavement of the patio, she
had gone out into the verandah to receive him.

The air of smiling nonchalance with which he approached, proclaimed him
still ignorant of the event which had cast its melancholy shadow over
the house. There was just perceptible the slightest expression of
surprise, at finding the outer gate shut, chained, and barred.

It had not been the custom of the hacienda at least during its present
proprietary.

The somber countenance of the black, encountered within the shadow of
the saguan, strengthened Zeb's surprise sufficiently to call forth an
inquiry.

"Why, Piute, ole fellur! whatsomdiver air the matter wi' ye? Yur lookin'
like a 'coon wi' his tail chopped off clost to the stump at thet! An'
why air the big gate shet an' barred in the middle o' breakfist time? I
hope thur hain't nuthin' gone astray?"

"Ho! ho! Mass 'Tump, dat's jess what dar hab goed stray, dat's preecise
de ting, dis chile sorry t' say berry much goed stray. Ho! berry, berry
much!"

"Heigh!" exclaimed the hunter, startled at the lugubrious tone. "Thur
air sommeat amiss? What is't, nigger? Tell me sharp quick. It can't be
no wuss than yur face shows it. Nothin' happened to yur young mistress,
I hope? Miss Lewaze"

"Ho ho! nuffin' happen to de young Missa Looey. Ho ho! Bad enuf 'thout
dat. Ho! de young missa inside de house yar. 'Tep in, Mass' 'Tump. She
tell yon de drefful news herseff."

"Ain't yur master inside, too? He's at home, ain't he?"

"Golly, no. Dis time no. Massa ain't 'bout de house at all nowhar. He
wa' hya a'most a quarrer of an hour ago. He no hya now. He off to de
hoss prairas wha de hab de big hunt 'bout a momf ago. You know, Mass'
Zeb?"

"The hoss purayras! What's tuk him thur? Whose along wi' him?"

"Ho! ho! dar's Mass Cahoon, and gobs o' odder white genlum. Ho! ho!
Dar's a mighty big crowd of dem, dis nigga tell you."

"An' yur young Master Henry air he gone too?"

"O Mass' 'Tump! Dat's wha am be trubble. Dat's de whole of it. Mass'
Hen' he gone too. Ho nebba mo' come back. De hoss he been brought home
all kibbered over wif blood. Ho! ho! de folks say Massa Henry he gone
dead."

"Dead! Yur jokin'? Air ye in airnest, nigger?"

"Oh! I is, Mass' Tump. Sony dis chile am to hab say dat am too troo.
Dey all gone to sarch atter de body."

"Hyur! Take these things to the kitchen. Thur's a gobbler, an' some
purayra chickens. Whar kin I find Miss Lewaze?"

"Here, Mr. Stomp. Come this way!" replied a sweet voice well known to
him, but now speaking in accents so sad he would scarce have recognized
it.

"Alas! It is too true what Pluto has been telling you. My brother is
missing. He has not been seen since the night before last. His horse
came home, with spots of blood upon the saddle. Zeb! It's fearful to
think of it!"

"Sure enuf that air ugly news. He rud out somewhar, and the hoss kim
back 'ithout him? I don't weesh to gie ye un needcessary pain, Miss
Lewaze but, as they air still sarchin', I mout be some help at that ere
bizness; and maybe ye won't mind tellin' me the particklers?"

These were imparted, as far as known to her. The garden scene and its
antecedents were alone kept back. Oberdoffer was given as authority for
the belief, that Henry had gone off after the mustanger.

The narrative was interrupted by bursts of grief, changing to
indignation, when she came to tell Zeb of the suspicion entertained by
the people that Maurice was the murderer.

"It air a lie!" cried the hunter, partaking of the same sentiment a
false, perjured lie! an' he air a stinkin' skunk that invented it. The
thing's impossible. The mowstanger ain't the man to a dud sech a deed as
that. An' why shed he have dud it? If thur hed been an ill feelin'
atween them. But thur wa'n't. I kin answer for the mowstanger for more'n
oncest I've heern him talk o' your brother in the tallest kind o' tarms.
In coorse he hated yur cousin Cash an' who doesn't, I shed like to know?
Excuse me for savin' it. As for the other, it air different. Ef thar hed
been a quarrel an' hot blood atween them"

"No-no!" cried the young Creole, forgetting herself in the agony of her
grief. "It was all over. Henry was reconciled. He said so; and Maurice--"

The astounded look of the listener brought a period to her speech.
Covering her face with her hands, she buried her confusion in a flood of
tears.

"Hoh-oh!" muttered Zeb "thur hev been somethin'? D'ye say, Miss Lewaze,
thur war a quarrel atween yur brother"

"Dear, dear Zeb!" cried she, removing her hands, and confronting the
stalwart hunter with an air of earnest entreaty, "promise me, you will
keep my secret? Promise it, as a friend a brave true hearted man! You
will, you will?"

The pledge was given by the hunter raising his broad palm, and extending
it with a sonorous slap over the region of his heart.

In five minutes more he was in possession of a secret, which a woman
rarely confides to man, except to him who can profoundly appreciate the
confidence.

The hunter showed less surprise than might have been expected, merely
muttering to himself:

"I thort it wud come to somethin' o' the sort specially arter thet ere
chase acrost the purayra."

"Wal, Miss Lewaze," he continued, speaking in a tone of kindly approval,
"Zeb Stump don't see anythin' to be ashamed o' in all thet. Weemen will
be weemen all the world over on the purayras or off o' them; an' ef ye
have lost yur young heart to the mowstanger, it wud be the tallest kind
o' a mistake to serpose ye hev displaced yur affeckshuns, as they calls
it. Though he air Irish, he aint none o' the common sort thet he aint.
As for the rest yi've been tellin' me, it only sarves to substantify
what I've been savin' that it air parfickly unpossi ble for the
mowstanger to hev dud the dark deed that is, ef thur's been one dud at
all. Let's hope thur's nothin' o' the kind. What proof hez been found?
Only the hoss comin' home wi' some rid spots on the seddle?"

"Alas! there is more. The people were all out yesterday. They followed a
trail, and saw something, they would not tell me what. Father did not
appear as if he wished me to know what they had seen and I--I feared,
for reasons, to ask the others. They've gone off again only a short
while just as you came in sight on the other side."

"But the mowstanger? What do he say for hisself?"

"Oh, I thought you knew. He has not been found either. Mon Dieu! Mon
Dieu! He, too, may have fallen by the same hand that has struck down my
brother!"

"Ye say they war on a trail? His'n I serpose? If he be livin' he oughter
be foun' at his shanty on the crik. Why didn't they go thar? Ah! now I
think o't, thur's nobody knows the adzack sittavashun o' that ere
domycile 'ceptin' myself I reckon; an' if it war that greenhorn Spangler
as war guidin' o' them he'd niver be able to lift a trail acrost the
chalk purayra. Hev they gone that way agin?"

"They have. I heard some of them say so."

"Wal, if they're gone in sarch o' the mowstanger I reck'n I mout as well
go too. I'll gie tall odds I find him afore they do."

"It is for that I've been so anxious to see you. There are many rough
men along with papa. As they went away I heard them use wild words.
There were some of those called 'Regulators.' They talked of lynching
and the like. Some of them swore terrible oaths of vengeance. O my God!
If they should find him, and he cannot make clear his innocence, in the
height of their angry passions cousin Cassius among the number you
understand what I mean who knows what may be done to him? Dear Zeb, for
my sake for his, whom you call friend go-go! Reach the Alamo before
them, and warn him of the danger! Your horse is slow. Take mine any one
you can find in the stable--"

"Thur's some truth in what ye say," interrupted the hunter, preparing to
move off. "Thur mout be a smell o' danger for the young fellur an' I'll
do what I kin to avart it. Don't be uneezay, Miss Lewaze. Thur's not
sech a partickler hurry. Thet ere shanty ain't agoin' ter be foun'
'ithouta spell o' sarchin'. As to ridin' yur spotty I'll manage better
on my ole maar. Beside, the critter air reddy now if Piute hain't tuk
off the saddle. Don't be greetin' yur eyes out thet's a good chile!
Maybe it'll be all right yit 'bout yur brother and as to the mowstanger,
I hain't no more surspishun o' his innersense than a unborn babby."

The interview ended by Zeb making obeisance in backwoodsman style, and
striding out of the verandah while the young Creole glided off to her
chamber, to soothe her troubled spirit in supplications for his success.



47. AN INTERCEPTED EPISTLE.


Urged by the most abject fear, had El Coyote and his three comrades
rushed back to their horses, and scrambled confusedly into the saddle.

They had no idea of returning to the jackal of Maurice Gerald. On the
contrary, their only thought was to put space between themselves and
that solitary dwelling whose owner they had encountered riding towards
it in such strange guise.

That it was "Don Mauricio" not one of them doubted. All four knew him by
sight, Diaz better than any but all well enough to be sure it was the
Irlandes. There was his horse, known to them his armas de agua of jaguar
skin his Navajo blanket, in shape differing from the ordinary serapé of
Saltillo and his head!

They had not stayed to scrutinize the features, but the hat was still in
its place the sombrero of black glaze, which Maurice was accustomed to
wear. It had glanced in their eyes, as it came under the light of the
moon.

Besides, they had seen the great dog, which Diaz remembered to be his.
The staghound had sprung forward in the midst of the struggle, and with
a fierce growl attacked the assailants though it had not needed this to
accelerate their retreat.

East as their horses could carry them, they rode through the bottom
timber and, ascending the bluff by one of its ravines not that where
they had meant to commit murder they reached the level of the upper
plateau.

Nor did they halt there for a single second but, galloping across the
plain; re-entered the chapparal, and spurred on to the place where they
had so skillfully transformed themselves into Comanches.

The reverse metamorphosis, if not so carefully, was more quickly
accomplished. In haste they washed the war paint from their skins
availing themselves of some water carried in their canteens in haste
they dragged their civilized habiliments from the hollow tree, in which
they had hidden them and, putting them on in like haste, they once more
mounted their horses, and rode towards the Leona.

On their homeward way they conversed only of the headless horseman but,
with their thoughts under the influence of a supernatural terror, they
could not satisfactorily account for an appearance so unprecedented and
they were still undecided as they parted company on the outskirts of the
village each going to his own jacalé.

"Carrai!" exclaimed the Coyote, as he stepped across the threshold of
his, and dropped down upon his cane couch. "Not much chance of sleeping
after that. Santos Dios! Such a sight! It has chilled the blood to the
very bottom of my veins. And nothing here to warm me. The canteen empty
the posada, shut up, everybody in bed!

"Madre de Dios! what can it have been? Ghost it could not be flesh and
bones I grasped myself so did Vicente on the other side? I felt that, or
something very like it, under the tiger skin. Santissima! It could not
be a cheat!

"If a contrivance, why and to what end? Who cares to play carnival on
the prairies except myself, and my camarados? Mil demonios! What a grim
masquerader!

"Carajo! Am I forestalled? Has some other had the offer, and earned the
thousand dollars? Was it the Irlandes himself, dead, decapitated,
carrying his head in his hand?

"Bah! It could not be ridiculous, unlikely, and altogether improbable!

"But what then?

"Ha! I have it! A hundred to one, I have it! He may have got warning of
our visit, or, at least, had suspicions of it. Twas a trick got up to
try us! Perhaps himself in sight, a witness of our disgraceful flight?
Maldito!

"But who could have betrayed us? No one. Of course no one could tell of
that intent. How then should he have prepared such an infernal surprise?

"Ah! I forget. It was broad daylight as we made the crossing of the long
prairie. We may have been seen, and our purpose snspected? Just so just
so. And then, while we were making our toilet in the chapparal, the
other could have been contrived and effected. That, and that only, can
be the explanation!

"Fools! to have been frightened at a scarecrow!

"Carrambo! It shan't long delay the event. Tomorrow I go back to the
Alamo. I'll touch that thousand yet, if I should have to spend twelve
months in earning it and, whether or not the deed shall be done all the
same. Enough to have lost Isidora. It may not be true but the very
suspicion of it puts me beside myself. If I but find out that she loves
him that they have met since Mother of God! I shall go mad and in my
madness destroy not only the man I hate, but the woman I love! O Doña
Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos! Angel of beauty, and demon of mischief!
I could kill you with my caresses, I can kill you with my steel! One or
other shall be your fate. It is for you to choose between them!"

His spirit becoming a little tranquillized, partly through being
relieved by this conditional threat and partly from the explanation he
had been able to arrive at concerning the other thought that had been
troubling it he soon after fell asleep.

Nor did he awake until daylight looked in at his door and along with it
a visitor.

"José!" he cried out in a tone of surprise in which pleasure was
perceptible "you here?"

"Si, Señor; yo estoy."

"Glad to see you, good José. Is Doña Isidora here? On the Leona, I
mean?"

"Si, Señor."

"So soon again! She was here scarce two weeks ago, was she not? I was
away from the settlement, but had word of it. I was expecting to hear
from you, good José. Why did you not write?"

"Only, Señor Don Miguel, for want of a messenger that could be relied
upon. I had something to communicate that could not with safety be
entrusted to a stranger. Something, I am sorry to say, you won't thank
me for telling you but my life is yours, and I promised you should know
all."

The "prairie wolf" sprang to his feet, as if pricked with a sharp
pointed thorn.

"Of her and him? I know it by your looks. Your mistress has met him?"

"No, Señor, she hasn't, not that I know of, not since the first time."

"What, then?" inquired Diaz, evidently a little relieved. "She was here
while he was at the posada. Something passed between them?"

"True, Don Miguel, something did pass, as I well know, being myself the
bearer of it. Three times I carried him a basket of dulces, sent by the
Doña Isidora, the last time also a letter."

"A letter! You know the contents? You read it?"

"Thanks to your kindness to the poor peon boy, I was able to do that,
more still to make a copy of it."

"You have one?"

"I have. You see, Don Miguel, you did not have me sent to school for
nothing. This is what Doña Isidora wrote to him."

Diaz reached out eagerly, and, taking hold of the piece of paper,
proceeded to devour its contents.

It was a copy of the note that had been sent among the sweetmeats.

Instead of further exciting, it seemed rather to tranquillize him.

"Carrambo!" he carelessly exclaimed, as he folded up the epistle."
There's not much in this, good José. It only proves that your mistress
is grateful to one who has done her a service. If that's all--."

"But it is not all, Señor Don Miguel; and that's why I've come to see
you now. I'm on an errand to the pueblita. This will explain it."

"Ha! Another letter?"

"Si, Señor! This time the original itself, and not a poor copy scribbled
by me."

With a shaking hand Diaz took hold of the paper, spread it out, and
read:



AL Señor Don Mauricio Gerald.

Querido amigol

Otra vez aqui estoy, con tio Silvio quedando! Sin novedades de V, no
puedo mas tiempo existir. La incertitud me mataba. Digame que es V,
convalescente! Ojala, que estuviera asi! Suspiro en vuestros ojos mirar,
estos ojos tan lindos y tan espresivos, a ver, si es restablecido
vuestra salud. Sea graciosa darme este favor. Hay, opportunidad. En una
cortita media de hora, estuviera quedando en la cima de loma, sobre la
cosa del tio. Ven, cavallero, ven!

Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos.



With a curse El Coyote concluded the reading of the letter. Its sense
could scarce be mistaken. Literally translated it .read thus:



"Dear Friend, I am once more here, staying with uncle Silvio. Without
hearing of you, I could not longer exist. The uncertainty is killing me.
Tell me if you are convalescent. Oh! that it may be so. I long to look
into your eyes, those eyes so beautiful, so expressive to make sure that
your health is perfectly restored. Be good enough to grant me this
favor. There is an opportunity. In a short half hour from this time, I
shall be on the top of the hill, above my uncle's house. Come, sir,
come!

"Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos."



"Carajo! an assignation!" half shrieked the indignant Diaz. "That and
nothing else! She, too, the proposer. Ha! Her invitation shall be
answered though not by him for whom it is so cunningly intended. Kept to
the hour, to the very minute and by the Divinity of Vengeance.

"Here, José! This note's of no use. The man to whom it is addressed
isn't any longer in the pueblita, or anywhere about here. God knows
where he is! There's some mystery about it. No matter. You go on to the
posada, and make your inquiries all the same. You must do that to
fulfill your errand. Never mind the papelcito; leave it with me. You can
have it to take to your mistress, as you come back this way. Here's a
dollar to get you a drink at the inn. Señor Doffer keeps the best kind
of aguardiente. Hasta luego!"

Without staying to question the motive for these directions given to
him, José, after accepting the douceur, yielded tacit obedience to them,
and took his departure from the jacalé.

He was scarce out of sight, before Diaz also stepped over its threshold.
Hastily setting the saddle upon his horse, he sprang into it, and rode
off in the opposite direction.



48. ISIDORA.


The sun has just raised clear above the prairie horizon, his round disc
still resting upon the sward, like a buckler of burnished gold. His rays
are struggling into the chapparal, which here and there diversifies the
savanna. The dew beads yet cling upon the acacias, weighting their
feathery fronds, and causing them to droop earthward, as if grieving at
the departure of the night, whose cool breeze and moist atmosphere are
more congenial to them than the fiery sirocco of day. Though the birds
are stirring, for what bird could sleep under the shine of such glorious
sunrise? It is almost too early to expect human beings abroad elsewhere
than upon the prairies of Texas. There, however, the hour of the sun's
rising is the most enjoyable of the day and few there are who spend it
upon the unconscious couch, or in the solitude of the chamber.

By the banks of the Leona, some three miles below Fort Inge, there is
one who has forsaken both, to stray through the chapparal. This early
wanderer is not afoot, but astride a strong, spirited horse, that seems
impatient at being checked in his paces. By this description, you may
suppose the rider to be a man but, remembering that the scene is in
Southern Texas still sparsely inhabited by a Spano-Mexican population,
you are equally at liberty to conjecture that the equestrian is a woman.
And this, too, despite the round hat upon the head, despite the serapé
upon the shoulders, worn as a protection against the chill morning air,
despite the style of equitation, so outré to European ideas, since the
days of La Duchesse de Berri; and still farther, despite the crayon like
colouring on the upper lip, displayed in the shape of a pair of silken
moustaches. More especially may this last mislead and you may fancy
yourself looking upon some Spanish youth, whose dark but delicate
features are the hijo de algo, with a descent traceable to the times of
Cid.

If acquainted with the character of the Spano-Mexican physiognomy, this
last sign of virility does not decide you as to the sex. It may be that
the rider in the Texan chapparal, so distinguished, is, after all, a
woman!

On closer scrutiny, this proves to be the case. It is proved by the
small hand clasping the bridle rein by the little foot, whose tiny toes
just touch the "estribo", looking less in contrast with the huge wooden
block that serves as a stirrup, by a certain softness of shape, and
pleasing rotundity of outline, perceptible even through the thick serapé
of Saltillo and lastly, by the grand luxuriance of hair coiled up at the
back of the head, and standing out in shining clump beyond the rim of
the sombrero.

After noting these points, you become convinced that you are looking
upon a woman, though it may be one distinguished by certain
idiosyncrasies. You are looking upon the Doña Isidora Covarubio de los
Llanos.

You are struck by the strangeness of her costume still more by the way
she aids her horse. In your eyes, unaccustomed to Mexican modes, both
may appear odd, unfeminine, perhaps indecorous.

The Doña Isidora has no thought, not even a suspicion, of there being
anything odd in either. Why should she? She is but following the fashion
of her country and her kindred. In neither respect is she peculiar.

She is young, but yet a woman. She has seen twenty summers, and perhaps
one more. Passed under the sun of a Southern sky, it is needless to say
that her girlhood is long since gone by.

In her beauty there is no sign of decadence. She is fair to look upon,
as in her "buen quince" (beautiful fifteen). Perhaps fairer. Do not
suppose that the dark lining on her lip damages the feminine expression
of her face. Rather add to its attractiveness. Accustomed to the glowing
complexion of the Saxon blonde, you may at first sight deem it a
deformity. Do not so pronounce, till you have looked again. A second
glance, and my word for it, you will modify your opinion. A third will
do away with your indifference, a fourth change it to admiration!

Continue the scrutiny, and it will end in your becoming convinced that a
woman wearing a moustache young, beautiful, and brunette is one of the
grandest sights which a beneficent Nature offers to the eye of man.

It is presented in the person of Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos. If
there is anything unfeminine in her face, it is not this though it may
strengthen a wild, almost fierce, expression, at times discernible, when
her white teeth gleam conspicuously under the sable shadow of the
"bigotite."

Even then is she beautiful but, like that of the female jaguar, 'tis a
beauty that inspires fear rather than affection.

At all times it is a countenance that bespeaks for its owner, the
possession of mental attributes, not ordinarily bestowed upon her sex.
Firmness, determination, courage carried to the extreme of reckless,
daring are all legible in its lines. In those cunningly carved features,
slight, sweet, and delicate, there is no sign of fainting or fear. The
crimson that has struggled through the brown skin of her cheeks, would
scarce forsake them in the teeth of the deadliest danger.

She is riding alone, through the timbered bottom of the Leona. There is
a house, not far off, but she is leaving it behind her. It is the
hacienda of her uncle, Don Silvio Martinez, from the portals of which
she has late issued forth.

She sits in her saddle as firmly as the skin that covers it. It is a
spirited horse, and has the habit of showing it by his prancing paces.
But have no fear for the rider, you are satisfied of her power to
control him.

A light lasso, suited to her strength, is suspended from the saddle bow.
Its careful coiling shows that it is never neglected. This almost
assures you, that she understands how to use it. She does can throw it,
with the skill of a mustanger.

The accomplishment is one of her conceits a part of the idiosyncrasy
already acknowledged.

She is riding along a road, not the public one, that follows the
direction of the river. It is a private way, leading from the hacienda
of her uncle, running into the former near the summit of a hill, the
hill itself being only the bluff that abuts upon the bottom lands of the
Leona.

She ascends the sloping path steep enough to try the breathing of her
steed. She reaches the crest of the ridge, along which trends the road
belonging to everybody.

She reins up, though not to give her horse an opportunity of resting.
She has halted, because of having reached the point where her excursion
is to terminate.

There is an opening on one side of the road, of circular shape, and
having a surface of some two or three acres. It is grass covered and
treeless, a prairie in petto. It is surrounded by the chapparal forest,
very different from the bottom timber out of which she has just emerged.
On all sides is the enclosing thicket of spinous plants, broken only by
the embouchures of three paths, their triple openings scarce perceptible
from the middle of the glade.

Near its centre she has pulled up, patting her horse upon the neck to
keep him quiet. It is not much needed. The scaling of the "cuesta" has
done that for him. He has no inclination either to go on, or tramp
impatiently in his place.

"I' am before the hour of appointment," mutters she, drawing a gold
watch from under her serapé, "if, indeed, I should expect him at all. He
may not come? God grant that he be able!"

"I am trembling! Or is it the breathing of the horse Valga me Dios, no!
'Tis my own poor nerves!"

"I never felt so before! Is it fear? I suppose it is."

"'Tis strange though, to fear the man I love, the only one I ever have
loved, for it could not have been love I had for Don Miguel. A girl's
fancy. Fortunate for me to have got cured of it! Fortunate my
discovering him to be a coward. That disenchanted me, quite dispelled,
the romantic dream in which he was the foremost figure. Thank my good
stars, for the disenchantment, for now I hate him, now that I hear he
has grown, Santissima! Can it be true that he has become a salteador?"

"And yet I should have no fear of meeting him, not even in this lone
spot!

"Ay de mi! Fearing the man I love, whom I believe to be of kind, noble
nature and having no dread of the one I hate, and know to be cruel and
remorseless! 'Tis strange, incomprehensible!"

"No there is nothing strange in it. I tremble not from any thought of
danger, only the danger of not being beloved. That is why I now shiver
in my saddle, why I have not had one night of tranquil sleep since my
deliverance from those drunken savages."

"I have never told him of this, nor do I know how he may receive the
confession. It must, and shall be made. I can endure the uncertainty no
longer. In preference I choose despair, death if my hopes deceive me!"

"Ha! There is a hoof stroke! A horse comes down the road! It is his?
Yes. I see glancing through the trees the bright hues of our national
costume. He delights to wear it. No wonder it so becomes him!"

"Santa Virgin! I'm under a serapé, with a sombrero on my head. He'll
mistake me for a man! Off, ye ugly disguises, and let me seem what I am:
a woman."

Scarce quicker could be the transformation in a pantomime. The casting
off the serapé reveals a form that Hebe might have envied, the removal
of the hat, a head that would have inspired the chisel of Canova!

A splendid picture is exhibited in that solitary glade; worthy of being
framed, by its bordering of spinous trees, whose hirsute arms seem
stretched out to protect it.

A horse of symmetrical shape, half backed upon his haunches, with
nostrils spread to the sky, and tail sweeping the ground on his back one
whose aspect and attitude suggest a commingling of grand, though
somewhat incongruous ideas, uniting to form a picture, statuesque as
beautiful.

The pose of the rider is perfect. Half sitting in the saddle, half
standing upon the stirrup, every undulation of her form is displayed,
the limbs just enough relaxed to show that she is a woman.

Notwithstanding what she has said, on her face there is no fear, at
least no sign to betray it. There is no quivering lip, no blanching of
the cheeks.

The expression is altogether different. It is a look of love, couched
under a proud confidence, such as that with which the she eagle awaits
the wooing of her mate.

You may deem the picture overdrawn perhaps pronounce it unfeminine.

And yet it is a copy from real life, true as I can remember it and more
than once had I the opportunity to fix it in my memory.

The attitude is altered, and with the suddenness of a coup d'éclair; the
change being caused by recognition of the horseman who comes galloping
into the glade. The shine of the gold laced vestments had misled her.
They are worn not by Maurice Gerald, but by Miguel Diaz!

Bright looks become black. From her firm seat in the saddle she subsides
into an attitude of listlessness, despairing rather than indifferent and
the sound that escapes her lips, as for an instant they part over her
pearl like teeth, is less a sigh than an exclamation of chagrin.

There is no sign of fear in the altered attitude, only disappointment,
dashed with defiance.

El Coyote speaks first.

"H'la! Señorita, who'd have expected to find your ladyship in this
lonely place, wasting your sweetness on the thorny chapparal?"

"In what way can it concern you, Don Miguel Diaz?"

"Absurd question, Señorita! You know it can, and does, and the reason
why. You well know how madly I love you. Fool was I to confess it, and
acknowledge myself your slave. 'Twas that that cooled you so quickly."

"You are mistaken, Señor. I never told you I loved you. If I did admire
your feats of horsemanship, and said so, you had no right to construe
it, as you've done. I meant no more than that I admired them, not you.
'Tis three years ago. I was a girl then, of an age when such things have
a fascination for our sex, when we are foolish enough to be caught by
personal accomplishments rather than moral attributes. I am now a woman.
All that is changed, as it ought to be."

"Carrai! Why did you fill me with fake hopes? On the day of the
herradero, when I conquered the fiercest bull and tamed the wildest
horse in your father's herds, a horse not one of his vaqueros dared so
much as lay hands upon, on that day you smiled, aye, looked with love
upon me. You need not deny it, Doña Isidora! I had experience, and could
read the expression, could tell your thoughts, as they were then. They
are changed, and why? Because I was conquered by your charms, or rather
because I was the silly fool to acknowledge it and you, like all women,
once you had won and knew it, no longer cared for your conquest. It is
true, Señorita it is true."

"It is not, Don Miguel Diaz. I never gave you word, or sign to say that
I loved, or thought of you otherwise than as an accomplished cavalier.
You appeared so then, perhaps were so. What are you now? You know what's
said of you, both here and on the Rio Grande!"

"I scorn to reply to calumny, whether it proceeds from false friends or
lying enemies. I have come here to seek explanations, not to give them."

"From whom?"

"From your sweet self, Doña Isidora."

"You are presumptive, Don Miguel Diaz! Think, Señor, to whom you are
addressing yourself. Remember, I am the daughter of..."

"One of the proudest haciendados in Tamaulipas, and niece to one of the
proudest in Texas. I have thought of all that; and thought too that I
was once a haciendado myself and am now only a hunter of horses.
Carrambo! what of that? You're not the woman to despise a man for the
inferiority of his rank. A poor mustanger stands as good a chance in
your eyes as the owner of a hundred herds. In that respect, I have proof
of your generous spirit!"

"What proof?" asked she, in a quick, entreating tone, and for the first
time showing signs of uneasiness. "What evidence of the generosity you
are so good as to ascribe to me?"

"This pretty epistle I hold in my hand, written by Doña Isidora
Covarubio de los Llanos, to one who, like me, is but a dealer in
horseflesh. I need not submit it to very close inspection. No doubt you
can identify it at some distance?"

She could, and did; as was evinced by her starting in the saddle by her
look of angry surprise directed upon Diaz.

"Señor! How came you in possession of this?" she asked, without any
attempt to disguise her indignation.

"It matters not. I am in possession of it, and of what for many a day I
have been seeking a proof, not that you had ceased to care for me, for
this I had good reason to know, but that you had begun to care for him.
This tells that you love him, words could not speak plainer. You long to
look into his beautiful eyes. Mil demonios! shall never see them again!"

"What means this, Don Miguel Diaz?"

The question was put not without a slight quivering of the voice that
seemed to betray fear. No wonder it should. There was something in the
aspect of El Coyote at that moment, well calculated to inspire the
sentiment.

Observing it, he responded, "You may well show fear, you have reason. If
I have lost you, my lady, no other shall enjoy you. I have made up my
mind about that."

"About what?"

"What I have said that no other shall call you his, and least of all,
Maurice the mustanger."

"Indeed!"

"Ay, indeed! Give me a promise that you and he shall never meet again,
or you depart not from this place!"

"You are jesting, Don Miguel?"

"I am in earnest, Doña Isidora."

The manner of the man too truly betrayed the sincerity of his speech.
Coward as he was, there was a cold cruel determination in his looks,
whilst his hand was seen straying towards the hilt of his machete.

Despite her Amazonian courage, the woman could not help a feeling of
uneasiness. She saw there was a danger, with but slight chance of
averting it. Something of this, she had felt from the first moment of
the encounter, but she had been sustained by the hope, that the
unpleasant interview might be interrupted by one who would soon change
its character.

During the early part of the dialogue she had been eagerly listening for
the sound of a horse's hoof casting occasional and furtive glances
through the chapparal, in the direction where she hoped to hear it.

This hope was no more. The sight of her own letter told its tale; it had
not reached its destination.

Deprived of this hope, hitherto sustaining her, she next thought of
retreating from the spot.

But this too presented both difficulties and dangers. It was possible
for her to wheel round and gallop off, but it was equally possible for
her retreat to be intercepted by a bullet. The butt of El Coyote's
pistol was as near to his hand as the hilt of his machete.

She was fully aware of the danger. Almost any other woman would have
given way to it. Not so Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos. She did not
even show signs of being affected by it.

"Nonsense!" she exclaimed, answering his protestation with an air of
well dissembled incredulity. "You are making sport of me, Señor. You
wish to frighten me. Ha! ha! ha! Why should I fear you! I can ride as
well, fling my lasso as sure and far as you. Look at this! See how
skillfully I can handle it!"

While so speaking smiling as she spoke she had lifted the lasso from her
saddle bow and was winding it round her head, as if to illustrate her
observations.

The act had a very different intent, though it was not perceived by Diaz
who, puzzled by her behavior, sate speechless in his saddle.

Not till he felt the noose closing around his elbows did he suspect her
design and then too late to hinder its execution. In another instant his
arms were pinioned to his sides both the butt of his pistol and the hilt
of his machete beyond the grasp of his fingers!

He had not even time to attempt releasing him from the loop. Before he
could lay hand upon the rope, it tightened around his body, and with a
violent pluck jerked him out of his saddle throwing him stunned and
senseless to the ground.

"Now, Don Miguel Diaz!" cried she who had caused this change of
situation, and who was now seen upon her horse, with head turned
homeward, the lasso strained taut from the saddle tree. "Menace me no
more! Make no attempt to release your self. Stir but a finger, and I
spur on! Cruel villain! Coward as you are, you would have killed me, I
saw it in your eyes. Ha! The tables are turned, and now."

Perceiving that there was no rejoinder, she interrupted her speech,
still keeping the lasso at a stretch, with her eyes fixed upon the
fallen man.

El Coyote lay upon the ground, his arms enlaced in the loop, without
stirring, and silent as a stick of wood. The fall from his horse had
deprived him of speech, and consciousness at the same time. To all
appearance he was dead his steed alone showing life by its_ loud
neighing, as it reared back among the bushes.

"Holy Virgin! Have I killed him?" she exclaimed, reining her horse
slightly backward, though still keeping him headed away, and ready to
spring to the spur. "Mother of God! I did not intend it, though I should
be justified in doing even that for too surely did he intend to kill me!
Is he dead, or is it a ruse to get me near? By our good Guadalupe! I
shall leave others to decide. There's not much fear of his overtaking
me, before I can reach home and if he's in any danger the people of the
hacienda will get back soon enough to release him. Good day, Don Miguel
Diaz! Hasta luego!"

With these words upon her lips the levity of which proclaimed her
conscience clear of having committed a crime she drew a small sharp
bladed knife from beneath the bodice of her dress severed the rope short
off from her saddle bow and, driving the spur deep into the flanks of
her horse, galloped off out of the glade leaving Diaz upon the ground,
still encircled by the loop of the lasso!



49. THE LASSO UNLOOSED.


An eagle, scared from its perch on a scathed cottonwood, with a scream,
soars upward into the air.

Startled by the outbreak of angry passions, it has risen to reconnoiter.

A single sweep of its majestic wing brings it above the glade. There,
poised on tremulous pinions, with eyes turned to earth, it scans both
the open space and the chapparal that surrounds it. In the former it
beholds that which may, perhaps, be gratifying to its glance a man
thrown from his horse that runs neighing around him prostrate apparently
dead. In the latter two singular equestrians one a woman, with bare head
and chevelure spread to the breeze, astride a strong steed, going away
from the glade in quick earnest gallop the other, also a woman, mounted
on a spotted horse, in more feminine fashion, riding towards it attired
in hat and habit, advancing at a slower pace, but with equal earnestness
in her looks.

Such is the coup d'oeil presented to the eye of the eagle.

Of these fair equestrians both are already known. She galloping away, is
Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos she who approaches, Louise Poindexter.

It is known why the first has gone out of the glade. It remains to be
told for what purpose the second is coming into it.

After her interview with Zeb Stump, the young Creole re entered her
chamber, and kneeling before an image of the Madonna, surrendered her
spirit to prayer.

It is needless to say that, as a Creole, she was a Catholic, and
therefore a firm believer in the efficacy of saintly intercession.
Strange and sad was the theme of her supplication the man who had been
marked as the murderer of her brother! She had not the slightest idea
that he was guilty of the horrid crime. It could not be. The very
suspicion of it would have lacerated her heart.

Her prayer was not for pardon, but protection. She supplicated the
Virgin to save him from his enemies her own friends!

Tears and choking sobs were mingled with her words, low murmured in the
ear of Heaven. She had loved her brother with the fondest sisterly
affection. She sorrowed sorely but her sorrow could not stifle that
other affection, stronger than the ties of blood. While mourning her
brother's loss she prayed for her lover's safety.

As she rose from her knees her eye fell upon the bow that implement so
cunningly employed to dispatch sweet messages to the man she loved.

"Oh! That I could send one of its arrows to warn him of his danger! I
may never use it again!"

The reflection was followed by a thought of cognate character. Might
there not remain some trace of that clandestine correspondence in the
place where it had been carried on?

She remembered that Maurice swam the stream, instead of re crossing in
the skiff, to be drawn back again by her own lasso. His must have been
left in the boat!

On the day before, in the confusion of her grief, she had not thought of
this. It might become evidence of their midnight meeting of which, as
she supposed, no tongue but theirs and that for ever silent could tell
the tale.

The sun was now fairly up, and gleaming garishly through the glass. She
threw open the casement and stepped out, with the design of proceeding
towards the skin. In the balcon her steps were arrested, on hearing
voices above.

Two persons were conversing. They were her maid Florinde, and the sable
groom, who, in the absence of his master, was taking the air of the
azotea,

Their words could be heard below, though their young mistress did not
intentionally listen to them. It was only on their pronouncing a name,
that she permitted their patois to make an impression upon her ear.

"Dey calls de voung fella Jerrad. Mors Jerrad am de name. Dey do say he
Irish, but if folks 'peak de troof, he an't bit like dem Irish dat works
on de Lebee at New Orlean. Ho, ho! He more like bos gen'lum planter.
Dat's what he like."

"You don't tink, Pluto, he been gone kill Massa Henry?"

"I doan't tink nuffin of de kind. Ho, ho! He kill Massa Henry! no more
dan dis chile hab done dat same. Goramity, Goramity! 'Peak of de debbil
and he dar, de berry individible we talkin' 'bout. Ho, ho! look Florinde
look yonner!"

"What?"

"Dar, out dar, on todder side of de ribba. You see man on horseback.
Dat's Mors Jerrad, de berry man we meet on de brack praira. De same dat
gub Missa Loo de 'potted hoss, de same dey've all gone to sarch for. Ho,
ho! Dey gone dey wrong way. Dey no find him out on dem prairas dis day."

"O, Pluto! an't you glad? I'm sure he innocent dat brave bewful young
gen'lum. He nebba could been de man--"

The listener below stayed to hear no more. Gliding back into her chamber
she made her way towards the azotea. The beating of her heart was almost
as loud as the fall of her footsteps while ascending the escalera. It
was with difficulty she could conceal her emotion from the two
individuals whose conversation had caused it.

"What have you seen, that you talk so loudly?" said she, trying to hide
her agitation under a pretended air of severity."

"Ho, ho! Missa Looey look ober dar. De young fella!"

"What young fellow?"

"Him as dey be gone sarch for him dat"

"I see no one."

"Ho, ho! He jess gone in among de tree. See yonner yonner! Tou see de
black glaze hat, de shinin' jacket of velvet, an de glancin' silver
buttons dat's him. I sartin sure dat's de same young fella."

"You may be mistaken for all that, Master Pluto. There are many here who
dress in that fashion. The distance is too great for you to distinguish
and now that he's almost out of sight Never mind, Florinde. Hasten below
get out my hat and habit. I'm going out for a ride. You, Pluto! Have the
saddle on Luna in the shortest time. I must not let the sun get too
high. Haste, Haste!"

As the servants disappeared down the stairway, she turned once more
towards the parapet, her bosom heaving under the revulsion of thoughts.
Unobserved she could now freely scan the prairie and chapparal.

She was too late. The horseman had ridden entirely out of sight.

"It was very like him, and yet it was not? It can scarce be possible? If
it be he, why should he be going that way?"

A new pang passed through her bosom. She remembered once before having
asked herself the same question.

She no longer stayed upon the azotea to watch the road. In ten minutes'
time she was across the river, entering the chapparal where the horseman
had disappeared.

She rode rapidly on, scanning the causeway far in the advance.

Suddenly she reined up, on nearing the crest of the hill that overlooked
the Leona. The act was consequent on the hearing of voices.

She listened. Though still distant, and but faintly heard, the voices
could be distinguished as those of a man and woman.

What man? What woman? Another pang passed through her heart at these put
questions.

She rode nearer again halted again listened.

The conversation was carried on in Spanish. There was no relief to her
in this. Maurice Gerald would have talked in that tongue to Isidora
Covarubio de los Llanos. The Creole was acquainted with it sufficiently
to have understood what was said, had she been near enough to
distinguish the words. The tone was animated on both sides, as if both
speakers were in a passion. The listener was scarce displeased at this.

She rode nearer once more pulled up and knee more sate listening.

The man's voice was heard no longer. The woman's sounded clear and firm,
as if in menace!

There was an interval of silence, succeeded by a quick trampling of
horses another pause another speech on the part of the woman, at first
loud like a threat, and then subdued as in a soliloquy then another
interval of silence, again broken by the sound of hoofs, as if a single
horse was galloping away from the ground.

Only this and the scream of an eagle that startled by the angry tones,
had swooped aloft, and was now soaring above the glade.

The listener knew of the opening to her a hallowed spot. The voices had
come out of it. She had made her last halt a little way from its edge.
She had been restrained from advancing by a fear the fear of finding out
a bitter truth.

Her indecision ending, she spurred on into the glade.

A horse saddled and bridled rushing to and from a man prostrate upon the
ground, with a lasso looped around his arms, to all appearance dead a
sombrero and serapé lying near, evidently not the man's! What could be
the interpretation of such a tableau?

The man was dressed in the rich costume of the Mexican ranchero the
horse also caparisoned in this elaborate and costly fashion.

At sight of both, the heart of the Louisianan leaped with joy. Whether
dead or living, the man was the same she had seen from the azotea and he
was not Maurice Gerald.

She had doubted before, had hoped that it was not he; and her hopes were
now sweetly confirmed.

She drew near and examined the prostrate form. She scanned the face,
which was turned up the man lying upon his back. She fancied she had
seen it before, but was not certain.

It was plain that he was a Mexican. Not only his dress but his
countenance, every line of it betrayed the Spanish-American physiognomy.

He was far from being ill featured. On the contrary, he might have been
pronounced handsome.

It was not this that induced Louise Poindexter to leap down from her
saddle, and stoop over him with a kind pitying look.

The joy caused by his presence, by the discovery that he was not
somebody else, found gratification in performing an act of humanity.

"He does not seem dead? Surely he is breathing."

The cord appeared to hinder his respiration.

It was loosened on the instant the noose giving way to a woman's
strength.

"Now, he can breathe more freely. Pardieu! What can have caused it?
Lassoed in his saddle and dragged to the earth? That is most probable.
But who could have done it? It was a woman's voice. Surely it was? I
could not be mistaken about that.

"And yet there is a man's hat, and a serapé, not this man's! Was there
another, who has gone away with the woman? Only one horse went off?

"Ah! He is coming to himself! Thank Heaven for that! He will be able to
explain all. You are recovering, sir?"

"Señorita! Who are you?" asked Don Miguel Diaz, raising his head, and
looking apprehensively around.

"Where is she?" he continued.

"Of whom do you speak?' I have seen no one but you."

"Carrambo! That's queer. Haven't you met a woman astride a grey horse?"

"I heard a woman's voice, as I rode up."

"Say rather a she devil's voice for that, sure, is Isidora Covarubio de
los Llanos.

"Was it she who has done this?"

"Maldito! Where is she now? Tell me that, señorita."

"I cannot. By the sound of the hoofs, I fancy she has gone down the
hill. She must have done so, as I came the other way myself."

"Ah, gone down the hill home. You've been very kind, señorita, in
loosening this lasso as I make no doubt you've done. Perhaps you will
still further assist me by helping me into the saddle? Once in it, I
think I can stay there. At all events, I must not stay here. I have
enemies, not far off. Come, Carlito!" he cried to his horse, at the same
time summoning the animal by a peculiar whistle. "Come near! Don't be
frightened at the presence of this fair lady. She's not the same that
parted you and me so rudely en verdad, almost for ever! Come on,
cavallo! Come on!"

The horse, on hearing the whistle, came trotting up, and permitted his
master now upon his feet to lay hold of the bridle rein.

"A little help from you, kind señorita, and I think I can climb into my
saddle. Once there, I shall be safe from their pursuit."

"You expect to be pursued?"

"Quien sabe? I have enemies, as I told you. Never mind that. I feel very
feeble. You will not refuse to help me?"

"Why should I? You are welcome, sir, to any assistance I can give you."

"Mil gracias, señorita! Mil, mil gracias!"

The Creole, exerting all her strength, succeeded in helping the disabled
horseman into his saddle where, after some balancing, he appeared to
obtain a tolerably firm seat.

Gathering up his reins, he prepared to depart.

"Adios, señorita!" said he, "I know not who you are. I see you are not
one of our people. Americano, I take it. Never mind that. You are good
as you are fair and if ever it should chance to be in his power, Miguel
Diaz will not be unmindful of the service you have this day done him."

Saving this El Coyote rode off, not rapidly, but in a slow walk, as if
he felt some difficulty in preserving his equilibrium.

Notwithstanding the slowness of the pace, he was soon out of sight, the
trees screening him as he passed the glade.

He went not by any of the three roads, but by a narrow track, scarce
discernible where it entered the underwood.

To the young Creole the whole thing appeared like a dream, strange,
rather than disagreeable.

It was changed to a frightful reality, when, after picking up a sheet of
paper left by Diaz, where he had been lying, she read what wag written
upon it. The address was "Don Mauricio Gerald" the signature, "Isidora
Covarubio de los Llanos."

To regain her saddle Louise Poindexter was almost as much in need of a
helping hand, as the man who had ridden away.

As she forded the Leona, in returning to Casa del Corvo, she halted her
horse in the middle of the stream and for some time sate gazing into the
flood that foamed up to her stirrup. There was a wild expression upon
her features that betokened deep despair. One degree deeper, and the
waters would have covered as fair a form, as was ever sacrificed to
their Spirit!



50. A CONFLICT WITH COYOTES.


The purple shadows of a Texan twilight were descending upon the earth,
when the wounded man, whose toilsome journey through the chapparal has
been recorded, arrived upon the banks of the streamlet.

After quenching his thirst to a surfeit, he stretched himself along the
grass, his thoughts relieved from the terrible strain so long and
continuously acting upon them.

His limb for the time pained him, but little and his spirit was too much
worn to be keenly apprehensive as to the future.

He only desired repose and the cool evening breeze, sighing through the
feathery fronds of the acacias, favored his chances of obtaining it.

The vultures had dispersed to their roosts in the thicket and, no longer
disturbed by their boding presence, he soon after fell asleep.

His slumber was of short continuance. The pain of his wounds, once more
returning, awoke him.

It was this and not the cry of the coyote that kept him from sleeping
throughout the remainder of the night.

Little did he regard the sneaking wolf of the prairies a true jackal
that attacks but the dead the living, only when dying.

He did not believe that he was dying.

It was a long dismal night to the sufferer it seemed as if day would
never dawn.

The light came at length, but revealed nothing to cheer him. Along with
it came the birds, and the beasts went not away.

Over him, in the shine of another sun, the vultures once more extended
their shadowy wings. Around him he heard the howl bark of the coyote, in
a hundred hideous repetitions. Crawling down to the stream, he once more
quenched his thirst. He now hungered and looked round for something to
eat.

A pecan tree stood near. There were nuts upon its branches, within six
feet of the ground.

He was able to reach the pecan upon his hands and knees though the
effort caused agony.

With his crutch he succeeded in detaching some of the nuts and on these
broke his fast.

What was the next step to be taken?

To stir away from the spot was simply impossible. The slightest movement
gave him pain at the same time assuring him of his utter inability to go
anywhere.

He was still uncertain as to the nature of the injuries he had
sustained, more especially that in his leg, which was so swollen that he
could not well examine it. He supposed it to be either a fracture of the
knee cap, or a dislocation of the joint. In either case, it might be a
day before he could use the limb and what, meanwhile, was he to do?

He had but little expectation of any one coming that way. He had shouted
himself hoarse and though, at intervals, he still continued to send
forth a feeble cry, it was but the intermittent effort of hope,
struggling against despair.

There was no alternative but stay where he was and, satisfied of this,
he stretched himself along the sward, with the resolve to bens patient
as possible.

It required all the stoicism of his nature to boar up against the acute
agony he was enduring. Nor did he endure it altogether in silence. At
intervals it elicited a groan.

Engrossed by his sufferings, he was for a while unconscious of what was
going on around him. Still above him wheeled the black birds but he had
become accustomed to their presence, and no longer regarded it not even
when, at intervals, some of them swooped so near, that he could hear the
"wheep" of their wings close to his ears.

Ha! What was that that sound of different import?

It resembled the pattering of little feet upon the sandy channel of the
stream, accompanied by quick breathings, as of animals in a state of
excitement.

He looked around for an explanation.

"Only the coyotes!" Was his reflection, on seeing a score of these
animals flitting to and fro, skulking along both banks of the stream,
and "squatting" upon the grass.

Hitherto he had felt no fear only contempt for these cowardly creatures.

But his sentiments underwent a change, on his noticing their looks and
attitudes. The former were fierce, the latter earnest and threatening.
Clearly did the coyotes mean mischief!

He now remembered having heard, that these animals, ordinarily
innocuous, from sheer cowardice will attack man when disabled beyond the
capability of defending himself. Especially will they do so when
stimulated by the smell of blood.

His had flowed freely, and from many veins punctured by the spines of
the cactus. His garments were saturated with it, still but half dry.

On the sultry atmosphere it was sending forth its peculiar odor. The
coyotes could not help scenting it.

Was it this that was stirring them to such excited action apparently
making them mad?

Whether or not, he no longer doubted that it was their inclination to
attack him.

He had no weapon but a bowie knife, which fortunately had kept its place
in his belt. His rifle and pistols, attached to the saddle, had been
carried off by his horse.

He drew the knife and, resting upon his right knee, prepared to defend
himself.

He did not perform the action a second too soon. Emboldened by having
been so long left to make their menaces unmolested, excited to courage
by the smell of blood, stronger as they drew nearer stimulated by their
fierce natural appetites, the wolves had by this time reached the
turning point of their determination, which was to spring forward upon
the wounded man.

They did so, half a dozen of them simultaneously, fastening their teeth
upon his arms, limbs, and body, as they made their impetuous attack.

With a vigorous effort he shook them off, striking out with his knife.
One or two were gashed by the shining blade, and went howling away. But
a fresh band, had by this time entered into the fray, others coming up,
till the assailants counted a score.

The conflict became desperate, deadly. Several of the animals were
slain. But the fate of their fallen comrades did not deter the
survivors, from continuing the strife. On the contrary, it but maddened
them the more.

The struggle became more and more confused, the coyotes crowding over
one another to lay hold of their victim. The knife was wielded at random
the arm wielding it every moment becoming weaker, and striking with less
fatal effect.

The disabled man was soon further disabled.

He felt fear for his life. No wonder death was staring him in the face.

At this crisis a cry escaped his lips. Strange it was not one of terror,
but joy! And stranger still that, on hearing it, the coyotes for an
instant desisted from their attack!

There was a suspension of the strife a short interval of silence. It was
not the cry of their victim that had caused it, but that which had
elicited the exclamation.

There was the sound of a horse's hoofs going at a gallop, followed by
the loud haying of a hound.

The wounded man continued to exclaim, in shouts calling for help. The
horse appeared to be close by. A man upon his back could not fail to
hear them.

But there was no response. The horse, or horseman, had passed on.

The hoof strokes became less distinct. Despair once more returned to the
antagonist of the coyotes.

At the same time, his skulking assailants, felt a renewal of their
courage and hastened to renew the conflict.

Once more it commenced, and was soon raging fiercely as before the
wretched man believing himself doomed, and only continuing the strife
through sheer desperation.

Once more was it interrupted, this time by an intruder whose presence
inspired him with fresh courage and hope.

If the horseman had proved indifferent to his calls for help, not so the
hound. A grand creature of the staghound species of its rarest and
finest breed, was seen approaching the spot, uttering a deep sonorous
bay, as with impetuous bound it broke through the bushes.

"A friend! Thank Heaven, a friend /"

The baying ceased, as the hound cleared the selvage of the chapparal,
and rushed open mouthed among the cowed coyotes already retreating at
his approach!

One was instantly seized between the huge jaws, jerked upward from the
earth shaken as if it had been only a rat and let go again, to writhe
over the ground with a shattered spine!

Another was served in a similar manner but ere a third could be
attacked, the terrified survivors dropped their tails to the sward, and
went yelping away one and all retreating, whence they had come into the
silent solitudes of the chapparal.

The rescued man saw no more. His strength was completely spent. He had
just enough left to stretch forth his arms, and with a smile close them
around the neck of his deliverer. Then, murmuring some soft words, he
fainted gradually away.

His syncope was soon over, and consciousness once more assumed sway.

Supporting himself on his elbow, he looked inquiringly around.

It was a strange, sanguinary spectacle that met his eyes. But for his
swoon, he would have seen a still stranger one. During its continuance a
horseman had ridden into the glade, and gone out again. He was the
same whose hoof-stroke had been heard, and who had lent a deaf ear to
the cries for help. He had arrived too late, and then without any idea
of offering assistance. His design appeared to be the watering of his
horse.

The animal plunged straight into the streamlet, drank to its
satisfaction, climbed out on the opposite bank, trotted across the open
ground, and disappeared in the thicket beyond.

The rider had taken no notice of the prostrate form the horse only by
snorting, as he saw it, and springing from side to side, as he trod
amidst the carcasses of the coyotes.

The horse was a magnificent animal, not large, but perfect in all his
parts. The man was the very reverse, having no head!

There was a head, but not in its proper place. It rested against the
holster, seemingly held in the rider's hand!

A fearful apparition.

The dog barked, as it passed through the glade, and followed it to the
edge of the underwood. He had been with it for a long time, straying
where it strayed, and going where it went.

He now desisted from this fruitless fellowship and, returning to the
sleeper, lay down by his side.

It was then that the latter was restored to consciousness, and
remembered what had made him for the moment oblivious.

After caressing the dog, he again sank into a prostrate position and,
drawing the skirt of the cloak over his face to shade it from the glare
of the sun, he fell asleep.

The staghound lay down at his feet, and also slumbered but only in short
spells. At intervals it raised its head, and uttered an angry growl, as
the wings of the vultures came switching too close to its ears.

The young man muttered in his sleep. They were wild words that came from
his unconscious lips, and betokened a strange commingling of thoughts,
now passionate appeals of love now disjointed speeches, that pointed to
the committal of murder!



51. TWICE INTOXICATED.


Our story takes us back to the lone hut on the Alamo, so suddenly
forsaken by the gambling guests, who had made themselves welcome in the
absence of its owner.

It is near noon of the following day, and he has not yet come home. The
ci-devant stable boy of Bally-ballagh is once more sole occupant of the
jacalé once more stretched alone the floor, in a state of inebriety;
though not the same from which we have seen him already aroused. He has
been sober since, and the spell now upon him has been produced by a
subsequent appeal to the Divinity of drink.

To explain, we must go back to that hour between midnight and morning,
when the monté players made their abrupt departure.

The sight of three red savages, seated around the slab table, and
industriously engaged in a game of cards, had done more to restore
Phelim to a state of sobriety, than all the sleep he had obtained.

Despite certain grotesqueness in the spectacle, he had not seen it in a
ludicrous light, as was proved by the terrific screech with which he
saluted them.

There was nothing laughable in what followed. He had no very clear
comprehension of what did follow. He only remembered that the trio of
painted warriors suddenly gave up their game, flung their cards upon the
floor, stood over him for a time with naked blades, threatening his life
and then, along with a fourth who had joined them, turned their backs
abruptly, and rushed pell-mell out of the place!

All this occupied scarce twenty seconds of time and when he had
recovered from his terrified surprise, he found himself once more alone.

Was he sleeping, or awake? Drunk, or dreaming? Was the scene real? Or
was it another chapter of incongruous impossibilities, like that still
fresh before his mind?

But no. The thing was no fancy. It could not be. He had seen the savages
too near to be mistaken as to their reality. He had heard them talking
in a tongue unknown to him. What could it be but Indian jargon? Besides,
there were the pieces of pasteboard strewn over the floor!

He did not think of picking one up to satisfy himself of their reality.
He was sober enough, but not sufficiently courageous for that. He could
not be sure of their not burning his fingers those queer cards? They
might belong to the devil?

Despite the confusion of his senses, it occurred to him that the hut was
no longer a safe place to stay in. The painted players might return to
finish their game. They had left behind not only their cards, but
everything else the jacalé contained and though some powerful motive
seemed to have caused their abrupt departure, they might re appear with
equal abruptness.

The thought prompted the Galwegian to immediate action and, blowing out
the candle, so as to conceal his movements, he stole softly out of the
hut.

He did not go by the door. The moon was shining on the grass plat in
front. The savages might still be there?

He found means of exit at the back, by pulling one of the horse hides
from its place, and squeezing himself through the stockade wall.

Once outside, he skulked off under the shadow of the trees.

He had not gone far when a clump of dark objects appeared before him.
There was a sound, as of horses champing their bitts, and the occasional
striking of a hoof. He paused in his steps, screening his body behind
the trunk of a cypress.

A short observation convinced him, that what he saw was a group of
horses. There appeared to be four of them no doubt belonging to the four
warriors, who had turned the mustanger's hut into a gaming house. The
animals appeared to be tied to a tree, but for all that, their owners
might be beside them.

Having made this reflection, he was about to turn back and go the other
way but just at that moment he heard voices in the opposite direction
the voices of several men speaking in tones of menace and command.

Then came short, quick cries of affright, followed by the baying of a
hound, and succeeded by silence, at intervals interrupted by a swishing
noise, or the snapping of a branch as if several men were retreating
through the underwood in scared confusion!

As he continued to listen, the noises sounded nearer. The men who made
them were advancing towards the cypress tree.

The tree was furnished with buttresses all around its base, with shadowy
intervals between. Into one of these he stepped hastily and, crouching
close, was completely screened by the shadow.

He had scarce effected his concealment, when four men came rushing up;
and, without stopping, hastened on towards the horses.

As they passed by him, they were exchanging speeches which the Irishman
could not understand but their tone betrayed terror. The excited action
of the men confirmed it. They were evidently retreating from some enemy
that had filled them with fear.

There was a glade where the moon beams fell upon the grass. It was just
outside the shadow of the cypress. To reach the horses they had to cross
it and, as they did so, the vermilion upon their naked skins flashed red
under the moonlight.

Phelim identified the four gentlemen who had made so free with the
hospitality of the hut.

He kept his place till they had mounted, and rode off till he could tell
by the tramp of their horses that they had ascended the upper plain, and
gone off in a gallop as men who were not likely to come back again.

"Doesn't that bate Banagher?" muttered he, stepping out from his hiding
place, and throwing up his arms in astonishment. "Be japers! it diz.
Mother av Moses! fwhat cyan it mane anyhow? What are them divils afther?
An fwhat's afther them? Shure somethin' has given them a scarr that's
plain as a pikestaff. I wondher now if it's been that same. Be me sowl
it's jist it theyve encounthered. I heerd the hound gowlin, an didn't he
go afther it. O Lard! what cyan it be? May be it'll be comin' this way
in purshoot av them?"

The dread of again beholding the unexplained apparition, or being beheld
by it, caused him to shrink once more under the shadow of the tree where
he remained for some time longer in a state of trembling suspense.

"After all, it must be some thriek av Masther Maurice? Maybe to give me
a scar; an comin' back he's jist been in time to frighten off these
ridskins that intinded to rub 'an' beloike to murther us too. Sowl! I
hope it is that. How long since I saw it first? Trath! it must be some
considerable time. I renumber haying four full naggins, an' that's all
gone off. I wondher now if them Indyins has come acrass av the dmimyjan?
I've heerd that they're as fond of the crayther as if their skins was
white. Sowl! if they've smelt the jar there won't be a dhrap in it by
this time. I'll jist slip back to the hut an' see. If thare's any danger
now it won't be from them. By that tarin' gallop, I cyan tell they've
gone for good."

Once more emerging from the shadowy stall, he made his way back towards
the jacalé.

He approached it with caution, stopping at intervals to assure himself
that no one was near.

Notwithstanding the plausible hypothesis he had shaped out for himself,
he was still in dread of another encounter with the headless horseman
who twice on his way to the hut might now be inside of it.

But for the hope of finding a "dhrap" in the demijohn, he would not have
ventured back that night. As it was, the desire to obtain a drink was a
trifle stronger than his fears and yielding to it, he stepped doubtfully
into the darkness.

He made no attempt to rekindle the light. Every inch of the floor was
familiar to him and especially that corner where he expected to find the
demijohn.

He tried for it. An exclamation uttered in a tone of disappointment told
that it was not there.

"Be dad!" muttered he, as he grumblingly groped about "it looks as if
they'd been at it. Av coorse they hav, else fwhy is it not in its place?
I lift it thare, shure I lift it thare."

"Ach, me jewel! an' it's thare yez are yet," he continued, as his hand
came in contact with the wickerwork; "an' bad luck to their imperence,
impty as an eggshill! Ach! ye greedy gutted bastes! If I'd a known yez
were goin' to do that, I'd av slipped a thrifle av shumach juice into
the jar, an' made raal firewater av it for ye, jist fwhat yez wants.
Divil burn ye for a set av rid skinned thieves, stalin' a man's liquor
when he's aslape! Och an-anee! fwhat am I to do now? Go to slape agane?
I don't belave I cyan, thinkin' av them an' the tother, widout a thrifle
av the crayther to comfort me. An' thare isn't a dhrap widin twenty
Fwhat fwhat! Howly Mary! Mother av Moses! Sant Pathrick and all the
others to boot, fwhat am I talkin' about? The pewther flask the pewther
flask! Be japers! it's in the thrunk full to the very neck! Didn't I
fill it for Masther Maurice to take wid him the last time he went to the
sittlements? And didn't he forget to take it? Lard have mercy on me! If
the Indyins have laid their dhirty claws upon that I shall be afther
takin' lave av me sinses."

"Hoo-hoop-hoorro!" he cried, after an interval of silence, during which
he could be heard fumbling among the contents of the portmanteau.
"Hoo-hoop-hoorro! Thanks to the Lard for all his mercies. The rid skins
haven't been cunnin' enough to look thare. The flask as full as a tick
not wan av them has had a finger on it. Hoo-hoop-hoorro!"

For some seconds the discoverer of the spirituous treasure, giving way
to a joyous excitement, could be heard in the darkness, dancing over the
floor of the jacalé.

Then there was an interval of silence, succeeded by the screwing of a
stopper, and after that a succession of "glucks," that proclaimed the
rapid emptying of a narrow necked vessel.

After a time this sound was suspended, to be replaced by a repeated
smacking of lips, interlarded with grotesque ejaculations.

Again came the gluck-gluck, again the smackings, and so on alternately,
till an empty flask was heard falling upon the floor.

After that there were wild shouts scraps of song intermingled with
cheers and laughter incoherent ravings about red Indians and headless
horsemen, repeated over and over again, each time in more subdued tones,
till the maudlin gibberish at length ended in a loud continuous snoring!



52. AN AWAKENER.


Phelim's second slumber was destined to endure for a more protracted
term than his first. It was nearly noon when he awoke from it and then
only on receiving a bucket of cold water full in his face that sobered
him almost as quickly as the sight of the savages.

It was Zeb Stump who administered the douche.

After parting from the precincts of Casa del Corvo, the old hunter had
taken the road, or rather trail, which he knew to be the most direct one
leading to the head waters of the Nueces.

Without staying to notice tracks or other "sign," he rode straight
across the prairie, and into the avenue already mentioned.

From what Louise Poindexter had told him from knowledge of the people
who composed the party of searchers he knew that Maurice Gerald was in
danger.

Hence his haste to reach the Alamo before them coupled with caution to
keep out of their way.

He knew that if he came up with the Regulators, equivocation would be a
dangerous game and, nolens volens, he should be compelled to guide them
to the dwelling of the suspected murderer. On turning the angle of the
avenue, he had the chagrin to see the searchers directly before him,
clumped up in a crowd, and apparently engaged in the examination or
"sign."

At the same time, he had the satisfaction to know that his caution was
rewarded, by remaining unseen.

"Durn them!" he muttered, with bitter emphasis. "I mout a know'd they'd
a bin hyur. I must go back an' roun' the tother way. It'll deelay me
better'n a hour. Come, ole maar! This air an obstruckshun you won't
like. It'll gi'e ye the edition o' six more mile to yur journey. Ee up,
ole gal! Roun' an' back we go!"

With a strong pull upon the rein, he brought the mare short round, and
rode back towards the embouchure of the avenue.

Once outside, he turned along the edge of the chapparal, again entering
it by the path which on the day before had been taken by Diaz and his
trio of confederates. From this point he proceeded without pause or
adventure until he had descended to the Alamo bottom land, and arrived
within a short distance, though still out of sight of the mustanger's
dwelling.

Instead of riding boldly up to it, he dismounted from his mare and
leaving her behind him, approached the jacalé with his customary
caution.

The horse hide door was closed but there was a large aperture in the
middle of it, where a portion of the skin had been cut out. What was the
meaning of that?

Zeb could not answer the question, even by conjecture.

It increased his caution and he continued his approach with as much
stealth, as if he had been stalking an antelope.

He kept round by the rear so as to avail himself of the cover afforded
by the trees and at length, having crouched into the horse shed at the
back, he knelt down and listened.

There was an opening before his eyes where one of the split posts had
been pushed out of place, and the skin tapestry torn off. He saw this
with some surprise but, before he could shape any conjecture as to its
cause, his ears were saluted with a sonorous breathing, which came out
through the aperture. There was also a snore, which he fancied he could
recognize, as proceeding from Irish nostrils.

A glance through the opening settled the point. The sleeper was Phelim.

There was an end to the necessity for stealthy maneuvering. The hunter
rose to his feet, and stepping round to the front, entered by the door
which he found unbolted.

He made no attempt to rouse the sleeper, until after he had taken stock
of the paraphernalia upon the floor.

"Thur's been packin' up for some purpose," he observed, after a cursory
glance. "Ah! Now I reccollex. The young fellur saved he war goin' to
make a move from hyur some o' these days. Thet ere anymal air not only
soun' asleep, but dead drunk. Sartin he air, drunk as Backis. I kin tell
that by the smell o' him. I wonder if he hev left any o' the licker? It
air dewbious. Not a drop, dog-gone him! Thur's the jar, wi' the stop
plug out o' it, lyin' on its side an' thur's the flask, too, in the same
preedikamint both on 'em full o' empiness. Durn him for a drunken cuss!
He kin suck up as much moister as a chalk purayra.

"Spanish curds! A hul pack on 'em scattered abeout the place. What kin
he ha' been doin' wi' them? S'pose he's been havin' a game o' sollatury
along with his licker."

"But what's cut the hole in the door, an' why's the tother broken out at
the back? I reckon he kin tell. I'll roust him, an' see. Pheelum!
Pheelum!"

Phelim made no reply.

"Pheelum, I say! Pheelum!"

Still no reply. Although the last summons was delivered in a shout loud
enough to have been heard half a mile off, there was no sign made by the
slumberer to show that he even heard it.

A rude shaking administered by Zeb had no better effect. It only
produced a grunt, immediately succeeded by a return to the same
stentorous respiration.

"If 'twa'n't for his snoring I mout believe him to be dead. He air dead
drunk, an' no mistake intoxicated to the very ends o' his toe nails.
Kickin' him would be no use. Dog-goned, if I don't try this."

The old hunter's eye, as he spoke, was resting upon a pail that stood in
a corner of the cabin. It was full of water, which Phelim, for some
purpose, had fetched from the creek. Unfortunately for himself, he had
not wasted it.

With a comical expression in his eye, Zeb took up the pail and swilled
the whole of its contents right down upon the countenance of the
sleeper.

It had the effect intended. If not quite sobered, the inebriate was
thoroughly awakened and the string of terrified ejaculations that came
from his lips formed a contrasting accompaniment to the loud
cachinnations of the hunter.

It was some time before sufficient tranquility was restored, to admit of
the two men entering upon a serious conversation.

Phelim, however, despite his chronic inebriety, was still under the
influence of his late fears, and was only too glad to see Zeb Stump,
notwithstanding the unceremonious manner in which he had announced
himself.

As soon as an understanding was established between them, and without
waiting to be questioned, he proceeded to relate in detail, as concisely
as an unsteady tongue and disordered brain would permit, the series of
strange sights and incidents that had almost deprived him of his senses.

It was the first that Zeb Stump had heard of the Headless Horseman.

Although the report concerning this imperfect personage was that morning
broadly scattered around Fort Inge, and along the Leona, Zeb, having
passed through the settlement at an early hour, and stopped only at Casa
del Corvo, had not chanced upon any one who could have communicated such
a startling item of intelligence. In fact, he had exchanged speech only
with Pluto and Louise Poindexter neither of whom had at that time heard
anything of the strange creature encountered, on the evening before, by
the party of searchers. The planter, for some reason or another, had
been but little communicative, and his daughter had not held converse
with any of the others.

At first Zeb was disposed to ridicule the idea of a man without a head.
He called it "a fantasy of Pheelum's brain, owin' to his havm' tuk too
much of the corn juice."

He was puzzled, however, by Phelim's persistence in declaring it to be a
fact, more especially when he reflected on the other circumstances known
to him.

"Arrah, now, how could I be mistaken?" argued the Irishman. "Didn't I
see Masther Maurice, as plain as I see yourself at this minute? All
except the hid, and that I had a peep at as he turned to gallop away.
Besides, thare was the Mexican blanket, an' the saddle wid the rid
cloth, and the wather guards av spotted skin and who could mistake thai
purty horse? An' havn't I towld yez that Tara went away afther him, an'
thin I heerd the dog gowlin', jist afore the Indians--"

"Indyins!" exclaimed the hunter, with a contemptuous toss of the head.
"Indyins playin with Spanish curds! White Indyins, I reck'n."

"Div yez think they waren't Indyins, afther all?"

"Ne'er a matter what I think. Thur's no time to talk o' that now. Go on,
an' tell me o' all ye seed an' heern."

When Phelim had at length unburdened his mind, Zeb ceased to question
him and, striding out of the hut, squatted down, Indian fashion, upon
the grass.

His object was, as he said himself, to have "a good think" which, he had
often declared, he could not obtain while "hampered wi' a house about
him."

It is scarcely necessary to say, that the story told by the Galwegian
groom only added to the perplexity he already experienced.

Hitherto there was but the disappearance of Henry Poindexter to be
accounted for, now there was the additional circumstance of the non
return of the mustanger to his hut, when it was known that he had
started for it, and should, according to a notice given to his servant,
have been there at an early hour on the day before.

Far more mystifying was the remarkable story of his being seen riding
about the prairie without a head, or with one carried in his hands! This
last might be a trick. What else could it be?

Still was it a strange time for tricks when a man had been murdered, and
half the population of the settlement were out upon the track of the
murderer more especially improbable, that the supposed assassin should
be playing them!

Zeb Stump had to deal with a difficult concatenation or rather
conglomeration of circumstances events without causes without sequence
crimes committed without any probable motive mysteries that could only
be explained by an appeal to the supernatural.

A midnight meeting between Maurice Gerald and Louise Poindexter a
quarrel with her brother, occasioned by its discovery Maurice having
departed for the prairies Henry having followed to sue for forgiveness,
in all this the sequence was natural and complete.

Beyond began the chapter of confusions and contradictions.

Zeb Stump knew the disposition of Maurice Gerald in regard to Henry
Poindexter. More than once he had heard the mustanger speak of the young
planter. Instead of having hostility towards him, he had frequently
expressed admiration of his ingenuous and generous character.

That he could have changed from being his friend to become his assassin,
was too improbable for belief. Only by the evidence of his eyes could
Zeb Stump have been brought to believe it.

After spending a full half hour at his "think," he had made but little
progress towards unraveling the network of cognate, yet unconnected,
circumstances. Despite an intellect unusually clear, and the possession
of strong powers of analysis, he was unable to reach any rational
solution of this mysterious drama of many acts.

The only thing clear to him was that four mounted men he did not believe
them to be Indians had been making free with the mustanger's hut and
that it was most probable that these had something to do with the murder
that had been committed. But the presence of these men at the jacalé,
coupled with the protracted absence of its owner, conducted his
conjectures to a still more melancholy conclusion: that more than one
man had fallen a sacrifice to the assassin, and that the thicket might
be searched for two bodies, instead of one!

A groan escaped from the bosom of the backwoodsman as this conviction
forced itself upon his mind. He entertained for the young Irishman a
peculiar affection, strong almost as that felt by a father for his son
and the thought that he had been foully assassinated in some obscure
corner of the chapparal, his flesh to be torn by the beak of the buzzard
and the teeth of the coyote, stirred the old hunter to the very core of
his heart.

He groaned again, as he reflected upon it until, without action, he
could no longer bear the agonizing thought, and, springing to his feet,
he strode to and fro over the ground, proclaiming, in loud tones, his
purpose of vengeance.

So absorbed was he with his sorrowful indignation, that he saw not the
staghound as it came skulking up to the hut.

It was not until he heard Phelim caressing the hound in his grotesque
Irish fashion that he became aware of the creature's presence and then
he remained indifferent to it, until a shout of surprise, coupled with
his own name, attracted his attention.

"What is it, Pheelum? What's wrong? Hes a snake bit ye?"

"Oh, Misther Stump, luk at Tara! See! Thare's somethin' tied about his
neck. It wasn't there when he lift. What do yez think it is?"

The hunter's eyes turned immediately upon the hound. Sure enough there
was something around the animal's neck a piece of buckskin thong. But
there was something besides a tiny packet attached to the thong, and
hanging underneath the throat!

Zeb drawing his knife, glided towards the dog. The creature recoiled in
fear.

A little coaxing convinced him that there was no hostile intent and he
came up again.

The thong was severed, the packet laid open; it contained a card!

There was a name upon the card, and writing in what appeared to be red
ink but it was blood!

The rudest backwoodsman knows how to read. Even Zeb Stump was no
exception and he soon deciphered the characters traced upon the bit of
pasteboard.

As he finished, a cry rose from his lips, in strange contrast with the
groans he had been just uttering. It was a shout of gladness, of joy!

"Thank the Almighty for this!" he added and thank my ole Katinuck
schoolmaster for puttin' me clar through my Webster's spellin' book. He
lives, Pheelum! He lives! Look at this. Oh, you can't read. No matter.
He lives! He lives!"

"Who? Masther Maurice? Thank the Lord."

"Wagh! thur's no time to thank him now. Get a blanket an' some pieces o'
horse hide thong. Ye kin do it while I catch up the ole maar. Quick!
Half an hour lost, an' we may be too late!"



53. JUST IN TIME.


"Half an hour lost, and we may be too late!"

They were the last words of the hunter, as he hurried away from the hut.

They were true, except as to the time. Had he said half a minute, he
would have been nearer the mark. Even at the moment of their utterance,
the man, whose red writing had summoned assistance, was once more in
dread danger once more surrounded by the coyotes.

But it was not these he had need to fear. A far more formidable foe was
threatening his destruction.

Maurice Gerald, by this time recognized as the man in the cloak and
Panama hat after doing battle with the wolves, as already described, and
being rescued by his faithful Tara, had sought repose in sleep.

With full confidence in the ability of his canine companion to protect
him against the black birds, or the more dangerous quadrupeds, with
which he had been in conflict, he soon found, and for several hours
enjoyed it.

He awoke of his own accord. Finding his strength much restored, he once
more turned his attention to the perils that surrounded him.

The dog had rescued him from the jackals, and would still protect him
against their attacks, should they see fit to renew it. But to what end?
The faithful creature could not transport him from the spot and to stay
there would be to die of hunger perhaps of the wounds he had received?

He rose to his feet, but found that he could not stand upright.
Feebleness was now added to his other infirmity and after struggling a
pace or two, he was glad to return to a recumbent position.

At this crisis a happy thought occurred to him. Tara might take a
message to the hut!

"If I could but get him to go," said he, as he turned inquiringly
towards the dog. "Come hither, old fellow!" he continued, addressing
himself to the dumb animal, "I want you to play postman for me, to carry
a letter. You understand? Wait till I've got it written. I shall then
explain myself more fully."

"By good luck I've got a card," he added, feeling for his case. "No
pencil! That doesn't matter. There's plenty of ink around and for a pen
I can use the thorn of yonder maguey."

He crept up to the plant thus designated broke off one of the long
spines terminating its great leaves dipped it in the blood of a coyote
that lay near and drawing forth a card, traced some characters upon it.

With a strip of thong, the card was then attached to the neck of the
stag hound, after being wrapped up in a piece of oil-cloth torn from the
lining of the Panama hat.

It only remained to dispatch the canine post upon his errand.

This proved a somewhat difficult task. The dumb creature, despite a
wondrous intelligence, could not comprehend why he should forsake the
side of one he had so faithfully befriended and for a long time resisted
the coaxing and chidings, meant to warn him away.

It was only after being scolded in a tone of assumed anger, and beaten
by the black jack crutch stricken by the man whose life he had so lately
saved, that he had consented to leave the spot.

Even canine affection could not endure this and with repeated looks of
reproach, cast backwards as he was chased off, he trotted reluctantly
into the chapparal.

"Poor fellow!" soliloquized Maurice, as the dog disappeared from his
view. "Tis like beating one's self, or one's dearest friend! Well, I
shall make up for it in extra kindness if I have the good fortune to see
him again."

"And now, that he is gone, I must provide against the coming back of
these villainous coyotes. They will be sure to come, .once they discover
that I'm alone."

A scheme had been already considered.

A tree stood near the pecan already alluded to having two stout branches
that extended horizontally and together, at six or seven feet from the
ground.

Taking off his cloak, and spreading it out upon the grass, with his
knife he cut a row of holes along each edge.

Then unwinding from his waist the sash of china crape, he tore it up the
middle, so as to make two strips, each several yards long.

The cloak was now extended between the branches, and fast tied by the
strips of crape thus forming a sort of hammock capable of containing the
body of a man laid out at full length.

The maker of it knew that the coyotes are not tree climbers and,
reclining on his suspended couch, he could observe with indifference
their efforts to assail him.

He took all this trouble, feeling certain they would return. If he had
any doubt, it was soon set at rest, by seeing them, one after the other,
come skulking out of the chapparal, loping a pace or two, at intervals,
pausing to reconnoitre, and then advancing towards the scene of their
late conflict.

Emboldened by the absence of the enemy most dreaded by them, the pack
was soon reassembled, once more exhibiting the truculent ferocity for
which these cowardly creatures are celebrated.

It was first displayed in a very unnatural manner, by the devouring of
their own dead which was done in less times than it would have taken the
spectator in the tree to have counted a score.

To him their attention was next directed. In swinging his hammock, he
had taken no pains to conceal it. He had suspended it high enough to be
out of their reach; and that he deemed sufficient for his purpose.

The cloak of dark cloth was conspicuous, as well as the figure outlined
within it. The coyotes clustered underneath their appetites whetted by
the taste of blood. It was a sight to make them lick their red lips
after their unnatural repast, a fearful sight!

He who saw it scarce regarded them not even when they were springing up
to lay hold of his limbs, or at times attempting to ascend by the trunk
of the tree! He supposed there was no danger.

There was danger, however, on which he had not reckoned; and not till
the coyotes has desisted from their idle attempts, and stretched
themselves, panting, under the tree, did he begin to perceive it.

Of all the wild denizens, either of prairie or chapparal, the coyote is
that possessed of the greatest cunning. The trapper will tell you it is
the "cunningest varmint in creation." It is a fox in astuteness, a wolf
in ferocity. It may be tamed, but it will turn at any time to tear the
hand that caresses it. A child can scare it with a stick, but a disabled
man may dread its attack. Alone it has the habit of a hare, but in packs
and it hunts only in packs, its poltroonery is less observable sometimes
under the influence of extreme hunger, giving place to a savageness of
disposition that assumes the semblance of courage.

It is the coyotes' cunning that is most to be feared and it was this
that had begun to excite fresh apprehension in the mind of the
mustanger.

On discovering that they could not reach him, a discovery they were not
long in making instead of scattering off from the spot, the wolves, one
and all, squatted down upon the grass while others, stragglers from the
original troop, were still coming into the glade. He saw that they
intended a siege.

This should not have troubled him, seeing that he was secure in his
suspended couch.

Nor would it, but for another source of trouble, every moment making
itself more manifest that from which he had so lately had such a narrow
escape. He was once more on the eve of being tortured by thirst.

He blamed himself for having been so simple, as not to think of this
before climbing up to the tree. He might easily have carried up a supply
of water. The stream was there and for want of a better vessel, the
concave blades of the maguey would have served as a cistern.

His self reproaches came too late. The water was under his eyes, only to
tantalize him and by so doing, increase his eagerness to obtain it. He
could not return to the stream, without running the gauntlet of the
coyotes, and that would be certain death. He had but faint hopes that
the hound would return and rescue him a second time fainter still that
his message would reach the man for whom it was intended. A hundred to
one against that.

Thirst is quick in coming to a man whose veins are half emptied of their
blood. The torture proclaimed itself apace. How long was it to continue?

This time it was accompanied by a straying of the senses. The wolves,
from being a hundred, seemed suddenly to have increased their number
tenfold. A thousand appeared to encompass the tree, filling the whole
ground of the glade! They came nearer and nearer. Their eyes gave out a
lurid light. Their red tongues lapped the hanging cloth they tore it
with their teeth. He could feel their fetid breath, as they sprang up
among the branches!

A lucid interval told him that it was all fancy. The wolves were still
there but only a hundred of them, as before reclining upon the grass,
pitiably awaiting a crisis! It came before the period of lucidity had
departed to the spectator unexpected as inexplicable. He saw the coyotes
suddenly spring to their feet, and rush off into the thicket, until not
one remained within the glade.

Was this, too, a fancy? He doubted the correctness of his vision. He had
begun to believe that his brain was distempered.

But it was clear enough now. There were no coyotes. What could have
frightened them off?

A cry of joy was sent forth from his lips, as he conjectured a cause.
Tara had returned? Perhaps Phelim along with him? There had been time
enough for the delivery of the message. For two hours he had been
besieged by the coyotes.

He turned upon his knee, and bending over the branch, scanned the circle
around him. Neither hound nor henchman was in sight. Nothing but
branches and bushes!

He listened. No sound, save an occasional howl, sent back by the coyotes
that still seemed to continue their retreat! More than ever was it like
an illusion. What could have caused their scampering?

No matter. The coast was clear. The streamlet could now be approached
without danger. Its water sparkled under his eyes its rippling sounded
sweet to his ears.

Descending from the tree, he staggered towards its bank, and reached it.

Before stooping to drink, he once more looked around him. Even the agony
of thirst could not stifle the surprise, still fresh in his thoughts. To
what was he indebted for his strange deliverance?

Despite his hope that it might be the hound, he had an apprehension of
danger.

One glance and he was certain of it. The spotted yellow skin shining
among the leaves the long, lithe form crawling like a snake out of the
underwood was not to be mistaken. It was the tiger of the New World,
scarce less dreaded than his congener of the Old, the dangerous jaguar.

Its presence accounted for the retreat of the coyotes.

Neither could its intent be mistaken. It, too, had scented blood, and
was hastening to the spot where blood had been sprinkled, with that
determined air that told it would not be satisfied till after partaking
of the banquet.

Its eyes were upon him, who had descended from the tree its steps were
towards him now in slow, crouching gait but quicker and quicker, as if
preparing for a spring.

To retreat to the tree would have been sheer folly. The jaguar can climb
like a cat. The mustanger knew this.

But even had he been ignorant of it, it would have been all the same, as
the thing was no longer possible. The animal had already passed that
tree, upon which he had found refuge, and there was no other near that
could he reached in time.

He had no thought of climbing to a tree, no thought of anything, so
confused were his senses partly from present surprise, partly from the
bewilderment already within his brain.

It was a simple act of unreasoning impulse that led him to rush on into
the stream, until he stood up to his waist in the water.

Had he reasoned, he would have known that this would do nothing to
secure his safety. If the jaguar climbs like a cat, it also swims with
the ease of an otter and is as much to be dreaded in the water as upon
the land.

Maurice made no such reflection. He suspected that the little pool,
towards the centre of which he had waded, would prove but poor
protection. He was sure of it when the jaguar, arriving upon the bank
above him, set itself in that cowering attitude that told of its
intention to spring.

In despair he steadied himself to receive the onset of the fierce
animal.

He had naught wherewith to repel it no knife no pistol no weapon of any
kind not even his crutch! A struggle with his bare arms could, but end
in his destruction.

A wild cry went forth from his lips, as the tawny form was about
launching itself for the leap.

There was a simultaneous scream from the jaguar. Something appeared
suddenly to impede it and instead of alighting on the body of its
victim, it fell short, with a dead plash upon the water! Like an echo of
his own, a cry came from the chapparal, close following a sound that had
preceded it the sharp "spang" of a rifle.

A huge dog broke through the bushes, and sprang with a plunge into the
pool, where the jaguar had sunk below the surface. A man of colossal
size advanced rapidly towards the bank, another of lesser stature
treading close upon his heels, and uttering joyful shouts of triumph.

To the wounded man these sights and sounds were more like a vision than
the perception of real phenomena. They were the last thoughts of that
day that remained in his memory. His reason, kept too long upon the
rack, had given way. He tried to strangle the faithful hound that swam
fawningly around him and struggled against the strong arms that, raising
him out of the water, bore him in friendly embrace to the bank!

His mind had passed from a horrid reality, to a still more horrid dream,
the dream of delirium.



54. A PRAIRIE PALACE


The friendly arms, flung around Maurice Gerald, were those of Zeb Stump.

Guided by the instructions written upon the card, the hunter had made
all haste towards the rendezvous there given.

He had arrived within sight, and fortunately within rifle range, of the
spot, at that critical moment when the jaguar was preparing to spring.

His bullet did not prevent the fierce brute from making the bound the
last of its life though it had passed right through the animal's heart.

This was a thing thought of afterwards, there was no opportunity then.

On rushing into the water, to make sure that his shot had proved fatal,
the hunter was himself attacked not by the claws of the jaguar, but the
hands of the man just rescued from them.

Fortunate for Zeb, the mustanger's knife had been left upon land. As it
was, he came near being throttled and only after throwing aside his
rifle, and employing all his strength, was he able to protect himself
against the unlooked-for assault.

A struggle ensued, which ended in Zeb flinging his colossal arms around
the young Irishman, and bearing him bodily to the bank.

It was not all over. As soon as the latter was relieved from the
embrace, he broke away and made for the pecan tree as rapidly as if the
injured limb no longer impeded him.

The hunter suspected his intent. Standing over six feet, he saw the
bloody knife blade lying along the cloak. It was for that, the mustanger
was making!

Zeb bounded after and once more enfolding the madman in his bear like
embrace and drew him back from the tree.

"Speel up thur, Pheelum!" shouted he. "Git that thing out of sight. The
young fellur hev tuck leeve o' his seven senses. Thur's fever in the
feel of him. He air gone delirious!"

Phelim instantly obeyed and, scrambling up the tree trunk, took
possession of the knife.

Still, the struggle was not over. The delirious man wrestled with his
rescuer not in silence, but with shouts and threatening speeches his
eyes all the time rolling and glaring with a fierce, demoniac light.

For full ten minutes did he continue the mad wrestling match?

At length from sheer exhaustion he sank back upon the grass; and after a
few tremulous shivering, accompanied by sighs heaved from the very
bottom of his breast, he lay still, as if the last spark of life had
departed from his body!

The Galwegian, believing it so, began uttering a series of lugubrious
cries, the "keen" of Connemara.

"Stop yur gowlin, ye durned cuss!" cried Zeb. "It air enuf to scare the
breath out o' his karkidge. He's no more dead than you air, only fented.
By the way he hev fit me, I reck'n there ain't much the matter wi' him.
No," he continued, after stooping down and giving a short examination,
"I kin see no wound worth makin a muss about. Thur's a consid'able
swellin o' the knee but the leg ain't fructered, else he kudn't a stud
up on it. As for them scratches, they ain't much. What kin they be?
'Twarnt the jegwur that gin them. They air more like the claws o' a torn
cat. Ho, ho! I sees now. Thur's been a bit o' a scrimmage, afore the
spotted beest kim up. The young fellur's been attakted by coyoats! Who'd
a surposed that the cowardly varmints would a had the owdacity to attakt
a human critter? But they will, when they gits the chance o' one
krippled as he air durn 'em!"

The hunter had all the talking to himself. Phelim, now overjoyed to know
that his master still lived and furthermore was in no danger of dying,
suddenly changed his melancholy whine to a jubilant hullaballoo, and
commenced dancing, over the ground, all the while snapping his fingers
in the most approved Connemara fashion.

His frenzied action provoked the hound to a like pitch of excitement and
the two became engaged in a sort of wild Irish jig.

Zeb took no notice of these grotesque demonstrations but, once more
bending over the prostrate form, proceeded to complete the examination
already begun.

Becoming satisfied that there was no serious wound, he rose to his feet,
and commenced taking stock of the odd articles around him. He had
already noticed the Panama hat, that still adhered to the head of the
mustanger and a strange thought at seeing it there, had passed through
his mind.

Hats of Guayaquil grass, erroneously called Panama, were not uncommon.
Scores of Southerners wore them, in Texas as elsewhere. But he knew that
the young Irishman was accustomed to carry a Mexican sombrero, a very
different kind of head gear. It was possible he might have seen fit to
change the fashion.

Still, as Zeb continued to gaze upon it, he fancied he had seen that hat
before, and on some other head.

It was not from any suspicion of its being honestly in possession of him
now wearing it, that the hunter stooped down, and took it off with the
design to examine it. His object was simply to obtain some explanation
of the mystery, or series of mysteries, hitherto baffling his brain.

On looking inside the hat he read two names first, that of a New Orleans
hatter, whose card was pasted in the crown and then, in writing, another
well known to him:

"HENRY POINDEXTER."

The cloak now came under his notice. It too, carried marks, by which he
was able to identify it as belonging to the same owner.

"Dog-goned kewrious, all this!" muttered the backwoodsman, as he stood
with his eyes turned upon the ground, and apparently buried in a
profound reflection.

"Hats, heads, an' everythin'. Hats on the wrong head, heads in the wrong
place! By the 'tarnal thur's somethin' goed astray! Ef 'twa'nt that I
feel a putty consid'able smartin' whar the young fellur gin me a lick
over the left eye, I mout be arter believin' my own skull-case wa'nt any
longer atween my shoulders!"

"It air no use lookin' to him," he added, glancing towards Maurice "for
an explanation leastwise till he's slep' off this dullerium thet's on
him. When that'll be, ole Nick only knows."

"Wal," he continued after another interval spent in silent reflection,
"It won't do no good our stayin' hyur. We must git him to the shanty,
an' that kin only be did by toatin' him. He sayed on the curd, he cud'nt
make neer a track. It war only the anger kep' him up a bit. That leg
looks wusser and wusser. He's. boun to be toated."

The hunter seemed to cogitate on how he was to effect this purpose.

"'Taint no good expektin' him to help think it out," he continued
looking at the Galwegian, who was busy talking to Tara. "The dumb brute
hev more sense than he. Never mind. I'll make him take his full share o'
the carryin' when it comes to that. How air it to be done? We must git
him on a stretcher. That I reck'n we kin make out o' a kupple o' poles
an' the cloak or wi' the blanket Pheelum fetch'd from the shanty. Ye-es!
a streetcher. That's the eydentikul eyedee."

The Connemara man was now summoned to lend assistance.

Two saplings of at least ten feet in length were cut from the chapparal,
and trimmed clear of twigs. Two shorter ones were also selected, and
lashed crosswise over the first and upon these were spread, first the
serapé, and afterwards the cloak, to give greater strength.

In this way a rude stretcher was constructed, capable of earning either
an invalid or an inebriate.

In the mode of using it, it more resembled the latter than the former
since he who was to be borne upon it, again deliriously raging, had to
be strapped to the trestles!

Unlike the ordinary stretcher, it was not carried between two men, but a
man and a' mare the mare at the head, the man bearing behind.

It was he of Connemara who completed the ill-matched team. The old
hunter had kept his promise, that Phelim should "take his full share o'
the carryin, when it kum to thet."

He was taking it, or rather getting it, Zeb having appointed himself to
the easier post of conductor.

The idea was not altogether original. It was a rude copy from the
Mexican litera, which in Southern Texas Zeb may have seen differing from
the latter only in being without screen, and instead of two mules,
having for its atelage a mare and a man!

In this improvised palanquin was Maurice Gerald transported to his
dwelling.

It was night when the grotesque looking group arrived at the jacalé.

In strong, but tender arms, the wounded man was transferred from the
stretcher to the skin couch, on which he had been accustomed to repose.

He was unconscious of where he was, and knew not the friendly faces
bending over him. His thoughts were still astray, though no longer
exciting him to violent action. He was experiencing an interval of calm.

He was not silent, though he made no reply to the kind questions
addressed to him, or only answered them with an inconsequence that might
have provoked mirth. But there were wild words upon his lips that
forbade it, suggesting only serious thoughts.

His wounds received such rude dressing as his companions were capable of
administering to them and nothing more could be done but await the
return of day.

Phelim went to sleep upon his shake down while the other sate up to keep
watch by the bedside of the sufferer.

It was not from any unfaithfulness on the part of the foster brother,
that he seemed thus to disregard his duty, but simply because Zeb had
requested him to lie down, telling him there was no occasion for both to
remain awake.

The old hunter had his reasons. He did not desire that those wild words
should be heard even by Phelim. Better he should listen to them alone.

And alone he sates listening to them, throughout the live long night.

He heard speeches that surprised him, and names that did not. He was not
surprised to hear the name "Louise" often repeated, and coupled with
fervent protestations of love.

But there was another name also often pronounced with speeches less
pleasant to his ear.

It was the name of Louise's brother.

The speeches were disjointed incongruous, and almost unintelligible.

Comparing one with the other, however, and assisted by the circumstances
already known to him, before the morning light had entered the jacalé,
Zeb Stump had come to the conclusion that Henry Poindexter was no longer
a living man!



55. UN DIA DE NOVEDADES.


Don Silvio Martinez was one of the few Mexican ricos, who had chosen to
remain in Texas, after the conquest of that country by the stalwart
colonizers from the North.

A man of more than mature age, of peaceful habits, and taking no part in
politics, he accepted the new situation without any great regret. He was
the more easily reconciled to it, from knowledge, that his loss of
nationality was better than counterbalanced by his gain of security
against Comanche incursions which, previous to the coming of the new
colonists, had threatened the complete depopulation of the country.

The savage was not yet entirely subdued but his maraud was now
intermittent, and occurred only at long intervals. Even this, was an
improvement on the old regime,

Don Silvio was a ganadero, a grazier, on a grand scale. So grand that
his ganaderia was leagues in length and breadth, and contained within
its limits many thousands of horses and horned cattle.

He lived in a large rectangular one storied house, more resembling a
jail than a dwelling surrounded by extensive enclosures (corrales).

It was usually a quiet place, except during the time of the herradero,
or cattle branding, when for days it became the scene of a festivity
almost Homeric.

These occasions were only of annual occurrence.

At all other times the old haciendado, who was a bachelor to boot, led a
tranquil and somewhat solitary life, a sister older than him being his
only companion. There were occasional exceptions to this rule when his
charming sobrina rode across from the Rio Grande, to pay him and his
sister a visit. Then the domicile of Don Silvio became a little
livelier.

Isidora was welcome whenever she came; welcome to come and go when she
pleased and do as she pleased, while under her uncle's roof. The
sprightliness of her character was anything but displeasing, to the old
haciendado, who was himself far from being of a somber disposition.
Those traits, that might have appeared masculine in many other lands,
were not so remarkable in one, where life is held by such precarious
tenure where the country house is oft transformed into a fortress, and
the domestic hearth occasionally bedewed with the blood of its inmates!

Is it surprising that in such a land women should be found, endowed with
those qualities that have been ascribed to Isidora? If so, it is not the
less true that they exist.

As a general thing, the Mexican woman is a creature of the most amiable
disposition; douce if we may be allowed to borrow from a language that
deals more frequently with feminine traits, to such an extent, as to
have become a national characteristic. It is to the denizens of the
great cities, secure from Indian incursion, that this character more
especially applies. On the frontiers, harried for the last half century
by the aboriginal freebooter, the case is somewhat different. The
amiability still exists but often combined with a bravourie and
hardihood masculine in seeming, but in reality heroic.

Since Malinché, more than one fair heroine has figured in the history of
Anahuac.

Don Silvio Martinez had himself assisted at many wild scene and
ceremony. His youth had been passed amid perils and the courage of
Isidora at times degenerating into absolute recklessness so far from
offending, rather gave him gratification.

The old gentleman loved his darling sobrina, as if she had been his own
child and had she been so, she would not have been more certain of
succeeding to his possessions.

Every one knew that, when Don Silvio Martinez should take leave of life,
Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos would be the owner of not his broad
acres, but his leagues of land, as also his thousands of horses and
horned cattle.

With this understanding, it is needless to say, that the señorita
carried respect with her wherever she went, or that the vassals of the
Hacienda Martinez honored her as their future mistress.

Independently of this was she regarded. Hers were just the qualities to
win the esteem of the dashing rancheros and there was not one upon the
estate, but would have drawn his machete at her nod, and used it to the
shedding of blood.

Miguel Diaz spoke the truth, when he said he was in danger. Well might
he believe it. Had it pleased Isidora to call together her uncle's
vaqueros, and send them to chastise him, it would have been speedily
done even to hanging him upon the nearest tree!

No wonder he had made such haste to get away from the glade.

As already stated, the real home of Isidora was upon the other side of
the Rio Grande, separated by some three score miles from the Hacienda
Martinez. But this did not hinder her from paying frequent visits to her
relations upon the Leona.

There was no selfishness in the motive. The prospect of the rich
inheritance had nothing to do with it. She was an expectant heiress
without that, for her own father was a rico. But she liked the company
of her uncle and aunt. She also enjoyed the ride from river to river,
oft made by her between morning and night, and not infrequently alone!

Of late, these visits had become of much more frequent occurrence.

Had she grown fonder of the society of her Texan relatives fonder as
they grew older? If not, what was her motive?

Imitating her own frankness of character, it may at once be declared.

She came oftener to the Leona, in the hope of meeting with Maurice
Gerald.

With like frankness may it be told, that she loved him.

Beyond doubt, the young Irishman was in possession of her heart. As
already known, he had won it by an act of friendship; though it may have
been less the service he had done, than the gallantry displayed in doing
it, that had put the love spell on the daring Isidora.

Perhaps, too, she saw in him other captivating qualities, less easily
defined. Whether these had been un-designedly exhibited, or with the
intention to effect a conquest, he alone can tell. He has himself said,
No; and respect is due to his declaration. But it is difficult to
believe, that mortal man could have gazed into the eyes of Isidora de
los Llanos, without wishing them to look longingly upon him.

Maurice may have spoken the truth, but we could better believe him, had
he seen Louise Poindexter before becoming acquainted with Isidora.

The episode of the burnt prairie was several weeks subsequent to the
adventure with the intoxicated Indians.

Certainly something appears to have occurred between him and the Mexican
maiden, that leads her to believe she has a hope if not a claim upon his
affections.

It has come to that crisis, that she can no longer rest satisfied. Her
impulsive spirit cannot brook ambiguity. She knows that she loves him.
She has determined to make frank confession of it and to ask with like
frankness, whether her passion be reciprocated. Hence her having made an
appointment that could not be kept.

For that day Don Miguel Diaz had interfered between her and her purpose.

So thought she, as she galloped out of the glade, and hastened back to
the hacienda of her uncle.

Astride her grey steed she goes at a gallop.

Her head is bare, her coiffure disarranged her rich black tresses
streaming back beyond her shoulders, no longer covered by scarf, or
serapé. The last she has left behind her, and along with it her vicuna
hat.

Her eyes are flashing with excitement; her cheeks flushed to the color
of carmine.

The cause is known.

And also why she is riding in such hot haste. She has herself declared
it.

On nearing the house, she is seen to tighten her rein. The horse is
pulled in to a slower pace a trot slower still a walk and, soon after,
he is halted in the middle of the road.

His rider has changed her intention or stops to reflect whether she
should.

She sits reflecting.

"On second thoughts, perhaps, better not have him taken? It would create
a terrible scandal, everywhere. So far, no one knows of... Besides, what
can I say myself, the only witness? Ah! Were I to tell these gallant
Texans the story, my own testimony would be enough to have him punished
with a harsh hand. No! Let him live. Ladron as he is, I do not fear him.
After what's happened, he will not care to come near me. Santa Virgen!
to think that I could have felt a fancy for this man short lived as it
was!

"I must send some one back to release him. One who can keep my secret,
who? Benito, the mayor-domo, faithful and brave. Gracias a dios!
Yonder's my man, as usual busied in counting his cattle. Benito!
Benito!"

"At your orders, señorita?"

"Good Benito, I want you to do me a kindness. You consent?"

"At your orders, señorita?" repeats the mayor-domo, bowing low.

"Not orders, good Benito. I wish you to do me a favour."

"Command me, señorita!"

"You know the spot of open ground at the top of the hill where the three
roads meet?"

"As well as the corral of your uncle's hacienda."

"Good! Go there. You will find a man lying upon the ground, his arms
entangled in a lasso. Release him, and let him go free. If he is hurt,
by the harsh fall he has had, do what you can to restore him, but don't
tell him who sent you. You may know the man, I think you do. No matter
for that. Ask him no questions, nor answer his, if he should put any.
Once you have seen him on his legs, let him make use of them after his
own fashion. You understand?"

"Perfectamente, señorita. Your orders shall be obeyed to the letter."

"Thanks, good Benito. Uncle Silvio will like you all the better for it;
though you mustn't tell him of it. Leave that to me. If he shouldn't, if
he shouldn't, well! One of these days there may be an estate on the Rio
Grande that will stand in need of a brave, faithful steward, such one as
I know you to be."

"Every one knows that the Señora Isidora is gracious, as she is fair."

"Thanks! One more request. The service I ask you to do for me must be
known, only to three individuals. The third is he whom you are sent to
succor. You know the other two?"

"Señorita, I comprehend. It shall be as you wish it."

The mayor-domo is moving off, on horseback, it need scarce be said. Men
of his calling rarely set foot to the earth, never upon a journey of
half a league in length.

"Stay! I had forgotten!" calls out that lady, arresting him. "You will
find a hat and serapé. They are mine. Bring them to me. I shall wait for
you here, or meet you somewhere along the road."

Bowing, he again rides away. Again he is summoned to stop.

"On second thoughts, Señor Benito, I've made up my mind to go along with
you. Vamos!"

The steward of Don Silvio, is not surprised at caprice, when exhibited
by the niece of his employer. Without questioning, he obeys her command,
and once more heads his horse for the hill.

The lady follows. She has told him to ride in the advance. She has her
reason for departing from the aristocratic custom.

Benito is astray in his conjecture. It is not to caprice that he is
indebted for the companionship of the señorita. A serious motive takes
her back along the road.

She has forgotten something more than her wrapper and hat, that little
letter that has caused her so much annoyance.

The "good Benito" has not had all her confidence, nor can he be
entrusted with this. It might prove a scandal, graver than the quarrel
with Don Miguel Diaz.

She rides back in hopes of repossessing herself of the epistle. How
stupid not to have thought of it before!

How had El Coyote got hold of it? He must have had it from José!

Was her servant a traitor? Or had Diaz met him on the way, and forced
the letter from him?

To either of these questions an affirmative answer might be surmised.

On the part of Diaz such an act would have been natural enough and as
for José, it is not the first time she has had reason for suspecting his
fidelity.

So run her thoughts as she re-ascends the slope, leading up from the
river bottom.

The summit is gained, and the opening entered Isidora now riding side by
side with the mayor-domo.

No Miguel Diaz there, no man of any kind and what gives her far greater
chagrin, not a scrap of paper!

There is her hat of vicuna wool, her serapé of Saltillo, and the loop
end of her lasso; nothing more.

"You may go home again, Señor Benito! The man thrown from his horse must
have recovered his senses and, I suppose, his saddle too. Blessed be the
virgin! But remember, good Benito Secrecy all the same. Entiende, V?"

"Yo entiendo, Doña Isidora"

The mayor-domo moves away, and is soon lost to sight behind the crest of
the hill.

The lady of the lasso is once more alone in the glade.

She springs out of her saddle; dons serapé and sombrero; and is again
the beau-ideal of a youthful hidalgo.

She remounts slowly, mechanically, as if her thoughts do not accompany
the action. Languidly she lifts her limb over the croup. The pretty foot
is for a second or two poised in the air. Her ankle, escaping from the
skirt of her enagua, displays a tour-nure to have crazed Praxiteles. As
it descends on the opposite side of the horse, a cloud seems to
overshadow the sun. Simon Stylites could scarce have closed his eyes on
the spectacle.

But there is no spectator of this interesting episode, not even the
wretched José; who, the moment after, comes skulking into the glade.

He is questioned, without circumlocution, upon the subject of the
strayed letter.

"What have you done with it, sirrah?"

"Delivered it, my lady."

"To whom?"

"I left it at--at--the posada" he replies, stammering and turning pale.
"Don Mauricio had gone out."

"A lie, lepero! You gave it to Don Miguel Diaz. No denial, sir! I've
seen it since."

"O Señora, pardon! Pardon! I am not guilty, indeed I am not."

"Stupid, you should have told your story better. You have committed
yourself. How much did Don Miguel pay you for your treason?"

"As I live, lady, it was not treason. He-he-forced it from me by threats
blows. I-I-was not paid."

"You shall be, then! I discharge you from my service and for wages take
that, and that, and that--"

For at least ten times are the words repeated, the riding whip at each
repetition descending upon the shoulders of the dishonest messenger.

He essays to escape by running off. In vain. He is brought up again by
the dread of being ridden over, and trampled under the hoofs of the
excited horse.

Not till the blue wheals appear upon his brown skin, does the
chastisement cease.

"Now, sirrah; from my sight! And let me see you no more. Al monte! Al
monte!"

With ludicrous alacrity the command is obeyed. Like a scared cat, the
discharged servitor rushes out of the glade, only too happy to hide
himself, and his shame, under the shadows of the thorny thicket.

But a little while longer does Isidora remain upon the spot her anger
giving place to a profound chagrin. Not only has she been baffled from
carrying out her design, but her heart's secret is now in the keeping of
traitors!

Once more she heads her horse homeward.

She arrives in time to be present at a singular spectacle.

The people peons, vaqueros, and employee's of every kind are hurrying to
and fro, from field to corral, from corral to courtyard one and all
giving tongue to terrified ejaculations.

The men are on their feet, arming in confused haste, the women on their
knees, praying pitifully to heaven through the intercession of a score
of those saints, profusely furnished by the Mexican hierarchy to suit
all times and occasions.

"What is causing the commotion?"

This is the question asked by Isidora.

The mayor-domo who chances to be the first to present himself, is the
individual thus interrogated.

A man has been murdered somewhere out upon the prairie.

The victim is one of the new people who have lately taken possession of
Casa del Corvo, the son of the American haciendado himself.

Indians are reported to have done the deed.

Indians! In this word is the key to the excitement among Don Silvio's
servitors.

It explains both the praying and the hurried rushing to arms.

The fact that a man has been murdered a slight circumstance in that land
of unbridled emotions, would have produced no such response more
especially when the man was a stranger, an "Americano."

But the report that Indians are abroad, is altogether a different
affair. In it there is an idea of danger.

The effect produced on Isidora is different. It is not fear of the
savages. The name of the "asasinado" recalls thoughts that have already
given her pain. She knows that there is a sister, spoken of as being
wonderfully beautiful. She has herself looked upon this beauty, and
cannot help believing in it.

A keener pang proceeds from something else she has heard that this
peerless maiden has been seen in the company of Maurice Gerald. There is
no fresh jealousy inspired by the news of the brother's death only the
old unpleasantness for the moment revived.

The feeling, soon gives place to the ordinary indifference felt for the
fate of those with whom we have no acquaintance.

Some hours later, and this indifference becomes changed to a painful
interest in short, an apprehension. There are fresh reports about the
murder. It has been committed, not by Comanches but by a white man, by
Maurice the mustanger!

There are no Indians near.

This later edition of "novedades," while tranquilizing Don Silvio's
servants, has the contrary effect upon his niece. She cannot rest under
the rumor and half an hour afterwards, she is seen reining up her horse
in front of the village hotel.

For some weeks, with motive unknown, she has been devoting herself to
the study of La lengua Americana. Her vocabulary of English words, still
scanty, is sufficient for her present purpose, which is to acquire
information, not about the murder, but the man accused of committing it.

The landlord, knowing who she is, answers her inquiries with obsequious
politeness.

She learns that Maurice Gerald is no longer his guest, with "full
particulars of the murder," so far as known.

With a sad heart, she rides back to the Hacienda Martinez.

On reaching the house, she finds its tranquility again disturbed. The
new cause of excitement might have been deemed ludicrous though it is
not so regarded by the superstitious peons.

A rare rumor has reached the place. A man without a head, un hombre
descabezado, has been seen riding about the plains, somewhere near the
Rio Nueces!

Despite its apparent absurdity, there can be no doubting about the
correctness of the report. It is rife throughout the settlement.

But there is still surer confirmation of it. A party of Don Silvio's own
people herdsmen, out in search of strayed cattle have seen the cavallero
descabezado and, desisting from their search, had ridden away from him,
as they would have done from the devil!

The vaqueros, there are three of them, are all ready to swear to the
account given. But their scared looks furnish a more trustworthy
evidence of its truthfulness.

The sun goes down upon a congeries of frightful rumors.

Neither these, nor the protestations of Don Silvio and his sister, can
prevent their capricious niece from carrying out a resolution she seems
suddenly to have formed, which is, to ride back to the Rio Grande. It
makes no difference to her, that a murder has been committed on the road
she will have to take much less that near it has been seen the ghastly
apparition of a headless horseman! What to any other traveler should
cause dismay seems only to attract Isidora.

She even proposes making the journey alone! Don Silvio offers an escort
half a score of his vaqueros, armed to the teeth. The offer is rejected.

Will she take Benito?

No. She prefers journeying alone?

In short, she is determined upon it.

Next morning she carries out this determination. By day break she is in
the saddle and, in less than two hours after, riding, not upon the
direct road to the Rio Grande, but along the banks of the Alamo!

Why has she thus deviated from her route? Is she straying?

She looks not like one who has lost her way. There is a sad expression
upon her countenance, but not one of inquiry. Besides, her horse steps
confidently forward, as if under his rider's direction, and guided by
the rein.

Isidora is not straying. She has not lost her way.

Happier for her, if she had.



56. A SHOT AT THE DEVIL.


All night long, the invalid lay awake at times tranquil, at times giving
way to a paroxysm of unconscious passion.

All night long the hunter sate by his bedside, and listened to his
incoherent utterances.

They but confirmed two points of belief already impressed upon Zeb's
mind that Louise Poindexter was beloved that her brother had been
murdered!

The last was a belief that, under any circumstances, would have been
painful to the backwoodsman. Coupled with the facts already known, it
was agonizing.

He thought of the quarrel the hat the cloak. He writhed as he
contemplated the labyrinth of dark ambiguities that presented itself to
his mind. Never in his life had his analytical powers been so completely
baffled. He groaned as he felt their impotence.

He kept no watch upon the door. He knew that if they came, it would not
be in the night.

Once only he went out but that was near morning, when the light of the
moon was beginning to mingle with that of the day.

He had been summoned by a sound. Tara, straying among the trees, had
given utterance to a long dismal "growl," and come running scared-like
into the hut.

Extinguishing the light, Zeb stole forth, and stood listening.

There was an interruption to the nocturnal chorus but that might have
been caused by the howling of the hound? What had caused it?

The hunter directed his glance first upon the open lawn then around its
edge, and under the shadow of the trees.

There was nothing to be seen there, except what should be.

He raised his eyes to the cliff that in a dark line trended along the
horizon of the sky broken at both ends by the tops of some tall trees
that rose above its crest. There were about fifty paces of clear space,
which ho knew to be the edge of the upper plain terminating at the brow
of the precipice.

The line separating the chiaro from the oscuro could be traced
distinctly as in the day. A brilliant moon was beyond it. A snake could
have been seen crawling along the top of the cliff.

There was nothing to be seen there.

But there was something to be heard. As Zeb stood listening, there came
a sound from the upper plain that seemed to have been produced not far
back from the summit of the cliff. It resembled the clinking of a
horse's shoe struck against a loose stone.

So conjectured, Zeb as with open ears, he listened to catch its
repetition.

It was not repeated, but he soon saw what told him his conjecture was
correct, a horse, stepping out from behind the tree tops, and advancing
along the line of the bluff.

There was a man upon his back both horse and man distinctly seen in dark
silhouette against the clear sapphire sky.

The figure of the horse was perfect, as in the outlines of a skillfully
cast medallion.

That of the man could be traced only from the saddle to the shoulders.
Below, the limbs were lost in the shadow of the animal though the
sparkle of spur and stirrup told that they were there. Above, there was
nothing; not even the semblance of a head!

Zeb Stump rubbed his eyes and looked, and rubbed them and looked again.
It did not change the character of the apparition. If he had rubbed them
four score times, he would have seen the same: a horseman without a
head.

This very sight he saw, beyond the possibility of disbelieving, saw the
horse advancing along the level line, in a slow but steady pace, without
footfall, without sound of any kind, as if gliding rather than walking,
like the shifting scene of a cosmo-rama!

Not for a mere instant had he the opportunity of observing the spectral
apparition, but a period long enough to enable him to note every detail,
long enough to satisfy him that it could be no illusion of the eye, or
in any way a deception of his senses.

Nor did it vanish abruptly from his view, but slowly and gradually first
the head of the horse then the neck and shoulders then the shape, half
ghastly, half grotesque, of the rider then the hind quarters of the
animal the hips and last of all the long tapering tail!

"Geehosophat!"

It was not surprise at the disappearance of the headless horseman that
extorted this exclamation from the lips of Zeb Stump. There was nothing
strange about this. The spectacle had simply passed behind the
proscenium represented by the tope of tree tops rising above the bluff.

"Geehosophat!"

Twice did the backwoodsman give utterance to this, his favorite
expression of surprise both times with an emphasis that told of an
unlimited astonishment.

His looks betrayed it. Despite Ids undoubted courage, a shiver passed
through his colossal frame while the pallor upon his lips was
perceptible through their brown priming of tobacco juice.

For some time he stood speechless, as if unable to follow up his double
ejaculation.

His tongue at length returned to him.

"Dog-gone my cats!" he muttered, but in a very low tone, and with eyes
still fixed upon the point where the horse's tail had been last seen.
"If that ere don't whip the hul united creashun, my name ain't Zeb'lon
Stump! The Irish hev been right arter all. I tho't he hed dreemt o' it
in his drink. But no. He hev seed somethin' and so hev I meself. No
wonner the cuss wur skeeart. I feel jest a spell shaky in my own narves
beout this time. Geehosophat! What kin the durned thing be?"

"What kin it be?" he continued, after a period spent in silent
reflection. "Dog-goned, ef I kin detarmine one way or the tother. Ef 't
had been only I' the daylight, and I ked a got a good sight on't or eft
hed been a leetle bit cloaster! Ha! Why moutn't I git cloaster to it?
Dog-goned, ef I don't hev a try! I reck'n it won't eet me not ef it air
ole Nick an' ef it air him, I'll jest satersfy meself whether a bullet
kin go custrut thro his infernal karkidge 'ithout throwin' him out o'
the seddle. Hyur go for a cloaster akwaintance wi' the varmint,
whatsomiver it be."

So saying, the hunter stalked off through the trees upon the path that
led up to the bluff.

He had not needed to go inside for his rifle, having brought that weapon
out with him, on hearing the howl of the hound.

If the headless rider was real flesh and blood earthly and not of the
other world Zeb Stump might confidently count upon seeing him again.

When viewed from the door of the jacalé, he was going direct towards the
ravine, which permitted passage from the higher level to the bottom
lands of the Alamo. As Zeb had started to avail himself of the same
path, unless the other should meantime change direction, or his tranquil
pace to a trot or gallop, the backwoodsman would be at the head of the
pass as soon as he.

Before starting, Zeb had made a calculation of the distance to be done,
and the time to do it in.

His estimate proved correct to a second, and an inch. As his head was
brought nearly on a level with the upland plain, he saw the shoulders of
the horseman rising above it.

Another step upward and the body was in view. Another and the horse was
outlined against the sky, from hoof to forelock.

He stood at a halt. He was standing, as Zeb first came in sight of him.
He was fronting towards the cliff, evidently intending to go down into
the gorge. His rider appeared to have pulled him up as a measure of
precaution or he may have heard the hunter scrambling up the ravine or,
what was more likely, scented him.

For whatever reason, he was standing, front face to the spectator.

On seeing him thus, Zeb Stump also came to a stand. Had it been many
another man, the same might have been said of his hair and it is not to
be denied, that the old hunter was at that moment, as he acknowledged
himself, "a spell shaky 'be out the narves."

He was firm enough, however, to carry out the purpose that had prompted
him to seek that singular interview which was, to discover whether he
had to deal with a human being, or the devil!

In an instant his rifle was at his shoulder, his eye glancing along the
barrel the sights, by the help of a brilliant moonlight, bearing upon
the heart of the Headless Horseman.

In another, a bullet would have been through it but for a thought that
just then flashed across the brain of the backwoodsman.

Maybe he was about to commit murder?

At the thought he lowered the muzzle of his piece, and remained for a
time undecided.

"It mout be a man?" muttered he, "though it don't look like it air. Thur
ain't room enuf for a head under that ere Mexikin blanket, no how. Ef it
be a human critter he hev got a tongue I reck'n, though he ain't much o'
a head to hold it in. Hilloo strenger! Yere out for a putty lateish
ride, ain't ye? Hain't ye forgot to fetch yur head wi ye?"

There was no reply. The horse snorted, on hearing the voice. That was
all.

"Lookee hyur, strenger! Ole Zeb Stump from the State o' Kintucky, air
the individooal who's now speakin' to ye. He ain't one o' thet sort ter
be trifled wi'. Don't try to kum none o' yer damfoolery over this hyur
coon. I warn ye to declur yur game. If ye're play in possum, ye'd better
throw up yur hand or by the jumpin' Geehosophat, ye may lose both yur
stake an' yur curds! Speak out now, afore ye gits plugged wi' a piece o'
lead!"

Less response than before. This time the horse, becoming accustomed to
the voice, only tossed up his head.

"Then dog-gone ye!" shouted the hunter, exasperated by what he deemed an
insulting silence. "Six seconds more I'll gie ye six more an' ef ye
don't show speech by that time, I'll let drive at yur guts. Ef ye're but
a dummy it won't do ye any harm. No more will it, I reckun, ef ye air
the devil. But ef ye're a man plavin' possum, durn me ef ye don't
desarve to be shot for bein' seen a damn fool. Sing out!" he continued
with increasing anger, "sing out, I tell ye! Ye won't? Then hyur goes!
One two three four five six!"

Where "seven" should have come in, had the count been continued, was
heard the sharp crack of a rifle, followed by the sibillation of a
spinning bullet then the dull "thud" as the deadly missile buried itself
in some solid body.

The only effect produced by the shot, appeared to be the frightening of
the horse. The rider still kept his seat in the saddle!

It was not even certain the horse was scared. The clear neigh that
responded to the detonation of the rifle, had something in it that
sounded derisive!

For all that, the animal went off at a tearing gallop leaving Zeb Stump
a prey to the profoundest surprise he had ever experienced.

After discharging his rifle, he remained upon his knees, for a period of
several seconds.

If his nerves were unsteady before the shot, they had become doubly so
now. He was not only surprised at the result, but terrified. He was
certain that his bullet had passed through the man's heart or where it
should be as sure as if his muzzle had been held close to the ribs.

It could not be a man? He did not believe it to be one and this thought
might have reassured him, but for the behavior of the horse. It was that
wild unearthly neigh that was now chilling his blood, and causing his
limbs to shake, as if under an ague.

He would have retreated but, for a time, he felt absolutely unable to
rise to his feet and he remained kneeling, in a sort of stupefied
terror, watching the weird form till it receded out of sight far off
over the moonlit plain. Not till then did he recover sufficient courage,
to enable him to glide back down the gorge, and on towards the jackal.

And not till he was under its roof, did he feel sufficiently himself, to
reflect with any calmness on the odd encounter that had occurred to him.

It was some time before his mind became disabused of the idea that he
had been dealing with the devil. Reflection, however, convinced him of
the improbability of this though it gave him no clue as to what the
thing really was.

"Shurly," muttered he, his conjectural form of speech showing that he
was still undecided, "Shurlv arter all it can't be a thing o' the tother
world, else I kedn't a heern the cothug o' my bullet? Sartin the lead
struck agin somethin' solid an' I reck'n thur's nothin' solid in the
karkidge o' a ghost?"

"Wagh!" he concluded, apparently resigning the attempt to obtain a
solution of the strange physical phenomenon. "Let the durned thing
slide! One o' two things it air boun' to be eyther a bunnel o' rags, or
ole Harry from hell!"

As he re entered the hut, the blue light of morning stole in along with
him.

It was time to awaken Phelim, which he might take his turn by the
bedside of the invalid.

The Connemara man, now thoroughly restored to sobriety, and under the
impression of having been a little derelict in his duty, was ready to
undertake the task.

The old hunter, before consigning his charge to the care of his
unskilled successor, made a fresh dressing of the scratches availing
himself of the knowledge that a long experience had given him in the
pharmacopoeia of the forest.

The nopal was near and its juice inspissated into the fresh wounds would
not fail to affect their speedy cure.

Zeb knew that in twenty four hours after its application, they would be
in process of healing and in three days, entirely cicatrized.

With this confidence common to every denizen, of the cactus covered land
of Mexico, he felt defiant as to doctors and if a score of them could
have been procured upon the instant, he would not have summoned one. He
was convinced that Maurice Gerald was in no danger, at least not from
his wounds.

There was a danger, but that was of a different kind.

"And now, Mister Pheelum," he said, on making a finish of his surgical
operations, "we hev dud all thet kin be dud for the outard man, an' it
air full time to look arter the innard. Ye say thur ain't nuthin to
eet?"

"Not so much as a purtaty, Misther Stump. An' what's worse thare's
nothin' to dhrink not a dhrap lift in the whole cyabin."

"Durn ye, that's yur fault," cried Stump, turning upon the Irishman with
a savage scowl that showed equal regret at the announcement. "Ef't
hadn't a been for you, thur war licker enough to a lasted till the young
fellur got roun' agin. What's to be dud now?"

"Sowl, Misther Stump! yez be wrongin' me althegither intirely. That same
yez are. I hadn't a taste exciptin what came out av the little flask. It
wus thim Indyins that imptied the dimmy-jan. Trath was it."

"Wagh! ye cudn't a got drunk on what wur contained i' the flask. I know
yur durned guts too well for thet. Ye must a had a good pull at the
tother, too."

"Be all the saints--"

"Durn yur stinkin' saints! D'you s'pose any man o' sense believes in
sech varmint as them?

"Wal; 'tain't no use talkin' any more beout it. Ye've sucked up the corn
juice, an' thur's an end o't. Thur ain't no more to be hed 'ithin twenty
mile, an' we must go 'ithout."

"Be Jaysus, but it's bad!"

"Shet up yur head, durn ye, an' hear what I've got to say. We'll hev to
go 'ithout drinkin', but thet air no reezun for sturvin' ourselves for
want o' somethin' to eet. The young fellur, I don't misdoubt, air by
this time half sturved hisself. Thur's not much on his stummuk, I
reck'n, though thur may be on his mind. As for meself, I'm jest hungry
enough to eat coyoat; an' I ain't very sure I'd turn away from turkey
buzzart which, as I reck'n, wud be a wusser victual than coyoat. But we
ain't obleeged to eet turkey buzzart, whar thur's a chance o' gettin'
turkey; an' thet ain't so dewbious along the Alamo. You stay hyur, an'
take care o' the young fellur, whiles I try up the crik, an' see if I
kin kum acrosst a gobbler."

"I'll do that, Misther Stump, an' no mistake. Be me trath--"

"Keep yur palaver to yurself, till I've finished talkin' to ye."

"Sowl! I won't say a word."

"Then don't, but lissen! Thur's somethin 'bout which I don't want ye to
make any mistake. It air this. Ef there shed anybody stray this way
dyurih my absince, yell let me know. Ye musn't lose a minnit o' time,
but let me know."

"Shure I will sowl, yis."

"Wal, I'll depend on ye."

"Trath, yez may, but how Misther Stump? How am I to lit yez know, if
youre beyant hearin' av me voice? How thin?"

"Wal, I reck'n, I shan't need to go so fur as thet. Thur ought to be
gobblers cloast by, at this time o' the mornin."

"An yit there moutent," continued Zeb, after reflecting a while. "Ye
ain't got sech a thing as a gun in the shanty? A pistol 'ud do."

"Nayther wan, nor the tother. The masther tuk both away wid him, when he
went last time to the sittlements. He must have lift them thare."

"It air awk'ard. I mout not heer yur shout."

Zeb, who had by this time passed through the doorway, again stopped to
reflect.

"Heigh!" he exclaimed, after a pause of six seconds. "I've got it. I've
treed the eydee. Ye see my ole maar, tethered out thur on the grass?"

"Shure I do, Misther Stump. Av coorse I do."

"Wal, ye see thet ere prickly cacktis plaint growin' cloast to the edge
o' the openin'?"

"Faith, yis."

"Wal, that's sensible o' ye. Now lissen to what I say. Ye must keep a
look out at the door, an ef anybody kums up whiles I'm gone, run
straight custrut for the cacktis, cut off one o' its branches the
thorniest ye kin see an' stick it unner the maar's tail."

"Mother av Moses! For what div yez want me to do that?"

"Wal, I reck'n I'd better explain" said Zeb, reflectingly "otherwise
ye'll be makin' a mess o' it."

"Ye see, Pheelum, ef anybody interlopes durin' my absince I hed better
be hyur. I ain't a goin' fur off. But howsomediver near, I mout'nt hear
yur screech thurfore the maar's 'll do better. You clap the cacktis
under her tail, cloast up to the fundament and ef she don't squeal loud
enuf to be heern by me, then ye may konklude that this coon air, eyther
rubbed out, or hev both his lugs plugged wi picket pins. So, Pheelum; do
adzactlv as I've tolt ye."

"I'll do it, be Japers!"

"Be sure now. Yur master's life may depend upon it."

After delivering this last caution, the hunter shouldered his long
rifle, and walked away from the hut.

"He's a cute owld chap that same," said Phelim as soon as Zeb was out of
hearing. "I wondher what he manes by the master bein' in danger from any
wan comin' to the cyabin. He sed, that his life moight depend upon it?
Yis he sed that."

"He towlt me to kape a luk out. I suppose he maned me to begin at wance.
I must go to the inthrance thin."

So saying, he stepped outside the door and proceeded to make an ocular
inspection of the paths by which the jacalé might be approached.

After completing this, he returned to the threshold and there took
stand, in the attitude of one upon the watch.



57. SOUNDING THE SIGNAL.


Phelim's vigil was of short duration. Scarce ten minutes had he been
keeping it, when he became warned by the sound of a horse's hoof, that
some one was coming up the creek in the direction of the hut.

His heart commenced hammering against his ribs.

The trees, standing thickly, hindered him from having a view of the
approaching horseman and he could not tell what sort of guest was about
to present himself at the jacalé. But the hoof stroke told him there was
only one and this it was that excited his apprehension. He would have
been less alarmed to hear the trampling of a troop. Though well assured
it could no longer be his master, he had no stomach for a second
interview with the cavalier who so closely resembled him, in everything
except the head.

His first impulse was to rush across the lawn, and carry out the scheme
entrusted to him by Zeb. But the indecision springing from his fears
kept him to his place long enough to show him that they were groundless.
The strange horseman had a head.

"Sure an' that same he hez," said Phelim, as the latter rode out from
among the trees, and halted on the edge of the opening; "a raal hid, an'
a purty face in front av it. An' yit it don't show so plazed nayther. He
luks as if he'd jist buried his grandmother. Sowl! what a quare young
chap he is, wid them toiny mowstaches loike the down upon a two days'
goslin! O Lard! Luk at his little fut! Be Jaysus, he's a woman!"

While the Irishman was making these observations partly in thought,
partly in muttered speech the equestrian advanced a pace or two, and
again paused.

On a nearer view of his visitor, Phelim saw that he had correctly
guessed the sex, though the moustache, the manner of the mount, the hat,
and serapé, might for the moment have misled a keener intellect than his
of Connemara.

It was a woman. It was Isidora.

It was the first time that Phelim had set eyes on the Mexican maiden,
the first that hers had ever rested upon him. They were equally unknown
to one another. He had spoken the truth, when he said that her
countenance did not display pleasure. On the contrary, the expression
upon it was sad almost disconsolate.

It had shown distrust, as she was riding under the shadow of the trees.
Instead of brightening as she came out into the open ground, the look
only changed to one of mingled surprise and disappointment.

Neither could have been caused by her coming within sight of the jacalé.
She knew of its existence. It was the goal of her journey. It must have
been the singular personage standing in the doorway. He was not the man
she expected to see there.

In doubt she advanced to address him

"I may have made a mistake?" said she, speaking in the best "Americana"
she could command. "Pardon me, but I--I--thought that, Don Mauricio
lived here."

"Dan Marryshow, yez say? Trath, no. Thare's nobody av that name lives
heeur. Dan Marryshow? Thare was a man they called Marrish had a dwillin'
not far out av Ballyballagh. I re remimber the chap will, bekase he
chated me wanst in a horse thrade. But his name wasn't Dan. No; it was
Pat. Pat Marrish was the name divil burn him for a desaver!"

"Don Mauricio, Mor-rees--Mor-ees."

"Oh! Maurice! Maybe ye'd be after spakin' av the masther Misther
Gerrald!"

"Si-Si! Señor Zyerral."

"Shure, thin, an' if that's fwhat ye're afther, Misther Gerrald diz
dwill in this very cyabin that is, whin he comes to divart hisself, by
chasin' the wild horses. He only kapes it for a huntin' box, ye know.
Arrah, now; if yez cud only see the great big cyastle he lives in whin
he's at home, in owld Ireland; an' the bewtiful crayther that's now
cryin' her swate blue eyes out, bekase he won't go back thare. Sowl, if
yez saw her!"

Despite its patois, Phelim's talk was too well understood by her, to
whom it was addressed. Jealousy is an apt translator. Something like a
sigh escaped from Isidora, as he pronounced that little word "her."

"I don't wish to see her," was the quick rejoinder, "but him you
mention. Is he at home? Is he inside?"

"Is he at home? Thare now, that's comin' to the point, straight as a
poike staff. An' supposin' I wuz to say yis, fwhat ud yez be afther
wantin' wid him?"

"I wish to see him."

"Div yez? Maybe now ye'il wait till yez be asked. Ye're a purty
crayther, notwithstandin' that black strake upon yer lip. But the
masther isn't in a condishun jist at this time to see any wan, unless it
was the praste or a docthur. Yez cyant see him."

"But I wish very much to see him, señor."

"Trath div yez. Ye've sayed that alriddy. But yez cyant, I till ye. It
isn't Phaylim Onale ud deny wan av the fair six, espacially a purty
black eyed colleen loike yerself. But for all that yez cyant see the
masther now."

"Why can I not?"

"Why cyant yez not? Will thare's more than wan rayzon why yez cyant. In
the first place, as I've towlt you, he's not in a condishun to resave
company, the liss so av its bein' a lady."

"But why, señor? Why?"

"Bekase he's not dacently drissed. He's got nothin' on him but his shirt
exceptin' the rags that Misther Stump's jist tied all roun' him. Be
japers! thare's enough av them to make him a whole shoot coat, waiscoat,
and throwsers trath is thare."

"Senor, I don't understand you."

"Yez don't? Shure an' I've spoke plain enough! Don't I till ye that the
masther's in bid?"

"In bed! At this hour? I hope there's nothing--"

"The matther wid him, yez wur goin' to say? Alannah, that same is there
a powerful dale the matther wid him, enough to kape him betwane the
blankets for weeks to come."

"Oh, señor! Do not tell me that he is ill?"

"Don't I till ye! Arrah now me honey; fwhat ud be the use av consalin'
it? It ud do it no good nayther cyan it do him any harm to spake about
it? Yez moight say it afore his face, an' he wont conthradict ye."

"He is ill, then. O, sir, tell me, what is the nature of his illness
what has caused it?"

"Shure an' I cyant answer only wan av thim interrogataries the first yez
hiv phut. His disaze pursades from some ugly tratement he's been
resaving, the Lard only knows what, or who administhered it. He's got a
bad lig; an' his skin luks as if he'd been tied up in a sack along wid a
score av angry cats. Sowl! thare's not the brenth av yer'purty little
hand widout a scratch upon it. Worse than all, he's beside himself."

"Beside himself?"

"Yis, that same. He's ravin' loike wan that had a dhrap too much
overnight, an' thinks thare's the man wid the poker afther him. Be me
trath, I belave the very bist thing for him now, ud be a thrifle av
potheen if wan end only lay hands upon that same. But thare's not the
smell av it in the cyabin. Both the dimmy-jan an' flask. Arrah, now you
wouldn't be afther havin' a little flask upon yer swate silf? Some av
that agwardinty, as yer people call it. Trath, I've tasted worse stuff
than it. I'm shure a dhrink av it ud do the masther good. Spake the
truth, misthress! Hiv yez any about ye?"

"No, señor. I have nothing of the kind. I am sorry, I have not."

"Faugh! The more's the pity for poor Masther Maurice. It ud a done him a
dale av good. Wil he must put up widout it."

"But, señor surely I can see him?"

"Divil a bit. Besides fwhat ud be the use? He wouldn't know ye from his
great grandmother. I till yez agane, he's been badly thrated, an as now
besoide hisself!"

"All the more reason why I should see him. I may be of service. I owe
him a debt of--."

"Oh! yez be owin him somethin? Yez want to pay it? Faith, that makes it
intirely different. But yez needn't see him for that. I'm his head man,
an thransact all that sort av bizness for him. I cyant write myself, but
I'll give ye a resate on the crass wid me mark which is jist as good,
among the lawyers. Yis, misthress; yez may pay the money over to me, an
I promise ye the masther 'll niver ax ye for it agane. Trath! it'll come
handy jist now, as we're upon the ave av a flittin, an may want it. So
if yez have the pewther along wid ye, thare's pins, ink, an paper
insoide the cyabin. Say the word, an I'll giv ye the resate!"

"No-no-no! I did not mean money. A debt of gratitude."

"Faugh! only that. Sowl, it's eezy paid, an don't want a resate. But yez
needn't return that sort av money now for the masther woudn't be
sinsible av fwhat ye wur sayin. Whin he comes to his sinses, I'll till
him yez hiv been heeur, and wiped out the score."

"Surely I can see him?"

"Shurely now yez cyant."

"But I must, señor!"

"Divil a must about it. I've been lift on guard, wid sthrict ordhers to
lit no wan go inside."

"They couldn't have been meant for me. I am his friend, the friend of
Don Mauricio."

"How is Phaylum Onale to know that? For all yer purty face, yez moight
be his didliest innemy. Be Japers! its loike enough, now that I take a
second luk at ye."

"I must see him I must I will I shall!"

As Isidora pronounced these words, she flung herself out of the saddle,
and advanced in the direction of the door.

Her air of earnest determination combined with the fierce scarce
feminine expression upon her countenance, convinced the Galwegian, that
the contingency had arrived for carrying out the instructions left by
Zeb Stump, and that he had been too long neglecting his cue.

Turning hurriedly into the hut, he came out again, armed with a tomahawk
and was about to rush past, when he was brought to a sudden stand, by
seeing a pistol in the hands of his lady visitor, pointed straight at
his head!

"Abajo la hacha!" (Down with the hatchet), cried she, "pero! lift your
aim to strike me, and it will be for the last time!"

"Stroike ye, misthress! Stroike you!" blubbered the ci devant stable
boy, as soon as his terror permitted him to speak. "Mother av the Lard!
I didn't mane the waypon for you at all, at all! I'll sware it on the
crass, or a whole stack av Bibles if yez say so. In trath misthress; I
didn't mane the tammyhauk for you!"

"Why have you brought it forth?" inquired the lady, half suspecting that
she had made a mistake, and lowering her pistol as she become convinced
of it. "Why have you thus armed yourself?"

"As I live, only to ixecute the ordhers, I've resaved, only to cut a
branch off av the cyacktus yez see over yander, an phut it undher the
tail av the owld mare. Shure yez won't ohject to my doin'that?"

In her turn, the lady became silent surprised at the singular
proposition.

The odd individual she saw before her could not mean mischief. His
looks, attitude, and gestures were grotesque, rather than threatening,
provocative of mirth, not fear, or indignation.

"Silince gives consint. Thank ye," said Phelim, as, no longer in fear of
being shot down in his tracks, he ran straight across the lawn, and
carried out to the letter, the parting injunctions of Zeb Stump.

The Mexican maiden hitherto held silent by surprise, remained so, on
perceiving the absolute idleness of speech.

Further conversation was out of the question. What with the screaming
of the mare continuous from the moment the spinous crupper was inserted
under her tail the loud trampling of her hoofs as she "cavorted" over
the turf, the dismal howling of the hound and the responsive cries of
the wild forest denizens birds, beasts, insects, and reptiles only the
voice of a Stentor could have been heard!

What could be the purpose of the strange proceeding? How was it to
terminate?

Isidora looked on in silent astonishment. She could do nothing else. So
long as the infernal fracas continued, there was no chance to elicit an
explanation from the queer creature that had caused it.

He had returned to the door of the jacalé and once more taken his stand
upon the threshold where he stood, with the tranquil satisfied air of an
actor who has completed the performance of his part in the play, and
feels free to range himself among the spectators!



58. RECOILING FROM A KISS.


For full ten minutes was the wild chorus kept up, the mare all the time
squealing like a stuck pig, while the dog responded in a series of
lugubrious howls, that reverberated along the cliffs on both sides of
the creek.

To the distance of a mile might the sounds have been heard and as Zeb
Stump was not likely to be so far from the hut, he would be certain to
hear them.

Convinced of this, and that the hunter would soon respond to the signal
he had himself arranged, Phelim stood square upon the threshold, in
hopes that the lady visitor would stay outside at least, until he should
be relieved of the responsibility of admitting her.

Notwithstanding her earnest protestations of amity, he was still
suspicious of some treasonable intention towards his master else why
should Zeb have been so particular about being summoned back?

Of himself, he had abandoned the idea of offering resistance. That
shining pistol, still before his eyes, had cured him of all inclination
for a quarrel with the strange equestrian and so far as the Connemara
man was concerned, she might have gone unresisted inside.

But there was another from Connemara, who appeared more determined to
dispute her passage to the hut, one whom a whole battery of great guns
would not have deterred from protecting its owner. This was Tara.

The staghound was not acting as if under the excitement of a mere
senseless alarm. Mingling with his prolonged sonorous "growl" could be
heard in repeated interruptions a quick sharp bark, that denoted anger.
He had witnessed the attitude of the intruder its apparent hostility and
drawing his deductions, had taken stand directly in front of Phelim and
the door, with the evident determination that neither should be reached
except over his own body, and after running the gauntlet of his
formidable incisors.

Isidora showed no intention of undertaking the risk. She had none.
Astonishment was, for the time, the sole feeling that possessed her.

She remained transfixed to the spot, without attempting to say a word.

She stood expectantly. To such an eccentric prelude there should be a
corresponding finale. Perplexed, but patiently, she awaited it.

Of her late alarm there was nothing left. What she saw was too ludicrous
to allow of apprehension though it was also too incomprehensible to
elicit laughter.

In the mien of the man, who had so oddly comported himself, there was no
sign of mirth. If anything, a show of seriousness, oddly contrasting
with the comical act he had committed and which plainly proclaimed that
he had not been treating her to a joke.

The expression of helpless perplexity that had become fixed upon her
features, continued there until a tall man, wearing a faded blanket
coat, and carrying a six foot rifle, was seen striding among the tree
trunks, at the rate of ten miles to the hour.

He was making direct for the jacalé.

At sight of the new comer her countenance underwent a change. There was
now perceptible upon it a shade of apprehension and the little pistol
was clutched with renewed nerve by the delicate hand that still
continued to hold it.

The act was partly precautionary, partly mechanical. Nor was it
unnatural, in view of the formidable looking personage who was
approaching, and the earnest excited manner with which he was hurrying
forward to the hut.

All this became altered, as he advanced into the open ground, and
suddenly stopped on its edge a look of surprise quite as great as that
upon the countenance of the lady, supplanting his earnest glances.

Some exclamatory phrases were sent through his teeth, unintelligible in
the tumult still continuing, though the gesture that accompanied them,
seemed to proclaim them of a character anything but gentle.

On giving utterance to them, he turned to one side, strode rapidly
towards the screaming mare and, laying hold of her tail which no living
man save himself would have dared to do he released her from the
torments she had been so long enduring.

Silence was instantly restored since the mare, abandoned by her fellow
choristers, as they became accustomed to her wild neighs, had been, for
some time, keeping up the solo by herself.

The lady was not yet enlightened. Her astonishment continued though a
side glance given to the droll individual in the doorway told her, that
he had successfully accomplished some scheme with which he had been
entrusted.

Phelim's look of satisfaction was of short continuance. It vanished, as
Zeb Stump, having affected the deliverance of the tortured quadruped,
faced round to the hut as he did so, showing a cloud upon the
corrugations of his countenance, darkly ominous of an angry storm.

Even the presence of beauty did not hinder it from bursting.

"Durn, an' dog-gone ye, for a Irish eedyit! Air this what ye've brought
me back for! An' jest as I wur takin' sight on a turkey, not less 'n
thirty poun' weight, I reck'n skeeart afore I ken touch trigger, wi' the
skreek o' thet cussed critter o' a maar. Damned little chance for
breakfust now."

"But, Misther Stump, didn't yez till me to do it? Ye sid if any wan
showld come to the cyabin--"

"Bah! ye fool! Ye don't serpose I meened weemen, did ye?"

"Trath! I didn't think it wus wan, whin she furst presented hersilf. Yez
showld a seen the way she rid up sittin' astraddle on her horse."

"What matter it, how she wur sittin'! Hain't ye seed thet afore, ye
greenhorn? It's thur usooal way 'mong these hyur Mexikin sheemales.
Ye're more o' a woman than she air, I guess an' twenty times more o' a
fool. Thet I'm sartint o'. I know her a leetle by sight, an' somethin'
more by reeport. What hev fetched the critter hyur ain't so difeequilt
to comprehend; tho' it may be to git it out o' her, seein' as she kin
only talk thet thur Mexikin lingo, the which this chile can't, nor
wudn't ef he kud."

"Sowl, Misther Stump! yez be mistaken. She spakes English too. Don't
yez, misthress?"

"Little Inglees," returned the Mexican, who up to this time had remained
listening. "Inglees poco pocito"

"Oah!" exclaimed Zeb, slightly abashed at what he had been saying. "I
beg your pardin, saynoritta. Ye kin habla a bit o' Amerikin, kin ye?
Moocho bono, so much the betterer. Ye'll be able to tell me what ye mout
be a wantin' out hyur. Ye hain't lost yur way, hev ye?"

"No, señor," was the reply, after a pause.

"In that case, ye know whar ye air?"

"Si, señor yes, of Don Mauricio Zyerral, this the house?"

"Thet air the name, near as a Mexikin mouth kin make it, I reck'n.
'Tain't much o' a house but it air his'n. Preehaps ye want to see the
master o't?"

"O, señor; yes that is for why I here am, por esta yo soy aqui"

"Wal I reck'n, thur kin be no objecshun to yur seein' him. Yur
intenshuns ain't noways hostile to the young fellur, I kalklate. But
thur ain't much good in yur talkin' to him now. He won't know ye from a
side o' sole leather."

"He is ill? Has met with some misfortune? El güero has said so."

"Yis. I towlt her that," interposed Phelim, whose carroty hair had
earned for him the appellation "El güero."

"Sartin," answered Zeb. "He air wounded a bit an jest now a leetle
dulleerious. I reck'n it ain't o' much consekwence. He'll be hisself
agin soon's the ravin fit's gone off o' him."

"O, sir! Can I be his nurse till then? Por amor dios! Let me enter, and
watch over him? I am his friend un amigo muy afficionado"

"Wal I don't see as thu's any harm in it. Weemen makes the best o'
nusses I've heern say tho', for meself, I hain't hed much chance o'
tryin em sincst I kivered up my 'ole gurl unner the sods o' Massissipi.
Ef ye want to take a spell by the side o' the young fellur, ye're welkim
seein ye're his friend. Ye kin look arter him, till we git back, an see
thet he don't tummel out o' the bed, or claw off them thur bandidges,
I've tied roun him.

"Trust me, good sir; I shall take every care of him. But tell me what
has caused it? The Indians? No, they are not near? Has there been a
quarrel with any one?"

"In thet, saynoritta ye're beout as wise as I air meself. Thur's been a
quarrel wi' coyoats, but that ain't what's gin him the ugly knee. I
foun' him yesterday, clost upon sun down, in the chapparal beyont. When
we kim upon him, he war up to his waist in the water o' a crik as runs
through thur, jest beout to be attakted by one o' them spotty critters
yur people call tigers. Wal, I relieved him o' that bit o' danger, but
what happened afore air a mystery to me. The young fellur had tuk leeve
o' his senses, an' ked gie no account o' hisself. He hain't rekivered
them yet; an, thurfore, we must wait till he do."

"But you are sure, sir, he is not badly injured? His wounds they are not
dangerous?"

"No danger whatsomediver. Nuthin' beyont a bit o' a fever, or maybe a
touch o' the agey, when that goes off o' him. As for the wounds, they're
only a wheen o' scratches. When the wanderin' hev gone out o' his
senses, hell soon kum roun, I reck'n. In a week's time, ye'll see him as
strong as a buck."

"Oh! I shall nurse him tenderly!"

"Wal, that's very kind o' you but--but--"

Zeb hesitated, as a queer thought came before his mind. It led to a
train of reflections kept to himself. They were these:

"This air the same she, as sent them kickshaws to the tavern of Rough
an' Ready. Thet she air in love wi' the young fellur is clur as
Massissipi mud in love wi' him to the eends o' her toe nails. So's the
tother. But it air equally clur that he's thinkin' o' the tother, an'
not o' her. Now ef she hears him talk about tother, as he hev been a
doin' all o' the night, thur'll be a putty consid'able rumpus riz inside
o' her busom. Poor thing! I pity her. She ain't a bad sort. But the
Irish, Irish tho' he is, can't belong to both an' I know he freezes to
the critter from the States. It air durned awkurd. Better of I ked
pursuade her not to go near him leastwise till he gets over ravin' about
Lewaze.

"But, miss," he continued, addressing himself to the Mexican, who during
his long string of reflections had stood impatiently silent, "don't ye
think ye'd better ride home again and come back to see him arter he gits
well. He won't know ye, as I've sayed an' it would be no use yur
stayin', since he ain't in any danger o'makin a die of it."

"No matter, that he may not know me. I should tend him all the same. He
may need some things which I can send, and procure for him."

"Ef ye're boun' to stay then," rejoined Zeb, relentingly, as if some new
thought was causing him to consent, "I won't interfere to say, no. But
don't you mind what he'll be palaver in' about. Ye may hear some queer
talk out o' him, beout a man being murdered, an the like. That's natural
for any one as is delirious. Don't be skeeart at it. Beside, ye may hear
him talkin' a deal about a woman, as he's got upon his mind."

"A woman!"

"Jest so. Ye'll hear him make mention o' her name."

"Her name! Señor, what name?"

"Wal, it air the name o' his sister, I reck'n. Fact, I'm sure o' it
bein' his sister."

"Oh! Misther Stump. If yez be spakin' av Masther Maurice--"

"Shut up, ye dumed fool! What is't to you what I'm speaking beout? You
can't unncrstan sech things. Kum along!" he continued, moving off, and
motioning the Connemara man to follow him. "I want ye a leetle way wi'
me. I killed a rattle as I wur goin' up the crik, an' left it thur. Kum
you, an' toat it back to the shanty hyur, lest some varmint may make
away wi' it an' lest, arter all, I moutn't strike turkey agin."

"A rattle. Div yez mane a rattle-snake?"

"An'what shed I mean?"

"Shure, Misther Stump, yez wudn't ate a snake. Lard! wudn't it poison
yez?"

"Pisen be durned! Didn't I cut the pisen out, soon 's I killed the
critter, by cuttin' off o' its head?"

"Trath! an' for all that, I wudn't ate a morsel av it, if I was
starvin'."

"Sturve, an' be durned to ye! Who axes ye to eet it. I only want ye to
toat it home. Kum then, an' do as I tell ye, or Dog-goned, ef don't make
ye eet the head o' the reptile, pisen, angs an all!"

"Be japers, Misther Stump, I didn't mane to disobey you at all, at all.
Shure its Phaylim O'Nale that's reddy to do your biddin' anyhow. I'm wid
ye for fwhativer yez want aven to swallowin' the snake whole. Saint
Pathrick forgive me!"

"Saint Patrick be durned! Kum along!"

Phelim made no farther remonstrance, but, striking into the tracks of
the backswoodsman, followed him through the wood.

Isidora entered the hut advanced towards the invalid reclining upon his
couch with fierce fondness kissed his fevered brow fonder and fiercer
kissed his unconscious lips and then recoiled from them, as if she had
been stung by a scorpion!

Worse than scorpion's sting was that which had caused her to spring
back.

And yet 'twas but a word, a little word, of only two syllables!

There was nothing strange in this. Oft, on one word that soft short
syllabic "Yes" rests the happiness of a life; while oft, too oft, the
harsher negative is the prelude to a world of woe!



59. ANOTHER WHO CANNOT REST.


A dark day for Louise Poindexter, perhaps the darkest in the calendar of
her life, was that in which she released Don Miguel Diaz from the lasso.

Sorrow for a brother's loss, with fears for a lover's safety, were
yesterday commingled in the cup. To day it was further embittered by the
blackest passion of all. Jealousy. Grief, fear, jealousy; what must be
the state of the soul in which these emotions are coexistent. A tumult
of terrible imaginings.

So was it in the bosom of Louise Poindexter after deciphering the
epistle, which contained written evidence of her lover's disloyalty.

True, the writing came not from him, nor was the proof conclusive.

But in the first burst of her frenzied rage, the young Creole did not
reason thus. In the wording of the letter there was strong presumption,
that the relationship between Maurice Gerald and the Mexican was of a
more affectionate character than he had represented it to be that he
had, in fact, been practicing a deception.

Why should that woman write to him in such free strain, giving bold,
almost unfeminine, license to her admiration of his eyes "Esos ojos tan
lindos y tan espresivos?"

These were no phrases of friendship, but the expressions of a prurient
passion. As such only could the Creole understand them since they were
but a paraphrase of her own feelings.

And then, there was the appointment itself solicited, it is true, in the
shape of a request. But this was mere courtesy the coquetry of an
accomplished maîtresse. Moreover, the tone of solicitation was abandoned
towards the close of the epistle, which terminated in a positive
command: "Come, sir! Come!"

Something more than jealousy was aroused by the reading of this. A
spirit of revenge seemed to dictate the gesture that followed, and the
stray sheet was crushed between the aristocratic fingers into which it
had fallen.

"Ah, me!" reflected she, in the acerbity of her soul, "I see it all now.
Tis not the first time he has answered a similar summons, not the first
they have met on that same ground, 'the hill above my uncle's house',
slightly described, but well understood oft visited before."

Soon the spirit of vengeance gave place to a profound despair. Her heart
had its emblem in the piece of paper that lay at her feet upon the floor
like it, crushed and ruined.

For a time she surrendered herself to sad meditation. Wild emotions
passed through her mind, suggesting wild resolves. Among others she
thought of her beloved Louisiana, of going back there to bury her secret
sorrow in the cloisters of the Sacré Cœur. Had the Creole convent been
near, in that hour of deep despondency, she would, in all probability,
have forsaken the paternal home, and sought an asylum within its sacred
walls.

In very truth was it the darkest day of her existence.

After long hours of wretchedness her spirit became calmer, while her
thoughts returned to a more rational tone. The letter was re-read, its
contents submitted to careful consideration.

There was still a hope, the hope that, after all, Maurice Gerald might
not be in the Settlement.

It was at best, but a faint ray. Surely 'die should know she who had
penned the appointment, and spoken so confidently of his keeping it?
Still, as promised, he might have gone away; and upon this supposition
hinged that hope, now scintillating like a star through the obscurity of
the hour.

It was a delicate matter to make direct inquiries about to one in the
position of Louise Poindexter. But no other course appeared open to her
and as the shadows of twilight shrouded the grass covered square of the
village, she was seen upon her spotted palfrey, riding silently through
the streets, and reining up in front of the hotel on the same spot
occupied but a few hours before by the gray steed of Isidora!

As the men of the place were all absent some on the track of the
assassin, others upon the trail of the Comanche, Oberdoffer was the only
witness of her indiscretion. But he knew it not as such. It was but
natural that the sister of the murdered man should be anxious to obtain
news and so did he construe the motive for the interrogatories addressed
to him.

Little did the stolid German suspect the satisfaction which his answers
at first gave to his fair questioner, much less the chagrin afterwards
caused by that bit of information volunteered by himself, and which
abruptly terminated the dialogue between him and his visitor.

On hearing she was not the first of her sex who had that day made
inquiries respecting Maurice the mustanger, Louise Poindexter rode back
to Casa del Corvo, with a heart writhing under fresh laceration.

A night was spent in the agony of unrest, sleep only obtained in short
snatches, and amidst the phantasmagoria of dreamland.

Though the morning restored not her tranquility, it brought with it a
resolve, stern, daring, almost reckless.

It was, at least, daring, for Louise Poindexter to ride to the Alamo
alone and this was her determination.

There was no one to stay her, none to say nay. The searchers out all
night had not yet returned. No report had come back to Casa del Corvo.
She was sole mistress of the mansion, as of her own actions sole
possessor of the motive that was impelling her to this bold step.

But it may be easily guessed. Hers was not a spirit to put up with mere
suspicion. Even love, that tames the strongest, had not yet reduced it
to that state of helpless submission. Unsatisfied it could no longer
exist and hence her resolve to seek satisfaction.

She might find peace she might chance upon ruin. Even the last appeared
preferable to the agony of uncertainty.

How like to the reasoning of her rival!

It would have been idle to dissuade her, had there been any one to do
it. It is doubtful even if parental authority could at that moment have
prevented her from carrying out her purpose. Talk to the tigress when
frenzied by a similar feeling. With a love unhallowed, the will of the
Egyptian queen, was not more imperious than is that of the American
Creole, when stirred by its holiest passion. It acknowledges no right of
contradiction regards; no obstruction save death.

It is a spirit rare upon earth. In its tranquil state, soft as the rays
of the Aurora, pure as the prayer of a child but when stirred by love,
or rather by its too constant concomitant it becomes proud and perilous
as the light of Lucifer!

Of this spirit Louise Poindexter was the truest type. Where love was the
lure, to wish was to have, or perish in the attempt to obtain. Jealousy
resting upon doubt, was neither possible to her nature, or compatible
with her existence. She must find proofs to destroy, or confirm it
proofs stronger than those already supplied by the contents of the
strayed epistle, which, after all, were only presumptive.

Armed with this, she was in a position to seek them and they were to be
sought upon the Alamo.

The first hour of sunrise saw her in the saddle, riding out from the
enclosures of Casa del Corvo, and taking a trail across the prairie
already known to her.

On passing many a spot, endeared to her sacred by some of the sweetest
souvenirs of her life, her thoughts experienced more than one revulsion.

These were moments when she forgot the motive that originally impelled
her to the journey when she thought only of reaching the man she loved,
to rescue him from enemies that might be around him!

Ah! These moments despite the apprehension for her lover's safety were
happy, when compared with those devoted to the far more painful
contemplation of his treachery.

From the point of starting to that of her destination, it was twenty
miles. It might seem a journey, to one used to European traveling that
is in the saddle. To the prairie equestrian it is a ride of scarce two
hours quick as a scurry across country, after a stag or fox.

Even with an unwilling steed it is not tedious hut with that lithe
limbed, ocellated creature, Luna, who went willingly towards her prairie
home, it was soon over, too soon perhaps, for the happiness of her
rider.

Wretched as Louise Poindexter may have felt before, her misery had
scarce reached the point of despair. Through her sadness there still
shone a scintillation of hope.

It was extinguished as she set foot upon the threshold of the jacalé and
the quick suppressed scream that came from her lips, was like the last
utterance of a heart parting in twain.

There was a woman within the hut!

From the lips of this woman an exclamation had already escaped, to which
her own might have appeared an echo so closely, did the one follow the
other so alike were they in anguish.

Like a second echo, still more intensified, was the cry from Isidora as
turning, she saw in the doorway that woman, whose name had just been
pronounced the "Louise" so fervently praised, so fondly remembered,
amidst the vagaries of a distempered brain.

To the young Creole, the case was clear, painfully clear. She saw before
her the writer of that letter of appointment which, after all, had been
kept. In the strife, whose sounds had indistinctly reached her, there
may have been a third party Maurice Gerald? That would account for the
condition in which she now saw him for she was far enough inside the hut
to have a view of the invalid upon his couch.

Yes it was the writer of that bold epistle, who had called Maurice
Gerald "querido" who had praised his eyes who had commanded him to come
to her side and who was now by his side, tending him with a solicitude
that proclaimed her his! Ah! The thought was too painful to be
symbolized in speech.

Equally clear were the conclusions of Isidora equally agonizing. She
already knew that she was supplanted. She had been listening too long to
the involuntary speeches that told her so, to have any doubt as to their
sincerity. On the door step stood the woman who had succeeded her!

Face to face, with flashing eyes, their bosoms rising and falling as if
under one impulse, both distraught with the same dire thought, the two
stood eyeing each other.

Alike in love with the same man, alike jealous they were alongside the
object of their burning passion, unconscious of the presence of either!

Each believed the other successful, for Louise had not heard the words,
that would have given her comfort those words yet ringing in the ears,
and torturing the soul, of Isidora!

It was an attitude of silent hostility all the more terrible for its
silence. Not a word was exchanged between them. Neither deigned to ask
explanation of the other neither needed it. There are occasions when
speech is superfluous, and both intuitively felt that this was one. It
was a mutual encounter of fell passions that found expression only in
the flashing of eyes, and the scornful curling of lips.

Only for an instant was the attitude kept up. In fact, the whole scene,
inside, scarce occupied a score of seconds.

It ended by Louise Poindexter turning round upon the doorstep, and
gliding off to regain her saddle. The hut of Maurice Gerald was no place
for her!

Isidora too came out, almost treading upon the skirt of the other's
dress. The same thought was in her heart, perhaps more emphatically
felt. The hut of Maurice Gerald was no place for her!

Both seemed equally intent on departure alike, resolved on forsaking the
spot, which had witnessed the desolation of their hearts.

The gray horse stood nearest, the mustang farther out. Isidora was the
first to mount, the first to move off, but as she passed, her rival had
also got into the saddle, and was holding the ready rein.

Glances were again interchanged neither triumphant, but neither
expressing forgiveness. That of the Creole, was a strange mixture of
sadness, anger, and surprise while the last look of Isidora, that
accompanied a spiteful "carajo!" a fearful phrase from female lips was
such as the Ephesian goddess may have given to Athenaia, after the award
of the apple.



60. A FAIR INFORMER.


If things physical may be compared with things moral, no greater
contrast could have been found, than the bright heavens beaming over the
Alamo, and the black thoughts in the bosom of Isidora, as she hastened
away from the jacalé. Her heart was a focus of fiery passions, revenge
predominating over all.

In this there was a sort of demoniac pleasure, that hindered her from
giving way to despair otherwise she might have sunk under the weight of
her woe.

With gloomy thoughts, she rides under the shadow of the trees. They are
not less gloomy, as she gazes up the gorge, and sees the blue sky
smiling cheerfully above her. Its cheerfulness seems meant, but to mock
her!

She pauses before making the ascent. She has reined up under the
umbrageous cypress fit canopy for a sorrowing heart. Its somber shade
appears more desirable than the sunlight above.

It is not this that has caused her to pull up. There is a thought in her
soul darker than the shadow of the cypress. It is evinced by her clouded
brow, by her black eyebrows contracted over her black flashing eyes
above all, by an expression of fierceness in the contrast of her white
teeth gleaming under the mustached lip.

All that is good of woman, except beauty, seems to have forsaken all
that is bad, except ugliness, to have taken possession of her!

She has paused at the prompting of a demon, with an infernal purpose
half formed in her mind. Her muttered speeches proclaim it.

"I should have killed her upon the spot! Shall I go back, and dare her
to deadly strife?"

"If I killed her, what would it avail? It could not win me back his
heart lost, lost, without hope! Yes those words were from the secret
depths of his soul where her image alone has found an abiding place! Oh!
There is no hope for me!

"'Tis he who should die, he who has caused my ruin. If I kill him? Ah,
then what would life be to me? From that hour an endless anguish!

"Oh! It is anguish now! I cannot endure it. I can think of no solace if
not in revenge. Not only she, he also both must die!

"But not yet not till he know, by whose hand it is done. Oh! He shall
feel his punishment, and know whence it comes. Mother of God, strengthen
me to take vengeance!"

She lances the flank of her horse, and spurs him, up the slope of the
ravine.

On reaching the upper plain, she does not stop even for the animal to
breathe itself but goes on at a reckless gait, and in a direction that
appears undetermined. Neither hand nor voice are exerted in, the
guidance of her steed only the spur to urge him on Left to himself, he
returns in the track by which he came. It leads to the Leona. Is it the
way he is wanted to go?

His rider seems neither to know nor care. She sits in the saddle, as
though she were part of it with head bent down, in the attitude of one
absorbed in a profound reverie, unconscious of outward things even of
the rude pace at which she is riding! She does not observe that black
cohort close by until warned of its proximity by the snorting of her
steed, that suddenly comes to a stand.

She sees a cavallada out upon the open prairie!

Indians? No. White men, less by their color, than the caparison of their
horses, and their style of equitation. Their beards, too, show it but
not their skins, discolored by the "stoor" of the parched plain.

"Los Tejanos!" is the muttered exclamation, as she becomes confirmed in
regard to their nationality.

"A troop of their rangers scouring the country for Comanches, I suppose?
The Indians are not here? If I've heard aright at the Settlement, they
should be far on the other side."

Without any strong reason for shunning them, the Mexican maiden has no
desire to encounter "Los Tejanos." They are nothing to her or her
purposes and at any other tune, she would not go out of their way. But
in this hour of her wretchedness, she does not wish to run the gauntlet
of their questionings, nor become the butt of their curiosity.

It is possible to avoid them. She is yet among the bushes. They do not
appear to have observed her. By turning short round, and diving back
into the chapparal, she may yet shun being seen.

She is about to do so, when the design is frustrated by the neighing of
her horse. A score of theirs respond to him and he is seen, along with
his rider.

It might be still possible for her to escape the encounter, if so
inclined. She would be certain of being pursued, but not so sure of
being overtaken especially among the winding ways of the chapparal, well
known to her.

At first she is so inclined and completes the turning of her steed.
Almost in the same instant, she reins round again and faces the phalanx
of horsemen, already in full gallop towards her.

Her muttered words proclaim a purpose in this sudden change of tactics.

"Rangers, no! Too well dressed for those ragged vagabundos? Must be the
party of 'searchers,' of which I've heard led by the father of--Yes, yes
it is they. Ay Dios! Here is a chance of revenge, and without my seeking
it God wills it to be so!"

Instead of turning back among the bushes, she rides out into the open
ground and with an air of bold determination advances to wards the
horsemen, now near.

She pulls up, and awaits their approach; a black thought in her bosom.

In another minute she is in their midst the mounted circle close drawn
around her.

There are a hundred horsemen, oddly armed, grotesquely attired uniform
only in the coating of clay colored dust which adheres to their
habiliments, and the stern seriousness observable in the bearing of all
scarce relieved by a slight show of curiosity.

Though it is an entourage to cause trembling, especially in a woman,
Isidora does not betray it. She is not in the least alarmed. She
anticipates no danger from those who have so unceremoniously surrounded
her. Some of them she knows by sight; though not the man of more than
middle age, who appears to be their leader, and who confronts, to
question her.

But she knows him otherwise. Instinct tells her he is the father of the
murdered man of the woman, she may wish to see slain, but assuredly,
shamed.

Oh! What an opportunity!

"Can you speak French, mademoiselle?" asks Woodley Poindexter,
addressing her in this tongue in the belief that it may give him a
better chance of being understood.

"Speak better Inglees, very little, sir."

"Oh! English. So much the better for us. Tell me, miss have you seen
anybody out here that is have you met any one, riding about, or camped,
or halted anywhere?"

Isidora appears to reflect, or hesitate, before making reply.

The planter pursues the interrogative, with such politeness as the
circumstances admit.

"May I ask where you live?"

"On the El Grande, señor?"

"Have you come direct from there?"

"No from the Leona."

"From the Leona!"

"It's the niece of old Martinez," interposes one of the party. "His
plantation joins yours, Mister Poindexter."

"Yes true that. Sobrina, niece of Don Silvio Martinez. To soy."

"Then you've come from his place, direct? Pardon me for appearing rude.
I assure you, miss, we are not questioning you out of any idle
curiosity, or impertinence. We have serious reasons more than serious
they are solemn."

"From the Hacienda Martinez direct," answers Isidora, without appearing
to notice the last remark. "Two hours ago, un pocito mas, my uncle's
house I leave."

"Then, no doubt, you have heard that there has been a murder committed?"

"Si, señor. Yesterday at uncle Silvio's it was told."

"But to day when you left, was there any fresh news in the Settlement?
We've had word from there but not so late as you. may bring. Have you
heard anything, miss?"

"That people were gone after the asesinado. Your party, señor?"

"Yes, yes, it meant us, no doubt. You heard nothing more?"

"Oh, yes something very strange señores, so strange, you may think I am
jesting."

"What is it?" inquire a score of voices in quick simultaneity while the
eyes of all turn with eager' interest towards the fair equestrian.

"There is a story of one being seen without a head on horseback out here
too. Valga me Dios! we must now be near the place? It was by the Nueces
not far from the ford where the road crosses for the Rio Grande. So the
vaqueros said."

"Oh some vaqueros have seen it?"

"Si, señores three of them will swear to having witnessed the
spectacle."

Isidora is a little surprised at the moderate excitement which such a
strange story causes among the "Tejanos." There is an exhibition of
interest, but no astonishment. A voice explains:

"We've seen it too that, headless horseman at a distance. Did your
vaqueros get close enough to know what it was?"

"Santissima! No."

"Can you tell us, miss?"

"I? Not I. I only heard of it, as I've said. What it may be, quien
sabe?"

There is an interval of silence, during which all appear to reflect on
what they have heard.

The planter interrupts it, by a recurrence to his original
interrogatory.

"Have you met, or seen, any one, miss out here, I mean?"

"Si, yes I have."

"You have! What sort of person? Be good enough to describe"

"A lady."

"Lady!" echo several voices.

"Si, señores."

"What sort of a lady?"

"Una Americana."

"An American lady! Out here? Alone?"

"Si, señores."

"Who?"

"Quien sabe?"

"You don't know her? What was she like?"

"Like?--like?"

"Yes how was she dressed?"

"Vettido de caballo."

"On horseback, then?"

"On horseback."

"Where did you meet the lady you speak of?"

"Not far from this; only on the other side of the chapparal."

"Which way was she going? Is there any house on the other side?"

"A jacalé. I only know of that."

Poindexter to one of the party, who understands Spanish "A jacalé?"

"They give that name to their shanties."

"To whom does it belong this jacalé?"

"Don Mauricio, el musteñero"

"Maurice the mustanger!" translates the ready interpreter.

A murmur of mutual congratulation runs through the crowd. After two days
of searching fruitless, as earnest they have struck a trail, the trail
of the murderer!

Those who have alighted, spring back into their saddles. All take up
their reins, ready to ride on.

"We don't wish to be rude, Miss Martinez if that be your name but you
must guide us to this place you speak of."

"It takes me a little out of my way though not far. Come on, cavalleros!
I shall show you, if you are determined on going there."

Isidora re-crosses the belt of chapparal followed by the hundred
horsemen, who ride straggling after her.

She halts on its western edge between which and the Alamo there is a
stretch of open prairie.

"Yonder!" says she, pointing over the plain "you see that black spot on
the horizon? It is the top of an alhuehueté. Its roots are in the bottom
lands of the Alamo. Go there! There is a canon leading down the cliff.
Descend. You will find, a little beyond, the jacalé of which I've told
you."

The searchers are too much in earnest to stay for further directions.
Almost forgetting her who has given them, they spur off across the
plain, riding straight for the cypress.

One of the party alone lingers not the leader, but a man equally
interested in all that has transpired. Perhaps more so, in what has been
said in relation to the lady seen by Isidora. He is one who knows
Isidora's language, as well as his own native tongue.

"Tell me, niña" says he, bringing his horse alongside hers, and speaking
in a tone of solicitude almost of entreaty "Did you take notice of the
horse ridden by this lady?"

"Carrambo! Yes. What a question, cavallero! Who could help noticing it?"

"The color?" gasps the inquirer.

"Un musteho pintojo."

"A spotted mustang! Holy Heaven!" exclaims Cassius Calhoun, in a half
shriek, half groan, as he gallops after the searchers leaving Isidora in
the belief, that, besides her own, there is one other heart burning with
that fierce fire which only death can extinguish!



61. ANGELS ON EARTH.


The retreat of her rival, quick and unexpected, held Louise Poindexter,
as if spell bound. She had climbed into the saddle, and was seated, with
spur ready to pierce the flanks of the fair Luna. But the stroke was
suspended, and she remained in a state of indecision, bewildered by what
she saw.

But the moment before, she had looked into the jacalé had seen her rival
there, apparently as home mistress, both of the mansion and its owner.

What was she to think of that sudden desertion? Why that look of
spiteful hatred? Why not the imperious confidence, that should spring
from a knowledge of possession?

In place of giving displeasure, Isidora's looks and actions had caused
her a secret gratification. Instead of galloping after, or going in any
direction, Louise Poindexter once more slipped down from her saddle, and
re-entered the hut.

At the sight of the pallid cheeks and wild rolling eyes, the young
Creole for the moment forgot her wrongs.

"Mon dieu! Mon dieu!" she cried, gliding up to the catré. Maurice,
wounded, dying! "Who has done this?" There was no reply only the
mutterings of a madman. "Maurice! Maurice! Speak to me! Do you not know
me? Louise! You're Louise! You have called me so? Say it--O say it
again!"

"Ah! You are very beautiful, you angels here in heaven! Very beautiful.
Yes, yes; you look so to the eyes--to the eyes. But don't say there are
none like you upon the Earth for there are--there are. I know one ah!
More but one that excels you all, you angels in heaven! I mean in beauty
in goodness, that's another thing. I'm not thinking of goodness no; no."

"Maurice! Dear Maurice! Why do you talk thus? You are not in heaven; you
are here with me, with Louise."

"I am in heaven yes, in heaven! I don't wish it, for all they say that
is, unless I can have her with me. It may be a pleasant place. Not
without her. If she were here, I could be content. Hear it, ye angels
that come hovering around me! Very beautiful, you are, I admit but none
of you like her my angel. Oh! There's a devil, too a beautiful devil, I
don't mean that, I'm thinking only of the angel of the prairies."

"Do you remember her name?"

Perhaps never was question put to a delirious man, where the questioner
showed so much interest in the answer.

She bent over him with ears upon the strain with eyes that marked every
movement of his lips.

"Name? Name? Did some one say, name? Have you any names here? Oh! I
remember Michael, Gabriel, Azrael men, all men. Angels, not like my
angel who is a woman. Her name is--"

"Is?"

"Louise, Louise, Louise. Why should I conceal it from you; you up here,
who know everything that's down there? Surely you know her, Louise? You
should, you could not help loving her ah! With all your hearts, as I
with all mine, all--all!"

Not when these last words, were once before spoken, first spoken under
the shade of the acacia trees, the speaker in full consciousness of
intellect, in the full fervor of his soul, not then were they listened
to with such delight. O, happy hour for her who heard them!

Again were soft kisses lavished upon that fevered brow, upon those wan
lips, but this time by one who had no need to recoil after the contact.

She only stood up erect, triumphant, her hand pressing upon her heart,
to stay its wild pulsations. It was pleasure, too complete, too
ecstatic, for there was pain in the thought that it could not be felt
for ever, in the fear of its being too soon interrupted.

The last was but the shadow thrown before, and in such shape it appeared
a shadow that came darkling through the doorway.

The substance that followed, was a man who, the moment after, was seen
standing upon the stoup.

There was nothing terrible in the aspect of the new comer. On the
contrary, his countenance and costume were types of the comical,
heightened by contrast with the wild associations of the time and place.
Still further, from juxtaposition with the odd objects carried in his
hands, in one a tomahawk, in the other a huge snake with its tail
terminating in a string of bead like rattles, which betrayed its
species.

If anything could have added to his air of grotesque drollery, it was
the expression of puzzled surprise that came over his countenance as,
stepping upon the threshold; he discovered the change that had taken
place in the occupancy of the hut.

"Mother av Moses!" he exclaimed, dropping both snake and tomahawk, and
opening his eyes as wide as the lids would allow them "Shure I must be
dhramin? Trath must I! It cyant be yersilf, Miss Pointdixther? Shure now
it cyant?"

"But it is, Mr. O'Neal. How very ungallant in you to have forgotten me,
and so soon!"

"Forgotten yez! Trath, miss, yez needn't accuse me of doin' that which
is intirely impossible. The Oirishman that hiz wance looked in yer swate
face, will be undher the necessity iver afther to remimber it. Sowi!
thare's wan that cyant forgit it, even in his dhrames!"

The speaker glanced significantly towards the couch. A delicious thrill
passed through the bosom of the listener.

"But fwhat diz it all mane?" continued Phelim, returning to the
unexplained puzzle of the transformation. "Fwhare's the tother the young
chap, or lady, or wuman whichsomiver she arr?' Did'nt yez see nothin' av
a wuman, Miss Pointdixther?"

"Yes yes."

"Oh! yez did. An fwhere is she now?"

"Gone away, I believe."

"Gone away! Be japers, thin, she hasent remained long in the wan mind. I
lift her heeur in the cyabin not tin minnits ago, taking aff her bonnit
that was only a man's hat an' sittlin' hersilf down for a stay. Gone,
yez say? Sowl! I'm not sorry to hear it. That's a young lady whose
room's betther than her company, any day in the twilmonth. She's a dale
too handy wid her shootin' iron. Wud yez belave it, Miss Pointdixther
she prisinted a pistol widin six inches av me nose?"

"Pardieu! For what reason?"

"Fwhat rayzun? Only that I thried to hindher her from in thrudin' into
the cyabin. She got in for all that for whin owld Zeb come back, he made
no objecshun to it. She sayed she was a frind av the masther, an' wanted
to nurse him."

"Indeed! Oh! It is strange very strange!" muttered the Creole,
reflecting.

"Trath, is it. And so is iverything in these times, exciptin yez own
swate silf; that I hope will niver be sthrange in a cyabin frequinted by
Phaylim Onale. Shore, now, I'm glad to see yez, miss an' shure so wud
the masther, if--"

"Dear Phelim! Tell me all that has happened.

"Trath! Thin miss, if I'm to till all, ye'll hiv to take off your
bonnet, and make up your moind for a long stay seem' as it 'ud take the
big ind av a whole day to relate all the quare things that's happened
since the day afore yesthirday."

"Who has been here since then?"

"Who has been heeur?"

"Except the, the--"

"Exceptin the man wuman, ye mane?"

"Yes. Has any one else been to this place?"

"Trath has thare plinty besoides. An av all sorts, an colours too. First
an foremost there was wan comin' this way, though he didn't git all the
way to the cyabin. But I daren't tell you about him, for it moight
frighten ye, miss."

"Tell me. I have no fear."

"Be dad! And I can't make it out meself quite intirety. It was a man
upon horseback widout a hid."

"Without a head!"

"Divil a bit av that same on his body."

The statement caused Phelim to be suspected of having lost his.

"An' what's more, miss, he was for all the world like Masther Maurice
himself. Wid his horse undher him, an' his Mexikin blanket about his
showlders, an' everything just as the young masther looks, when he's
mounted, Sowl! wasn't I scared, whin I sit my eyes on him."

"But where did you see this, Mr. O'Neal?"

"Up thare on the top av the bluff. I was out lookin' for the masther to
come back from the Sittlement, as he'd promised he wud that mornin', an'
who showld I see but hisself, as I supposed it to be. An' thin he comes
ridin' up, widout his hid, an' stops a bit, an' thin goes off at a
tarin' gallop, wid Tara growlin' at his horse's heels, away acrass the
big plain, till I saw no more av him. Thin I made back for the cyabin
heeur, an' shut meself up, and wint to slape; and just in the middle av
mo dhrames, whin I was dhramin' av--but trath, miss, yez'll be toired
standin' on yer feet all this time. Won't yez take aff yer purty little
ridin' hat, an' sit down on the thrunk thare? It's asier than the stool.
Do plaze take a sate; for if I'm to tell yez all--"

"Never mind me go on. Please tell me who else has been here besides this
strange cavalier, who must have been some one playing a trick upon you,
I suppose."

"A thrick, miss! Trath that's just what owld Zeb sayed."

"He has been here, then?"

"Yis-yis, but not till long afther the others."

"The others?"

"Yis, miss. Zeb only arroived yestherday marnin'. The others paid their
visit the night afore, an' at a very unsayzonable hour too, wakin' me
out av the middle av my slape."

"But who? What others?"

"Why the Indyens, to be shure."

"There have been Indians, then?"

"Trath was there a whole tribe av thim. Well, as I've been tillin' yez,
miss, jest as I wus in a soun' slape, I heerd talkin' in the cyabin
heern, right over my hid, an' the shufflin' av paper, as if somebody was
daun' a pack av cards, an Mother av Moses! fwhat's that?"

"What?"

"Didn't yez heear somethin'? Wheesht! Thare it is agane! Trath, it's the
trampin' av horses! They're jist outside."

Phelim rushed towards the door.

"Be Sant Pathrick! The place is surrounded wid men on horseback. Thare's
a thousand av them! An' more comin' behind! Be japers! them's the chaps
owld Zeb Now for a frish spell av squeelin! O Lard! I'll be too late!"

Seizing the cactus branch that for convenience he had brought inside the
hut he dashed out through the doorway.

"Mon Dieu!" cried the Creole, "'tis they! My father and I am here! How
shall I explain it? Holy Virgin, save me from shame!"

Instinctively she sprang towards the door, closing it, as she did so.
But a moment's reflection showed her how idle was the act. They who were
outside would make light of such obstruction. Already she recognized the
voices of the Regulators!

The opening in the skin wall came under her eye. Should she make a
retreat through that, undignified as it might be?

It was no longer possible. The sound of hoofs also in the rear! There
were horsemen behind the hut!

Besides, her own steed was in front, that ocellated creature not to be
mistaken. By this time they must have identified it!

But there was another thought that restrained her from attempting to
retreat one more generous.

He was in danger, from which even the unconsciousness of it, might not
shield him! Who but she could protect him?

"Let my good name go!" thought she. "Father, friends all--all but him,
if God so wills it! Shame, or no shame, to him will I be true!"

As these noble thoughts passed through her mind, she took her stand by
the bedside of the invalid, like a second Dido, resolved to risk all
even death itself for the hero of her heart.



62. WAITING FOR THE CUE.


Never, since its erection, was there such a trampling of hoofs around
the hut of the horse-catcher, not even when its corral was filled with
fresh taken mustangs.

Phelim, rushing out from the door, is saluted by a score of voices that
summon him to stop.

One is heard louder than the rest, and in tones of command that proclaim
the speaker to be chief of the party.

"Pull up, damn you! It's no use your trying to escape. Another step, and
ye'll go tumbling in your tracks. Pull up, I say!"

The command takes effect upon the Connemara man, who has been making
direct for Zeb Stump's mare, tethered on the other side of the opening.
He stops upon the instant.

"Shure, gintlemen, I don't want to escyape," asseverates he, shivering
at the sight of a score of angry faces, and the same number of gun
barrels bearing upon his person. "I had no such intinshuns. I was only
goin' to--"

"Hun off, if ye'd got the chance. Ye'd made a good beginning. Here, Dick
Tracey! Half a dozen turns of your trail rope round him. Lend a hand,
Shelton! Damned queer looking curse he is! Surely, gentlemen, this can't
be the man we're in search of?"

"No, no! It isn't. Only his man John."

"Ho! Hilloa, you round there at the back! Keep your eyes skinned. We
havn't got him yet. Don't let as much as a cat creep past you. Now,
sirree! who's inside?"

"Who's insoide? The cyabin div yez mane?"

"Damn ye! answer the question that's put to ye!" says Tracey, giving his
prisoner a touch of the trail-rope. "Who's inside the shanty?"

"O Lard! Needs must whin the divvel dhrives. Wil, then, thare's the
masther for wan..."

"Ho! What's this?" inquires Woodley Poindexter, at this moment, riding
up, and seeing the spotted mare. "Why--it it's Looey's mustang!"

"It is, uncle," answers Cassius Calhoun, who has ridden up along with
him.

"I wonder who's brought the beast here?"

"Loo herself, I reckon."

"Nonsense! You're jesting, Cash?''

"No, uncle I'm in earnest.

"You mean to say my daughter has been here?"

"Has been still is, I take it."

"Impossible!

"Look yonder, then!"

The door has just been opened. A female form is seen inside.

"Good God, it is my daughter!"

Poindexter drops from his saddle, and hastens up to the hut close
followed by Calhoun. Both go inside.

"Louise, what means this? A wounded man! Is it he--Henry?"

Before an answer can be given, his eye falls upon a cloak and hat
Henry's!

"It is he's alive! Thank heaven!"

He strides towards the couch.

The joy of an instant is in an instant gone. The pale face upon the
pillow is not that of his son. The father staggers back with a groan.

Calhoun seems equally affected. But the cry from him is an exclamation
of horror after which he slinks cowed like out of the cabin.

"Great God!" gasps the planter "what is it? Can you explain, Louise?"

"I cannot, father. I've been here but a few minutes. I found him as you
see. He is delirious."

"And Henry?"

"They have told me nothing. Mr Gerald was alone when I entered. The man
outside was absent, and has just returned. I have not had time to
question him."

"But--but, how came you to be here?"

"I could not stay at home. I could not endure the uncertainty any
longer. It was terrible alone, with no one at the house and the thought
that my poor brother Mon dieu! Mon dieu!"

Poindexter regards his daughter with a perplexed, but still inquiring,
look.

"I thought I might find Henry here."

"Here! But how did you know of this place? Who guided you? You are by
yourself!"

"Oh, father! I knew the way. Do you remember the day of the hunt, when
the mustang ran away with me? It was beyond this place, I was carried.
On returning with Mr. Gerald, he told me he lived here. I fancied I
could find the way back."

Poindexter's look of perplexity does not leave him, though another
expression becomes blended with it. His brow contracts the shadow
deepens upon it though whatever the dark thought, he does not declare
it.

"A strange thing for you to have done, my daughter. Imprudent, indeed
dangerous. You have acted like a silly girl. Come, come away! This is no
place for a lady, for you. Get to your horse, and ride home again. Some
one will go with you. There may be a scene here, you should not be
present at. Come, come!"

The father strides forth from the hut, the daughter following with
reluctance scarce concealed and, with like unwillingness, is conducted
to her saddle.

The searchers, now dismounted, are upon the open ground in front.

They are all there. Calhoun has made known the condition of things
inside and there is no need for them to keep up their vigilance.

They stand in groups some silent, some conversing. A larger crowd is
around the Connemara man who lies upon the grass, fast tied in the trail
rope. His tongue is allowed liberty and they question him, but without
giving much credit to his answers.

On the re appearance of the father and daughter, they face towards them,
but stand silent. For all this, they are burning with eagerness to have
an explanation of what is passing. Their looks proclaim it.

Most of them know the young lady by sight, all by fame, or name. They
feel surprise almost wonder at seeing her there. The sister of the
murdered man under the roof of his murderer!

More than ever are they convinced that this is the state of the case.
Calhoun, coming forth from the hut, has spread fresh intelligence among
them, facts that seem to confirm it. He has told them of the hat, the
cloak of the murderer himself, injured in the death-struggle!

But why is Louise Poindexter there alone, unaccompanied by white or
black, by relative or slave? A guest, too for in this character does she
appear!

Her cousin does not explain it; perhaps he cannot.

Her father; can he? Judging by his embarrassed air, it is doubtful.

Whispers pass from lip to ear, from group to group. There are surmises
many, but none spoken aloud. Even the rude frontiersmen respect the
feelings filial as parental and patiently await the éclaircissement.

"Mount, Louise! Mr. Yancey will ride home with you."

The young planter thus pledged was never more ready to redeem himself.
He is the one who most envies the supposed happiness of Cassius Calhoun.
In his soul he thanks Poindexter for the opportunity.

"But, father!" protests the young lady, "why should I not wait for you?
You are not going to stay here?" Yancey experiences a shock of
apprehension. "It is my wish, daughter, that you do as I tell you. Let
that be sufficient."

Yancey's confidence returns. Not quite. He knows enough of that proud
spirit to be in doubt whether it may yield obedience even to the
parental command.

It gives way, but with unwillingness ill disguised, even in the presence
of that crowd of attentive spectators.

The two ride off the young planter taking the lead, his charge slowly
following the former scarce able to conceal his exultation, the latter
her chagrin.

Yancey is more distressed than displeased, at the melancholy mood of his
companion. How could it be otherwise, with such a sorrow at her heart?
Of course he ascribes it to that.

He but half interprets the cause. Were he to look steadfastly into the
eyes of Louise Poindexter, he might there detect an expression, in which
sorrow for the past is less marked, than fear for the future.

They ride on through the trees but not beyond ear shot of the people
they have left behind them.

Suddenly a change comes over the countenance of the Creole her features
lighting up, as if some thought of joy, or at least of hope, had entered
her soul.

She stops reflectingly, her escort constrained to do the same.

"Mr. Yancey," says she, after a short pause, "my saddle has got loose. I
cannot sit comfortably in it. Have the goodness to look to the girths!"

Yancey leaps to the ground, delighted with the duty thus imposed upon
him.

He examines the girths. In his opinion they do not want tightening. He
does not say so but, undoing the buckle, pulls upon the strap with all
his strength.

"Stay!" says the fair equestrian, "let me alight. You will get better at
it then."

Without waiting for his assistance, she springs from her stirrup, and
stands by the side of the mustang.

The young man continues to tug at the straps, pulling with all the power
of his arms.

After a prolonged struggle, that turns him red in the face, he succeeds
in shortening them by a single hole.

"Now, Miss Poindexter I think it will do."

"Perhaps it will," rejoins the lady, placing her hand upon the horn of
her saddle, and giving it a slight shake. "No doubt it will do now.
After all 'tis a pity to start back so soon. I've just arrived here
after a fast gallop and my poor Luna has scarce had time to breathe
herself. What if we stop here a while, and let her have a little rest?
'Tis cruel to take her back without it."

"But your father? He seemed desirous you should--"

"That I should go home at once. That's nothing. 'Twas only to get me out
of the way of these rough men that was all. He won't care, so long as
I'm out of sight. 'Tis a sweet place, this so cool, under the shade of
these fine trees just now that the sun is blazing down upon the prairie.
Let us stay a while, and give Luna a rest! We can amuse ourselves by
watching the symbols of these beautiful silver fish in the stream. Look
there, Mr. Yancey! What pretty creatures they are!" The young planter
begins to feel flattered. Why should his fair companion wish to linger
there with him? Why wish to watch the iodons, engaged in their aquatic
cotillion, amorous at that time of the year?

He conjectures a reply conformable to his own inclinations.

His compliance is easily obtained.

"Miss Poindexter," says he, "it is for you to command me. I am but too
happy to stay here, as long as you wish it."

"Only till Luna is rested. To say the truth, sir, I had scarce got out
of the saddle, as the people came up. See! The poor thing is still
panting after our long gallop."

Yancey does not take notice whether the spotted mustang is panting or
no. He is but too pleased to comply with the wishes of its rider.

They stay by the side of the stream.

He is a little surprised to perceive, that his companion gives, but
slight heed, either to the silver fish, or the spotted mustang. He would
have liked this all the better, had her attentions been transferred to
himself.

But they are not. He can arrest neither her eye nor her ear. The former
seems straying upon vacancy the latter eagerly bent to catch every sound
that comes from the clearing.

Despite his inclinations towards her, he cannot help listening himself.
He suspects that a serious scene is there being enacted a trial before
Judge Lynch, with a jury of "Regulators."

Excited talk comes echoing through the tree trunks. There is an
earnestness in its accents that tells of some terrible determination.

Both listen, the lady like some tragic actress, by the side scene of a
theatre, waiting for her cue.

There are speeches in more than one voice as if made by different men
then one longer than the rest a harangue.

Louise recognizes the voice. It is that of her cousin Cassius. It is
urgent at times angry, at times argumentative as if persuading his
audience to something they are not willing to do.

His speech comes to an end and immediately after it; there are quick
sharp exclamations cries of assent one louder than the rest, of fearful
import.

While listening, Yancey has forgotten the fair creature by his side.

He is reminded of her presence, by seeing her spring away from the spot,
and, with a wild but resolute air, glide towards the jacalé.



63. A JURY OF REGULATORS.


The cry, that had called the young Creole so suddenly from the side of
her companion, was the verdict of a jury in whose rude phrase was also
included the pronouncing of the sentence.

The word "hang" was ringing in her ears, as she started away from the
spot.

While pretending to take an interest in the play of the silver fish, her
thoughts were upon that scene, of less gentle character, transpiring in
front of the jacalé.

Though the trees hindered her from having a view of the stage, she knew
the actors that were on it and could tell by their speeches how the play
was progressing.

About the time of her dismounting, a tableau had been formed that merits
a minute description.

The men, she had left behind, were no longer in scattered groups but
drawn together into a crowd, in shape roughly resembling the
circumference of a circle.

Inside it, some half score figures were conspicuous among them the tall
form of the Regulator Chief, with three or four of his "marshals."
Woodley Poindexter was there, and by his side Cassius Calhoun. These no
longer appeared to act with authority, but rather as spectators, or
witnesses, in the judicial drama about being enacted.

Such in reality was the nature of the scene. It was a trial for murder,
a trial before Justice Lynch, this grim dignitary being typified in the
person of the Regulator Chief with a jury composed of all the people
upon the ground all except the prisoners.

Of these there are two: Maurice Gerald and his man Phelim.

They are inside the ring, both prostrate upon the grass both fast bound
in raw hide ropes, that hinder them from moving hand or foot.

Even their tongues are not free. Phelim has been cursed and scared into
silence while to his master speech is rendered impossible by a piece of
stick fastened bitt like between his teeth. It has been done to prevent
interruption by the insane ravings, that would otherwise issue from his
lips.

Even the tight drawn thongs cannot keep him in place. Two men, one at
each shoulder, with a third seated upon his knees, hold him to the
ground. His eyes alone are free to move and these rolling in their
sockets glare upon his guards with wild unnatural glances, fearful to
encounter.

Only one of the prisoners is arraigned on the capital charge; the other
is but doubtfully regarded as an accomplice.

The servant alone has been examined, asked to confess all he knows, and
what he has to say for himself. It is no use putting questions to his
master.

Phelim has told his tale too strange to be credited though the strangest
part of it that relating to his having seen a horseman without a head is
looked upon as the least improbable!

He cannot explain it and his story but strengthens the suspicion already
aroused that the spectral apparition is a part of the scheme of murder!

"All stuff, his tales about tiger fights and Indians!" say those to whom
he has been imparting them. "A pack of lies, contrived to mislead us
nothing else."

The trial has lasted scarce ten minutes and yet the jury has come to
their conclusion.

In the minds of most already predisposed to it, there is a full
conviction that Henry Poindexter is a dead man, and that Maurice Gerald
is answerable for his death.

Every circumstance already known has been reconsidered while to these
have been added the new facts discovered at the jacalé the ugliest of
which is the finding of the cloak and hat.

The explanations given by the Galwegian, confused and incongruous, carry
no credit. Why should they? They are the inventions of an accomplice.

There are some who will scarce stay to hear them some who impatiently
cry out, "Let the murderer be hanged!"

As if this verdict had been anticipated, a rope lies ready upon the
ground, with a noose at its end. It is only a lasso but for the purpose
Calcraft could not produce a more perfect piece of cord.

A sycamore standing near offers a horizontal limb good enough for a
gallows.

The vote is taken vivid voce.

Eighty out of the hundred jurors express their opinion that Maurice
Gerald must die. His hour appears to have come.

And yet the sentence is not carried into execution. The rope is suffered
to lie guileless on the grass. No one seems willing to lay hold of it!

Why that hanging back, as if the thong of horse hides was a venomous
snake, that none dares to touch?

The majority, the plurality, to use a true Western word has pronounced
the sentence of death, some strengthening it with rude, even
blasphemous, speech. Why is it not carried out?

Why? For want of that unanimity, that stimulates to immediate action for
want of the proofs to produce it.

There is a minority not satisfied that with less noise, but equally
earnest emphasis, have answered "No."

It is this that has caused a suspension of the violent proceedings.

Among this minority is Judge Lynch himself, Sam Manly, the Chief of the
Regulators. He has not yet passed sentence or even signified his
acceptance of the acclamatory verdict.

"Fellow citizens!" cries he, as soon as he has an opportunity of making
himself heard, "I'm of the opinion, that there's a doubt in this case"
and I reckon we ought to give the accused the benefit of it, that is,
till he be able to say his own say about it. It's no use questioning him
now, as ye all see. We have him tight and fast and there's not much
chance of his getting clear if guilty. Therefore, I move we postpone the
trial, till--"

"What's the use of postponing it?" interrupts a voice already loud for
the prosecution, and which can be distinguished as that of Cassius
Calhoun. "What's the use, Sam Manly? It's all very well for you to talk
that way, but if you had a friend foully murdered, I won't say cousin,
but a son, a brother you might not be so soft about it. What more do you
want to show that the skunk's guilty? Further proofs?"

"That's just what we want, Captain Calhoun."

"Can you give them, Misther Cassius Calhoun?" inquires a voice from the
outside circle, with a strong Irish accent.

"Perhaps I can."

"Let's have them, then!"

"God knows you've had evidence enough. A jury of his own stupid
countrymen--"

"Bar that appellation!" shouts the man, who has demanded the additional
evidence. "Just remember, Misther Calhoon, ye're in Texas, and not
Mississippi. Bear that in mind, or ye may run your tongue into trouble,
sharp as it is."

"I don't mean to offend any one," says Calhoun, backing out of the
dilemma into which his Irish antipathies had led him; "even an
Englishman, if there's one here."

"Thare ye're welcome, go on!" cries the mollified Milesian.

"Well, then, as I was saying, there's been evidence enough and more than
enough, in my opinion. But if you want more, I can give it."

"Give it! Give it!" cry a score of responding voices that keep up the
demand, while Calhoun seems to hesitate.

"Gentlemen!" says he, squaring himself to the crowd, as if for a speech,
"what I've got to say now I could have told you long ago. But I didn't
think it was needed. You all know what's happened between this man and
myself and I had no wish to be thought revengeful. I'm not and if it
wasn't that I'm sure he has done the deed, sure as the head's on my
body--"

Calhoun speaks stammering, seeing that the phrase, involuntarily
escaping from his lips, has produced a strange effect upon his auditory
as it has upon himself.

"If not sure I should still say nothing of what I've seen, or rather
heard for it was in the night, and I saw nothing."

"What did you hear, Mr. Calhoun?" demands the Regulator Chief, resuming
his judicial demeanor, for a time forgotten in the confusion of voting
the verdict. "Your quarrel with the prisoner, of which I believe
everybody has heard, can have nothing to do with your testimony here.
Nobody's going to accuse you of false swearing on that account. Please
proceed, sir. What did you hear? And where, and when, did you hear it?"

"To begin, then, with the time. It was the night my cousin was missing
though, of course, we didn't miss him till the morning. Last Tuesday
night."

"Tuesday night. Well?"

"I'd turned in myself and thought Henry had done the same. But what with
the heat, and the infernal mosquitoes, I couldn't get any sleep.

"I started up again; lit a cigar and, after smoking it awhile in the
room, I thought of taking a turn upon the top of the house."

"You know the old hacienda has a flat roof, I suppose? Well, I went up
there to get cool and continued to pull away at the weed."

"It must have been then about midnight, or maybe a little earlier. I
can't toll for I'd been tossing about on my bed, and took no note of the
time."

"Just as I had smoked to the end of my cigar, and was about to take a
second out of my case, I heard voices. There were two of them."

"They were up the river, as I thought on the other side. They were a
good way off, in the direction of the town."

"I mightn't have been able to distinguish them, or tell one from the
other, if they'd been talking in the ordinary way. But they weren't.
There was loud angry talk and I could tell that two men were
quarrelling.

"I supposed it was some drunken rowdies, going home from Oberdoffer's
tavern, and I should have thought no more about it. But as I listened, I
recognized one of the voices and then the other. The first was my cousin
Henry's the second that of the man who is there, the man who has
murdered him."

"Please proceed, Mr. Calhoun! Let us hear the whole of the evidence you
have promised to produce. It will be time enough then to state your
opinions."

"Well, gentlemen as you may imagine, I was no little surprised at
hearing my cousin's voice supposing him asleep in his bed. So sure was I
of its being him, that I didn't think of going to his room, to see if he
was there. I knew it was his voice and I was quite as sure that the
other was that of the horse-catcher. I thought it uncommonly queer, in
Henry being out at such a late hour as he was, never much given to that
sort of thing. But out he was. I couldn't be mistaken about that.

"I listened to catch what the quarrel was about, but though I could
distinguish the voices, I couldn't make out anything that was said on
either side. What I did hear was Henry calling him by some strong names,
as if my cousin had been first insulted and then I heard the Irishman
threatening to make him rue it. Each loudly pronounced the other's name
and that convinced me about its being them.

"I should have gone out to see what the trouble was, but I was in my
slippers and before I could draw on a pair of boots, it appeared to be
all over.

"I waited for half an hour, for Henry to come home. He didn't come but,
as I supposed he had gone back to Oberdoffer's and fallen in with some
of the fellows from the Fort, I concluded he might stay there a spell,
and I went back to my bed.

"Now, gentlemen, I've told you all I know. My poor cousin never came
back to Casa del Corvo, never more laid his side on a bed, for that we
found by going to his room next morning. His bed that night must have
been somewhere upon the prairie or in the chapparal and there's the only
man who knows where."

With a wave of his hand the speaker triumphantly indicated the accused
whoso wild straining eyes told how unconscious he was of the terrible
accusation, or of the vengeful looks with which, from all sides, he was
now regarded.

Calhoun's story was told with a circumstantiality, that went far to
produce, conviction of the prisoner's guilt. The concluding speech
appeared eloquent of truth, and was followed by a clamorous demand for
the execution to proceed.

"Hang! Hang!" is the cry from fourscore voices.

The judge himself seems to waver. The minority has been diminished, no
longer eighty, out of the hundred, but ninety repeat the cry. The more
moderate are overborne by the inundation of vengeful voices.

The crowd sways to and fro resembling a storm fast increasing to a
tempest.

It soon comes to its height. A ruffian rushes towards the rope. Though
none seem to have noticed it, he has parted from the side of Calhoun
with whom he has been holding a whispered conversation. One of those
"border ruffians" of Southern descent, ever ready by the stake of the
philanthropist, or the martyr such as have been late typified, in the
military murderers of Jamaica, who have disgraced the English name to
the limits of all time.

He lays hold of the lasso, and quickly arranges its loop around the neck
of the condemned man alike unconscious of trial and condemnation.

No one steps forward to oppose the act. The ruffian, bristling with
bowie knife and pistols, has it all to himself or, rather, is he
assisted by a scoundrel of the same kidney, one of the ci devant guards
of the prisoner.

The spectators stand aside, and look tranquilly upon the proceedings.
Most express a mute approval some encouraging the executioners with
earnest vociferations of "Up with him! Hang him!"

A few seem stupefied by surprise, a less number show sympathy, but not
one dares to give proof of it, by taking part with the prisoner.

The rope is around his neck the end with the noose upon it. The other is
being swung over the sycamore.

"Soon must the soul of Maurice Gerald go back to its God!"



64. A SERIES OF INTERLUDES.


"Soon the soul of Maurice Gerald must go back to its God!"

It was the thought of every actor in that tragedy among the trees. No
one doubted that, in another moment, they would see his body hoisted
into the air, and swinging from the branch of the sycamore.

There was an interlude, not provided for in the programme. A farce was
being performed simultaneously and, it might be said, on the same stage.
For once the tragedy was more attractive, and the comedy was progressing
without spectators.

Not the less earnest were the actors in it. There were only two: a man
and a mare. Phelim was once more re enacting the scenes that had caused
surprise to Isidora.

Engrossed by the arguments of Calhoun by the purposes of vengeance which
his story was producing the Regulators only turned their attention to
the chief criminal. No one thought of his companion whether he was, or
was not, an accomplice. His presence was scarce perceived all eyes being
directed with angry intent upon the other.

Still less was it noticed, when the ruffians sprang forward, and
commenced adjusting the rope. The Galwegian was then altogether
neglected.

There appeared an opportunity of escape, and Phelim was not slow to take
advantage of it.

Wriggling himself clear of his fastenings, he crawled off among the legs
of the surging crowd.

No one seemed to see, or care about, his movements. Mad with excitement,
they were pressing upon each other the eyes of all turned upward to the
gallows tree.

To have seen Phelim skulking off, it might have been supposed, that he
was profiting by the chance offered for escape saving his own life,
without thinking of his master.

It is true, he could have done nothing, and he knew it. He had exhausted
his advocacy and any further interference on his part would have been an
idle effort, or only to aggravate the accusers. It was but slight
disloyalty that he should think of saving himself a mere instinct of
self-preservation to which he seemed yielding, as he stole off among the
trees. So one would have conjectured.

But the conjecture would not have done justice to him of Connemara. In
his flight the faithful servant had no design to forsake his master,
much less leave him to his fate, without making one more effort to
effect his delivery from the human bloodhounds who had hold of him. He
knew he could do nothing of himself. His hope lay in summoning Zeb
Stump, and it was to sound that signal which had proved so effective
before that he was now stealing off from the scene, alike of trial and
execution.

On getting beyond the selvedge of the throng, he had glided in among the
trees and keeping these between him and the angry crowd, he ran on
toward the spot where the old mare still grazed upon her tether.

The other horses standing "hitched" to the twigs formed a tolerably
compact tier all round the edge of the timber. This aided in screening
his movements from observation, so that he had arrived by the side of
the mare, without being seen by any one.

Just then he discovered that he had come without the apparatus necessary
to carry out his design. The cactus branch had been dropped where he was
first captured, and was still kicking about among the feet of his
captors. He could not get hold of it, without exposing himself to a
fresh seizure, and this would hinder him from effecting the desired end.

He had no knife no weapon of any kind wherewith he might procure another
nopal.

He paused, in painful uncertainty as to what he should do. Only for an
instant. There was no time to be lost. His master's life was in imminent
peril, menaced at every moment. No sacrifice would be too great to save
him and with this thought the faithful Phelim rushed towards the cactus
plant and, seizing one of its spinous branches in his naked hands,
wrenched it from the stem.

His fingers were fearfully lacerated in the act, but what mattered that,
when weighed against the life of his beloved master? With equal
recklessness he ran up to the mare and, at the risk of being kicked back
again, took hold of her tail, and once more applied the instrument of
torture!

By this time the noose had been adjusted around the mustanger's neck,
carefully adjusted to avoid fluke or failure. The other end, leading
over the limb of the tree, was held in hand by the brace of bearded
bullies whose fingers appeared itching to pull upon it. In their eyes
and attitudes was an air of deadly determination. They only waited for
the word.

Not that any one had the right to pronounce it. And just for this reason
was it delayed. No one seemed willing to take the responsibility of
giving that signal, which was to send a fellow creature to his long
account. Criminal as they might regard him, murderer as they believed
him to be, all shied from doing the sheriff's duty. Even Calhoun
instinctively held back.

It was not for the want of will. There was no lack of that on the part
of the ex-officer, or among the Regulators. They showed no sign of
retreating from the step they had taken. The pause was simply owing to
the informality of the proceedings. It was but the lull in the storm
that precedes the grand crash.

It was a moment of deep solemnity every one silent as the tomb. They
were in the presence of death, and knew it, death in its most hideous
shape, and darkest guise. Most of them felt that they were abetting it.
All believed it to be nigh.

With hushed voice, and hindered gesture, they stood rigid as the tree
trunks around them. Surely the crisis had come?

It had but not that crisis by everybody expected, by themselves decreed.
Instead of seeing Maurice Gerald jerked into the air, far different was
the spectacle they were called upon to witness, one so ludicrous as for
a time to interrupt the solemnity of the scene, and cause a suspension
of the harsh proceedings.

The old mare that they knew to be Zeb Stump's appeared to have gone
suddenly mad. She had commenced dancing over the sward, flinging her
heels high into the air, and screaming with all her might. She had given
the cue to the hundred horses that stood tied to the trees and all of
them had commenced imitating her wild capers, while loudly responding to
her screams!

Enchantment could scarce have produced a quicker transformation than
occurred in the tableau formed in front of the jacalé hut. Not only was
the execution suspended, but all other proceedings that regarded the
condemned captive.

Nor was the change of a comical character. On the contrary, it was
accompanied by looks of alarm, and cries of consternation!

The Regulators rushed to their arms some towards their horses.

"Indians!" was the exclamation upon every lip, though unheard through
the din. Nought but the coming of Comanches could have caused such a
commotion threatening to result in a stampede of the troop!

For a time men ran shouting over the little lawn, or stood silent with
scared countenances.

Most having secured their horses, cowered behind them using them by way
of shield against the chances of an Indian arrow.

There were but few upon the ground, accustomed to such prairie escapades
and the fears of the many were exaggerated by their inexperience to the
extreme of terror.

It continued, till their steeds, all caught up, had ceased their wild
whighering and only one was heard the wretched creature that had given
them the cue.

Then was discovered the true cause of the alarm as also that the
Connemara man had stolen off.

Fortunate for Phelim he had shown the good sense to betake himself to
the bushes. Only by concealment had he saved his skin for his life was
now worth scarce so much as that of his master.

A score of rifles were clutched with angry energy, their muzzles brought
to bear upon the old mare.

But before any of them could be discharged, a man standing near threw
his lasso around her neck, and choked her into silence.

Tranquility is restored, and along with it a resumption of the deadly
design. The Regulators are still in the same temper.

The ludicrous incident, whilst perplexing, has not provoked their mirth,
but the contrary.

Some feel shame at the sorry figure they have cut, in the face of a
false alarm while others are chafed at the interruption of the solemn
ceremonial.

They return to it with increased vindictiveness as proved by their
oaths, and angry exclamations.

Once more the vengeful circle closes around the condemned the terrible
tableau is reconstructed.

Once more the ruffians lay hold of the rope and for the second time
every one is impressed with the solemn thought:

"Soon must the soul of Maurice Gerald go back to its God!"

Thank heaven, there is another interruption to that stern ceremonial of
death.

How unlike to death is that bright form flitting under the shadows,
flashing out into the open sunlight.

"A woman! A beautiful woman!"

'Tis only a silent thought for no one essays to speak. They stand rigid
as ever, but with strangely altered looks. Even the rudest of them
respect the presence of that fair intruder. There is submission in their
attitude, as if from a consciousness of guilt.

Like a meteor she passes through their midst glides on without giving a
glance on either side without speech, without cry till she stoops over
the condemned man, still lying gagged upon the grass.

With a quick move she lays hold of the lasso which the two hangmen,
taken by surprise, have let loose.

Grasping it with both her hands, she jerks it from theirs.

"Texans! Cowards!" she cries, casting a scornful look upon the crowd.
"Shame! Shame!"

They cower under the stinging reproach.

She continues.

"A trial, indeed! A fair trial! The accused without counsel, condemned
without being heard! And this you call justice? Texan justice? My scorn
upon you not men, but murderers!"

"What means this?" shouts Poindexter, rushing up, and seizing his
daughter by the arm. "You are mad Loo, mad! How come you to be here? Did
I not tell you to go home? Away this instant away and do not interfere
with what does not concern you!"

"Father, it does concern me!"

"How? How? Oh true as a sister! This man is the murderer of your
brother."

"I will not, cannot believe it. Never, never! There was no motive. O
men! If you be men, do not act like savages. Give him a fair trial, and
then--then--"

"He's had a fair trial," calls one from the crowd, who seems to speak
from instigation, "Ne'er a doubt about his being guilty. It's him that's
killed your brother, and nobody else. And it don't look well, Miss
Poindexter excuse me for saying it; but it don't look just the thing,
that you should be trying to screen him from his deservings."

"No, that it don't," chime in several voices.

"Justice must take its course!" shouts one, in the hackneyed phrase of
the law courts.

"It must! It must!" echoes the chorus.

"We are sorry to disoblige you miss, but we must request you to leave.
Mr. Poindexter, you'd do well to take your daughter away."

"Come, Loo! 'Tis not the place for you. You must come away. You refuse!
Good God! My daughter do you mean to disobey me? Here, Cash take hold of
her arm, and conduct her from the spot. If you refuse to go willingly,
we must use force you Loo. A good girl now. Do as I tell you. Go! Go!"

"No, father, I will not! I shall not till you have promised, till these
men promise."

"We can't promise you anything; miss however much we might like it. It
ain't a question for women, no how. There's been a crime committed a
murder, as ye yourself know. There must be no cheating of justice.
There's no mercy for a murderer!"

"No mercy!" echoes a score of angry voices. "Let him be hanged, hanged,
hanged!"

The Regulators are no longer restrained by the fair presence.

Perhaps it has, but hastened the fatal moment. The soul of Cassius
Calhoun is not the only one in that crowd stirred by the spirit of envy.
The horse hunter is now hated for his supposed good fortune.

In the tumult of revengeful passion, all gallantry is forgotten, that
very virtue for which the Texan is distinguished.

The lady is led aside, dragged rather than led, by her cousin and at the
command of her father. She struggles in the hated arms that hold her,
wildly weeping, loudly protesting against the act of inhumanity.

"Monsters! Murderers!" are the phrases that fall from her lips.

Her struggles are resisted her speeches unheeded. She is borne back
beyond the confines of the crowd beyond the hope of giving help to him,
for whom she is willing to lay down her life!

Bitter are the speeches Calhoun is constrained to hear heartbreaking the
words now showered upon him. Better for him he had not taken hold of
her.

It scarce consoles him, that certainty of revenge. His rival will soon
be no more, but what matters it? The fair form writhing in his grasp,
can never be consentingly embraced. He may kill the hero of her heart,
but not conquer for himself its most feeble affection!



65. STILL ANOTHER INTERLUDE.


For a third time is the tableau reconstructed; spectators and actors in
the dread drama taking their places as before.

The lasso is once more passed over the limb, the same two scoundrels
taking hold of its loose end, this time drawing it towards them till it
becomes taut.

For the third time arises the reflection:

"Soon must the soul of Maurice Gerald go back to its God!"

Now nearer than ever, does the unfortunate man seem to his end. Even
love has proved powerless to save him! What power on earth can be
appealed to after this? None likely to avail.

But there appears no chance of succour, no time for it. There is no
mercy in the stern looks of the Regulators only impatience. The hangmen,
too, appear in a hurry as if they were in dread of another interruption.
They manipulate the rope with the ability of experienced executioners.
The physiognomy of either would give color to the assumption, that they
had been accustomed to the calling.

In less than sixty seconds they shall have finished the "job."

"Now then, Bill! Are ye ready?" shouts one to the other, by the question
proclaiming, that they no longer intend to wait for the word.

"All right!" responds Bill. "Up with the son of a skunk! Up with him!"

There is a pull upon the rope, but not sufficient to raise the body into
an erect position. It tightens around the neck lifts the head a little
from the ground, but nothing more!

Only one of the hangmen has given his strength to the pull.

"Haul, damn you!" cries Bill, astonished at the inaction of his
assistant. "Why the hell don't you haul?"

Bill's back is turned towards an intruder that, seen by the other, has
hindered him from lending a hand. He stands as if suddenly transformed
into stone!

"Come!" continues the chief executioner. "Let's go again, both together.
Yee up! Up with him!"

"No ye don't." calls out a voice in the tones of a stentor; while a man
of colossal frame, carrying a six foot rifle, is seen rushing out from
among the trees, in strides that bring him almost instantly into the
thick of the crowd.

"No ye don't!" he repeats, stopping over the prostrate body, and
bringing his long rifle to bear upon the ruffians of the rope. "Not yet
a bit, as this coon kalkerlates. You, Bill Griffin pull that piece o'
pleeted hoss-hair but the eighth o' an inch tighter, and ye'll git a
blue pill in yer stummuk as won't agree wi' ye. Drop the rope, durn ye!
Drop it!"

The screaming of Zeb Stump's mare scarce created a more sudden
diversion, than the appearance of Zeb himself for it was he, who had
hurried upon the ground.

He was known to nearly all present, respected by most and feared by
many.

Among the last were Bill Griffin, and his fellow rope holder. No longer
holding it for at the command to drop it, yielding to a quick perception
of danger, both had let go and the lasso lay loose along the sward.

"What durned tom-foolery's this, boys?" continues the colossus,
addressing himself to the crowd, still speechless from surprise. "Ye
don't mean hangin', do ye?"

"We do," answers a stern voice.

"And why not?" asks another.

"Why not! Ye'd hang a fellur citizen 'ithout trial, wud ye?"

"Not much of a fellow citizen, so far as that goes. Besides, he's had a
trial, a fair trial."

"Indeed. A human critter to be condem ned wi' his brain in a state o'
delirium! Sent out o' the world 'ithout knowin that he's in it! Ye call
that a fair trial, do ye?"

"What matters, if we know he's guilty? We're all satisfied about that."

"The hell ye air! Wagh! I aint goin' to waste words wi' sech as you, Jim
Stoddars. But for you, Sam Manly, an' yourself, Mister Peintdexter
shurly ye aint agreed to this hyur proceeding which, in my opeenyun, 'ud
be neyther more nor less 'n murder?"

"You haven't heard all, Zeb Stump," interposes the Regulator Chief, with
the design to justify his acquiescence in the act. "There are facts--."

"Facts be darned! An' fancies, too! I don't want to hear 'em. It'll be
time enuf for thet, when the thing kum to a reg'lar trial the which
shurly nob'dy hyur'll objeck to seein' as thur aint the ghost o' a
chance for him, to git off. Who air the individooal that objecks?"

"You take too much upon you, Zeb Stump. What is it your business, we'd
like to know? The man that's been murdered wasn't your son, nor your
brother, nor your cousin neither! If he had been, you'd be of a
different way of thinking, I take it."

It is Calhoun who has made this interpolation spoken before with so much
success to his scheme.

"I don't see that it concerns you," he continues, "what course we take
in this matter."

"But I do. It consarns me fust, because this young fellur's a friend o'
mine, though he air Irish, an' a stronger an' secondly, because Zeb
Stump aint a goin' to stan' by, an' see foul play even tho' it be on the
purayras o' Texas."

"Foul play be damned! There's nothing of the sort. And as for standing
by, we'll see about that. Boys! You're not going to be scared from your
duty by such swagger as this? Let's make a finish of what we've begun.
The blood of a murdered man cries out to us. Lay hold of the rope!"

"Do an' by the eturnal! the fust that do 'll drop it a leetle quicker
than he grups it. Lay a claw on it one o' ye if ye darr. Ye may hang
this poor critter as high's ye like, but not till ye've laid Zeb'lon
Stump streetched dead upon the grass, wi' some o' ye alongside o' him.
Now then! Let me see the skunk thet's goin' to tech thet rope!"

Zeb's speech is followed by a profound silence. The people keep their
places partly from the danger of accepting his challenge, and partly
from the respect due to his courage and generosity. Also, because there
is still some doubt in the minds of the Regulators, both as to the
expediency, and fairness, of the course which Calhoun is inciting them
to take.

With a quick instinct, the old hunter perceives the advantage he has
gained, and presses it.

"Gie the young fellur a fair trial," urges he. "Let's take him to the
settlement, an' hev' him tried thur. Ye've got no clur proof, that he's
had any hand in the black bizness; and durn me! If I'd believe it unless
I seed it wi' my own eyes. I know how he feeled torst young Peintdexter.
Instead o' bein' his enemy, thur aint a man on this ground hed more o' a
likin' for him, tho' he did hev a bit o' shindy wi' his preecions cousin
thur."

"You are perhaps not aware, Mr. Stump," rejoins the Regulator Chief, in
a calm voice, "of what we've just been hearing?"

"What hev ye been hearing?"

"Evidence to the contrary of what you assert. We have proof, not only
that there was bad blood between Gerald and young Poindexter, but that a
quarrel took place on the very night."

"Who sez thet, Sam Manly?"

"I say it," answers Calhoun, stepping a little forward, so as to be seen
by Stump.

"O, you it air, Mister Cash Calhoun! You know thur war bad blood atween
'em? You seed the quarrel ye speak o'?"

"I haven't said that I saw it, Zeb Stump. And what's more I'm not going
to stand any cross questioning by you. I have given my evidence, to
those who have the right to hear it and that's enough. I think,
gentlemen, you're satisfied as to the verdict. I don't see why this old
fool should interrupt--"

"Ole fool!" echoes the hunter, with a screech "Ole fool! Hell an'
herrikins! Ye call me an ole fool? By the eturnal God! ye'll live to
take back that speech, or my name aint Zeb'lon Stump, o' Kaintucky.
Ne'er a mind now thur's a time for everything an' yur time may come,
Mister Cash Calhoun, sooner than ye surspecks it."

"As for a quarrel atween Henry Peintdexter an' the young fellur hyur,"
continues Zeb, addressing himself to the Regulator Chief, "I don't
believe a word on't; nor won't, so long's thur's no better proof than
his palaverin'. From what this chile knows, it don't stan' to reezun. Ye
say ye've got new facks? So've I too. Facks I reck'n thet'll go a good
way torst explicatin o' this mysteerus bizness, twisted up as it air."

"What facts?" demands the Regulator Chief. "Let's hear them, Stump."

"Thur's more than one. Fust place what do ye make o' the young fellur
bein' wownded hisself? I don't talk o' them scratches ye see; I believe
them's done by coyoats that attackted him, arter they see'd he wur
wownded. But look at his knee. Somethin' else than coyoats did that.
What do you make o' it, Sam Manly?"

"Well, that some of the boys here think there's been a struggle between
him and--"

"Atween him an' who?" sharply interrogates Zeb.

"Why, the man that's missing."

"Yes, that's he who we mean," speaks one of the "boys" referred to. "We
all know that Harry Poindexter wouldn't stand to be shot down like a
calf. They've had a tussle, and a fall among the rocks. That's what's
given him the swellin' in the knee. Besides, there's the mark of a blow
upon his head, looks like it had been the butt of a pistol. As for the
scratches, we can't tell what's made them. Thorns may be, or wolves if
you like. That foolish fellow of his, has a story about a tiger; but it
won't do for us."

"What fellur air ye talkin o'? Ye mean Irish Pheelum? Where air he?"

"Stole away to save his carcass. We'll find him, as soon as we've
settled this business and I guess a little hanging will draw the truth
out of him."

"If ye mean abeout the tiger, yell draw no other truth out o' him than
what ye've got a'ready. I see'd thet varmint myself, an' wur jest in
time to save the young fellur from its claws. But thet aint the peint.
Ye've had holt o' the Irish, I 'spose. Did he tell ye o' nothin else he
seed hyur?"

"He had a yarn about Indians. Who believes it?"

"Wal he tolt me the same story, and that looks like some truth in't.
Besides, he declurs they wur playin' curds, an hyur's the things
themselves. I found 'em lying scattered about the floor o' the shanty.
Spanish curds they air."

Zeb draws the pack out of his pocket, and hands it over to the Regulator
Chief.

The cards, on examination, prove to be of Mexican manufacture such as
are used in the universal game of monté the queen upon horseback
"cavallo", the spade represented by a sword "espada", and the club
"baston" symbolized by the huge paviour like implement, seen in picture
books in the grasp of hairy Orson.

"Who ever heard of Comanches playing cards?" demands he, who has scouted
the evidence about the Indians. "Damned ridiculous!"

"Ridiklas ye say!" interposes an old trapper who had been twelve months
a prisoner among the Comanches. "Ridiklus it may be, but it's true for
all that. Many's the game this coon's seed them play, on a dressed
burner hide for their table. That same Mexikin montay too. I reckon
they've lamed it from thar Mexikin captives of the which they've got as
good as three thousand in thar different tribes. Yes, sirree!" concludes
the trapper. "The Keymanchees do play cards sure as shootin'."

Zeb Stump is rejoiced at this bit of evidence, which is more than he
could have given himself. It strengthens the case for the accused. The
fact, of there having been Indians in the neighborhood, tends to alter
the aspect of the affair in the minds of the Regulators, hitherto under
the belief that the Comanches were marauding only on the other side of
the settlement.

"Sartin sure," continues Zeb, pressing the point in favour of an
adjournment of the trial, "thur's been Injuns hyur, or somethin' durned
like Geesus Geehosofat! Whar's she comin' from?"

The clattering of hoofs, borne down from the bluff, salutes the ear of
everybody at the same instant of time.

No one needs to inquire, what has caused Stump to give utterance to that
abrupt interrogatory. Along the top of the cliff, and close to its edge,
a horse is seen, going at a gallop. There is a woman, a lady upon his
back, with hat and hair streaming loosely behind her, the string
hindering the hat from being carried altogether away!

So wild is the gallop, so perilous from its proximity to the precipice,
you might suppose the horse to have run away with his rider.

But no. You may tell that he has not, by the actions of the equestrian
herself. She seems not satisfied with the pace, but with whip, spur, and
voice keeps urging him to increase it!

This is plain to the spectators below though they are puzzled and
confused by her riding so close to the cliff.

They stand in silent astonishment. Not that they are ignorant of who it
is. It would be strange if they were. That woman equestrian man seated
in the saddle, once seen was never more to be forgotten.

She is recognized at the first glance. One and all, know the reckless
galloper to be the guide from whom, scarce half an hour ago, they had
parted upon the prairie.



66. CHASED BY COMANCHES.


It was Isidora who had thus strangely and suddenly shown herself. What
was bringing her back? And why was she riding at such a perilous pace?

To explain it, we must return to that dark reverie, from which she was
startled by her encounter with the "Tejanos."

While galloping away from the Alamo, she had not thought of looking
back, to ascertain whether she was followed. Absorbed in schemes of
vengeance, she had gone on without even giving a glance behind.

It was but slight comfort to her to reflect that Louise Poindexter had
appeared equally determined upon parting from the jacalé. With a woman's
intuitive quickness, she suspected the cause though she knew, too well,
it was groundless.

Still, there was some pleasure in the thought that her rival, ignorant
of her happy fortune, was suffering like herself.

There was a hope, too, that the incident might produce estrangement in
the heart of this proud Creole lady, towards the man so condescendingly
beloved though it was faint, vague, scarce believed in by her who
conceived it.

Taking her own heart as a standard, she was not one to lay much stress
on the condescension of love, her own history was proof of its leveling
power. Still was there the thought that her presence at the jacalé had
given pain, and might result in disaster to the happiness of her hated
rival.

Isidora had begun to dwell upon this with a sort of subdued pleasure
that continued unchecked, till the time of her reencounter with the
Texans.

On turning back with these, her spirits underwent a change. The road to
be taken by Louise should have been the same as that, by which she had
herself come. But no lady was upon it.

The Creole must have changed her mind, and stayed by the jacalé was,
perhaps, at that very moment performing the métier Isidora had so fondly
traced out for herself?

The belief that she was about to bring shame upon the woman who had
brought ruin upon her, was the thought that now consoled her.

The questions put by Poindexter, and his companions, sufficiently
disclosed the situation. Still clearer was it made by the final
interrogations of Calhoun and, after her interrogators had passed away,
she remained by the side of the thicket half in doubt whether to ride on
to the Leona, or go back and be the spectator of a scene that, by her
own contrivance, could scarce fail to be exciting.

She is upon the edge of the chapparal, just inside the shadow of the
timber. She is astride her grey steed, that stands with spread nostril
and dilated eyes, gazing after the cavallada that has late parted from
the spot, a single horseman in the rear of the rest. Her horse might
wonder why he is being thus ridden about, but he is used to sudden
changes in the will of his capricious rider.

She is looking in the same direction towards the alhuehueté whose dark
summit towers above the bluffs of the Alamo.

She sees the searchers descend and, after them, the man who has so
minutely questioned her. As his head sinks below the level of the plain,
she fancies herself alone upon it.

In this fancy she is mistaken.

She remains irresolute for a time; ten fifteen twenty minutes.

Her thoughts are not to be envied. There is not much sweetness in the
revenge, she believes herself instrumental in having accomplished. If
she has caused humiliation to the woman she hates, along with it she may
have brought ruin upon the man whom she loves? Despite all that has
passed, she cannot help loving him!

"Santissima Virgen!" she mutters with a fervent earnestness. "What have
I done? If these men, Los Reguladores, the dreaded judges I've heard of,
if they should find him guilty, where may it end? In his death! Mother
of God! I do not desire that. Not by their hands, no! No! How wild their
looks and gestures stern determined! And when I pointed out the way, how
quickly they rode off, without further thought of me! Oh, they have made
up their minds. Don Mauricio is to die! And he a stranger among them, so
have I heard. Not of their country, or kindred only of the same race.
Alone, friendless, with many enemies. Santissima! What am I thinking of?
Is not he, who has just left me, that cousin of whom I've heard speak!
Ay de mi! Now do I understand the cause of his questioning. His heart,
like mine own like mine own!"

She sits with her gaze bent over the open plain. The grey steed still
frets under restraint, though the cavallada has long since passed out of
sight. He but responds to the spirit of his rider, which he knows to be
vacillating chafing under some irresolution.

'Tis the horse that first discovers a danger, or something that scents
of it. He proclaims it by a low tremulous neigh, as if to attract her
attention while his head, tossed back towards the chapparal, shows that
the enemy is to be looked for in that direction.

"Who, or what is it?"

Warned by the behavior of her steed, Isidora faces to the thicket, and
scans the path by which she has lately passed through it. It is the
road, or trail, leading to the Leona. 'Tis only open to the eye for a
straight stretch of about two hundred yards. Beyond, it becomes screened
by the bushes, through which it goes circuitously.

No one is seen upon it, nothing, save two or three lean coyotes, that
skulk under the shadow of the trees scenting the shod tracks, in the
hope of finding some scrap, which may have fallen from the hurrying
horsemen.

It is not these that have caused the grey to show such excitement. He
sees them, but what of that? The prairie wolf is a sight to him neither
startling, nor rare. There is something else something he has either
scented, or heard.

Isidora listens for a time without hearing aught to alarm her. The howl
bark of the jackal does not beget fear at any time much less in the joy
of the daylight. She hears only this. Her thoughts again return to the
"Tejanos", especially to him who has last parted from her side. She is
speculating on the purpose of his earnest interrogation when once more
she is interrupted by the action of her horse.

The animal shows impatience at being kept upon the spot snuffs the air;
snorts and at length, gives utterance to a neigh, far louder than
before!

This time it is answered by several others, from horses that appear to
be going along the road though still hidden behind the trees. Their hoof
strokes are heard at the same time.

But not after. The strange horses have either stopped short, or gone off
at a gentle pace, making no noise!

Isidora conjectures the former. She believes the horses to be ridden and
that their riders have checked them up, on hearing the neigh of her own.

She quiets him, and listens.

A humming is heard through the trees. Though indistinct, it can be told
to be the sound of men's voices holding a conversation in a low muttered
tone.

Presently it becomes hushed, and the chapparal is again silent. The
horsemen, whoever they are, continue halted perhaps hesitating to
advance.

Isidora is scarce astonished at this, and not much alarmed. Some
travelers, perhaps, en route for the Rio Grande or, it may be some
stragglers from the Texan troop who, on hearing a horse neigh, have
stopped from an instinct of precaution. It is only natural at a time,
when Indians are known to be on the war path.

Equally natural, that she should be cautious about encountering the
strangers, whoever they may be and, with this thought, she rides softly
to one side placing herself and her horse under cover of a mezquit tree;
where she again sits listening.

Not long, before discovering that the horsemen have commenced advancing
towards her, not along the traveled trail, but through the thicket! And
not all together, but as if they had separated, and were endeavoring to
accomplish a surround!

She can tell this, by hearing the hoof strokes in different directions
all going gently, but evidently diverging from each other, while the
riders are preserving a profound silence, ominous either of cunning, or
caution perhaps of evil intent?

They may have discovered her position? The neighing of her steed has
betrayed it? They may be riding to get round her in order to advance
from different sides, and make sure of her capture?

How is she to know that their intent is not hostile? She has enemies,
one well remembered: Don Miguel Diaz. Besides, there are the Comanches
to be distrusted at all times, and now no longer en paz.

She begins to feel alarm. It has been long in arising but the behavior
of the unseen horsemen is at least suspicious. Ordinary travelers would
have continued along the trail. These are sneaking through the
chapparal!

She looks around her, scanning her place of concealment. She examines,
only to distrust it. The thin, feathery frontage of the mezquit will not
screen her from an eye passing near. The hoof-strokes tell, that more
than one cavalier is coming that way. She must soon be discovered.

At the thought, she strikes the spur into her horse's side, and rides
out from the thicket. Then, turning along the trail, she trots on into
the open plain, which extends towards the Alamo.

Her intention is to go two or three hundred yards beyond range of arrow,
or bullet then halt, until she can discover the character of those who
are advancing whether friends, or to be feared.

If the latter, she will trust to the speed of her gallant grey to carry
her on to the protection of the "Tejanos."

She does not make the intended halt. She is hindered by the horsemen, at
that moment seen bursting forth from among the bushes, simultaneously
with each other, and almost as soon as herself!

They spring out at different points and, in converging lines, ride
rapidly towards her!

A glance shows them to be men of bronze colored skins, and half naked
bodies with red paint on their faces, and scarlet feathers sticking up
out of their hair.

"Los Indios!" mechanically mutters the Mexican, as driving the rowels
against the ribs of her steed; she goes off at full gallop for the
alhuehueté.

A quick glance behind shows her she is pursued though she knows it
without that. The glance tells her more, that the pursuit is close and
earnest so earnest that the Indians, contrary to their usual custom, do
not yell!

Their silence speaks of a determination to capture her and as if by a
plan already preconcerted!

Hitherto she has had, but little fear of an encounter with the red
rovers of the prairie. For years have they been en paz, both with Texans
and Mexicans and the only danger to be dreaded from them, was a little
rudeness when under the influence of drink, just as a lady, in civilized
life, may dislike upon a lonely road, to meet a crowd of "navigators,"
who have been spending their day at the beer house.

Isidora has passed through a peril of this kind, and remembers it with
less pain from the thought of the peril itself, than the ruin it has led
to.

But her danger is different now. The peace is past. There is war upon
the wind. Her pursuers are no longer intoxicated with the fire water of
their foes. They are thirsting for blood and she flies to escape not
only dishonor, but it may be death!

On over that open plain, with all the speed she can take out of her
horse, all that whip, and spur, and voice can accomplish!

She alone speaks. Her pursuers are voiceless, silent as specters!

Only once does she glance behind. There are still but four of them; but
four is too many against one and that one a woman!

There is no hope, unless she can get within hail of the Texan's.

She presses on for the alhuehueté.



67. LOS INDIOS!


As if in answer to the exclamation of the old hunter, or rather to the
interrogatory with which he has followed it up comes the cry of the
strange equestrian who has shown herself on the cliff.

"Los Indios! Los Indios /"

No one who has spent three days in Southern Texas, could mistake the
meaning of that phrase whatever his native tongue. It is the alarm cry
which, for three hundred years, has been heard along three thousand
miles of frontier, in three different languages "Les Indiens! Los
Indios! The Indians!"

Dull would be the ear, slow the intellect, that did not at once
comprehend it, along with the sense of its associated danger.

To those who hear it at the jacalé it needs no translation. They know
that she, who has given utterance to it, is pursued by Indians as
certain as if the fact had been announced in their own Saxon vernacular.

They have scarce time to translate it into this, even in thought, when
the same voice a second time salutes their ears "Tejanos! Cavalleros!
Save me! Save me! Los Indios! I am chased by a troop. They are behind me
close, close--"

Her speech, though continued, is no longer heard distinctly. It is no
longer required to explain what is passing upon the plain above.

She has cleared the first clump of tree tops, by scarce twenty yards,
when the leading savage shoots out from the same cover, and is seen,
going in fall gallop, against the clear sky.

Like a sling he spins the lasso loop around his head. So eager is he to
throw it with sure aim, that he does not appear to take heed of what the
fugitive has said spoken as she went at full speed for she made no stop,
while calling out to the "Tejanos." He may fancy it has been addressed
to him a final appeal for mercy, uttered in a language he does not
understand for Isidora had spoken in English.

He is only undeceived, as the sharp crack of a rifle comes echoing out
of the glen, or perhaps a little sooner, as a stinging sensation in his
wrist causes him to let go his lasso, and look wonderingly for the why!

He perceives a puff of sulphureous smoke rising from below.

A single glance is sufficient to cause a change in his tactics. In that
glance he beholds a hundred men, with the gleam of a hundred gun
barrels!

His three followers see them at the same time and as if moved by the
same impulse, all four turn in their tracks, and gallop away from the
cliff quite as quickly as they have been approaching it.

"Tur a pity too," says Zeb Stump, proceeding to reload his rifle. "If 't
hedn't a been for the savin' o' her, I'd a let 'em come on down the
gully. Ef we ked a captered them, we mout a got somethin' out o' 'em
consarnin' this queer case o' ourn. Thur aint the smell o' a chance now.
It's clur they've goed off an' by the time we git up yander, they'll be
hellurd."

The sight of the savages has produced another quick change in the
tableau formed in front of the mustanger's hut a change equally sudden
in the thoughts of those who compose it.

The majority who deemed Maurice Gerald a murderer has become transformed
into a minority, while those who believed him innocent are now the men
whose opinions are respected.

Calhoun and his bullies are no longer masters of the situation and on
the motion of their chief the Regulator Jury is adjourned.

The new programme is cast in double quick time. A score of words suffice
to describe it. The accused is to be carried to the settlement, there to
be tried according to the law of the land.

And now for the Indians whose opportune appearance has caused this
sudden change, both of sentiment and design.

Are they to be pursued? That of course.

But when? Upon the instant?

Prudence says, no.

Only four have been seen. But these are not likely to be alone. They may
be the rear-guard of four hundred?

"Let us wait till the woman comes down," counsels one of the timid.
"They have not followed her any farther. I think I can hear her riding
this way through the gulley. Of course she knows it as it was she who
directed us."

The suggestion appears sensible to most upon the ground. They are not
cowards. Still there are but few of them, who have encountered the wild
Indian in actual strife and many only know his more debased brethren in
the way of trade.

The advice is adopted. They stand waiting for the approach of Isidora.

All are now by their horses and some have sought shelter among the
trees. There are those who have an apprehension that along with the
Mexican, or close after her, may still come a troop of Comanches.

A few are otherwise occupied, Zeb Stump among the number. He takes the
gag from between the teeth of the respited prisoner, and unties the
thongs hitherto holding him too fast.

There is one who watches him with a strange interest, but takes no part
in the proceeding. Her part has been already played perhaps too
prominently. She shuns the risk of appearing farther conspicuous.

Where is the niece of Don Silvio Martinez?

She has not yet come upon the ground! The stroke of her horse's hoof is
no longer heard! There has been enough time for her to have reached the
jacalé!

Her non appearance creates surprise, apprehension, alarm.

There are men there, who admire the Mexican maiden, it is not strange
they should some who have seen her before, and some who never saw her
until that day.

Can it be that she has been overtaken and captured?

The interrogatory passes round. No one can answer it though all are
interested in the answer.

The Texans begin to feel something like shame. Their gallantry was
appealed to, in that speech sent them from the cliff "Tejanos!
Cavalleros!"

Has she who addressed it succumbed to the pursuer? Is that beauteous
form in the embrace of a paint bedaubed savage?

They listen with ears intent, many with pulses that beat high, and
hearts throbbing with a keen anxiety.

They listen in vain.

There is no sound of hoof no voice of woman nothing, except the champing
of bitts heard close by their side!

Can it be that she is taken?

Now that the darker design is stifled within their breasts, the
hostility against one of their own race is suddenly changed into a more
congenial channel.

Their vengeance, rekindled, burns fiercer than ever since it is directed
against the hereditary foe.

The younger and more ardent among them, whom are the admirers of the
Mexican maiden can bear the uncertainty no longer. They spring into
their saddles, loudly declaring their determination to seek her, to save
her, or perish in the attempt.

Who is to gainsay them? Her pursuers, her captors perhaps may be the
very men they have been in search of the murderers of Henry Poindexter!

No one opposes their intent. They go off in search of Isidora in pursuit
of the prairie pirates.

Those who remain are but few in number; though Zeb Stump is among them.

The old hunter is silent, as to the expediency of pursuing the Indians.
He keeps his thoughts to himself; his only seeming care is to look after
the invalid prisoner, still unconscious, still guarded by the
Regulators.

Zeb is not the only friend who remains true to the mustanger in his hour
of distress. There are two others equally faithful. One a fair creature,
who watches at a distance, carefully concealing the eager interest that
consumes her. The other, a rude, almost ludicrous individual, who, close
by his side, addresses the respited man as his "masther." The last is
Phelim, who has just descended from his perch among the parasites of an
umbrageous oak where he has for some time stayed a silent spectator of
all that has been transpiring. The change of situation has tempted him
back to earth, and the performance of that duty for which he came across
the Atlantic.

No longer lays our scene upon the Alamo. In another hour the jacalé is
deserted, perhaps never more to extend its protecting roof over Maurice
the mustanger.

The chased equestrian is within three hundred yards of the bluff, over
which the tree towers. She once more glances behind her.

"Jesus me ampare!" (God preserve me.)

God preserve her! She will be too late!

The foremost of her pursuers has lifted the lasso from his saddle horn
he is winding it over his head!

Before she can reach the head of the pass, the noose will be around her
neck, and then--

And then, a sudden thought flashes into her mind, a thought that
promises escape from the threatened strangulation.

The cliff that overlooks the Alamo is nearer than the gorge, by which
the creek bottom must be reached. She remembers that its crest is
visible from the jacalé.

With a quick jerk upon the rein, she diverges from her course and,
instead of going on for the alhuehueté, she rides directly towards the
bluff.

The change puzzles her pursuers at the same time giving them
gratification. They well know the "lay" of the land. They understand the
trending of the cliff and are now confident of a capture.

The leader takes a fresh hold of his lasso, to make surer of the throw.
He is only restrained from launching it, by the certainty she cannot
escape.

"Chingaro!" mutters he to himself, "if she go much farther, she'll be
over the precipice!"

His reflection is false. She goes farther, but not over the precipice.
With another quick pull upon the rein she has changed her course, and
rides along the edge of it so close as to attract the attention of the
"Tejanos" below, and elicit from Zeb Stump that quaint exclamation only
heard upon extraordinary occasions,

"Geesus Geehosofat!"



68. THE DISAPPOINTED CAMPAIGNERS.


The campaign against the Comanches proved one of the shortest lasting
only three or four days. It was discovered that these Ishmaelites of the
West, did not mean war at least, on a grand scale. Their descent upon
the settlements was only the freak of some young fellows, about to take
out their degree as braves, desirous of signalizing the event, by
"raising" a few scalps, and capturing some horses and horned cattle.

Forays of this kind are not infrequent among the Texan Indians. They are
made on private account often without the knowledge of the chief, or
elders of the tribe, just as an ambitious young mid, or ensign, may
steal off with a score of companions from squadron or camp, to cut out
an enemy's craft, or capture his picket guard. These marauds are usually
made by young Indians, out on a hunting party, who wish to return home
with something to show besides the spoils of the chase and the majority
of the tribe is often ignorant of them till long after the event.
Otherwise, they might be interdicted by the elders who, as a general
thing, are averse to such filibustering expeditions deeming them not
only imprudent, but often injurious to the interests of the community.
Only when successful are they applauded.

On the present occasion several young Comanches had taken out their war
diploma, by carrying back with them the scalps of a number of white
women and boys. The horses and horned cattle were also collected, but
these, being less convenient of transport than the light scalp locks,
had been recaptured.

The red skinned filibusters, overtaken by a detachment of Mounted
Rifles, among the hills of the San Saba, were compelled to abandon their
four footed pray, and only saved their own skins by a forced retreat
into the fastnesses of the "Llano Estacado."

To follow them beyond the borders of this sterile tract would have
required a commissariat less hastily established than that, with which
the troops had sallied forth and, although the relatives of the scalped
settlers clamored loudly for retaliation, it could only be promised them
after due time and preparation.

On discovering that the Comanches had retreated beyond their neutral
ground, the soldiers of Uncle Sam had no choice but to return to their
ordinary duties, each detachment to its own fort to await further
commands from the head quarters of the "department."

The troops belonging to Fort Inge entrusted with the guardianship of the
country as far as the Rio Nueces, were surprised on getting back to
their cantonment to discover, that they had been riding in the wrong
direction for an encounter with the Indians! Some of them were half mad
with disappointment for there were several young Hancock among the
number, who had not yet run their swords through a red skin, though
keenly desirous of doing so!

No doubt there is inhumanity in the idea. But it must be remembered,
that these ruthless savages have given to the white man peculiar
provocation, by a thousand repetitions of three diabolical crimes: rape,
rapine, and murder.

To talk of their being the aborigines of the country the real, but
dispossessed, owners of the soil is simple nonsense. This sophism, of
the most spurious kind, has too long held dominion over the minds of
men. The whole human race has an inherent right to the whole surface of
the earth and if any infinitesimal fraction of the former, by chance
finds itself idly roaming over an extended portion of the latter, their
exclusive claim to it, is almost too absurd for argument, even with the
narrowest minded disciple of an aborigine's society.

Admit it, give the hunter his half dozen square miles, for he will
require that much to maintain him, leave him in undisputed possession to
all eternity and millions of fertile acres must remain untilled, to
accommodate this whimsical theory of national right. Nay, I will go
further, and risk reproach, by asserting that not only the savage, so
called, but civilized people should be unreservedly dispossessed
whenever they show themselves incapable of turning to a good account the
resources which Nature has placed within their limits.

The exploitation of Earth's treasures is a question not confined to
nations. It concerns the whole family of mankind.

In all this there is not one iota of agrarian doctrine not a thought of
it. He who makes these remarks is the last man to lend countenance to
communism.

It is true that, at the time spoken of, there were ruffians in Texas who
held the life of a red skin at no higher value than an English
gamekeeper does that of a stoat, or any other vermin, that trespasses on
his preserves. No doubt these ruffians are there still; for ten years
cannot have effected much change in the morality of the Texan frontier.

But, alas! We must now be a little cautious about calling names. Our own
story of Jamaica, by heaven! The blackest that has blotted the pages of
history has whitewashed these border filibusteros to the seeming purity
of snow!

If things are to be judged by comparison, not so fiendish, then, need
appear the fact, that the young officers of Fort Inge were some little
chagrined at not having an opportunity to slay a score or so of red
skins. On learning that, during their absence, Indians had been seen on
the other side, they were inspired by a new hope. They might yet find
the opportunity of fleshing their swords, transported without stain
without sharpening, too from the military school of West Point.

It was a fresh disappointment to them, when a party came in on the same
day civilians who had gone in pursuit of the savages seen on the Alamo
and reported that no Indians had been there!

They came provided with proofs of their statement, which otherwise would
have been received with incredulity considering what had occurred.

The proofs consisted in a collection of miscellaneous articles an odd
lot, as an auctioneer would describe it, wigs of horse hair, cocks'
feathers stained blue, green, or scarlet, breech clouts of buckskin,
moccasins of the same material, and several packages of paint, all which
they had found concealed in the cavity of a cotton wood tree!

There could be no new campaign against Indians and the aspiring spirits
of Fort Inge were, for the time, forced to content themselves with such
incidents as the situation afforded.

Notwithstanding its remoteness from any centre of civilized life, these
were at the time neither tame nor uninteresting. There were several
subjects worth thinking and talking about. There was the arrival, still
of recent date, of the most beautiful woman ever seen upon the Alamo the
mysterious disappearance and supposed assassination of her brother, the
yet more mysterious appearance of a horseman without a head, the trite
story of a party of white men "playing Indian" and last, though not of
least interest, the news that the suspected murderer had been caught,
and was now inside the walls of their own guardhouse mad as a maniac!

There were other tales told to the disappointed campaigners of
sufficient interest to hinder them from thinking that at Fort Inge they
had returned to dull quarters. The name of Isidora Covarubio de los
Llanos with her masculine, but magnificent, beauty, had become a theme
of conversation, and something was also said, or surmised, about her
connection with the mystery that occupied all minds.

The details of the strange scenes upon the Alamo the discovery of the
mustanger upon his couch, the determination to hang him, the act delayed
by the intervention of Louise Poindexter, the respite due to the courage
of Zeb Stump, were all points of the most piquant interest suggestive of
the wildest conjectures.

Each became in turn the subject of converse and commentary, but none was
discussed with more earnestness than that which related to the
innocence, or guilt, of the man accused of murder.

"Murder," said the philosophic Captain Sloman "is a crime which, in my
opinion, Maurice the mustanger is incapable of committing. I think, I
know the fellow well enough to be sure about that."

"You'll admit," rejoined Grossman, of the Rifles, "that the
circumstances are strong against him? Almost conclusive, I should say."

Crossman had never felt friendly towards the young Irishman. He had an
idea, that on one occasion the commissary's niece, the belle of the
Fort, had looked too smilingly on the unknown adventurer.

"I consider it anything but conclusive," replied Sloman.

"There's no doubt about young Poindexter being dead, and having been
murdered. Every one believes that. Well who else was likely to have done
it? The cousin swears to having overheard a quarrel between him and
Gerald."

"That precious cousin would swear to anything that suited his purpose,"
interposed Hancock, of the Dragoons. "Besides, his own shindy with the
same man is suggestive of suspicion, is it not?"

"And if there was a quarrel," argued the officer of infantry, "what
then? It don't follow there was a murder."

"Then you think the fellow may have killed Poindexter in for a fight?"

"Something of the sort is possible, and even probable. I will admit that
much."

"But what did they have a difficulty about?" asked Hancock. "I heard
that young Poindexter was on friendly terms with the horse-hunter,
notwithstanding what had happened between him and Calhoun. What could
they have quarreled about?"

"A singular interrogation on your part, Lieutenant Hancock!" answered
the infantry officer, with a significant emphasis on the pronoun. "As if
men ever quarreled about anything, except--"

"Except women," interrupted the dragoon with a laugh.

"But which woman, I wonder? It could not be anything relating to young
Poindexter's sister?"

"Quien sabe?" answered Sloman, repeating the Spanish phrase with an
ambiguous shrug of the shoulders.

"Preposterous!" exclaimed Crossman. "A horse catcher daring to set his
thoughts on Miss Poindexter! Preposterous!"

"What a frightful aristocrat you are, Crossman! Don't you know that love
is a natural democrat and mocks your artificial ideas of distinction? I
don't say that in this case there's been anything of the kind. Miss
Poindexter's not the only woman that might have caused a quarrel between
the two individuals in question. There are other damsels in the
settlement worth getting angry about, to say nothing of our own fair
following in the Fort; and why not?"

"Captain Sloman," petulantly interrupted the lieutenant of Rifles. "I
must say that, for a man of your sense, you talk very inconsiderately.
The ladies of the garrison ought to be grateful to you for the
insinuation."

"What insinuation, sir?"

"Do you suppose it likely that there's one of them who would speak
condescend to the person you've named?"

"Which? I've named two."

"You understand me well enough, Sloman; and I you. Our ladies will, no
doubt, feel highly complimented at having their names connected with
that of a low adventurer, a horse thief, and suspected assassin!"

"Maurice the mustanger may be the last suspected, and that is all. He is
neither of the two and as for our ladies being above speech with him, in
that as in many other things, you may be mistaken, Mr. Crossman. I've
seen more of this young Irishman than you, enough to satisfy me that, so
far as breeding goes, he may compare notes with the best of us. Our
grand dames needn't be scared at the thought of his acquaintance and,
since you have raised the question, I don't think they would shy from
it; some of them at least if it were offered them. It never has. So far
as I have observed, the young fellow has behaved with a modesty that
betokens the true gentleman. I have seen him in their presence more than
once, and he has conducted himself towards them as if fully sensible of
his position. For that matter, I don't think he cares a straw about one
or other of them."

"Indeed! How fortunate for those, who might otherwise have been his
rivals!"

"Perhaps it is," quietly remarked the captain of infantry.

"Who knows?" asked Hancock, intentionally giving a turn to the ticklish
conversation. "Who knows, but the cause of quarrel if there's been one,
might not be this splendid señorita so much talked about? I haven't seen
her myself but, by all accounts, she's just the sort to make two fellows
as jealous as a pair of tiger cats."

"It might be, who knows?" drawled Crossman, who found contentment in the
thought that the handsome Irishman might have his amorous thoughts
turned in any other direction than towards the commissary's quarters.

"They've got him in the guard house," remarked Hancock, stating a fact
that had just been made known to him for the conversation above detailed
occurred shortly after their return from the Comanche campaign. "His
droll devil of a serving man is along with him. What's more, the major
has just issued an order to double the guard! What does it mean, Captain
Sloman you who know so much of this fellow and his affairs? Surely
there's no danger of his making an attempt to steal out of his prison?"

"Not likely," replied the infantry officer, "seeing that he hasn't the
slightest idea that he's inside of one. I've just been to the guard
house to have a look at him. He's mad as a March hare; and wouldn't know
his own face in a looking glass."

"Mad! In what way?" asked Hancock and the others, who were yet but half
enlightened about the circumstances of the mustanger's capture.

"A brain fever upon him, delirious?"

"Is that why the guards have been doubled? Devilish queer if it is. The
major himself must have gone mad!"

"Maybe it's the suggestion command I should rather say of the majoress.
Ha! Ha! Ha!"

"But what does it mean? Is the old maje really afraid of his getting out
of the guard house?"

"No, not that, I fancy. More likely an apprehension of somebody else
getting into it."

"Ah! You mean that--"

"I mean that for Maurice the Mustanger there's more safety inside than
out. Some queer characters are about and there's been talk of another
Lynch trial. The Regulators either repent of having allowed him a
respite, or there's somebody hard at work in bringing about this state
of public opinion. It's lucky for him that the old hunter has stood his
friend and it's but a continuation of his good luck that we've returned
so opportunely. Another day and we might have found the guardhouse empty
so far as its present occupants are concerned. Now, thank God! The poor
fellow shall have a fair trial."

"When is it to take place?"

"Whenever he has recovered his senses, sufficiently to know that he's
being tried!"

"It may be weeks before that."

"And it may be only days, hours. He doesn't appear to be very bad that
is, bodily. It's his mind that's out of order more, perhaps, from some
strange trouble that has come over him, than any serious hurt he has
received. A day may make all the difference and, from what I've just
heard, the Regulators will insist on his being tried as soon as he shows
a return to consciousness. They say that, they won't wait for him to
recover from his wounds!"

"Maybe he'll be able to tell a story that'll clear him. I hope so."

This was said by Hancock.

"I doubt it," rejoined Crossman, with an incredulous shake of the head.
"Nous verrons!"

"I'm sure of it," said Sloman. "Nos verrons!" he added, speaking in a
tone that seemed founded less upon confidence than a wish that was
father to the thought.



69. MYSTERY AND MOURNING.


There is mourning in the mansion of Casa del Corvo, and mystery among
the members of Woodley Poindexter's family.

Though now only three in number, their intercourse is less frequent than
before, and marked by a degree of reserve that must spring from some
deep seated cause.

They meet only at the hour of meals then conversing only on such topics
as cannot well be shunned.

There is ample explanation of the sorrow, and much of the solemnity.

The death no longer doubted of an only son an only brother unexpected
and still unexplained should account for the melancholy mien both of
father and daughter.

It might also explain the shadow seated constantly on the brow of the
cousin.

But there is something beyond this. Each appears to act with an irksome
restraint in the presence of the others, even during the rare occasions,
on which it becomes necessary to converse on the family misfortune!

Beside the sorrow common to all three, they appear to have separate
griefs that do not, and cannot, commingle.

The once proud planter stays within doors, pacing from room to room, or
around the enclosed corridor bending beneath a weight of woe, that has
broken down his pride, and threatens to break his heart. Even strong
paternal affection, cruelly bereaved, can scarce account for the groans,
oft accompanied by muttered curses, that are heard to issue from his
lips!

Calhoun rides abroad as of yore; making his appearance only at the hours
of eating and sleeping, and not regularly then.

For a whole day, and part of a night, he has been absent from the place.
No one knows where, no one has the right to inquire.

Louise confines herself to her own room, though not continuously. There
are times when she may be seen ascending to the azotea alone and in
silent meditation.

There, nearer to Heaven, she seeks solace for the sorrows that have
assailed her upon Earth the loss of a beloved brother the fear of losing
one far more beloved, though in a different sense perhaps, a little
also, the thought of a scandal already attaching to her name.

Of these three sorrows, the second is the strongest. The last but little
troubles her and the first, for awhile keenly felt, is gradually growing
calmer.

But the second, the supreme pain of all, is but strengthened and
intensified by time!

She knows that Maurice Gerald is shut up within the walls of a prison
the strong walls of a military guard house.

It is not their strength that dismays her. On the contrary, she has
fears for their weakness!

She has reasons for her apprehension. She has heard of the rumors that
are abroad, rumors of sinister significance. She has heard talk of a
second trial, under the presidency of Judge Lynch and his rude
coadjutors, not the same Judge Lynch who officiated in the Alamo, nor
all of the same jury, but a court still less scrupulous than that of the
Regulators, composed of the ruffians, that at any hour can be collected
within the bounds of a border settlement, especially when proximate to a
military post.

The reports that have thus gone abroad are to some a subject of
surprise. Moderate people see no reason why the prisoner should be again
brought to trial in that irregular way.

The facts, that have late come to light, do not alter the case at least,
in any way to strengthen the testimony against him.

If the four horsemen seen, were not Indians and this has been clearly
shown by the discovery of the disguises, it is not the less likely that
they have had to do with the death of young Poindexter. Besides, there
is nothing to connect them with the mustanger, any more than if they had
been real Comanches.

Why, then, this antipathy against the respited prisoner, for the second
time surging up?

There is strangeness about the thing that perplexes a good many people.

There are a few that understand, or suspect, the cause. A very few,
perhaps only three individuals.

Two of them are Zeb Stump and Louise Poindexter, the third Captain
Cassius Calhoun.

The old hunter, with instinct keenly on the alert, has discovered some
underhanded action, the actors being Miguel Diaz and his men, associated
with a half score of like characters of a different race the "rowdies"
of the settlement. Zeb has traced the action to its instigator the
ex-captain of volunteer cavalry.

He has communicated his discovery to the young Creole, who is equal to
the understanding of it. It is the too clear comprehension of its truth
that now inspires her with a keen solicitude.

Anxiously she awaits every word of news, watches the road leading from
the Fort to Casa del Corvo, as if the sentence of her own death, or the
security of her life, hung upon the lips of some courier to come that
way!

She dares not show herself at the prison. There are soldiers on guard,
and spectators around it a crowd of the idle curious, who, in all
countries, seem to feel some sort of somber enjoyment in the proximity
of those who have committed great crimes.

There is an additional piquancy in the circumstances of this one. The
criminal is insane, or at all events, for the time out of his senses.

The guard-house doors are at all hours besieged to the great discomfort
of the sentries, by people eager to listen to the mutterings of the
delirious man. A lady could not pass in, without having scores of eyes
turned inquiringly upon her. Louise Poindexter cannot run the gauntlet
of those looks, without risk to her reputation.

Left to herself, perhaps she would have attempted it. Watched by a
father whose suspicions are already awakened by a near relation, equally
interested in preserving her spotless, before the eyes of the world, she
has no opportunity for the act of imprudence.

She can only stay at home now, shut up in her solitary chamber, solaced
by the remembrance of those ravings to which she had listened, upon the
Alamo, now upon the azotea, cheered by the recollection of that sweet
time spent among the mezquite trees, the spot itself almost discernible,
where she had surrendered the proudest passion of her heart, but
saddened by the thought that he to whom she surrendered it is now
humiliated, disgraced, shut up within the walls of a gaol, perchance to
be delivered from it only unto death!

To her it was happy tidings, when, upon the morning of the fourth day,
Zeb Stump made his appearance at Casa del Corvo, bringing the
intelligence that the "hoss-sogers hed kum back to the Fort"

There was significance in the news, thus ungrammatically imparted. There
was no longer a danger of the perpetration of that foul act, hitherto
apprehended a prisoner taken from his guards, not for rescue, but ruin!

"Ee needn't be uneasy 'beout thet ere ewent," said Zeb, speaking with a
confidence he had not shown for some time. "Thur's no longer a danger o'
it comin' to pass, Miss Lewaze. I've tuk preecaushins agin it."

"Precautions! How, Zeb?"

"Wal fust place, I've seed the major clost arter his comin'" back, an'
gied him a bit o' my mind. I tolt him the hul story, as fur's I know it
myself. By good luck he ain't agin the young fellur, but the tother way
I reck'n. Wal, I tolt him o' the goin's on o' the hul crew Amerikins,
Mexikins, an' all o' them not forgettin' thet ugly Spanyard o' the name
o' Dee-ez, thet's been one o' the sarciest o' the lot. The ree sult's
been thet the major hez doubled the sentries roun' the prison, an's
goin' to keep 'em doubled."

"I am so glad! You think there is no longer any fear from that quarter?"

"If you mean the quarter o' Mister Migooel Dee-ez, I kin swar to it.
Afore he thinks o' gittin' anyb'dy else out o' a prison, he's got to git
hisself out."

"What Diaz in prison! How? When? Where?"

"You've asked three seprit questyuns, Miss Lewaze, all o' a heep. Wal I
reck'n the conveenientest way to answer 'em 'll be to take 'em backurds.
An' fast as to the whar. As to thet, thur's but one prison in these
parts, as 'ad be likely to hold him. Thet is the guard-house at the
Fort. He's thur."

"Along with--"

"I know who ye're goin' to name the young fellur. Jest so. They're in
the same buildin', tho' not 'zackly in the same room. Thur's a partition
atween 'em tho' for thet matter they kin convarse, ef they're so
inclined. Thur's three others abet up along wi' the Mexikin his own
cussed cummarades. The three 'll have somethin' to talk 'beout 'mong
themselves, I reck'n."

"This is good news, Zeb. You told me yesterday that Diaz was active
in--."

"Gittin' hisself into a scrape, which he hev been successful in
effectuatin'. He's got hisself into the jog, or someb'y else hev did
thet bizness for him."

"But how, when you've not told me?"

"Geehosophat! Miss Lewaze. Gi' me a leetle time. I hain't drew breath
yit, since I kim in. Yur second questyun war when. It air eezy answered.
'Beout a hour agone thet ere varmint wur trapped an' locked up. I war at
the shettin' o' the door ahint him, an' kum straight custrut hyur arter
it war done."

"But you have not yet said why he is arrested."

"I hain't hed a chance. It air a longish story, an' 'll take a leetle
time in the tellin'. Will ye listen to it now, or arter?"

"After what, Mr. Stump?"

"Wal, Miss Lewaze, I only meened arter--arter--I git the ole mare put
up. She air stannin' thur, as if she'd like to chaw a yeer o' corn, an'
somethin' to wet it down. Both she and me's been on a longish tramp
afore we got back to the Fort which we did, scace a hour ago."

"Pardon me, dear Mr. Stump, for not thinking of it. Pluto take Mr.
Stamp's horse to the stable, and see that it is fed. Florinde! Florinde!
What will you eat, Mr. Stump?"

"Wal, as for thet, Miss Lewaze, thank ye all the same, but I ain't so
partikler sharp set. I war only thinkin' o' the maar. For myself, I ked
go a kupple o' hoars longer 'ithout eetin', but ef thur's sech a thing
as a smell o' Monongaheely 'beout the place, it 'ud do this ole karkidge
o' mine a power o' good."

"Monongahela? plenty of it. Surely you will allow me to give you
something better?"

"Better 'n Monongaheely!"

"Yes. Some sherry, champagne or brandy if you prefer it."

"Let them drink brandy as like it, and kin' git it drinkable. Thur may
be some o' it good enuf an' ef thur air, I'm shur it'll be foun' in the
house o' a Peintdexter. I only knows o' the sort the sutler keeps up at
the Fort. Ef thur ever wur a medicine, thet's one. It 'ud rot the guts
out o' a alleygatur. No darn thur French lickers an' specially thur
brandy. Gi' me the pure corn juice an' the best o' all, thet as comes
from Pittsburg on the Monongaheely."

"Florinde! Florinde!"

It was not necessary to tell the waiting maid for what she was wanted.
The presence of Zeb Stump indicated the service for which she had been
summoned. Without waiting to receive the order she went off, and the
moment after returned, carrying a decanter half filled with what Zeb
called the "pure corn juice," but which was in reality the essence of
rye, for from this grain is distilled the celebrated "Monongahela."

Zeb was not slow to refresh himself. A full third of the contents of the
decanter were soon put out of sight the other two thirds remaining, for
future potations that might be required in the course of the narration
upon which he was about to enter.



70. GO, ZEB, AND GOD SPEED YOU!


The old hunter never did things in a hurry. Even his style of drinking
was not an exception and although there was no time wasted, he quaffed
the Monongahela in a formal leisurely manner.

The Creole, impatient to hear what he had to relate, did not wait for
him to resume speech.

"Tell me, dear Zeb," said she, after directing her maid to withdraw,
"why have they arrested this Mexican, Miguel Diaz I mean? I think I know
something of the man. I have reasons."

"An' you ain't the only purson may hev reezuns for knowin' him, Miss
Lewaze. Yur brother, but never mind, 'beout that leastwise not now. What
Zeb Stump do know, or strongly surspect, air, thet this same mentioned
Migooel Dee-ez hev had somethin' to do wi'--You know what I'm refarrin'
to?"

"Go on, Mr. Stump!"

"Wal, the story air this. Arter we kim from the Alamo Crik, the fellurs
that went in sarch o' them Injuns, found out they wan't Injuns at all.
Ye hev heern that yurself. From the fixins that war diskevered in the
holler tree, it air clur that what we seed on the Bluff war a party o'
whites. I hed a surspishun o't myself soon as I seed them curds they'd
left ahint 'em in the shanty."

"It was the same, then, who visited the jacalé at night the same Phelim
saw?"

"Ne'er a doubt o'it. Them same Mexikins."

"What reason have you to think they were Mexicans?"

"The best o' all reezuns. I found 'em out to be traced the hul kit o'
'em to thur cache."

The young Creole made no rejoinder. Zeb's story promised a revelation
that might be favorable to her hopes. She stood resignedly waiting for
him to continue.

"Ye see, the curds, an' also some words, the which the Irish war able to
sort o' pernounce, arter a fashun o' his own, tolt me they must a been
o' the yeller-belly, breed an' sartint 'bout that much, I war able to
gie a tol'able guess as to whar they hed kim from. I know'd enuf o' the
Mexikins o' these parts to think o' four as answered thar descripshun to
a T. As to the Injun duds, thar warn't nuthin' in them to bamboozle me.
Arter this, I ked a gone straight to the hul four fellurs, an' pinted
'em out for sartin. One o' 'em, for sure sartin. On him I'd made my
mark. I war confident o' hayin' did thet."

"Your mark! How, Zeb?"

"Ye remimber the shot I fired from the door o' the shanty?"

"Oh, certainly! I did not see the Indians. I was under the trees at the
time. I saw you discharge your rifle at something."

"Wal, Miss Lewaze this hyur coon don't often discharge thet thur weepun
'ithout drawin' blood. I know'd I hut the skunk, but it war rayther far
for the carry o' the piece, an' I reckon'd the ball war a bit spent. F'r
all that, I know'd it must a stung him. I seed him squirm to the shot,
an' I says to myself Ef ther ain't a hole through his hide somewhar,
this coon won't mind changin' skins wi' him. Wal, arter they kim home
wi' the story o' whites instead o' red skins, I hed a tol'able clur idee
o' who the sham Injuns wur, an' ked a laid my claws on 'em at any
minnit. But I didn't."

"And why not, Mr. Stump? Surely you haven't allowed them to get away?
They might be the very men who are goilty of my poor brother's--"

"That's jest what this coon thort, an' it war for that reezun I let 'em
slide. There war another reezun besides. I didn't much like goin' fur
from the Fort, leest somethin' ugly mout turn up in my absince. You
unnerstan'? There war another reezun still for not prospectin' arter
them jest then. I wanted to make shur o' my game."

"And you have?"

"Shur as shootin'. I guessed thur wan't goin' to be any rain, an'
thurfor thur war no immeedyit hurry as to what I intended doin'. So I
waited till the sogers shed get back, an' I ked safely leave him in the
guard-house. Soon as they kim in, I tuk the ole maar and rud out to the
place whar our fellurs had struck upon the fixins. I eezy foun' it by
thur descripshun. Wal as they'd only got that greenhorn, Spangler, to
guide 'em, I war putty sure the sign hedn't been more'n helf read an'
that I'd get somethin' out o' it, beside what they'd brought away."

"I wan't disappinted. The durndest fool as ever set fut upon a purayra,
mout a follered the back track o' them make believe Kimanchees. A
storekeeper ked a traced it acrost the purayra, though it appears
neyther Mister Spangler nor any o' the others did. I foun' it eezy as
fallin' off o' a log, not'ithstandin' thet the sarchers had rud all over
it. I tracked every hoss o' the four counterfits to his own stable."

"After that?"

"Arter doin' thet I hed a word wi' the major an' in helf an hour at the
most, the four beauties wur safe shet up in the guard-house the chief o'
'em bein' jugged fust, leest he mout get wind o' what wur goin' forrard,
an' sneak out of the way. I wan't fur astray beout Mister Migooel Dee-ez
bearin' my mark. We foun' the tar o' a bullet through the fleshy part o'
his dexter wing an' thet explained why he wur so quick at letting go his
laryette."

"It was he, then!" mechanically remarked Louise, as she stood
reflecting.

"Very strange!" she continued, still muttering the words to herself. "He
it was I saw in the chapparal glade! Yes, it must have been! And the
woman, this Mexican Isidora? Ah! There is some deep mystery in all this,
some dark design! Who can unravel it?"

"Tell me, dear Zeb," she asked, stepping closer to the old hunter, and
speaking with a certain degree of hesitancy. "That woman, the Mexican
lady I mean, who--who--was out there. Do you know if she has often
visited him?"

"Him! Which him, Miss Lewaze?"

"Mr. Gerald, I mean."

"She mout, an' she moutn't 'ithout my knowin' eyther one or the tother.
I ain't often thur myself. The place air out o' my usooal hunidn'
ground, an' I only go now an' then for the sake o' a change. The crik's
fust rate for both deer an' gobbler. If ye ask my opeenyun, I'd say that
thet ere gurl heven't never been thur afore. Leestwise, I hain't heern
o' it an' eft hed been so, I reckun Irish Pheelum ud a hed somethin' to
say abeout it. Besides, I hev other reezuns for thinkin' so. I've only
heern o' one o' the shemale sex bein' on a visit to thet shanty."

"Who?" quickly interrogated the Creole, the instant after regretting
that she had asked the question, the color coming to her cheeks, as she
noticed the significant glance with which Zeb had accompanied his
concluding remark.

"No matter," she continued, without waiting for the answer.

"So, Zeb," she went on, giving a quick turn to the conversation, "you
think that these men have had to do with that which is causing sorrow to
all of us, these Mexicans?"

"To tell ye the truth, Miss Lewase, I don't know xackly what to think.
It air the most musteeriouaest consarn as iver kim to pass on these hynr
purayras. Sometimes I hev the idea that the Mexikins mast did it; while
at others, I'm in the opposite way o' thinkin', an' that some'dy else
hav hed a han'in the black bizness. I won't say who."

"Not him, Zeb not him!"

"Not the mowstanger. No, near a hit o' that. Spite o' all that's sayed
agin him, I hain't the least surspishun o' his innersense."

"Oh! How is he to prove it? It is said, that the testimony is all
against him! No one to speak a word in his behalf!"

"Wal, it ain't so sartint as to thet. Keepin' my eye upon the others,
an' his prison I hain't had much chance o' gettin' abeout. Thur's a
opportunity now an' I mean to make use o' it The purayra's a big book,
Miss Peintdezter a wonderful big book for them as knows how to read the
print o't. If not much o' a scholar otherways, Zeb'lon Stump hev larnt
to do thet. Thur may be some testymoney that mout help him, scattered
over the musquit grass jest as I've heern a Methody preecher say, thur
'war sarmints in stones, an' books in runuin' brutes.' Ef't air so, thur
oughter be somethin' o' the kind scared up on the Alamo crik."

"You think you might discover some traces?"

"Wal I'm goin' out to hev a look 'roun' me speecially at the place whur
I foun' the young fellur in the claws o' the spotted painter. I oughter
gone afore now, but for the reezun I've tolt ye. Thank the Awlmighty!
Thur's been no wet, near y drop; an' whatsomiver sign's been made for a
week past, kin be understood as well, as if it war did yisterday that is
by them as knows how to read it. I must start straight away, Miss
Lewase. I jest runned down to tell ye what hed been done at the Fort.
Thur's no time to be throwed away. They let me in this mornin' to see
the young fellur an' I'm sartin his head air gettin' clurrer. Soon as it
air all right, the Re'glators say, they'll insist on the trial takin'
place. It may be in less'n three days; an' I must git back afore it
begins."

"Go, Zeb, and God speed you on your generous errand! Come back with
proofs of his innocence, and ever after I shall feel indebted to you
for--for--more than life!"



71. THE SORREL HORSE.


Inspired by this passionate appeal, the hunter hastened towards the
stable, where he had stalled his unique specimen of horse-flesh.

He found the "critter" sonorously shelling some corn-cobs, which Pluto
had placed liberally before her.

Pluto himself was standing by her side.

Contrary to his usual habit, the stable groom was silent though with an
air anything but tranquil. He looked rather triste than excited.

It might be easily explained. The loss of his young master, by Pluto
much beloved, the sorrow of his young mistress, equally estimated
perhaps some scornful speeches, which he had lately been treated to from
the lips of Florinda and still more likely, a kick he had received from
the boot toe of Captain Cassius for several days assuming sole mastery
over the mansion amply accounted for the unquiet expression observable
on his countenance.

Zeb was too much occupied with his own thoughts, to notice the sorrowful
mien of the domestic. He was even in too great a hurry, to let the old
mare finish her meal of maize, which she stood greatly in need of.

Grasping her by the snout, he stuck the rusty snaffle between her teeth
pulled her long ears through the cracked leathern head-straps; and,
turning her in the stall, was about to lead her out.

It was a reluctant movement on the part of the mare, to be dragged away
from such provender as she rarely chanced to get between her jaws.

She did not turn without a struggle and Zeb was obliged to pull
vigorously on the bridle rein before he could detach her muzzle from the
manger.

"Ho! Ho! Mass' Tump!" interposed Pluto. "Why you be go 'way in dat big
hurry? De poor ole ma' she no half got u'm feed. Why you no let her fill
her belly wif de corn? Ha! ha! It do her power of good."

"Han't got time, nigger. Goin' off on a bit o' a jurney. Got abeout a
hunderd mile to make in less 'an a kupple o' hours."

"Ho! Ho! Dat ere de fassest kind o' trabbelin'. You 'm jokin', Mass'
Tump?"

"No, I ain't."

"Gorramity! Wa-dey do make won'full journey on dese hyur prairas. I
reck'n dat ere hoss must a trabbled two hundred mile de odder night."

"What hoss?"

"De ole sorrel dere, in dat furrest 'tand from de door, Massa Cahoon
hoss."

"What makes ye think he traveled two hunder mile?"

"Kase he kum home all kibbered ober wif de froff. Beside, he wa so done
up he scace able walk, when dis chile lead um down to de ribba fo' gib
um drink. Hee 'tagger like new drop calf. Ho! Ho! He wa broke down, he
wa!"

"O' what night air ye palaverin', Piute?"

"Wha night? Let's see! Why, of coas de night Massa Henry wa missed from
de plantashun. Dat same night in de mornin', 'bout an hour atter de sun
git up into de hebbings. I no see de ole sorrel afore den, kase I no out
of my skeeta-bar till atter daylight. Den I kum 'cross to de 'table hya,
an' den I see dat quadrumpid all kibbered ober wif sweet an' froff,
lookin' like he'd swimmed through de big ribba, an' pantin' 's if he jes
finish a fo' mile race on de Metairie course at New Orlean."

"Who had him out thet night?"

"Doan know, Mass' Tump. Only dat nobody 'lowed to ride de sorrel 'cept
Massa Cahoon hisself. Ho! Ho! Ne'er a body 'lowed lay leg ober dat
critter."

"Why, wan't it himself that tuk the anymal out?"

"Doan know, Massa Tump; doan know de why nor de whafor Dis chile neider
see de Cap'n take um out nor fotch um in."

"If yur statement air true 'beout his bein' in sech a sweat, someb'dy
must a hed him out, an' been ridin' o' him."

"Ha! ha! Someb'dy muss, dat am certing."

"Looke hyur, Piute! Ye ain't a bad sort o' a darkie, though your skin
air o' a sut color. I reck'n you're tellin' the truth; an' ye don't know
who rud out the sorrel that night. But who do ye think it war? I'm only
axin' because, as ye know, Mr. Peintdezter air a friend o' mine, an' I
don't want his property to be abused no more what belongs to Capen
Calhoun. Some o' the field niggers, I reck'n, hey stole the anymal out
o' the stable, an' hey been ridin' it all roun' the country. That's it,
aintit?"

"Well, no, Mass' Tump. Dis chile doan believe dat am it. De fiel' hands
not 'lowed inside hyur. Dey darn't kum in to do 'table no how. 'Twan't
any nigger upon dis plantashun as tooked out de sorrel dat night."

"Durn it, then, who ked a tuk him out? Maybe the overseer? War it him
d'ye think?"

"'Twan't him needer."

"Who then ked it be unless it war the owner o' the hoss hisself? If so,
thur's an end o' it. He hed the right to ride his critter wharever he
pleased, an' gallop it to hell ef thet war agreeable to him. It ain't no
bizness o' myen."

"Ho! ho! Nor myen, needer, Mass' Tump. Wish I'd thought dat way dis
mornin'."

"Why do ye weesh that? What happened this mornin' to change yur tune?"

"Ho! What happen dis mornin'? Dar happen to dis nigga a great
misfortin'. Ho! Ho! Berry great misfortin'."

"What war it?"

"Golly, Massa Tump, I'se got kicked dis berry mornin', jess 'bout an
hour arter twelve o'clock in de day."

"Kicked!"

"Dat I did shoo, all round de 'table."

"Oh! By the hosses! Which o' the brutes kicked ye?"

"Ho! Ho! You mistaken! Not any of de hosses, but de massa of dem all,
'cept little Spotty da, de which he doan't own. I wa kicked by Mass'
Cahoon."

"The hell ye wur! For what reezun? Ye must hev been misbehavin' yurself,
nigger?"

"Dis nigga wan't mis b'avin' 't all; not as he knows on. I only ask de
cap'n what put de ole sorrel in such a dreful condishin dat ere night,
an' what make 'im so tired down. He say it not my bizness an' den he
kick me; an' den he larrup me wif de cow-hide an' den he threaten, an'
den he tell me, if I ebber 'peak bout dat same ting odder time, he gib
me hunder lashes of de wagon whip. He swa; oh! How he swat! Dis chile
nebba see Mass Cahoon so mad nebba, in all 'im life!"

"But whar's he now? I don't see him nowhar' beout the premises an' I
reck'n he ain't rud out, seein' as the sorrel's hyur?"

"Golly, yes, Mass Tump he jess am rode out at dis time. He of late go
berry much away from de house an' tay long time." "A hossback?"

"Jess so. He go on de steel grey. Ha! Ha! He doan' ride de sorrel much
now. He hain't mount 'im once since de night de ole hoss wa out dat
night we been 'peakin' 'bout. Maybe he tink he hab enuf hard ridin' den,
an' need long 'pell of ress."

"Look'ee hyur, Piute," said Zeb, after standing silent for a second or
two, apparently engaged in some abstruse calculation. "Arter all, I
reck'n I'd better let the ole maar hev another yeer or two o' the corn.
She's got a long spell o' travellin' afore her an' she mout break down
on the jurney. The more haste air sometimes the wusser speed; an'
thurfor, I kalkerlate, I'd better gie the critter her time. While she's
munchin' a mouthful, I ked do the same myself. 'Spose, then, you skoot
acrosst to the kitchen, an' see ef thur ain't some chawin' stuff thur, a
bit o' cold meat an' a pone o' corn bread 'll do. Yur young mistress
wanted me to hev somethin' to eet, but I war skeert abeout delayin', an'
refused. Now, while I'm waitin' on the maar, I reck'n I ked pick a bone,
jest to pass the time."

"Sartin' ye cud, Mass Tump. I go fotch 'im in de hundreth part of an
instant."

So saying the black skinned Jehu started off across the patio, leaving
Zeb Stump sole "master of the stole."

The air of indifference with which he had concluded his dialogue with
Pluto disappeared, the moment the latter was outside the door.

It had been altogether assumed as was proved by the earnest attitude
that instantly replaced it.

Striding across the paved causeway, that separated the two rows of
stalls, he entered that occupied by the sorrel.

The animal shied off, and stood trembling against the wall perhaps awed
by the look of resolution with which the hunter had approached it.

"Stan' still, ye brute!" chided Zeb. "I don't mean no harm to you, tho'
by yur looks I reck'n ye're as vicious as yur master. Stan' still, I
say, an' let's hev a look at yur fut-gear!"

So saying, he stooped forward, and made an attempt to lay hold of one of
the fore-legs.

It was unsuccessful. The horse suddenly drew up his hoof and commenced
hammering the flags with it, snorting as if in fear that some trick was
about to be played upon him.

"Durn yur ugly karkidge!" cried Zeb, angrily venting the words. "Why
don't ye stan' still? Who's goin' to hurt ye? Come, ole critter!" he
continued, coaxingly, "I only want to see how ye've been shod."

Again he attempted to lift the hoof, but was prevented by the restive
behavior of the horse.

"Wal, this air a difeequilty I didn't expeck," muttered he, glancing
round to see how it might be overcome. "What's to be did? It'll never do
to hev the nigger help me nor yet see what I'm abeout the which he will
ef I don't get quick through wi' it. Dog-gone the hoss! How am I to git
his feet up?"

For a short while he stood 'considering, his countenance showing a
peevish impatience.

"Cuss the critter!" he again exclaimed. "I feel like knockin' him over
whar he stan's. Ha! Now I hev it, if the nigger will only gie time. I
hope the wench will keep him waitin'. Durn ye! I'll make ye stan' still,
or choke ye dead ef ye don't. Wi' this roun' yur jugewlar, I reck'n ye
won't be so skittish."

While speaking he had lifted the trail rope from his own saddle and,
throwing its noose over the head of the sorrel, he shook it down till it
encircled the animal's neck.

Then hauling upon the other end, he drew it taut as a bow-string.

The horse for a time kept starting about the stall, and snorting with
rage.

But his snorts were soon changed into a hissing sound, that with
difficulty escaped through his nostrils and his wrath resolved itself
into terror. The rope tightly compressing his throat was the cause of
the change.

Zeb now approached him without fear and, after making the slip fast,
commenced lifting his feet one after the other scrutinizing each, in
great haste, but at the same time with sufficient care. He appeared to
take note of the shape, the shoeing, the number and relative position of
the nails in short, everything that might suggest an idiosyncrasy, or
assist in a future identification.

On coming to the off hind foot which he did last of the four an
exclamation escaped him that proclaimed some satisfactory surprise. It
was caused by the sight of a broken shoe nearly a quarter of which was
missing from the hoof, the fracture having occurred at the second nail
from the cauker.

"Ef I'd know'd of you," he muttered in apostrophe to the imperfect shoe,
"I mout a' saved myself the trouble o' examining the tothers. Thur ain't
much chance o' mistakin' the print you'd be likely to leave ahint ye. To
make shur, I'll jest take ye along wi me."

In conformity with this resolve, he drew out his huge hunting knife the
blade of which, near the hilt, was a quarter of an inch thick and,
inserting it under the piece of iron, he wrenched it from the hoof.

Taking care to have the nails along, he transferred it to the capacious
pocket of his coat.

Then nimbly gliding back to the trail rope, he undid the knot and
restored the interrupted respiration of the sorrel.

Pluto came in the moment after, bringing a plentiful supply of
refreshments including a tumbler of the Monongahela and to these Zeb
instantly applied himself, without saying a word about the interlude
that had occurred during the darkey's absence.

The latter, however, did not fail to perceive that the sorrel was out of
sorts for the animal, on finding itself released, stood shivering in the
stall, gazing around in a sort of woe, bygone wonder, after the rough
treatment to which he had been submitted.

"Gorramity!" exclaimed the black, "what am de matter wif de ole hoss?
Hoi ho! He look like he wa afeerd of you, Mass Tump!"

"Oh, yes!" drawled Zeb, with seeming carelessness. "I reck'n he air a
bit afeerd. He war making to get at my ole maar, so I gied him a larrup
or two wi' the eendo' my trail rope. Thet's what has rousted him."

Pluto was perfectly satisfied with the explanation, and the subject was
permitted to drop.

"Look hyur, Piute!" said Zeb, starting another. "Who does the shoein' o'
yur cattle? Thar's some o' the hands air a smith, I reckn?"

"Ho! Ho! Dat dere am. Yella Jake he do de shoein'. Fo what you ask, Mass
Tump?"

"Wal I war thinkin' o' havin' a kupple o' shoes put on the hind feet o'
the maar. I reck'n Jake ud do it for me."

"Ho! Ho! He do it wif a thousan' welkim dat he will, I'se shoo."

"Questyun is, kin I spare the time to wait. How long do it take him to
put on a kupple?"

"Lor, Mass Tump, berry short while. Jake fust-rate han' at de bizness.
Ebberybody say so."

"He moutn't have the mateerils riddy? It depends on whether he's been
shoein' lately. How long's it since he shod any o' yourn?"

"More'n a week I blieb, Mass' Zeb. Ho-ho! De last war Missa Looey hoss,
de beautiful 'potty dar. But dat won't make no differens. I know he hab
de fixins all ready. I knows it, kase he go for shoe de sorrel. Be ole
hoss hab one of de hind shoe broke. He hab it so de lass ten day an'
Mass Cahoon, he gib orders for it be remove. Ho-ho! dis berry mornin' I
hear um tell Jake."

"Arter all," rejoined Zeb, as if suddenly changing his mind, "I moutn't
hev the time to spare. I reck'n I'll let the ole critter do 'ithout till
I kum back. The tramp I'm goin' on most part o' it lies over grass
purayra an' won't hurt her."

"No, I hevn't time," he added, after stepping outside and glancing up
towards the sky. "I must be off from hyur in the shakin' o' a goat's
tail. Now, ole gal! You've got to stop yur munchin' an take this bit o'
iron atwixt yur teeth. Open yur corn trap for it. That's the putty pet!"

And so continuing to talk now to Pluto, now to the mare, he once more
adjusted the headstall led the animal out and, clambering into the
saddle, rode thoughtfully away.



72. ZEB STUMP ON THE TRAIL.


After getting clear of the enclosures of Casa del Corvo, the hunter
headed his animal up stream in the direction of the Fort and town.

It was the former he intended to reach, which he did in a ride of less
than a quarter of an hour.

Commonly it took him three to accomplish this distance, but on this
occasion he was in an unusual state of excitement, and he made speed to
correspond. The old mare could go fast enough when required, that is
when Zeb required her; and he had a mode of quickening her speed known
only to him, and only employed upon extraordinary occasions. It simply
consisted in drawing the bowie knife from his belt, and inserting about
an inch of its blade into the mare's hip, close to the termination of
the spine.

The effect was like magic or, if you prefer the figure, electricity. So
spurred, Zeb's "critter" could accomplish a mile in three minutes and
more than once had she been called upon to show this capability, when
her owner was chased by Comanches.

On the present occasion there was no necessity for such excessive speed
and the Fort was reached after fifteen minutes' sharp trotting.

On reaching it, Zeb slipped out of the saddle, and made his way to the
quarters of the commandant, while the mare was left panting upon the
parade ground.

The old hunter had no difficulty in obtaining an interview with the
military chief of Fort Inge. Looked upon by the officers as a sort of
privileged character, he had the entree at all times, and could go in
without countersign, or any of the other formalities usually demanded
from a stranger. The sentry passed him, as a matter of course the
officer of the guard only exchanged with him a word of welcome and the
adjutant at once announced his name to the major commanding the
cantonment.

From his first words, the latter appeared to have been expecting him.

"Ah! Mr. Stump! Glad to see you so soon. Have you made any discovery in
this queer affair? From your quick return, I can almost say you have.
Something, I hope, in favor of this unfortunate young fellow.
Notwithstanding that appearances are strongly against him, I still
adhere to my old opinion that he's innocent. What have you learnt?"

"Wal, Maje," answered Zeb, without making other obeisance than the
simple politeness of removing his hat; "what I've larnt aint much, tho'
enough to fetch me back to the Fort where I didn't intend to come, till
I'd gone a bit o' a jurney acrosst the purayras. I kim back hyur to hev
a word wi' yurself."

"In welcome. What is it you have to say?"

"That ye'll keep back this trial as long's ye kin raisonably do so. I
know thur's a pressyur from the outside, but I know, too, that ye've got
the power to resist it, an what's more, Maje ye've got the will."

"I have. You speak quite truly about that, Mr. Stump. And as to the
power, I have that, too, in a certain sense. But, as you are aware, in
our great republic, the military power must always be subservient to the
civil unless under martial law, which God forbid should ever be required
among us even here in Texas. I can go so far as to hinder any open
violation of the law, but I cannot go against the law itself."

"T'ant the law I want ye to go agin. Nothin' o' the sort, Maje. Only
them as air like to take it into thur own hands, an' twist it abeout to
squar it wi' thur own purpisses. Thur's them in this Settlement as 'ud
do thet, ef they ain't rustrained. One in espeecial 'ud like to do it;
an' I knows who thet one air, leestwise I hev a tolable clur guess o'
him."

"Who?"

"Yur good to keep a seecret, Maje? I know ye air."

"Mr. Stomp! What passes here is in confidence. You may speak your mind
freely."

"Then my mind air, thet the man who hez dud this murder ain't Maurice
the Mowstanger."

"That's my own belief. You know it already. Have you nothing more to
communicate?"

"Wal, Maje, preehaps I ked communerkate a leetle more ef you insist upon
it. But the time ain't ripe for tellin' ye what I've larnt the which,
arter all, only mounts to surspishuns. I may be wrong an' I'd rather
you'd let me keep 'em to myself, till I hev made a short exkurshun
acrost to the Nooeces. Arter thet, ye'll be welkum to what I know now,
besides what I may be able to gather off o' the purayras."

"So far as I am concerned, I'm quite contented to wait for your return
the more willingly that I know you are acting on the side of justice.
But what would you have me do?"

"Keep back the trial, Maje only that. The rest will be all right."

"How long? You know that it must come on according to the usual process
in the Criminal Court. The judge of this circuit will not be ruled by
me, though he may yield a little to my advice. But there is a party, who
are crying out for vengeance and he may be ruled by them."

"I know the party ye speak o'. I know their leader an' maybe, afore the
trial air over, he may be the kriminal afore the bar."

"Ah! You do not believe, then, that these Mexicans are the men--"

"Can't tell, Maje, whether they air or ain't. I do b'lieve thet they've
hed a hand in the bizness, but I don't b'lieve thet they've been the
prime movers in't. It's him I want to diskiver. Kin ye promise me three
days?"

"Three days! For what?"

"Afore the trial kirns on."

"Oh! I think there will be no difficulty about that. He is now a
prisoner under military law. Even if the judge of the Supreme Court
should require him to be delivered up inside that time, I can make
objections that will delay his being taken from the guard house. I shall
undertake to do that."

"Maje! ye'd make a man a'most contented to live under marshul law. No
doubt thur air times when it air the best, tho' we independent citizens
don't much like it. All I've got to say air, thet ef ye stop this trial
for three days, or tharabout, preehaps the prisoner to kim afore the bar
may be someb'y else than him who's now in the guard-house someb'y who
jest at this mom't hain't the smallest serspishun o' bein' hisself
surspected. Don't ask me who. Only say yell streetch a pint, an' gi' me
three days?"

"I promise it, Mr. Stump. Though I may risk my commission as an officer
in the American army, I give you an officer's promise, that for three
days Maurice the Mustanger shall not go out of my guard house. Innocent
or guilty, for that time he shall be protected."

"Yur the true grit, Maje an' dog-gone me, ef I don't do my beest to show
ye some day, thet I'm sensible o't. I've nuthin' more to say now,
'ceptin' to ax thet ye'll not tell out o' doors what I've been tellin'
you. Thur's them outside who, ef they only knew what this coon air
arter, 'ud move both heving an' airth to circumwent his intenshuns."

"They'll have no help from me whoever it is you are speaking of. Mr.
Stump, you may rely upon my pledged word."

"I know't, Maje, I know't. God bless ye for a good 'un. Yer the right
sort for Texas!"

With this complimentary leave-taking the hunter strode out of head
quarters, and made his way back to the place where he had left his old
mare.

Once more mounting her, he rode rapidly away.

Having cleared the parade ground, and afterwards the outskirts of the
village, he returned on the same path that had conducted him from Casa
Del Corvo.

On reaching the outskirts of Poindexter's plantation, he left the low
lands of the Leona bottom, and spurred his old mare against the steep
slope ascending to the upper plain.

He reached it, at a point where the chapparal impinged upon the prairie,
and there reined up under the shade of a mezquit tree. He did not
alight, nor show any sign of an intention to do so but sate in the
saddle, stooped forward, his eyes turned upon the ground, in that vacant
gaze which denotes reflection.

"Dog-gone my cats!" he drawled out in slow soliloquy. "Thet ere
sarkimstance are mil o' signiferkince. Calhoun's hoss out the same
night, an' fetched home a' sweetin' all over. What ked that mean? Durn
me, ef I don't surspect the foul play, hev kum from that quarter. I've
thort so all along, only it air so ridiklous to serpose thet he shed a
killed his own cousin. He'd do that, or any other villinous thing, ef
there war a reezun for it. There ain't none, as I kin think o'. Ef the
property hed been a goin' to the young un, then the thing mout a been
intellygible enuf. But it want. Ole Peintdexter don't own a acre o' this
hyur groun'; nor a nigger thet's upon it. Thet I'm sartin' 'beout. They
all belong to that cuss arready; an' why shed he want to get shet o' the
cousin? Thet's whar this coon gets flummixed in his kalkerlations. Thar
want no ill will atween 'em, as ever I heerd o'. Thur's a state o'
feelin' twixt him an' the gurl, thet he don't like, I know. But why shed
it temp him to the killin' o' her brother?

"An' then thur's the mowstanger mixed in wi' it, an' that shindy 'beout
which she tolt me herself; an' the sham Injuns, an' the Mexikin shemale
wi' the har upon her lip, an' the hoss-man 'ithont a head, an' hell
knows what beside! Geesus Geehosofat! it 'ud puzzle the brain pan o' a
Looeyville lawyer!

"Wal there's no time to stan' speklatin' hynr. Wi' this bit o' iron to
assiss me, I may chance upon somethin' thet'll gie a cine to a part o'
the bloody bizness, ef not to the hul o' it an' fast, as to the
direcshun in which I shed steer?"

He looked round, as if in search of some one to answer the
interrogatory.

"It air no use beginnin' neer the Fort or the town. The groun' abeout
both on 'em air paddled wi' hoss tracks like a cattle pen. I'd best
strike out into the purayra at oust, an' take a track crossways o' the
Rio Grande route. By doin' thet I may fluke on the futmark I'm in search
o'. Yes-ye-es! thet's the most sensible idee."

As if fully satisfied on this score, he took up his bridle rein,
muttered some words to his mare, and commenced moving off along the edge
of the chapparal.

Having advanced about a mile in the direction of the Nueces river, he
abruptly changed his course but with a coolness that told of a
predetermined purpose.

It was now nearly due west, and at right angles to the different trails
going towards the Rio Grande.

There was a simultaneous change in his bearing in the expression of his
features and his attitude in the saddle. No longer looking listlessly
around, he sate stooping forward, his eye carefully scanning the sward,
over a wide space on both sides of the path he was pursuing.

He had ridden about a mile in the new direction, when something seen
upon the ground caused him to start, and simultaneously pull upon the
bridle rein.

Nothing loth, the "critter" came to a stand Zeb, at the same time,
flinging himself out of the saddle.

Leaving the old mare to ruminate upon this eccentric proceeding, he
advanced a pace or two, and dropped down upon his knees.

Then drawing the piece of curved iron out of his capacious pocket, he
applied it to a hoof print conspicuously outlined in the turf.

It fitted.

"Fits!" he exclaimed, with a triumphant gesticulation, "Dog-goned if it
don't!"

"Light as the skin o' a tick!" he continued, after adjusting the broken
shoe to the imperfect hoof print, and taking it up again. "By the
eturnal! That ere's the track o' a treetur, mayhap a murderer!"



73. THE PRAIRIE ISLAND.


A herd of a hundred horses, or three times the number, pasturing upon a
prairie, although a spectacle of the grandest kind furnished by the
animal kingdom, is not one that would strike a Texan frontiersman as
either strange, or curious. He would think it stranger to see a single
horse in the same situation.

The former would simply be followed by the reflection: "A drove of
mustangs." The latter conducts to a different train of thought, in which
there is an ambiguity. The solitary steed might be one of two things:
either an exiled stallion, kicked out of his own cavallada, or a
roadster strayed from some encampment of travelers.

The practiced eye of the prairie-man would soon decide which.

If the horse browsed with a bit in his mouth, and a saddle on his
shoulders, there would be no ambiguity only the conjecture, as to how he
had escaped from his rider.

If the rider were upon his back, and the horse still browsing, there
would be no room for conjecture only the reflection, that the former
must be a lazy thick headed fellow, not to alight and let his animal
graze in a more commodious fashion.

If, however, the rider, instead of being suspected of having a thick
head, was seen to have no head at all, then would there be cue for a
thousand conjectures, not one of which might come within a thousand
miles of the truth.

Such a horse, and just such a rider, were seen upon the prairies of
South-Western Texas in the year of our Lord 185-. I am not certain as to
the exact year, the unit of it, though I can with unquestionable
certainty record the decade.

I can speak more precisely as to the place, though in this I must be
allowed latitude. A circumference of twenty miles will include the
different points, where the spectral apparition made itself manifest to
the eyes of men on both prairie and in chapparal; in a district of
country traversed by several northern tributaries of the Rio de Nueces,
and some southern branches of the Rio Leona.

It was seen not only by many people, but at many different times. First,
by the searchers for Henry Poindexter and his supposed murderer, second
by the servant of Maurice the mustanger, thirdly by Cassius Calhoun, on
his midnight exploration of the chapparal, fourthly by the sham Indians
on that same night and fifthly by Zeb Stump, on the following night.

But there were others who saw it elsewhere and on different occasions:
hunters, herdsmen, and travelers all alike awed, alike perplexed, by the
apparition.

It had become the talk not only of the Leona settlement, but of others
more distant. Its fame already reached on one side to the Rio Grande,
and on the other was rapidly extending to the Sabine. No one doubted
that such a thing had been seen. To have done so, would have been to
ignore the evidence of two hundred pairs of eyes, all belonging to men
willing to make affidavit of the fact for it could not be pronounced a
fancy. No one denied that it had been seen. The only question was, how
to account for a spectacle so peculiar, as to give the lie to all the
known laws of creation.

At least half a score of theories were started, more or less feasible
more or less absurd. Some called it an "Indian dodge;" others believed
it a "lay figure;" others that it was not that, but a real rider, only
so disguised as to have his head under the serapé, that shrouded his
shoulders, with perhaps a pair of eye holes through which he could see
to guide his horse, while not a few pertinaciously adhered to the
conjecture, started at a very early period, that the Headless Horseman
was Lucifer himself!

In addition to the direct attempts at interpreting the abnormal
phenomenon, there was a crowd of indirect conjectures relating to it.
Some fancied that they could see the head, or the shape of it, down upon
the breast, and under the blanket others affirmed to having actually
seen it carried in the rider's hand while others went still further, and
alleged that upon the head thus seen there was a hat a black glaze
sombrero of the Mexican sort, with a band of gold bullion above the
brim!

There were still farther speculations, that related less to the
apparition itself than to its connection with the other grand topic of
the time the murder of young Poindexter.

Most people believed there was some connection between the two
mysteries, though no one could explain it. He, whom everybody believed,
could have thrown some light upon the subject, was still ridden by the
nightmare of delirium.

And for a whole week, the guessing continued, during which the spectral
rider was repeatedly seen now going at a quick gallop, now moving in
slow, tranquil pace, across the treeless prairie his horse at one time
halted and vaguely gazing around him at another with teeth to the
ground, industriously cropping the sweet gramma grass, that makes the
pasturage of South-Western Texas (in my opinion) the finest in the
world.

Rejecting many tales told of the Headless Horseman, most of them too
grotesque to be recorded, one truthful episode must be given, since it
forms an essential chapter of this strange history.

In the midst of the open prairie there is a "motte" a coppice, or clomp
of trees of perhaps three or four acres in superficial extent. A prairie
man would call it an "island," and with your eyes upon the vast verdant
sea that surrounds it, you could not help being struck with the
resemblance.

The aboriginal of America might not perceive it. It is a thought of the
colonist transmitted to his descendants who, although they may never
have looked upon the great ocean, are nevertheless au fait to its
phraseology.

By the timber island in question, about two hundred yards from its edge,
a horse is quietly pasturing. He is the same that carries the headless
rider and this weird equestrian, is still bestriding him, with but
little appearance of change, either in apparel or attitude, since first
seen by the searchers. The striped blanket still hangs over his
shoulders, cloaking the upper half of his person, while the
armas-de-agua, strapped over his limbs, cover them from thigh to spur,
concealing all but their outlines.

His body is bent a little forward, as if to ease the horse in getting
his snout to the sward which the long bridle rein, surrendered to its
full length, enables him to do, though still retained in hand, or
resting over the "horn" of the saddle.

Those who asserted that they saw a head, only told the truth. There is a
head and, as also stated, with a hat upon it a black sombrero, with
bullion band as described.

The head rests against the left thigh, the chin being nearly down on a
level with the rider's knee. Being on the near side it can only be seen,
when the spectator is on the same; and not always then, as it is at
times concealed by a corner of the serapé.

At times too can a glimpse be obtained of the face. Its features are
well formed, but wearing a sad expression the lips of livid color,
slightly parted, showing a double row of white teeth, set in a grim
ghastly smile.

Though there is no perceptible change in the personnel of the Headless
Horseman, there is something new to be noted. Hitherto he has been seen
going alone. Now he is in company.

It cannot be called agreeable consisting as it does of wolves half a
score of them squatting close by upon the plain, and at intervals loping
around him.

By the horse they are certainly not liked as is proved by the snorting
and stamping of his hoof, when one of them ventures upon a too close
proximity to his heels.

The rider seems more indifferent to a score of birds large dark birds
that swoop in shadowy circles around his shoulders. Even when one bolder
than the rest has the audacity to alight upon him, he has made no
attempt to disturb it, raising neither hand nor arm to drive it away!

Three times one of the birds has alighted thus, first upon the right
shoulder, then upon the left, and then midway between upon the spot
where the head should be!

The bird does not stay upon its singular perch, or only for an instant.
If the rider does not feel the indignity the steed does and resists it
by rearing upward, with a fierce neighing, that frights the vultures off
to return again only after a short interval of shyness.

His steed thus browsing, now in quiet, now disturbed by the too near
approach of the wolves, anon by the bold behavior of the birds, goes the
Headless Horseman, step by step, and with long pauses of pasturing,
around the prairie island.



74. A SOLITARY STALKER.


The singular spectacle described, extraordinary it might be termed, was
too grave to appear grotesque. There was something about it, that
savored of the outré-monde. Human eyes could not have beholden it,
without the shivering of a human frame, and the chilling of human blood.

Was it seen by human eyes in this fresh phase with the wolves below, and
the vultures above?

It was.

By one pair; and they belonging to the only man in all Texas who had
arrived at something like a comprehension of the all perplexing mystery.

It was not yet altogether clear to him. There were points that still
puzzled him. He but knew it was neither a dummy, nor the Devil.

His knowledge did not except him from the universal feeling of dread.
Despite the understanding of what the thing was, he shuddered as he
gazed upon it.

He gazed upon it from the "shore" of the prairie island, himself unseen
under its shadows, and apparently endeavoring to remain so.

And yet, with all his trembling and the desire to keep concealed, he was
following it round and round, on the circumference of an inner circle,
as if some magnetic power was constraining him to keep on the same
radius, of which the point occupied by the Headless Horseman was a
prolongation!

More than this. He had seen the latter before entering the island. He
had seen him far off, and might easily have shunned him. But instead of
doing so, he had immediately commenced making approach towards him!

He had continued it using the timber as a screen, and acting as one who
stalks the timid stag, with the difference of a heart dread which no
deer stalker could ever know.

He had continued it until the shelter of the motte gave him a momentary
respite, not from fear, but the apprehension of a failure.

He had not ridden ten miles across the prairie without a design and it
was this that caused him to go so cautiously guiding his horse over the
softest turf, and through the selvedge of the chapparal in such a way as
neither to expose his person to view, nor cause a rustle among the
branches, that might be heard to the distance of ten yards.

No one observing his maneuvers as he moved amid the timber island, could
have mistaken their meaning at least so far as related to the object for
which they were being made.

His eye was upon the Headless Horseman, his whole soul absorbed in
watching the movements of the latter, by which he appeared to regulate
his own.

At first, fear seemed to be his prevailing thought. After a time, it was
succeeded by an impatience that partially emboldened him. The latter
plainly sprang from his perceiving, that the Headless Horseman, instead
of approaching the timber, still kept at a regular distance of two
hundred yards from its edge.

That this chafed him was evident from a string of soliloquies, muttered
half aloud. They were not free from blasphemy, but that was
characteristic of the man who pronounced them.

"Damn the infernal brute! If he'd only come twenty yards nearer, I could
fetch him. My gun won't carry that distance. I'd miss him for sure, and
then it'll be all up. I may never get the chance again. Confound him!
He's all of twenty yards too far off." As if the last was an ambiguity
rather, than a conviction, the speaker appeared to measure with his eye
the space that separated him from the headless rider all the while
holding in hand a short Yager rifle, capped and cocked ready for instant
discharge.

"No use," he continued, after a process of silent computation. "I might
hit the beast with a spent ball, but only to scare without crippling
him. I must have patience, and wait till he gets a little nearer. Damn
the wolves! He might come in, if it wasn't for them. So long as they're
about him, he'll give the timber a wide berth. It's the nature of these
Texas horses devil skin them!"

"I wonder if coaxing would do any good?" he proceeded, after a pause.
"Maybe the sound of a man's voice would bring the animal to a stand?
Doubtful. He's not likely to 've heard much of that lately. I suppose it
would only frighten him! The sight of my horse would be sure to do it,
as it did before; though that was in the moonlight. Besides, he was
chased by the howling staghound. No wonder his being wild, then, ridden
as he is by hell knows what, for it can't be--Bah! After all, there must
be some trick in it--; some damned infernal trick!"

For a while the speaker checked his horse with a tight rein, and,
leaning forward, so as to get a good view through the trees, continued
to scan the strange shape that was slowly skirting the timber.

"It's his horse, sure as shootin'! His saddle, serapé, and all. How the
hell could they have come into the possession of the other?"

Another pause for reflection.

"Trick, or no trick, it's an ugly business. Whoever's planned it, must
know all that happened that night and by God, if that thing lodged
there, I've got to get it back. What a fool to have bragged about it as
I did! Curse the crooked luck!

"He won't come nearer. He's provokingly shy of the timber. Like all his
breed, he knows he's safest in the open ground.

"What's to be done? See if I can call him up. May be he may like to hear
a human voice. If it'll only fetch him twenty yards nearer, I'll be
satisfied. Hanged if I don't try."

Drawing a little closer to the edge of the thicket, the speaker
pronounced that call usually employed by Texans to summon a straying
horse.

"Proh-proh-proshow! Come kindly! Come, old horse!"

The invitation was extended to no purpose. The Texan steed did not seem
to understand it at all events, as an invitation to friendly
companionship. On the contrary, it had the 'effect of frightening him,
for no sooner fell the "proh" upon his ear, than letting go the mouthful
of grass already gathered, he tossed his head aloft with a snort, that
proclaimed far greater fear than that felt for either wolf or vulture!

A mustang, he knew that his greatest enemy was man, a man mounted upon a
horse and by this time his scent had disclosed to him the proximity of
such a foe.

He stayed not to see what sort of man, or what kind of horse. His first
instinct had told him that both were enemies.

As his rider by this time appeared to have arrived at the same
conclusion, there was no tightening of the rein and he was left free to
follow his own course which carried him straight off over the prairie.

A bitter curse escaped from the lips of the unsuccessful stalker as he
spurred out into the open ground.

Still more bitter was his oath, as he beheld the Headless Horseman
passing rapidly beyond reach unscathed by the bullet he had sent so
earnestly after him.



75. ON THE TRAIL.


Zeb Stump stayed but a short while on the spot, where he had discovered
the hoof print with the broken shoe.

Six seconds sufficed for its identification, after which he rose to his
feet, and continued along the trail of the horse that had made it.

He did not re-mount, but strode forward on foot the old mare, obedient
to a signal he had given her, keeping at a respectful distance behind
him.

For more than a mile, he moved on in this original fashion now slowly,
as the trail became indistinct quickening his pace where the print of
the imperfect shoe could be seen without difficulty.

Like an archaeologist engaged upon a tablet of hieroglyphic history,
long entombed beneath the ruins of a lost metropolis, whose characters
appear grotesque to all, except himself, so was it with Zeb Stump, as he
strode on, translating the "sign" of the prairie.

Absorbed in the act, and the conjectures that accompanied it, he had no
eyes for aught else. He glanced neither to the green savannah that
stretched illimitably around, nor to the blue sky that spread
specklessly above him. Alone to the turf beneath his feet, was his eye
and attention directed.

A sound, not a sight startled him from his all engrossing occupation. It
was the report of a rifle, but so distant, as to appear but the
detonation of a percussion cap that had missed fire.

Instinctively he stopped at the same time raising his eyes, but without
unbending his body.

With a quick glance the horizon was swept, along the half dozen points
whence the sound should have proceeded.

A spot of bluish smoke still preserving its balloon shape was slowly
rolling up against the sky. A dark blotch beneath indicated the outlines
of an "island" of timber.

So distant was the "motte," the smoke, and the sound, that only the eye
of an experienced prairie man would have seen the first, or his ear
heard the last, from the spot where Zeb Stump was standing.

But Zeb saw the one, and heard the other.

"Darned queery!" he muttered, still stooped in the attitude of a
gardener dibbing in his young cabbage plants.

"Dog-goned queery, to say the leest on't. Who in ole Nick's name kin be
huntin' out thur, whar theer ain't game enuf to pay for the powder an'
shet? I've been to thet ere purayra island an' I know there ain't
nothin' thur 'cepin' coyoats. What they get to live on, only the Eturnal
kin tell!"

"Wagh!" he went on, after a short silence. "Some store-keeper from the
town, out on a exkurshun, as he'd call it, who's proud o' poppin' away
at them stinkin' varmints, an' 'll go hum wi' a story he's been a
huntin' wolves! Wal. 'Tain't no bizness o' myen. Let yurd stick hev his
belly ful o' sport. Heigh! thur's somethin' comin' this way. A hoss,
an' somebedy on his back streakin it as if hell war arter him, wi' a
pitchfork o' red-het lightnin'! What! As I live, it air the Headless! It
is, by the jumpin' Geehosophat!"

The observation of the old hunter was quite correct. There could be no
mistake about the character of the cavalier, who, just clearing himself
from the cloud of sulphureous smoke now falling, dispersed over the
prairie came galloping on towards the spot where Zeb stood. It was the
horseman without a head.

Nor could there be any doubt as to the direction he was taking as
straight towards Zeb as if he already saw, and was determined on coming
up with him!

A braver man than the backwoodsman could not have been found within the
confines of Texas. Cougar, or jaguar bear, buffalo, or Red Indian he
could have encountered without quailing. Even a troop of Comanches might
have come charging on, without causing him half the apprehension felt at
sight of that solitary equestrian.

With all his experience of Nature in her most secret haunts despite the
stoicism derived from that experience Zeb Stump was not altogether free
from superstitious fancies. Who is?

With the courage to scorn a human foe, any enemy that might show itself
in a natural shape, either of biped or quadruped still was he not stern
enough to defy the abnormal and Bayard himself would have quailed at
sight of the cavalier who was advancing to the encounter, apparently
determined upon its being deadly!

Zeb Stump not only quailed but, trembling in his tall boots of alligator
leather, sought concealment.

He did so, long before the Headless Horseman had got within hailing
distance or, as he supposed, within sight of him.

Some bushes growing close by gave him the chance of a hiding place of
which, with instinctive quickness, he availed himself.

The mare, standing saddled by his side, might still have betrayed him?

But, no. He had not gone to his knees, without thinking of that.

"Hunker down!" he cried, addressing himself to his dumb companion, who,
if wanting speech, proved herself perfect in understanding. "Squat, ye
ole critter or by the Eturnal ye'll be switched off into hell!"

As if dreading some such terrible catastrophe, the scraggy quadruped
dropped down upon her fore knees and then, lowering her hind quarters,
laid herself along the grass, as though thinking her day's work done she
was free to indulge in a siesta.

Scarce had Zeb and his roadster composed themselves in their new
position, when the Headless Horseman came galloping up.

He was going at full speed and Zeb was but too well pleased to perceive
that he was likely to continue it.

It was sheer chance, which had conducted him that way and not from
haying seen either the hunter, or his sorry steed.

The former if not the latter was satisfied at being treated in that
cavalier style but, long before the Headless Horseman had passed out of
sight, Zeb had taken his dimensions, and made himself acquainted with
his character.

Though he might be a mystery to the entire world beside, he was no
longer so, to Zebulon Stump.

As the horse shot past, in fleet career, the skirt of the serapé,
flouted up by the wind, displayed to Stump's eyes a form well known to
him, in a dress he had seen before. It was a blouse of blue cottonade,
box plaited over the breast and though its vivid color was dashed with
spots of garish red, the hunter was able to recognize it.

He was not so sure about the face seen low down upon the saddle, and
resting against the rider's leg.

There was nothing strange in his inability to recognize it.

The mother, who had oft looked fondly on that once fair countenance,
would not have recognized it now.

Zeb Stump only did so by deduction. The horse, the saddle, the holsters,
the striped blanket, the sky blue coat and trousers even the hat upon
their head were all known to him. So too, was the figure that stood
almost upright in the stirrups. The head and face must belong to the
same notwithstanding their unaccountable displacement.

Zeb saw it by no uncertain glance. He was permitted a full fear view of
the ghastly spectacle.

The steed, though going at a gallop, passed within ten paces of him.

He made no attempt to interrupt the retreating rider either by word or
gesture. Only, as the form became unmasked before his eyes and its real
meaning flashed across his mind, he muttered, in a slow, sad tone:

"Gee-hos-o-phat! It air true, then! Poor young fellow, dead--dead!"



76. LOST IN THE CHALK.


Still continuing his fleet career, the Headless Horseman galloped on
over the prairie, Zeb Stump following only with his eyes and not until
he had passed out of sight, behind some straggling groves of mezquite,
did the backwoodsman abandon his kneeling position.

Then only for a second or two, did he stand erect taking council with
himself, as to what coarse he should pursue.

The episode strange as unexpected had caused some disarrangement in his
ideas, and seemed to call for a change in his plans. Should he continue
along the trail he was already deciphering or forsake it, for that of
the steed that had just swept by?

By keeping to the former, he might find out much, but by changing to the
latter he might learn more?

He might capture the Headless Horseman, and ascertain from him, the why
and wherefore of his wild wanderings?

While thus absorbed, in considering what course he had best take, he had
forgotten the puff of smoke, and the report heard far off over the
prairie.

Only for a moment, however. They were things to be remembered and he
soon remembered them.

Turning his eyes to the quarter where the smoke had appeared, he saw,
that which caused him to squat down again and place himself, with more
impressement than ever, under cover of the mezquites. The old mare,
relishing the recumbent attitude, had still kept to it and there was no
necessity for redisposing of her.

What Zeb now saw was a man on horseback; a real horseman, with a head
upon his shoulders.

He was still a long way off and it was not likely he had seen the tall
form of the hunter, standing shored up among the bushes much less the
mare, lying beneath them. He showed no signs of having done so.

On the contrary, he was sitting stooped in the saddle, his breast bent
down to the pommel, and his eyes actively engaged in reading the ground,
over which he was guiding his horse.

There could be no difficulty in ascertaining his occupation. Zeb Stump
guessed it at a glance. He was tracking the headless rider.

"He, ho!" muttered Zeb, on making this discovery; "I ain't the only one
who's got a reezun for solvin' this hyur myst'ry! Who the hell kin he
be? I shed jest like to know that."

Zeb had not long to wait for the gratification of his wish. As the trail
was fresh, the strange horseman could take it up at a trot in which pace
he was approaching.

He was soon within identifying distance.

"Gee-hosophat!" muttered the backwoodsman "I mout a know'd it wud be him
an' ef I'm not mistook about it, hyurs goin' to be a other chapter out
o' the same book a other link as 'll help me to kumplete the chain o'
evydince I'm in sarch for. Lay clost, ye critter! Ef ye make ere a stir,
even to the shakin' o' them long lugs o' yourn, I'll cut yur durned
throat!"

The last speech was an apostrophe to the "maar", after which Zeb waxed
silent, with his head among the spray of the acacias, and his eyes
peering through the branches in acute scrutiny of him, who was coming
along.

This was a man, who, once seen, was not likely to be soon forgotten.
Scarce thirty years old, he showed a countenance, scathed, less with
care than the play of evil passions.

But there was care upon it, now a care that seemed to speak of
apprehension keen, prolonged, yet looking forward with a hope of being
relieved from it.

Withal it was a handsome face, such as a gentleman need not have been
ashamed of, but for that sinister expression that told of its belonging
to a blackguard.

The dress--but why need we describe it? The blue cloth frock of semi
military cut, the forage cap, the belt sustaining a bowie-knife, with a
brace of revolving pistols, all have been mentioned before as enveloping
and equipping the person of Captain Cassius Calhoun.

It was he.

It was not the batterie of small arms that kept Zeb Stump from showing
himself. He had no dread of an encounter with the ex-officer of
Volunteers. Though be instinctively felt hostility, he had as yet given
no reason to the latter for regarding him as an enemy. He remained in
shadow, to have a better view of what was passing under the sunlight.

Still closely scrutinizing the trail of the Headless Horseman, Calhoun
trotted past.

Still closely keeping among the acacias, Zeb Stump looked after, till
the same grove, that had concealed the former, interposed its verdant
veil between him and the ex-captain of cavalry.

The backwoodsman's brain having become the recipient of new thoughts,
required a fresh exercise of its ingenuity.

If there was reason before for taking the trail of the Headless
Horseman, it was redoubled now.

With but short time spent in consideration, so Zeb concluded; and
commenced making preparations for a stalk after Cassius Calhoun.

These consisted in taking hold of the bridle, and giving the old mare a
kick that caused her to start instantaneously to her feet.

Zeb stood by her side, intending to climb into the saddle and ride out
into the open plain as soon as Calhoun should be out of sight.

He had no thoughts of keeping the latter in view. He needed no such
guidance. The two fresh trails would be sufficient for him and he felt
as sure of finding the direction in which both would lead, as if he had
ridden alongside the horseman without a head, or him without a heart.

With this confidence he cleared out from among the acacias, and took the
path just trodden by Calhoun.

For once in his life, Zeb Stump had made a mistake. On rounding the
mezquite grove, behind which both had made disappearance, he discovered
he had done so.

Beyond, extended a tract of chalk prairie; over which one of the
horsemen appeared to have passed him without the head.

Zeb guessed so, by seeing the other, at some distance before him, riding
to and fro, in transverse stretches, like a pointer quartering the
stubble in search of a partridge.

He too had lost the trail, and was endeavoring to recover it.

Crouching under cover of the mezquites, the hunter remained a silent
spectator of his movements.

The attempt terminated in a failure. The chalk surface defied
interpretation, at least by skill such as that of Cassius Calhoun.

After repeated quarterings he appeared to surrender his design and
angrily plying the spur, galloped off in the direction of the Leona.

As soon as he was out of sight, Zeb also made an effort to take up the
lost trail. But despite his superior attainments in the tracking craft,
he was compelled to relinquish it.

A fervid sun was glaring down upon the chalk and only the eye of a
salamander could have withstood the reflection of its rays.

Dazed almost to blindness, the backwoodsman determined upon turning late
back and once more devoting his attention to the trail from which he had
been for a time seduced.

He had learnt enough to know that this last promised a rich reward for
its exploration.

It took him but a short time to regain it.

Nor did he lose any in following it up. He was too keenly impressed with
its value and with this idea urging him, he strode rapidly on, the mare
following as before.

Once only did he make pause at a point where the tracks of two horses
converged with that he was following.

From this point the three coincided at times parting and running
parallel, for a score of yards or so, but again coming together and
overlapping one another.

The horses were all shod like that which carried the broken shoe and the
hunter only stopped to see what he could make out of the hoof marks. One
was a "States horse" the other a mustang though a stallion of great
size, and with a hoof almost as large as that of the American.

Zeb had his conjectures about both.

He did not stay to inquire which had gone first over the ground. That
was as clear to him, as if he had been a spectator at their passing. The
stallion had been in the lead, how far Zeb could not exactly tell but
certainly some distance beyond that of companionship. The States horse
had followed and behind him, the roadster with the broken shoe also an
American.

All three had gone over the same ground, at separate times, and each by
himself. This Zeb Stump could tell with as much ease and certainty, as
one might read the index of a dial, or thermometer.

Whatever may have been in his thoughts, he said nothing, beyond giving
utterance to the simple exclamation "Good!" and, with satisfaction
stamped upon his features, he moved on, the old mare appearing to mock
him by an imitative stride!

"Hyur they've seppurated," he said, once again coming to a stop, and
regarding the ground at his feet. "The stellyun an' States hoss hev goed
thegither, thet air they've tuk the same way. Broken shoe hev strayed in
a diffrent direkshun."

"Wonder now'what thet's for?" he continued, after standing awhile to
consider. "Durn me ef I iver seed sech perplexm' sign! It ud puzzle ole
Dan'l Boone hisself."

"Which on 'em shed I foller fust? Ef I go arter the two I know whar
they'll lead. They're boun' to kim up in thet puddle o' blood. Let's
track up tother, and see whether he hev rud into the same procksimmuty!
To the right abeout, ole gal, and keep clost ahint me; else ye may get
lost in the chapparel, an' the coyoats may make thur supper on yur
tallow. He! He! He!"

With this apostrophe to his "critter," ending in a laugh at the conceit
of her "tallow," the hunter turned off on the track of the third horse.

It led him along the edge of an extended tract of chapparal which,
following all three, he had approached at a point well known to him, as
to the reader, where it was parted by the open space already described.

The new trail skirted the timber only for a short distance. Two hundred
yards from the embouchure of the avenue, it ran into it and fifty paces
further on Zeb came to a spot where the horse had stood tied to a tree.

Zeb saw that the animal had proceeded no further; for there was another
set of tracks showing where it had returned to the prairie though not by
the same path.

The rider had gone beyond. The foot marks of a man could be seen beyond
in the mud of a half dry arroyo beside which the horse had been
"hitched."

Leaving his critter to occupy the "stall" where broken shoe had for some
time fretted him, the old hunter glided often upon the footmarks of the
dismounted rider.

He soon discovered two sets of them; one going, another coming back.

He followed the former.

He was not surprised at their bringing him out into the avenue, close to
the pool of blood, by the coyotes long since licked dry.

He might have traced them right up to it, but for the hundreds of horse
tracks that had trodden the ground like a sheep pen.

But before going so far, he was stayed by the discovery of some fresh
"sign" too interesting to be carelessly examined. In a place where the
underwood grew thick, he came upon a spot where a man had remained for
some time. There was no turf and the loose mould was baked hard and
smooth, evidently by the sole of a boot or shoe.

There were prints of the same sole leading out towards the place of
blood, and similar ones coming back again. But upon the branches of a
tree between, Zeb Stump saw something that had escaped the eyes not only
of the searchers, but of their guide Spangler a scrap of paper,
blackened and half burnt evidently the wadding? Of a discharged gun!

It was clinging to the twig of a locust tree, impaled upon one of its
spines!

The old hunter took it from the thorn to which, through rain and wind,
it had adhered; spread it carefully across the palm of his horny hand
and react upon its smooched surface a name well known to him which, with
its concomitant title, bore the initials, "C. C. C."



77. ANOTHER LINK.


It was less surprise, than gratification, that showed itself on the
countenance of Zeb Stump, as he deciphered the writing on the paper.

"That ere's the backin' o' a letter," muttered he. "Tells a goodish
grist o' story more'n war wrote inside, I reck'n. Been used for the wad'
o' a gun! Wal serves the cuss right, for rammin' down a rifle ball wi' a
patchin' o' scurvy paper, i'stead o' the proper an' bessest thing, which
air a bit o' greased buckskin."

"The writing is in a sheemale hand," he continued, looking anew at the
piece of paper. "Don't signerfy for thet. It's been sent to him all the
same an' he's hed it in purzeshun. It air somethin' to be tuk care o'."

So saying, he drew out a small skin wallet, which contained his tinder
of "punk," along with his flint and steel and, after carefully stowing
away the scrap of paper, he returned the sack to his pocket.

"Wal!" he went on in soliloquy, as he stood silently considering, "I
kalkerlate as how this ole coon 'll be able to un wind a good grist o'
this clue o' mystery, tho' thur be a bit o' the thread broken hyur an'
thur, an' a bit o' a puzzle I can't clurly understan'. The man who hey
been murdered, who somdiver he may be, war out thur by thet puddle o'
blood, an' the man as did the deed, whosomdiver he be, war a stannin'
behint this locust-tree. But for them greenhorns, I mout a got more out
o' the sign. Now thur ain't the ghost o' a chance. They've tramped the
hnl place into a dumationed mess, cuyortin' and caperin' abeout.

"Wal, 'tair nouse goin' furrer thet way. The bessest thing now air to
take the back track, if it air possable, an' diskiver whar the hoss wi'
the broke shoe toted his rider arter he went back from this leetle bit
o' still huntin'. Thurfor, ole Zeb'lon Stump, back ye go on the boot
tracks!"

With this grotesque apostrophe to himself, he commenced retracing the
footmarks that had guided him to the edge of the opening. Only in one or
two places were the footprints at all distinct. But Zeb scarce cared for
their guidance.

Haying already noted that the man who made them had returned to the
place where the horse had been left, he knew the back track would lead
him there.

There was one place, however, where the two trails did not go over the
same ground. There was a forking in the open list, through which the
supposed murderer had made his way. It was caused by an obstruction, a
patch of impenetrable thicket. They met again, but not till that on
which the hunter was returning straggled off into an open glade of
considerable size.

Having become satisfied of this, Zeb looked around into the glade, for a
time forsaking the footsteps of the pedestrian.

After a short examination, he observed a trail altogether distinct, and
of a different character. It was a well marked path entering the opening
on one side, and going out on the other in short, a cattle track.

Zeb saw that several shod horses had passed along it, some days before
and it was this that caused him to come back and examine it.

He could tell to a day, to an hour, when the horses had passed; and from
the sign itself. But the exercise of his ingenuity was not needed on
this occasion. He knew that the hoof-prints were those of the horses
ridden by Spangler and his party after being detached from the main body
of searchers who had gone home with the major.

He had heard the whole story of that collateral investigation how
Spangler and his comrades had traced Henry Poindexter's horse to the
place where the negro had caught it on the outskirts of the plantation.

To an ordinary intellect this might have appeared satisfactory. Nothing
more could be learnt by any one going over the ground again.

Zeb Stump did not seem to think so. As he stood looking along it, his
attitude showed indecision.

"If I ken make shur o' havin' time," he muttered, "I'd foller it fust.
Jest as like as not I'll find a fluke thur too. But thur's no sartinty
'beout the time, and I'd better purceed to settle wi' the anymal as cast
the quarter shoe."

He had turned to go out of the glade, when a thought once more stayed
him.

"Arter all, it kin be easy foun' at any time. I kin guess whar it'll
lead, as sartint, as if I'd rud 'longside the skunk thet made it,
straight custrut to the stable o' Caser Corver."

"It's a durned pity to drop this un, now whiles I'm hyur upon the spot.
It'll gie me the makin' of another ten mile jurney, an' thur moutn't be
time. Dog-goned of I don't try a leetle way along it. The ole maar kin
wait till I kum back."

Bracing himself for a new investigation, he started off upon the cattle
track, trodden by the horses of Spangler and his party.

To the hoof-marks of these he paid but slight attention at times, none
whatever. His eye only sought those of Henry Poindexter's horse. Though
the others were of an after time, and often destroyed the traces he was
most anxious to examine, he had no difficulty in identifying the latter.
As he would have himself said, any greenhorn could do that. The young
planter's horse had gone over the ground at a gallop. The trackers had
ridden slowly.

As far as Zeb Stump could perceive, the latter had made neither halt nor
deviation. The former had.

It was about three quarters of a mile from the edge of the avenue.

It was not a halt the galloping horse had made, but only a slight
departure from his direct course as if something he had seen wolf,
jaguar, cougar, or other beast of prey had caused him to shy.

Beyond he had continued his career rapid and reckless as ever.

Beyond the party along with Spangler had proceeded without staying to
inquire why the horse had shied from his track.

Zeb Stump was more inquisitive, and paused upon this spot.

It was a sterile tract, without herbage, and covered with shingle and
sand. A huge tree overshadowed it, with limbs extending horizontally.
One of these ran transversely to the path over which the horses had
passed so low that a horseman, to shun contact with it, would have to
lower his head. At this branch Zeb Stump stood gazing. He observed an
abrasion upon the bark that, though very slight, must have been caused
by contact with some substance, as hard, if not sounder, than itself.

"Thet's been done by the skull o' a human critter," reasoned he "a human
critter, thet must a been on the back o' a hoss, this side the branch,
an' off on the t'other. No livin' man ked a stud sech a cullizyun as
thet, an' kep his seat in the seddle.

"Hooraw!" he triumphantly exclaimed, after a cursory examination of the
ground underneath the tree. "I thort so. Thur's the impreshun o' the
throwed rider. An' thur's whar he hez creeped away. Now I've got a
explication o' thet big bump as hez been puzzlin' me. I know'd it wan't
did by the claws o' any varmint an' it didn't look like the blow eyther
o' a stone or a stick. Thet ere's the stick that hez gi'n it."

With an elastic step, his countenance radiant of triumph, the old hunter
strode away from the tree, no longer upon the cattle path, but that
taken by the man who had been so violently dismounted.

To one unaccustomed to the chapparal, he might have appeared going
without a guide, and upon a path never before pressed by human foot.

A portion of it perhaps had not. But Zeb was conducted by signs which,
although obscure to the ordinary eye, were to him intelligible as the
painted lettering upon a finger post. The branch contorted to afford
passage for a human form the displaced tendrils of a creeping plant the
scratched surface of the earth all told that a man had passed that way.
The sign signified more that the man was disabled had been crawling a
cripple!

Zeb Stump continued on, till he had traced this cripple to the banks of
a running stream.

It was not necessary for him to go further. He had made one more splice
of the broken thread. Another, and his clue would be complete!



78. A HORSE SWOP.


With an oath, a sullen look, and a brow black as disappointment could
make it, Calhoun turned away from the edge of the chalk prairie, where
he had lost the traces of the Headless Horseman.

"No use following further! No knowing where he's gone now! No hope of
finding him except by a fluke! If I go back to the creek I might see him
again but unless I get within range, it'll end as it's done before. The
mustang stallion won't let me come near him as if the brute knows what
I'm wanting!"

"He's even cunninger than the wild sort trained to it, I suppose, by the
mustanger himself. One fair shot if I could only get that, I'd settle
his courses."

"There appears no chance of stealing upon him and as to riding him down,
it can't be done with a slow mule like this."

"The sorrel's not much better as to speed, though he beats this brute in
bottom. I'll try him tomorrow, with the new shoe."

"If I could only get hold of something that's fast enough to overtake
the mustang! I'd put down handsomely for a horse that could do it."

"There must be one of the sort in the settlement. I'll see when I get
back. If there be, a couple of hundred, aye or three, won't hinder me
from having him."

After he had made these mutterings Calhoun rode away from the chalk
prairie, his dark countenance strangely contrasting with its snowy
sheen. He went at a rapid rate not sparing his horse, already jaded with
a protracted journey as could be told by his sweating coat, and the
clots of half coagulated blood, where the spur had been freely plied
upon his flanks. Fresh drops soon appeared as he cantered somewhat
heavily on his head set for the hacienda of Casa del Corvo.

In less than an hour after, his rider was guiding him among the
mezquites that skirted the plantation.

It was a path known to Calhoun. He had ridden over it before, though not
upon the same horse. On crossing the bed of an arroyo dry from a long
continuance of drought he was startled at beholding in the mud the
tracks of another horse. One of them showed a broken shoe, an old hoof
print, nearly eight days old. He made no examination to ascertain the
time. He knew it to an hour.

He bent over it, with a different thought a feeling of surprise
commingled with a touch of superstition. The track looked recent, as if
made on the day before. There had been wind, rain, thunder, and
lightning. Not one of these had wasted it. Even the angry elements
appeared to have passed over without destroying it as if to spare it for
a testimony against the outraged laws of Nature their God.

Calhoun dismounted, with the design to obliterate the track of the three
quarter shoe. Better for him to have spared himself the pains. The
crease of his boot heel crushing in the stiff mud was only an additional
evidence as to who had ridden the broken shoed horse. There was one
coming close behind capable of collecting it.

Once more in his saddle, the ex-officer rode on reflecting on his own
astuteness.

His reflections had scarce reached the point of reverie, when the
hoof-stroke of a horse not his own came suddenly within hearing. Not
within sight, for the animal making them was still screened by the
chapparal.

Plainly was it approaching and, although at a slow pace, the measured
tread told of its being guided, and not straying. It was a horse with a
rider upon his back.

In another instant both were in view and Calhoun saw before him Isidora
Covarubio de los Llanos she at the same instant catching sight of him!

It was a strange circumstance that these two should thus encounter one
another apparently by chance, though perhaps controlled by destiny.
Stranger still the thought summoned up in the bosoms of both.

In Calhoun, Isidora saw the man who loved the woman she herself hated.
In Isidora, Calhoun saw the woman who loved him, he both hated and had
determined to destroy.

This mutual knowledge they had derived partly from report, partly from
observation, and partly from the suspicious circumstances under which
more than once they had met. They were equally convinced of its truth.
Each felt certain of the sinister entanglement of the other, while both
believed their own to be unsuspected.

The situation was not calculated to create a friendly feeling between
them. It is not natural that man, or woman, should like the admirer of a
rival. They can only be friends at that point where jealousy prompts to
the deadliest vengeance and then it is but a sinister sympathy.

As yet no such had arisen between Cassius Calhoun and Isidora Covarubio
de los Llanos.

If it had been possible, both might have been willing to avoid the
encounter. Isidora certainly was.

She had no predilection for the ex-officer of dragoons and besides the
knowledge that he was the lover of her rival; there was another thought
that now rendered his presence, if not disagreeable, at least not
desirable.

She remembered the chase of the sham Indians, and its ending. She knew
that among the Texans there had been much conjecture as to her abrupt
disappearance, after appealing to them for protection.

She had her own motive for that, which she did not intend to declare and
the man about meeting her might be inclined to ask questions on the
subject.

She would have passed with a simple salutation she could not give less
than that. And perhaps he might have done the same but for a thought
which at that moment came into his mind, entirely unconnected with the
reflections already there engendered.

It was not the lady herself who suggested the thought. Despite her
splendid beauty, he had no admiration for her. In his breast, ruthless
as it might have been, there was no space left for a second passion, not
even a sensual one for her thus encountered in the solitude of the
chapparal, with Nature whispering wild, wicked suggestions.

It was no idea of this that caused him to rein up in the middle of the
path remove the cap from his crown and, by a courtly salutation, invite
a dialogue with Isidora.

So challenged, she could not avoid the conversation that commenced upon
the instant Calhoun taking the initiative.

"Excuse me, señorita," said he, his glance directed more upon her steed
than herself "I know it's very rude thus to interrupt your ride
especially on the part of a stranger, as with sorrow I am compelled to
call myself."

"It needs no apology, señor. If I'm not mistaken, we have met before
upon the prairie, out near the Nueces."

"True-true!" Stammered Calhoun, not caring to dwell upon the
remembrance. "It was not of that encounter I wished to speak, but what I
saw afterwards, as you came galloping along the cliff. We all wondered
what became of you."

"There was not much cause for wonder, cavallero. The shot which some of
your people fired from below, disembarrassed me of my pursuers. I saw
that they had turned back, and simply continued my journey."

Calhoun exhibited no chagrin at being thus baffled. The theme upon which
he designed to direct his discourse, had not yet turned up and in it he
might be more successful.

What it was might have been divined from his glance, half connoisseur,
half horse-jockey, still directed toward the steed of Isidora.

"I do not say señorita, that I was one of those who wondered at your
sudden disappearance. I presumed you had your own reasons for not coming
on to us and, seeing you ride as you did, I felt no fear for your
safety. It was your riding that astonished me, as it did all of my
companions. Such a horse you had! He appeared to glide, rather than
gallop! If I mistake not, it's the same you are now astride of. Am I
right, Señora? Pardon me for asking such an insignificant question."

"The same? Let me see? I make use of so many. I think I was riding this
horse upon that day. Yes, yes I am sure of it. I remember how the brute
betrayed me."

"Betrayed you! How?"

"Twice he did it. Once as you and your people were approaching. The
second time, when the Indians, ay Dios! Not Indians, as I've since heard
were coming through the chapparal."

"But how?"

"By neighing. He should not have done it. He's had training enough to
know better than that. No matter. Once I get him back to the Rio Grande
he shall stay there. I shan't ride him again. He shall return to his
pastures."

"Pardon me, señorita, for speaking to you on such a subject, but I can't
help thinking that it's a pity."

"What's a pity?"

"That a steed as splendid as that, should be so lightly discarded. I
would give much to possess him."

"You are jesting, cavallero. He is nothing beyond the common perhaps a
little pretty and quick in his paces. My father has five thousand of his
sort many of them prettier, and, no doubt, some faster than he. He's a
good roadster and that's why I'm riding him now. If it weren't that, I'm
on my way home to the Rio Grande, and the journey is still before me,
you'd be welcome to have him, or anybody else who cared for him, as you
seem to do. Be still, musteño mio! You see there's somebody that likes
you better than I do."

The last speech was addressed to the mustang, which, like its rider,
appeared impatient for the conversation to come to a close.

Calhoun, however, seemed equally desirous of prolonging, or, at all
events, bringing it to a different termination.

"Excuse me, señorita," said he, assuming an air of businesslike
earnestness, at the same time speaking apologetically "If that be all
the value you set upon the grey mustang, I should be only too glad to
make an exchange with you. My horse, if not handsome, is estimated by
our Texan dealers as a valuable animal. Though somewhat slow in his
paces, I can promise that he will carry you safely to your home, and
will serve you well afterwards."

"What, señor!" exclaimed the lady, in evident astonishment, "exchange
your grand American frison for a Mexican mustang? The offer is too
generous to appear other than a jest. You know that on the Rio Grande
one of your horses equals in value at least three, sometimes six, of
ours?"

Calhoun knew this well enough, but he knew also that the mustang ridden
by Isidora would be to him worth a whole stable full of such brutes, as
that he was bestriding. He had been an eye witness to its speed, besides
having heard of it from others. It was the thing he stood in need, of
the very thing. He would have given, not only his "grand frison" in
exchange, but the full price of the mustang by way of "boot."

Fortunately for him, there was no attempt at extortion. In the
composition of the Mexican maiden, however much she might be given to
equestrian tastes, there was not much of the "copper." With five
thousand horses in the paternal stables, or rather straying over the
patrimonial plains, there was but slight motive for sharp practice and
why should she deny such trifling gratification, even though the man
seeking it was a stranger perhaps an enemy?

She did not.

"If you are in earnest, señor," was her response, "you are welcome to
what you want."

"I am in earnest, señorita."

"Take him, then!" said she, leaping out of her saddle, and commencing to
undo the girths. "We cannot exchange saddles yours would be a mile too
big for me!"

Calhoun was too happy to find words for a rejoinder. He hastened to
assist her in removing the saddle after which he took off his own.

In less than five minutes the horses were exchanged the saddles and
bridles being retained by their respective owners.

To Isidora there was something ludicrous in the transference. She almost
laughed while it was being carried on.

Calhoun looked upon it in a different light. There was a purpose present
before his mind, one of the utmost importance.

They parted without much further speech, only the usual greetings of
adieu, Isidora going off on the frison while the ex-officer, mounted on
the grey mustang, continued his course in the direction of Casa del
Corvo.



79. AN UNTIRING TRACKER.


Zeb was not long in arriving at the spot where he had "hitched" his
mare. The topography of the chapparal was familiar to him and he crossed
it by a less circuitous route than that taken by the cripple.

He once more threw himself upon the trail of the broken shoe, in full
belief that it would fetch out not a hundred miles from Casa del Corvo.

It led him along a road running almost direct from one of the crossings
of the Rio Grande to Fort Inge. The road was a half mile in width a
thing not uncommon in Texas, where every traveler selects his own path,
alone looking to the general direction.

Along one edge of it had gone the horse with the damaged shoe.

Not all the way to Fort Inge. When within four or five miles of the
post, the trail struck off from the road, at an angle of just such
degree, as followed in a straight line, would bring out by Poindexter's
plantation. So confident was Zeb of this that he scarce deigned to keep
his eye upon the ground, but rode forwards, as if a finger post was
constantly by his side.

He had long before given up following the trail afoot. Despite his
professed contempt for "horse fixings" as he called riding he had no
objection to finish his journey in the saddle, as he now was with the
fatigue of protracted trailing over prairie and through chapparal. Now
and then only, did he cast a glance upon the ground, less to assure
himself that he was on the track of the broken shoe, than to notice
whether something else might not be learnt from the sign, besides its
mere direction.

There were stretches of the prairie where the turf, hard and dry, had
taken no impression. An ordinary traveler might hare supposed himself
the first to pass over the ground. But Zeb Stump was not of this class
and although he could not always distinguish the hoof marks, he knew
within an inch where they would again become visible, on the moister and
softer patches of the prairie.

If at any place conjecture misled him, it was only for a short distance,
and he soon corrected himself by a traverse.

In this half-careless, half-cautious way, he had approached within a
mile of Poindexter's plantation. Over the tops of the mezquite trees,
the crenelled parapet was in sight when something he saw upon the
ground, caused a sudden change in his demeanor. A change, too, in his
attitude for instead of remaining on the back of his mare, he flung
himself out of the saddle threw the bridle upon her neck and, rapidly
passing in front of her, commenced taking up the trail afoot.

The mare made no stop, but continued on after him with an air of
resignation, as though she was used to such eccentricities.

To an inexperienced eye, there was nothing to account for this sudden
dismounting. It occurred at a place where the turf appeared untrodden by
man, or beast. Alone might it be inferred from Zeb's speech, as he flung
himself out of the saddle:

"His track! goin' to hum!" were the words muttered in a slow, measured
tone after which, at a slower pace, the dismounted hunter kept on along
the trail.

In a little time after it conducted him into the chapparal and in less
to a stop sudden, as if the thorny thicket had been transformed into a
chevaux-de-frize, impenetrable both to him and his "critter."

It was not this. The path was still open before him, more open than
ever. It was its openness that had furnished him, with a cause for
discontinuing his advance.

The path sloped down into a valley below a depression in the prairie;
along the concavity of which, at times, ran a tiny stream, an arroyo. It
was now dry, or only occupied by stagnant pools, at long distances
apart. In the mud covered channel was a man, with a horse close behind
him the latter led by the bridle.

There was nothing remarkable in the behavior of the horse he was simply
following the lead of his dismounted rider.

But the man, what was he doing? In his movements there was something
peculiar, something that would have puzzled an uninitiated spectator.

It did not puzzle Zeb Stump, or but for a second of time.

Almost the instant his eye fell upon it, he read the meaning of the
maneuver, and muttering to himself.

"Oblitturatin' the print o' the broken shoe, or tryin' to do thet same!
'Taint no use, Mister Cash Calhoun no manner o' use. Ye've made yur fut
marks too deep to deceive me; an' by the Eturnal I'll foller them,
though they shed conduck me into the fires o' hell!"

As the backwoodsman terminated his blasphemous apostrophe, the man to
whom it pointed, having finished his task of obscuration, once more
leaped into his saddle, and hurried on.

On foot the tracker followed though without showing any anxiety about
keeping him in sight.

There was no need for that. The sleuth hound on a fresh slot could not
be more sure of again viewing his victim, than was Zeb Stump of coming
up with his. No chicanery of the chapparal no twistings or doublings
could save Calhoun now.

The tracker advanced freely, not expecting to make halt again, till he
should come within sight of Casa del Corvo.

Little blame to him that his reckoning proved wrong. Who could have
foretold such an interruption as that occasioned by the encounter
between Cassius Calhoun and Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos?

Though at sight of it, taken by surprise, perhaps something more, Zeb
did not allow his feelings to betray his presence near the spot.

On the contrary, it seemed to stimulate him to increased caution.

Turning noiselessly round, he whispered some cabalistic words into the
ears of his "critter" and then stole silently forward under cover of the
acacias.

Without remonstrance, or remark, the mare followed.

He soon came to a full stop, his animal doing the same, in imitation, so
exact as to appear its counterpart.

A thick growth of mezquite trees separated him from the two individuals,
by this time engaged in a lively interchange of speech.

He could not see them, without exposing himself to the danger of being
detected in his eaves dropping but he heard what they said all the same.

He kept his place, listening till the horse trade was concluded, and for
some time after.

Only when they had separated, and both taken departure did he venture to
come forth from his cover.

Standing upon the spot lately occupied by the "swoppers," and looking
"both ways at once," he exclaimed:

"Geehosophat! thur's a compack atween a he an' she devil and durn'd ef I
kin tell, which hez got the bessest o' the bargin!"



80. A DOORWAY WELL WATCHED.


It was some time before Zeb Stump sallied forth from the covert where he
had been witness to the "horse swop." Not till both the bargainers, had
ridden entirely out of sight. Then he went not after either, but stayed
upon the spot, as if undecided which he should follow.

It was not exactly this, that kept him to the place, but the necessity
of taking what he was in the habit of calling a "good think."

His thoughts were about the exchange of the horses for he had heard the
whole dialogue relating thereto, and the proposal coming from Calhoun.
It was this that puzzled, or rather gave him reason for reflection. What
could be the motive?

Zeb knew to be true what the Mexican had said that the States horse was,
in market value, worth far more than the mustang. He knew, moreover,
that Cassius Calhoun was the last man to be "coped" in a horse trade.
Why, then, had he done the "deal?"

The old hunter pulled off his felt hat; gave his hand a twist or two
through his unkempt hair; transferred the caress to the grizzled beard
upon his chin, all the while gazing upon the ground, as if the answer to
his mental interrogatory was to spring out of the grass.

"Thur air but one explication o't," he at length muttered: "the grey's
the faster critter o' the two, ne'er a doubt 'beout thet an' Mister Cash
wants him for his fastness, else why the durnation shed he a gin a hoss
thet 'ud sell for four o' his sort in any part o' Texas, an' twicet thet
number in Mexiko? I reck'n he's bargained for the heels. Why? Durn me,
ef I don't suspect why. He wants, he--Heigh! I hev it--! Somethin' as kin
kum up wi' the Headless!

"Thet's the very thing he's arter sure as my name's Zeb'lon Stump. He's
tried the States hoss an' foun' him slow. Thet much I knowd myself. Now
he thinks, wi' the mowstang, he may hev a chance to overhaul the tother,
ef he kin only find him agin; an' for sartin he'll go in sarch o' him.

"He's rud on now to Casser Corver, maybe to git a pick o' somethin' to
eat. He won't stay thur long. 'Four more hours hev passed, somebody 'll
see him out hyur on the purayra an' thet somebody air boun' to be
Zeb'lon Stump.

"Come, ye critter!" he continued, turning to the mare, "thort ye wur a
goin' hum, did ye? Yur mistaken 'beou'. Ye've got to squat hyur for
another hour or two, if not the whole o' the night. Never mind, ole
gurl! The grass don't look bad an' ye shell hev a chance to git yur
snout to it. Thur now, eet your durned gut-full!"

While pronouncing this apostrophe, he drew the head-stall over the ears
of his mare and, chucking the bridle across the projecting tree of the
saddle, permitted her to graze at will.

Having secured her in the chapparal, where he had halted, he walked on
along the track taken by Calhoun.

Two hundred yards farther on, and the jungle terminated. Beyond
stretched an open plain; and on its opposite side could be seen the
hacienda of Casa del Corvo.

The figure of a horseman could be distinguished against its whitewashed
facade in another moment lost within the dark outline of the entrance.

Zeb knew who went in.

"From this place," he muttered, "I kin see him kum out an' durn me, ef I
don't watch till he do kum out, ef it shed be till this time o' the
morrow. So hyur goes for a spell o' patience."

He first lowered himself to his knees. Then, "squirming" round till his
back came in contact with the trunk of a honey locust, he arranged
himself into a sitting posture. This done, he drew from his capacious
pocket a wallet, containing a "pone" of corn bread, a large "hunk" of
fried "hog meat," and a flask of liquor, whose perfume proclaimed it
"Monongahela."

Having eaten about half the bread, and a like quantity of the meat, he
returned the remaining moieties to the wallet which he suspended over
head upon a branch. Then taking a satisfactory swig from the whiskey
flask, and igniting his pipe, he leant back against the locust with arms
folded over his breast, and eyes bent upon the gateway of Casa del
Corvo.

In this way he kept watch for a period of full two hours, never changing
the direction of his glance, or not long enough for any one to pass out
unseen by him.

Forms came out, and went in several of them, men and women. But even in
the distance their scant light colored garments, and dusky complexions,
told them to be only the domestics of the mansion. Besides, they were
all on foot and he, for whom Zeb was watching, should come on horseback
if at all.

His vigil was only interrupted by the going down of the sun; and then
only to cause a change in his post of observation. When twilight began
to fling its purple shadows over the plain, he rose to his feet and,
leisurely unfolding his tall figure, stood upright by the stem of the
tree as if this attitude was more favorable for "considering."

"Thur's jest a posserbillity the skunk mout sneak out i' the night?" Was
his reflection. "Least ways afore the light o' the mornin'; an' I must
make sure which way he takes purayra."

"Taint no use my toatin' the maar arter me," he continued, glancing in
the direction where the animal had been left. "She'd only bother me.
Beside, thur's goin' to be a clurrish sort of moonlight an' she mout be
seen from the nigger quarter. She'll be better hyur, both for grass and
kiver."

He went back to the mare, took off the saddle fastened the trail-rope
round her neck, tying the other end to a tree and then, un-strapping his
old blanket from the cantle, he threw it across his left arm, and walked
off in the direction of Casa del Corvo.

He did not proceed pari passu; but now quicker, and now more
hesitatingly, timing himself, by the twilight so that his approach might
not be observed from the hacienda.

He had need of this caution for the ground which he had to pass was like
a level lawn, without copse or cover of any kind. Here and there, stood
a solitary tree dwarf oak, or algarobia, but not close enough to shelter
him from being seen through the windows, much less from the azotea.

Now and then, he stopped altogether to wait for the deepening of the
twilight.

Working his way in this stealthy manner, he arrived within less than two
hundred yards of the walls just as the last trace of sunlight
disappeared from the sky.

He had reached the goal of his journey for that day and the spot on
which he was likely to pass the night.

A low stem-less bush grew near, and laying himself down behind it, he
resumed the espionage, that could scarce be said to have been
interrupted.

Throughout the live long night Zeb Stump never closed both eyes at the
same time. One was always on the watch and the unflagging earnestness,
with which he maintained it, proclaimed him to be acting under the
influence of some motive beyond the common.

During the earlier hours he was not without sounds to cheer, or at least
relieve, the monotony of his lonely vigil. There was the hum of voices,
from the slave cabins, with now and then a peal of laughter. But this
was not more suppressed than customary, nor was it accompanied by the
clear strain of the violin, or the lively tink-a-tink of the banjo
sounds almost characteristic of the "negro-quarter," at night.

The somber silence that hung over the "big house" extended to the
hearths of its sable retainers.

Before midnight the voices became hushed, and stillness reigned
everywhere; broken only at intervals by the howl of a straying hound,
uttered in response to the howl of a coyote taking care to keep far out
upon the plain.

The watcher had spent a wearisome day, and what kept him awake were his
thoughts. Once when these thoughts forsake him, and he was in danger of
dozing, he raised suddenly to his feet, took a turn or two and than
lying down again, re-lit his pipe, stack his head into the heart of the
bush and smoked away till the bowl was burnt empty.

Daring all this time, he kept his eyes upon the great gateway of the
mansion, whose massive door--he could tell by the moonlight shining upon
it--remained shut.

Again did he change his post of observation, the sun's rising, as its
setting had done, seeming to give him the cue.

As the first tint of dawn displayed itself on the horizon, he rose
gently to his feet, clutched the blanket so as to bring its edges in
contact across his breast and turning his back upon Casa del Corvo,
walked slowly away taking the same track by which he had approached it
on the preceding night.

And again with unequal steps at short intervals stopping and looking
back under his arm or over, his shoulder.

Nowhere did he make a prolonged pause until reaching the locust tree,
under whose shade he had made his evening meal and there, in the same
identical attitude, he proceeded to break his fast.

The second half of the "pone" and the remaining moiety of the pork, soon
disappeared between his teeth after which followed the liquor that had
been left in his flask.

He had refilled his pipe, and was about relighting it, when an object
came before his eyes, that caused him hastily to return his flint and
steel to the pouch from which he had taken them.

Through the blue mist of the morning the entrance of Casa del Corvo
showed a darker disc. The door had been drawn open Almost at the same
instant a horseman was seen to sally forth, mounted upon a small grey
horse and the door was at once closed behind him.

Zeb Stump made no note of this. He only looked to see what direction the
early traveler would take.

Less than a score of seconds sufficed to satisfy him. The horse's head
and the face of the rider were turned towards himself.

He lost no time in trying to identify either. He did not doubt of its
being the same man and horse, that had passed that spot on the evening
before and he was equally confident they were going to pass it again.

What he did was to shamble up to his mare in some haste get her saddled
and bridled and then, having taken up his trail rope, lead her off into
a cover from which he could command a view of the chapparal path,
without danger of being himself seen.

This done, he awaited the arrival of the traveler on the grey steed whom
he know to be Captain Cassius Calhoun.

He waited still longer, until the latter had trotted past; until he had
gone quite through the belt of chapparal, and in the hazy light of the
morning gradually disappearing on the prairie beyond.

Not till then did Zeb Stump clamber into his saddle, and "prodding." his
solitary spur against the ribs of his roadster, cause the latter to move
on.

He went after Cassius Calhoun but without showing the slightest concern
about keeping the latter, in sight!

He needed not this to guide him. The dew upon the grass was to him a
spotless page with the tracks of the grey mustang to be as legible as
the lines of a printed book.

He could read them at a trot or going at a gallop!



81. HEADS DOWN HEELS UP!


Without suspicion that he had been seen leaving the house except by
Pluto, who had saddled the grey mustang Calhoun rode on across the
prairie.

Equally unsuspicious was he, in passing the point where Zeb Stump stood
crouching in concealment.

In the dim light of the morning he interposed himself unseen by human
eye; and he reckoned not of any other.

After parting from the timbered border, he' struck off towards the
Nueces, riding at a brisk trot now and then increasing to a canter.

For the first six or eight miles he took but little note of aught that
was around. An occasional glance along the horizon seemed to satisfy him
and this extended only to that portion of the vast circle before his
face. He looked neither to the right, nor the left and only once behind
after getting some distance from the skirt of the chapparal.

Before him wad the object still unseen upon which his thoughts were
straying.

What that object was he and only one other knew, that other Zeb Stump,
though little did Calhoun imagine that mortal man could have a suspicion
of the nature of his early errand.

The old hunter had only conjectured it but it was a conjecture of the
truth of which he was as certain, as if the ex-captain had made him his
confidant. He knew that the latter had gone off in search of the
Headless Horseman in hopes of renewing the chase of yesterday, with a
better chance of making a capture.

Though bestriding a steed fleet as a Texan stag, Calhoun was by no means
sanguine of success. There were many chances against his getting sight
of the game he intended to take at least two to one and this it was that
formed the theme of his reflections as he rode onward.

The uncertainty troubled him but he was solaced by a hope founded upon
some late experiences.

There was a particular place where he had twice encountered the thing he
was in search of. It might be there again?

This was an embayment of green sward, where the savannah was bordered by
the chapparal and close to the embouchure of that opening where it was
supposed the murder had been committed!

"Odd, he should always make back there?" reflected Calhoun, as he
pondered upon the circumstance. "Damn ugly odd it is! Looks as if
he knew... Bah! It's only because the grass is better, and that pond by
the side of it. Well! I hope he's been thinking that way this morning.
If so, there'll be a chance of finding him. If not, I must go on through
the chapparal and hang me if I like it though it is in the daylight. Ugh!"

"Pish! What's there to fear, now that he's safe in limbo? Nothing but
the bit of lead and it I must have, if I should ride this thing till it
drops dead in its tracks. Holy Heaven! What's that out yonder?"

These last six words were spoken aloud. All the rest had been a
soliloquy in thought.

The speaker, on pronouncing them, pulled up, almost dragging the mustang
on its haunches and with eyes that seemed ready to start from their
sockets, sate gazing across the plain.

There was something more than surprise in that steadfast glance there
was horror.

And no wonder for the spectacle upon which it rested was one to terrify
the stoutest heart.

The sun had stolen up above the horizon of the prairie, and was behind
the rider's back, in the direct line of the course he had been pursuing.
Before him, along the heaven's edge, extended a belt of bluish mist the
exhalation arising out of the chapparal now not far distant. The trees
themselves were unseen concealed under the film floating over them, like
a veil of purple gauze, rose to a considerable height above their tops
gradually merging into the deeper azure of the sky.

On this veil, or moving behind it, as in the transparencies of a stage
scene, appeared a form strange enough to have left the spectator
incredulous, had he not beheld it before. It was that of the Headless
Horseman.

But not as seen before either by Calhoun himself, or any of the others.
No. It was now altogether different. In shape the same but in size it
was increased to tenfold its original dimensions!

No longer a man, but a Colossus. A giant. No longer a horse but an
animal of equine shape, with the towering height and huge massive bulk
of a mastodon!

Nor was this all of the new to be noted about the Headless Horseman. A
still greater change was presented in his appearance one yet more
inexplicable, if that could possibly be. He was no longer walking upon
the ground, but against the sky both horse and rider moving in an
inverted position! The hoofs of the former were distinctly perceptible
upon the upper edge of the film while the shoulders I had almost said
head of the latter were close down to the line of the horizon! The
serapé shrouding them hung in the right direction not as regarded the
laws of gravity, but the attitude of the wearer. So, too, the bridle
reins, the mane, and sweeping tail of the horse. All draped upwards!

When first seen, the spectral form now more specter like than ever was
going at a slow, leisurely walk. In this pace it for some time continued
Calhoun gazing upon it with a heart brimful of horror.

All of a sudden it assumed a change. Its regular outlines became
confused by a quick transformation the horse having turned, and gone off
at a trot in the opposite direction, though still with his heels against
the sky!

The spectre had become alarmed, and was retreating!

Calhoun, half palsied with fear, would have kept his ground, and
permitted it to depart, but for his own horse that, just then shying
suddenly round, placed him face to face with the explanation.

As he turned, the tap of a shod hoof upon the prairie turf admonished
him that a real horseman was near if that could be called real, which
had thrown such a frightful shadow.

"It's the mirage!" he exclaimed, with the addition of an oath to give
vent to his chagrin. "What a fool I've been to let it humbug me! There's
the damn thing that did it the very thing I'm in search of. And so close
too! If I'd known, I might have got hold of him before he saw me. Now
for a chase and, by God, I'll grup him, if I have to gallop to the
other end of Texas!"

Voice, spur, and whip were simultaneously exerted to prove the speaker's
earnestness and in five minutes after, two horsemen were going at full
stretch across the prairie their horses both to the prairie born one
closely pursuing the other the pursued without a head the pursuer with a
heart that throbbed under a desperate determination.

The chase was not a long one at least, so far as it led over the open
prairie and Calhoun had begun to congratulate him on the prospect of a
capture.

His horse appeared the swifter but this may have arisen from his being
more earnestly urged or that the other was not sufficiently scared to
care for escaping. Certainly the grey steed gained ground at length
getting so close, that Calhoun made ready his rifle.

His intention was to shoot the Horse down, and so put an end to the
pursuit.

He would have fired on the instant, but for the fear of a miss. But
having made more than one already, he restrained himself from pulling
trigger, 'till he could ride close enough to secure a killing shot.

While thus hesitating, the chase veered suddenly from off the treeless
plain, and gashed into the opening of the timber.

This movement, unexpected by the pursuer, caused him to lose ground, and
in the endeavor to regain it, more than a half mile of distance was left
behind him.

He was approaching a spot, well too well known to him, the place where
blood had been spilt?

On any other occasion he would have shunned it, but there was in his
heart a thought that hindered him from dwelling upon memories of the
past steeling it against all reflection, except a cold fear for the
future. The capture of the strange equestrian could alone allay this
fear by removing the danger he dreaded.

Once more he had gained ground in the chase. The spread nostrils of his
steed were almost on a line with the sweeping tail of that pursued. His
rifle lay ready in his left hand, its trigger guard covered by the
fingers of his right. He was searching for a spot to take aim at.

In another second the snot would have been fired, and a bullet pent
between the ribs of the retreating horse, when the latter, as if
becoming aware of the danger, made a quick curvet to the off side and
then, aiming a kick at the snout of his pursuer, bounded on in a
different direction!

The suddenness of the demonstration, with the sharp, spiteful "squeal"
that accompanied it appearing almost to speak of an unearthly
intelligencer for the moment disconcerted Calhoun as it did the horse he
was riding.

The latter came to a stop and refused to go farther till the spur,
plunged deep between his ribs, once more forced him to the gallop.

And now more earnestly than ever did his rider urge Kim on for the
pursued, no longer keeping to the path, was heading direct for the
thicket. The chase might there terminate, with? Out the chased animal
being either killed or captured.

Hitherto Calhoun had only been thinking of a trial of speed. He had not
anticipated such an ending, as was now both possible and probable and
with a more reckless resolve, he once more raised his rifle for the
shot.

By this time both were close in to the bushes the Headless Horseman
already half screened by the leafy branches that swept swishing along
his sides. Only the hips of his horse could be aimed at and upon these
was the gun leveled.

The sulphureous smoke spurted forth from its muzzle, the crack was heard
simultaneously and as if caused by the discharge, a dark object came
whirling through the cloud, and fell with a dull thud upon the turf.
With a bound and a roily that brought it, among the feet of Calhoun's
horse it became stationary. Stationary, but not still. It continued
to osculate from side to side, tike a top before ceasing to spin.

The grey steed snorted, and reared back. His .rioter uttered a cry of
intensified alarm.

And no wonder. If read in Shakespearean lore, he might have
appropriately repeated the words "Shake not those gory locks" for, on
the ground beneath was the head, of a man still sticking in its hat
whose, stiff orbicular brim hindered it from staying still.

The face was toward Calhoun upturned at just such an angle as to bring
it full before him. The features were bloodstained, wan, and shriveled
the eyes open, but cold and dim, like balls of blown glass, the teeth
gleaming white between livid lips, yet seemingly set in un expression of
careless contentment.

All this saw Cassius Calhoun.

He saw it with fear and trembling. Not for the supernatural or unknown,
but for the real and truly comprehended.

Short was his interview with that silent, but speaking head. Ere it had
ceased to oscillate on the smooth sward, he wrenched his horse around,
struck the rowels deep and galloped awry from the ground!

No farther went he in pursuit of the Headless Horseman still heard
breaking through the bushes but back to the prairie; and on, on, to Casa
del Corvo!



82. A QUEER PARCEL.


The backwoodsman, after emerging from the thicket, proceeded as
leisurely along the trail, as if he had the whole day before him, and no
particular motive for making haste.

And yet, one closely scrutinizing his features, might there have
observed an expression of intense eagerness that accorded with his
nervous twitching in the saddle, and the sharp glances from time to
time' cast before him.

He scarce deigned to look upon the "sign" left by Calhoun. It he could
read out of the corner of his eye. As to following it, the old mare
could have done that without him!

It was not this knowledge that caused him to hang back for he would have
preferred keeping Calhoun in sight. But by doing this, the latter might
see him and so frustrate the end he desired to attain.

This end was of more importance than any acts that might occur between
and, to make him acquainted with the latter Zeb Stump trusted to the
craft of his intellect, rather than the skill of his senses.

Advancing slowly and with caution but with that constancy that ensures
good speed he arrived at length on the spot where the mirage had made
itself manifest to Calhoun.

Zeb saw nothing of this. It was gone and the sky stretched down to the
prairie the blue meeting the green in a straight unbroken line.

He saw, however, what excited him almost as much as the specter would
have done two sets of horse-tracks going together those that went after
being the hoof-marks of Calhoun's new horse of which Zeb had already
taken the measure.

About the tracks underneath ho had no conjecture at least as regarded
their identification. These he knew, as well as if his own mare had made
them.

"The skunk's hed a find!" were the words that escaped him, as ho sate
gazing upon the double trail. "It don't foller from thet," he continued,
in the same careless drawl, "thet he hez made a catch. An' yet, who
knows? Durn me, ef he moutn't! Thur's lots o' chances for his doin' it.
The mowstang may a let him come clost up seein' as he's ridin' one o'
its own sort an' ef it dud aye, ef it dud--

"What the durnation am I stannin' hyur for? Thur ain't no time to be
wasted in shiller shallerin'. Ef he shed grup thet critter, an' git what
he wants from it, then I mout whissel for what I want, 'ithout the ghost
o' a chance for gettin it.

"I must make a better rate o' speed. Gee up, ole gurl; an' see ef ye
can't overtake that ere grey horss, as scuttled past half a hour agone.
Now for a spell of yur swiftness, the which you kin show along wi' any
o' them, I reckon thet air when ye're pressed. Gee up!"

Instead of using the cruel means employed by him when wanting his mare
to make her best speed, he only drove the old spur against her ribs, and
started her into a trot. He had no desire to travel more rapidly than
was consistent with caution and while trotting he kept his eyes sharply
ranging along the skyline in front of him.

"From the way his track runs," was his reflection, "I kin tell pretty
nigh what it's goin' to fetch out. Everything seems to go that way an'
so did he, poor young fellur never more to come back. Ah, wal! ef faint
possible to revive him agin, may be it air to squar the yurds wi' the
skunk as destroyed him, The Scripter sez, 'a eye for a eye, an' a tooth
for a tooth,' an' I reckin I'll shet up somebody's daylights, an' spoil
the use o' thur ivories afore I hev done wi' him. Somebody as don't
suspee shun it neyther, an' that same Heigh! Yonner he goes! An' yonner
too the Headless, by Geehosophat! Full gallup both an' durn me, if the
grey aint a overtakin' him!

"They aint comin' this way, so 'tain't no use in our squattin, ole gurl.
Stan' steady for all that. He mout see us movin'.

"No fear. He's too full o' his frolic to look anywhar else, than
straight custrut afore him. Ha! Jest as I expected into the openin'!
Right down it, fast as heels kin carry 'em!

"Now, my maar, on we go agin!"

Another stage of trotting with his eyes kept steadfastly fixed upon the
chapparal gap brought Zeb to the timber.

Although the chase had long since turned the angle of the avenue, and
was now out of sight he did not go along the open ground but among the
bushes that bordered it.

He went so as to command a view of the clear track for some distance
ahead at the same time taking care that neither himself, nor his mare,
might be seen by any one advancing from the opposite direction.

He did not anticipate meeting any one much less the man who soon after
came in sight.

He was not greatly surprised at hearing a shot for he had been listening
for it, ever since he had set eyes on the chase. He was rather in
surprise at not hearing it sooner and when the crack did come, he
recognized the report of a yäger rifle, and knew whose gun had been
discharged.

He was more astonished to see its owner returning along the lane in less
than five minutes after the shot had been fired returning, too, with a
rapidity that told of retreat!

"Comin' back aging an' so soon!" he muttered, on perceiving Calhoun.
"Dog-gonnd queery that air! Thur's somethin' amiss, more'n a miss, I
reck'n. He, he, he! Goin', too, as if h--l war arter him! Maybe it's the
Headless himself, and thur's been a changin' about in the chase tit for
tat! Durn me, ef it don't look like it! I'd gie a silver dollar to see
thet sort o' a thing. He, he, he, ho, ho, hoo!"

Long before this, the hunter had slipped out of his saddle, and taken
the precaution to screen both himself and his animal from the chance of
being seen by the retreating rider who promise soon to pass the spot.

And soon did he pass it, going at such a gait, and with such a wild
abstracted air, that Zeb would scarce have been perceived had he been
standing uncovered in the avenue!

"Geehosophat!" mentally ejaculated the backwoodsman, as the passion
scathed countenance came near enough to be scrutinized. "If h--l ain't
arter, it's inside o' him! Durn me, ef thet face ain't the ugliest
picter this coon ever clapped eyes on. I shed pity the wife as gets him.
Poor Miss Peintdexter! I hope she'll be able to steer clur o' havin'
such a cut throat as him to be her lord an' master.

"What's up anyhow? Thar don't 'pear to be anythin' arter him? An'he
still keeps on! Whar's he bound for now? I must foller an' see."

"To burn agin" exclaimed the hunter after going to the edge of the
chapparal, and observed Calhoun still going at a gallop, width head
turned homeward. "Hum agin, for sartin!"

"Now, ole gurl!" he continued, having remained silent tall the grey horse
was nearly out of sight. "You an' me goes t'other way. We 'must find out
what thet shot wur fired for."

In ten minutes after Zeb had alighted from his mare and lifted up from
the ground an object, the stoutest heart might have felt horror in
taking hold of disgust, even in touching!

Not so the old hunter. In that object he beheld the lineaments of a face
well known to him--despite shriveling of the skin and the blood streaks
that so fearfully falsified its expression, still dear to him, despite
death and a merciless mutilation.

He had loved that face, when it belonged to a boy he now cherished it,
belonging not to anybody.

Clasping the rim of the hat that fitted tightly to the temples Zeb
endeavored to take it off. He did not succeed. The head was swollen so,
as almost to burst the bullion band twisted around it!

Holding it in its natural position, Zeb stood for a time gazing tenderly
on the face.

"Lord, O Lordy!" he drawlingly exclaimed, "what a present to take back
to his father, to say nothin' o' 'the sister! I don't think I'll take
it. It air better to bury the thing out hyuf, an' say no more abeot it.

"No' durn me ef I do! What am I thinkin' o'? Tho' I don't exackly see
how it may help to sarcumstantiate the chain of ewydence, it may do
something torst it. Durned queery witness it'll be to purduce in a
court o' justice."

Saying this, he un-strapped his old blanket and, using it as a wrapper,
'carefully packed within it: head, hat, and all.

Then, hanging the strange bundle over the horn of his saddle, he
remounted his mare, and rode reflecting away.



83. LIMBS OF THE LAW.


On the third day after Maurice Gerald became an inmate of the military
prison the fever had forsaken him, and he no longer talked incoherently.
On the fourth he was almost restored to his health and strength. The
fifth was appointed for his trial!

This haste that elsewhere would have been considered indecent, was
thought nothing of in Texas, where a man may commit a capital offence,
be tried and hanged within the short space of twenty four hours!

His enemies, who were numerous, for some reason of their own, insisted
upon dispatch while his friends, who were few, could urge no good reason
against it.

Among the populace there was the usual clamouring for prompt and speedy
justice; fortified by that exciting phrase, old as the Creation itself
"that the blood of the murdered man was calling from the ground for
vengeance."

The advocates of an early trial were favored by a fortuitous
circumstance. The judge of the Supreme Court chanced just then, to be
going his circuit and the days devoted to clearing the calendar at Fort
Inge had been appointed for that very week.

There was, therefore a sort of necessity that the case of Maurice
Gerald, as of the other suspected murderers, should be tried within a
limited time.

As no one objected, there was no one to ask for a postponement and it
stood upon the docket for the day in question, the fifteenth of the
month.

The accused might require the services of a legal adviser. There was no
regular practitioner, in the place as in these frontier districts the
gentlemen of the long robe usually travel in company with the Court; and
the Court had not yet arrived. For all that, a lawyer had appeared! A
"counselor" of distinction who had come all the way from San Antonio, to
conduct the case. As a volunteer he had presented himself!

It may have been generosity on the part of this gentleman, or an eye to
Congress, though it was said that gold presented by fair fingers, had
induced him to make the journey.

When it rains, it rains. The adage is true in Texas as regards the
elements and on this occasion it was true of the lawyers.

The day before that appointed for the trial of the mustanger, a second
presented himself at Fort Inge, who put forward his claim to be upon the
side of the prisoner.

This gentleman had made a still longer journey than he of San Antonio a
voyage, in fact since he had crossed the great Atlantic, starting from
the metropolis of the Emerald Isle. He had come for no other purpose
than to hold communication with the man accused of having committed a
murder!

It is true, the errand that had brought him did not anticipate this and
the Dublin solicitor was no little astonished when, after depositing his
traveling traps under the roof of Mr. Oberdoffer's hostelry, and making
inquiry about Maurice Gerald, he was told that the young Irishman was
shut up in the guard house.

Still greater the attorney's astonishment on learning the cause of his
incarceration.

"Fwhab! the son of a Munsther Gerald accused of murdher! The heir of
Castle Ballagh, wid its bewtiful park and demesne. Fwy, I've got the
papers in my portmantyee here. Faugh-a-bal-lagh! Show me the way to
him!"

Though the "Texan" Boniface was inclined to consider his recently
arrived guest entitled to a suspicion of lunacy, he assented to his
request and furnished him with a guide to the guard house.

If the Irish attorney was mad, there appeared to be method in his
madness. Instead of being denied admittance to the accused criminal, he
was made welcome to go in and out of the military prison as often as it
seemed good to him.

Some document he had laid before the eyes of the major commandant, had
procured him this privilege at the same time placing him en rapport, in
a friendly way, with the Texan "counselor."

The advent of the Irish attorney at such a crisis gave rise to much
speculation at the Fort, the village, and throughout the settlement. The
bar room of the "Rough and Ready" was rife with conjecturers, quidnuncs
they could scarcely be called, since in Texas the genus does not exist.

A certain grotesqueness about the man added to the national instinct for
guessing which had been rendered excruciatingly keen through some
revelations, contributed by "Old Duffer."

For all that, the transatlantic limb of the law proved himself tolerably
true to the traditions of his craft. With the exception of the trifling
imprudence already detailed drawn from him in the first moments of
surprise he never afterwards committed himself but kept his lips close
as an oyster at ebb tide.

There was not much time for him to use his tongue. On the day after his
arrival the trial was to take place and during most of the interval he
was either in the guard house along with the prisoner, or closeted with
the San Antonio counsel.

The rumor became rife that Maurice Gerald had told them a tale a strange
weird story but of its details the world outside remained in itching
ignorance.

There was one who knew it one able to confirm it Zeb Stump the hunter.

There may have been another but this other was not in the confidence
either of the accused or his counsel.

Zeb himself did not appear in their company. Only once had he been seen
conferring with them. After that he was gone both from the guard-house
and the settlement, as everybody supposed, about his ordinary business
in search of deer, "baar," or "gobbler."

Everybody was in error. Zeb for the time had forsaken his usual
pursuits, or, at all events, the game he was accustomed to chase,
capture, and kill.

It is true he was out upon a stalking expedition but instead of birds or
beasts, he was after an animal of neither sort one that could not be
classed with creatures either of the earth or the air a horseman without
a head!



84. AN AFFECTIONATE HEPHEW.


"Tried tomorrow; tomorrow, thank God! Not likely that anybody will catch
that cursed thing before then to be hoped, never.

"It is all I've got to fear. I defy them to tell what's happened without
that. Hang me if I know myself! Enough only to--

"Queer, the coming of this Irish pettifogger!

"Queer, too, the fellow from San Antonio! Wonder who and what's brought
him? Somebody's promised him his costs?

"Damn 'em! I don't care, not the value of a red cent. They can make
nothing out of it, but that Gerald did the deed. Everything points that
way and everybody thinks so. They're bound to convict him.

"Zeb Stump don't think it, the suspicious old snake! He's nowhere to be
found. Wonder where he has gone? On a hunt, they say. 'Tain't likely,
such time as this. What if he be hunting it? What if he should catch it?

"I'd try again myself, if there was time. There ain't. Before tomorrow
night it'll be all over end afterwards if there should turn up. D-n
afterwards! The thing is to make sure now. Let the future look to it.
With one man hung for the murder, 'tain't likely they'd care to accuse
another. Even if something suspicious did turn up! they'd be shy to take
hold of it. It would be like condemning themselves!

"I reckon, I've got all right with the Regulators. Sam Manley himself
appears pretty well convinced. I knocked his doubts upon the head, when
I told him what I'd heard that night.' A little more than I did hear
though that was enough to make a man stark, staring mad!

"It's no use crying over spilt milk. She's met the man, and there's an
end of it. She'll never meet him again, and that's another end of it
except she meets him in heaven. Well that will depend upon herself.

"I don't think anything has happened between them. She's not the sort
for that, with all her wildness and it may be what that yellow wench
tells me only gratitude. No, no, no! It can't be. Gratitude doesn't get
out of its bed in the middle of the night to keep appointments at the
bottom of a garden? She loves him! She loves him! Let her love and be
sad! She shall never have him. She shall never see him again, unless
she proves obstinate and then it will be but to condemn him. A word from
her, and he's a hanged man."

"She shall speak it, if she doesn't say that other word; I've twice
asked her for. The third time will be the last. One more refusal and I
show my hand. Not only shall, this Irish adventurer meet his doom, but
she shall be his condemner and the plantation house, niggers,
everything--Ah! Uncle Woodley; I wanted to see you."

The soliloquy above, reported took place in a chamber, tenanted only by
Cassius Calhoun.

It was Woodley Poindexter who interrupted it. Sad, silent, straying it
brought the, corridors of Casa del Corvo, he had entered the apartment
usually occupied by his, nephew, more by chance than from any
premeditated purpose.

"Want me! For what, nephew?"

There was a tone of humility, almost obeisance in the speech of the
broken man. The once proud Poindexter, before whom two hundred, slaves
had trembled every day, every hour of their lives, now stood in the
presence of his master!

True, it was his own nephew, who had the power to humiliate him, his
sister's son.

But there was not much in that, considering the character of the man.

"I want to talk to you about Loo" was the rejoinder of Calhoun.

It was the very subject Woodley Poindexter would have shunned. It was
something he dreaded to think about, much less make the topic of
discourse and less still with him who now challenged it.

Nevertheless, he did not betray surprise. He scarce, felt it. Something
said or done on the day before had led him to anticipate this request
for a conversation as also the nature of the subject.

The manner in which Calhoun introduced it, did not diminish his
uneasiness. It sounded more like a demand than, a request.

"About Loo? What of her?" he inquired, with assumed calmness.

"Well," said Calhoun apparently in reluctant utterance, .as if shy about
entering upon the subject, or pretending to be so. "I--I--wanted--

"I'd rather," put in the planter, taking advantage of the other's
hesitancy, "I'd rather not speak of her now."

This was said almost supplicatingly.

"And why not now, uncle?" asked Calhoun, emboldened by the show of
opposition.

"You know my reasons, nephew?"

"Well, I know the time is not pleasant. Poor Henry missing, supposed to
be. After all, he may turn up yet, and everything is right again."

"Never! We shall never see him again living or dead. I have no longer a
son!"

"You have a daughter and she--"

"Has disgraced me!"

"I don't believe it, uncle Woodley."

"What means these things I've heard myself? What could have taken her
there, twenty miles across the country, alone in the hut of a common
horse trader standing by his bedside? O God!' And why should she have
interposed to save him, the murderer of my son, her own brother? O God!

"Her own story explains the first satisfactorily, as I think." Calhoun
did not think so.

"The second is simple enough. Any Woman would have done the same, a
woman like Loo."

"There is none like her. I, her father, say so. Oh! That I could think
it is, as you say! My poor daughter! Who should now be dearer to me than
ever, now that I have no son!"

"It is for her to find you a son, one already related to you and who can
promise to play the part, with perhaps not so much affection as him you
have lost, but with all he has the power to give. T won't talk to you in
riddles, Uncle Woodley. You know what I mean and how my mind's made up
about this matter. I want Loo!"'

The planter showed no surprise at the laconic declaration. He expected
it. For all that, the shadow became darker on his brow. It was evident
he did not relish the proposed alliance.

This may seem strange. Up to a late period, he had been its advocate in
his own mind and more than once, delicately, in the ear of his daughter.

Previous to the migration into Texas, he had known comparatively little
of his nephew.

Since coming to manhood, Calhoun had been a citizen of the state of
Mississippi more frequently a dweller in the dissipated city of New
Orleans. An occasional visit to the Louisiana plantation was all his
uncle had seen of him until the developing beauty of his cousin Louise
gave him the inducement to make these visits at shorter intervals each
time protracting them to a longer stay.

There was then twelve months of campaign in Mexico where he rose to the
rank of captain and, after his conquests in war, he had returned home
with the full determination to make a conquest in love, the heart of his
Creole cousin.

From that time his residence under his uncle's roof had been more
permanent. If not altogether liked by the young lady, he had made
himself welcome to her father, by means seldom known to fail.

The planter, once rich, was now poor. Extravagance had reduced his
estate to a hopeless indebtedness. With his nephew, the order was
reversed. Once poor, he was now rich. Chance had made him so. Under the
circumstances, it was not surprising, that money had passed between
them.

In his native place, and among his old neighbors, Woodley Poindexter
still commanded sufficient homage to shield him from the suspicion of
being under his nephew as also to restrain the latter from exhibiting
the customary arrogance of the creditor.

It was only after the move into Texas, that their relations began to
assume that peculiar character observable between mortgagor and
mortgagee.

It grew more patent, after several attempts at love making on the part
of Calhoun, with corresponding repulses on the part of Louise.

The planter had now a better opportunity of becoming acquainted with the
true character of his nephew and almost every day, since their arrival
at Casa del Corvo, had this been developing itself to his discredit.

Calhoun's quarrel with the mustanger and its ending, had not
strengthened his uncle's respect for him though, as a kinsman, he was
under the necessity of taking sides with him.

There had occurred other circumstances to cause a change in his feelings
to make him, not withstanding its many advantages, dislike the
connection.

Alas! there was much also to render it, if not agreeable, at least not
to be slightingly set aside.

Indecision perhaps more than the sorrow for his son's loss dictated the
character of his reply.

"If I understand you aright, nephew, you mean marriage! Surely it is not
the time to talk of it now, while death is in our house! To think of
such a thing would cause a