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´╗┐Title: The Death Shot - A Story Retold
Author: Reid, Mayne, 1818-1883
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Death Shot - A Story Retold" ***

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The Death Shot, A Story Retold, by Captain Mayne Reid.

________________________________________________________________________
This was quite a difficult book to transcribe.  There were the usual
difficulties with this author--his frequent use of words in Spanish, or
the Mexican variety of Spanish, of words in French.  In addition it must
have been something of an experimental writing, for it is generally in
the present tense, and there was frequent use made of new words that
have not survived in the language.  Much, indeed almost all, of the
speech is uttered by uneducated persons, so that it needs perseverance,
sometimes, to make out what is being said.  Probably most of the
speakers would not have been able to read, and would not have known how
to pronounce the words they uttered.  Added to all that the
proof-reading, particularly towards the end of the book, left much to be
desired, quite common words having letters missing or all jumbled up.
Finally, the copy used was in a bad way, not from over-use, but from bad
binding. It fell apart completely, and we had to continue the work on a
scanner that can only read books that have been reduced to single pages.

We do not need to mention the problem usual with cheaply made books of
that period, that punctuation marks, especially commas and full-stops,
and especially at the corners of the pages, tend to disappear, and
some degree of cunning has to be brought to bear to recover them.

To illustrate the poor proof-reading, one of the chapters was completely
repeated, without any change in the flow of page numbers.  This is
something I have never before seen, though I have seen chapters
completely omitted, without affecting the page-numbers!

All that having been said, I would like to think that the author would
have been pleased with our version, for certain it is that it is better
than the published book, although it is certain there are still some
errors in our text.  It does make a very nice audiobook, taking almost
fifteen hours to read.  At the time of writing this I have heard it
twice, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

After some thought I decided to replace his coy Victorian "G--d",
"H--l", "D--n" and "D--d" with their intended words.  Doubtless there
are some who will not be happy with this, but this book was written 130
years ago, and times have changed.

It has been suggested that this book was entirely re-written by the
author, this being his final version.  Although it is an unusual piece
of writing it flows very well, and the author could well have been
unhappy about the poor printing.  Let us hope that he is looking down
upon us with a gleam of pleasure in his eye.

As regards the subject matter, it is really very strange.  There are
murders with no body, murderers on the run with no evidence against
them, murdered persons who are perfectly alive and well, Red Indians
who are no such thing, a body which is buried and comes to life again,
being dug up by a dog, and all the time against a truly beautiful
description of the terrain, and a considerable tenderness towards the
somewhat strange persons who form the cast of this unusual book.

________________________________________________________________________
THE DEATH SHOT, A STORY RETOLD, BY CAPTAIN MAYNE REID.



PREFACE.

Long time since this hand hath penned a preface.  Now only to say, that
this romance, as originally published, was written when the author was
suffering severe affliction, both physically and mentally--the result of
a gun-wound that brought him as near to death as Darke's bullet did
Clancy.

It may be asked, Why under such strain was the tale written at all?  A
good reason could be given; but this, private and personal, need not,
and should not be intruded on the public.  Suffice it to say, that,
dissatisfied with the execution of the work, the author has remodelled--
almost rewritten it.

It is the same story; but, as he hopes and believes, better told.

Great Malvern, September, 1874.



PROLOGUE.

Plain, treeless, shrubless, smooth as a sleeping sea.  Grass upon it;
this so short, that the smallest quadruped could not cross over without
being seen.  Even the crawling reptile would not be concealed among its
tufts.

Objects are upon it--sufficiently visible to be distinguished at some
distance.  They are of a character scarce deserving a glance from the
passing traveller.  He would deem it little worth while to turn his eyes
towards a pack of prairie wolves, much less go in chase of them.

With vultures soaring above, he might be more disposed to hesitate, and
reflect.  The foul birds and filthy beasts seen consorting together,
would be proof of prey--that some quarry had fallen upon the plain.
Perhaps, a stricken stag, a prong-horn antelope, or a wild horse
crippled by some mischance due to his headlong nature?

Believing it any of these, the traveller would reloosen his rein, and
ride onward,--leaving the beasts and birds to their banquet.

There is no traveller passing over the prairie in question--no human
being upon it.  Nothing like life, save the coyotes grouped over the
ground, and the buzzards swooping above.

They are not unseen by human eye.  There is one sees--one who has reason
to fear them.

Their eager excited movements tell them to be anticipating a repast; at
the same time, that they have not yet commenced it.

Something appears in their midst.  At intervals they approach it: the
birds swoopingly from heaven, the beasts crouchingly along the earth.
Both go close, almost to touching it; then suddenly withdraw, starting
back as in affright!

Soon again to return; but only to be frayed as before.  And so on, in a
series of approaches, and recessions.

What can be the thing thus attracting, at the same time repelling them?
Surely no common quarry, as the carcase of elk, antelope, or mustang?
It seems not a thing that is dead.  Nor yet looks it like anything
alive.  Seen from a distance it resembles a human head.  Nearer, the
resemblance is stronger.  Close up, it becomes complete.  Certainly, it
_is_ a human head--_the head of a man_!

Not much in this to cause surprise--a man's head lying upon a Texan
prairie!  Nothing, whatever, if scalpless.  It would only prove that
some ill-starred individual--traveller, trapper, or hunter of wild
horses--has been struck down by Comanches; afterwards beheaded, and
scalped.

But this head--if head it be--is _not_ scalped.  It still carries its
hair--a fine chevelure, waving and profuse.  Nor is it lying upon the
ground, as it naturally should, after being severed from the body, and
abandoned.  On the contrary, it stands erect, and square, as if still on
the shoulders from which it has been separated; the neck underneath, the
chin just touching the surface.  With cheeks pallid, or blood spotted,
and eyes closed or glassy, the attitude could not fail to cause
surprise.  And yet more to note, that there is neither pallor, nor stain
on the cheeks; and the eyes are neither shut, nor glassed.  On the
contrary, they are glancing--glaring--rolling.  _By Heavens the head is
alive_!

No wonder the wolves start back in affright; no wonder the vultures,
after stooping low, ply their wings in quick nervous stroke, and soar up
again!  The odd thing seems to puzzle both beasts and birds; baffles
their instinct, and keeps them at bay.

Still know they, or seem to believe, 'tis flesh and blood.  Sight and
scent tell them so.  By both they cannot be deceived.

And living flesh it must be?  A Death's head could neither flash its
eyes, nor cause them to revolve in their sockets.  Besides, the
predatory creatures have other evidence of its being alive.  At
intervals they see opened a mouth, disclosing two rows of white teeth;
from which come cries that, startling, send them afar.

These are only put forth, when they approach too threateningly near--
evidently intended to drive them to a distance.  They have done so for
the greater part of a day.

Strange spectacle!  The head of a man, without any body; with eyes in it
that scintillate and see; a mouth that opens, and shows teeth; a throat
from which issue sounds of human intonation; around this object of weird
supernatural aspect, a group of wolves, and over it a flock of vultures!

Twilight approaching, spreads a purple tint over the prairie.  But it
brings no change in the attitude of assailed, or assailants.  There is
still light enough for the latter to perceive the flash of those fiery
eyes, whose glances of menace master their voracious instincts, warning
them back.

On a Texan prairie twilight is short.  There are no mountains, or high
hills intervening, no obliquity in the sun's diurnal course, to lengthen
out the day.  When the golden orb sinks below the horizon, a brief
crepusculous light succeeds; then darkness, sudden as though a curtain
of crape were dropped over the earth.

Night descending causes some change in the tableau described.  The
buzzards, obedient to their customary habit--not nocturnal--take
departure from the spot, and wing their way to their usual roosting
place.  Different do the coyotes.  These stay.  Night is the time best
suited to their ravening instincts.  The darkness may give them a better
opportunity to assail that thing of spherical shape, which by shouts,
and scowling glances, has so long kept them aloof.

To their discomfiture, the twilight is succeeded by a magnificent moon,
whose silvery effulgence falling over the plain almost equals the light
of day.  They see the head still erect, the eyes angrily glancing; while
in the nocturnal stillness that cry, proceeding from the parted lips,
affrights them as ever.

And now, that night is on, more than ever does the tableau appear
strange--more than ever unlike reality, and more nearly allied to the
spectral.  For, under the moonlight, shimmering through a film that has
spread over the plain, the head seems magnified to the dimensions of the
Sphinx; while the coyotes--mere jackals of terrier size--look large as
Canadian stags!

In truth, a perplexing spectacle--full of wild, weird mystery.

Who can explain it?



CHAPTER ONE.

TWO SORTS OF SLAVE-OWNERS.

In the old slave-owning times of the United States--happily now no
more--there was much grievance to humanity; proud oppression upon the
one side, with sad suffering on the other.  It may be true, that the
majority of the slave proprietors were humane men; that some of them
were even philanthropic in their way, and inclined towards giving to the
unholy institution a colour of _patriarchism_.  This idea--delusive, as
intended to delude--is old as slavery itself; at the same time, modern
as Mormonism, where it has had its latest, and coarsest illustration.

Though it cannot be denied, that slavery in the States was,
comparatively, of a mild type, neither can it be questioned, that among
American masters occurred cases of lamentable harshness--even to
inhumanity.  There were slave-owners who were kind, and slave-owners who
were cruel.

Not far from the town of Natchez, in the State of Mississippi, lived two
planters, whose lives illustrated the extremes of these distinct moral
types.  Though their estates lay contiguous, their characters were as
opposite, as could well be conceived in the scale of manhood and
morality.  Colonel Archibald Armstrong--a true Southerner of the old
Virginian aristocracy, who had entered the Mississippi Valley before the
Choctaw Indians evacuated it--was a model of the kind slave-master;
while Ephraim Darke--a Massachusetts man, who had moved thither at a
much later period--was as fair a specimen of the cruel.  Coming from New
England, of the purest stock of the Puritans--a people whose descendants
have made much sacrifice in the cause of negro emancipation--this about
Darke may seem strange.  It is, notwithstanding, a common tale; one
which no traveller through the Southern States can help hearing.  For
the Southerner will not fail to tell him, that the hardest task-master
to the slave is either one, who has been himself a slave, or descended
from the Pilgrim Fathers, whose feet first touched American soil by the
side of Plymouth Rock!

Having a respect for many traits in the character of these same Pilgrim
Fathers, I would fain think the accusation exaggerated--if not
altogether untrue--and that Ephraim Darke was an exceptional individual.

To accuse _him_ of inhumanity was no exaggeration whatever.  Throughout
the Mississippi valley there could be nothing more heartless than his
treatment of the sable helots, whose luckless lot it was to have him for
a master.  Around his courts, and in his cotton-fields, the crack of the
whip was heard habitually--its thong sharply felt by the victims of his
caprice, or malice.  The "cowhide" was constantly carried by himself,
and his overseer.  He had a son, too, who could wield it wickedly as
either.  None of the three ever went abroad without that pliant,
painted, switch--a very emblem of devilish cruelty--in their hands;
never returned home, without having used it in the castigation of some
unfortunate "darkey," whose evil star had caused him to stray across
their track, while riding the rounds of the plantation.

A far different discipline was that of Colonel Armstrong; whose slaves
seldom went to bed without a prayer poured forth, concluding with: "God
bress de good massr;" while the poor whipped bondsmen of his neighbour,
their backs oft smarting from the lash, nightly lay down, not always to
sleep, but nearly always with curses on their lips--the name of the
Devil coupled with that of Ephraim Darke.

The old story, of like cause followed by like result, must, alas! be
chronicled in this case.  The man of the Devil prospered, while he of
God came to grief.  Armstrong, open-hearted, free-handed, indulging in a
too profuse hospitality, lived widely outside the income accruing from
the culture of his cotton-fields, and in time became the debtor of
Darke, who lived as widely within his.

Notwithstanding the proximity of their estates, there was but little
intimacy, and less friendship, between the two.  The Virginian--scion of
an old Scotch family, who had been gentry in the colonial times--felt
something akin to contempt for his New England neighbour, whose
ancestors had been steerage passengers in the famed "Mayflower."  False
pride, perhaps, but natural to a citizen of the Old Dominion--of late
years brought low enough.

Still, not much of this influenced the conduct of Armstrong.  For his
dislike to Darke he had a better, and more honourable, reason--the bad
behaviour of the latter.  This, notorious throughout the community, made
for the Massachusetts man many enemies; while in the noble mind of the
Mississippian it produced positive aversion.

Under these circumstances, it may seem strange there should be any
intercourse, or relationship, between the two men.  But there was--that
of debtor and creditor--a lien not always conferring friendship.
Notwithstanding his dislike, the proud Southerner had not been above
accepting a loan from the despised Northern, which the latter was but
too eager to extend.  The Massachusetts man had long coveted the
Mississippian's fine estate; not alone from its tempting contiguity, but
also because it looked like a ripe pear that must soon fall from the
tree.  With secret satisfaction he had observed the wasteful
extravagance of its owner; a satisfaction increased on discovering the
latter's impecuniosity.  It became joy, almost openly exhibited, on the
day when Colonel Armstrong came to him requesting a loan of twenty
thousand dollars; which he consented to give, with an alacrity that
would have appeared suspicious to any but a borrower.

If he gave the money in great _glee_, still greater was that with which
he contemplated the mortgage deed taken in exchange.  For he knew it to
be the first entering of a wedge, that in due time would ensure him
possession of the _fee-simple_.  All the surer, from a condition in that
particular deed: _Foreclosure, without time_.  Pressure from other
quarters had forced planter Armstrong to accept these terrible terms.

As, Darke, before locking it up in his drawer, glanced the document
over, his eyes scintillating with the glare of greed triumphant, he said
to himself, "This day's work has doubled the area of my acres, and the
number of my niggers.  Armstrong's land, his slaves, his houses,--
everything he has, will soon be mine!"



CHAPTER TWO.

A FLAT REFUSAL.

Two years have elapsed since Ephraim Darke became the creditor of
Archibald Armstrong.  Apparently, no great change has taken place in the
relationship between the two men, though in reality much.

The twenty thousand dollars' loan has been long ago dissipated, and the
borrower is once more in need.

It would be useless, idle, for him to seek a second mortgage in the same
quarter; or in any other, since he can show no collateral.  His property
has been nearly all hypothecated in the deed to Darke; who perceives his
long-cherished dream on the eve of becoming a reality.  At any hour he
may cause foreclosure, turn Colonel Armstrong out of his estate, and
enter upon possession.

Why does he not take advantage of the power, with which the legal code
of the United States, as that existing all over the world, provides him?

There is a reason for his not doing so, wide apart from any motive of
mercy, or humanity.  Or of friendship either, though something
erroneously considered akin to it.  Love hinders him from pouncing on
the plantation of Archibald Armstrong, and appropriating it!

Not love in his own breast, long ago steeled against such a trifling
affection.  There only avarice has a home; cupidity keeping house, and
looking carefully after the expenses.

But there is a spendthrift who has also a shelter in Ephraim Darke's
heart--one who does much to thwart his designs, oft-times defeating
them.  As already said, he has a son, by name Richard; better known
throughout the settlement as "Dick"--abbreviations of nomenclature being
almost universal in the South-Western States.  An only son--only child
as well--motherless too--she who bore him having been buried long before
the Massachusetts man planted his roof-tree in the soil of Mississippi.
A hopeful scion he, showing no improvement on the paternal stock.
Rather the reverse; for the grasping avarice, supposed to be
characteristic of the Yankee, is not improved by admixture with the
reckless looseness alleged to be habitual in the Southerner.

Both these bad qualities have been developed in Dick Darke, each to its
extreme.  Never was New Englander more secretive and crafty; never
Mississippian more loose, or licentious.

Mean in the matter of personal expenditure, he is at the same time of
dissipated and disorderly habits; the associate of the poker-playing,
and cock-fighting, fraternity of the neighbourhood; one of its wildest
spirits, without any of those generous traits oft coupled with such a
character.

As only son, he is heir-presumptive to all the father's property--slaves
and plantation lands; and, being thoroughly in his father's confidence,
he is aware of the probability of a proximate reversion to the slaves
and plantation lands belonging to Colonel Armstrong.

But much as Dick Darke may like money, there is that he likes more, even
to covetousness--Colonel Armstrong's daughter.  There are two of them--
Helen and Jessie--both grown girls,--motherless too--for the colonel is
himself a widower.

Jessie, the younger, is bright-haired, of blooming complexion, merry to
madness; in spirit, the personification of a romping elf; in physique, a
sort of Hebe.  Helen, on the other hand, is dark as gipsy, or Jewess;
stately as a queen, with the proud grandeur of Juno.  Her features of
regular classic type, form tall and magnificently moulded, amidst others
she appears as a palm rising above the commoner trees of the forest.
Ever since her coming out in society, she has been universally esteemed
the beauty of the neighbourhood--as belle in the balls of Natchez.  It
is to her Richard Darke has extended his homage, and surrendered his
heart.

He is in love with her, as much as his selfish nature will allow--
perhaps the only unselfish passion ever felt by him.

His father sanctions, or at all events does not oppose it.  For the
wicked son holds a wonderful ascendancy over a parent, who has trained
him to wickedness equalling his own.

With the power of creditor over debtor--a debt of which payment can be
demanded at any moment, and not the slightest hope of the latter being
able to pay it--the Darkes seem to have the vantage ground, and may
dictate their own terms.

Helen Armstrong knows nought of the mortgage; no more, of herself being
the cause which keeps it from foreclosure.  Little does she dream, that
her beauty is the sole shield imposed between her father and impending
ruin.  Possibly if she did, Richard Darke's attentions to her would be
received with less slighting indifference.  For months he has been
paying them, whenever, and wherever, an opportunity has offered--at
balls, _barbecues_, and the like.  Of late also at her father's house;
where the power spoken of gives him not only admission, but polite
reception, and hospitable entertainment, at the hands of its owner;
while the consciousness of possessing it hinders him from observing, how
coldly his assiduities are met by her to whom they are so warmly
addressed.

He wonders why, too.  He knows that Helen Armstrong has many admirers.
It could not be otherwise with one so splendidly beautiful, so
gracefully gifted.  But among them there is none for whom she has shown
partiality.

He has, himself, conceived a suspicion, that a young man, by name
Charles Clancy--son of a decayed Irish gentleman, living near--has found
favour in her eyes.  Still, it is only a suspicion; and Clancy has gone
to Texas the year before--sent, so said, by his father, to look out for
a new home.  The latter has since died, leaving his widow sole occupant
of an humble tenement, with a small holding of land--a roadside tract,
on the edge of the Armstrong estate.

Rumour runs, that young Clancy is about coming back--indeed, every day
expected.

That can't matter.  The proud planter, Armstrong, is not the man to
permit of his daughter marrying a "poor white"--as Richard Darke
scornfully styles his supposed rival--much less consent to the so
bestowing of her hand.  Therefore no danger need be dreaded from that
quarter.

Whether there need, or not, the suitor of Helen Armstrong at length
resolves on bringing the affair to an issue.  His love for her has
become a strong passion, the stronger for being checked--restrained by
her cold, almost scornful behaviour.  This may be but coquetry.  He
hopes, and has a fancy it is.  Not without reason.  For he is far from
being ill-favoured; only in a sense moral, not physical.  But this has
not prevented him from making many conquests among backwood's belles;
even some city celebrities living in Natchez.  All know he is rich; or
will be, when his father fulfils the last conditions of his will--by
dying.

So fortified, so flattered, Dick Darke cannot comprehend why Miss
Armstrong has not at once surrendered to him.  Is it because her haughty
disposition hinders her from being too demonstrative?  Does she really
love him, without giving sign?

For months he has been cogitating in this uncertain way; and now
determines upon knowing the truth.

One morning he mounts his horse; rides across the boundary line between
the two plantations, and on to Colonel Armstrong's house.  Entering, he
requests an interview with the colonel's eldest daughter; obtains it;
makes declaration of his love; asks her if she will have him for a
husband; and in response receives a chilling negative.

As he rides back through the woods, the birds are trilling among the
trees.  It is their merry morning lay, but it gives him no gladness.
There is still ringing in his ears that harsh monosyllable, "_no_."  The
wild-wood songsters appear to echo it, as if mockingly; the blue jay,
and red cardinal, seem scolding him for intrusion on their domain!

Having recrossed the boundary between the two plantations, he reins up
and looks back.  His brow is black with chagrin; his lips white with
rancorous rage.  It is suppressed no longer.  Curses come hissing
through his teeth, along with them the words,--

"In less than six weeks these woods will be mine, and hang me, if I
don't shoot every bird that has roost in them!  Then, Miss Helen
Armstrong, you'll not feel in such conceit with yourself.  It will be
different when you haven't a roof over your head".  So good-bye,
sweetheart!  Good-bye to you.

"Now, dad!" he continues, in fancy apostrophising his father, "you can
take your own way, as you've been long wanting.  Yes, my respected
parent; you shall be free to foreclose your mortgage; put in execution;
sheriff's officers--anything you like."

Angrily grinding his teeth, he plunges the spur into his horse's ribs,
and rides on--the short, but bitter, speech still echoing in his ears.



CHAPTER THREE.

A FOREST POST-OFFICE.

From the harsh treatment of slaves sprang a result, little thought of by
the inhuman master; though greatly detrimental to his interests.  It
caused them occasionally to abscond; so making it necessary to insert an
advertisement in the county newspaper, offering a reward for the
runaway.  Thus cruelty proved expensive.

In planter Darke's case, however, the cost was partially recouped by the
cleverness of his son; who was a noted "nigger-catcher," and kept dogs
for the especial purpose.  He had a natural _penchant_ for this kind of
chase; and, having little else to do, passed a good deal of his time
scouring the country in pursuit of his father's advertised runaways.
Having caught them, he would claim the "bounty," just as if they
belonged to a stranger.  Darke, _pere_, paid it without grudge or
grumbling--perhaps the only disbursement he ever made in such mood.  It
was like taking out of one pocket to put into the other.  Besides, he
was rather proud of his son's acquitting himself so shrewdly.

Skirting the two plantations, with others in the same line of
settlements, was a cypress swamp.  It extended along the edge of the
great river, covering an area of many square miles.  Besides being a
swamp, it was a network of creeksy bayous, and lagoons--often inundated,
and only passable by means of skiff or canoe.  In most places it was a
slough of soft mud, where man might not tread, nor any kind of
water-craft make way.  Over it, at all times, hung the obscurity of
twilight.  The solar rays, however bright above, could not penetrate its
close canopy of cypress tops, loaded with that strangest of parasitical
plants--the _tillandsia usneoides_.

This tract of forest offered a safe place of concealment for runaway
slaves; and, as such, was it noted throughout the neighbourhood.  A
"darkey" absconding from any of the contiguous plantations, was as sure
to make for the marshy expanse, as would a chased rabbit to its warren.

Sombre and gloomy though it was, around its edge lay the favourite
scouting-ground of Richard Darke.  To him the cypress swamp was a
precious preserve--as a coppice to the pheasant shooter, or a scrub-wood
to the hunter of foxes.  With the difference, that his game was human,
and therefore the pursuit more exciting.

There were places in its interior to which he had never penetrated--
large tracts unexplored, and where exploration could not be made without
great difficulty.  But for him to reach them was not necessary.  The
runaways who sought asylum in the swamp, could not always remain within
its gloomy recesses.  Food must be obtained beyond its border, or
starvation be their fate.  For this reason the fugitive required some
mode of communicating with the outside world.  And usually obtained it,
by means of a confederate--some old friend, and fellow-slave, on one of
the adjacent plantations--privy to the secret of his hiding-place.  On
this necessity the negro-catcher most depended; often finding the
stalk--or "still-hunt," in backwoods phraseology--more profitable than a
pursuit with trained hounds.

About a month after his rejection by Miss Armstrong, Richard Darke is
out upon a chase; as usual along the edge of the cypress swamp, rather
should it be called a search: since he has found no traces of the human
game that has tempted him forth.  This is a fugitive negro--one of the
best field-hands belonging to his father's plantation--who has absented
himself, and cannot be recalled.

For several weeks "Jupiter"--as the runaway is named--has been missing;
and his description, with the reward attached, has appeared in the
county newspaper.  The planter's son, having a suspicion that he is
secreted somewhere in the swamp, has made several excursions thither, in
the hope of lighting upon his tracks.  But "Jupe" is an astute fellow,
and has hitherto contrived to leave no sign, which can in any way
contribute to his capture.

Dick Darke is returning home, after an unsuccessful day's search, in
anything but a cheerful mood.  Though not so much from having failed in
finding traces of the missing slave.  That is only a matter of money;
and, as he has plenty, the disappointment can be borne.  The thought
embittering his spirit relates to another matter.  He thinks of his
scorned suit, and blighted love prospects.

The chagrin caused him by Helen Armstrong's refusal has terribly
distressed, and driven him to more reckless courses.  He drinks deeper
than ever; while in his cups he has been silly enough to let his boon
companions become acquainted with his reason for thus running riot,
making not much secret, either, of the mean revenge he designs for her
who has rejected him.  She is to be punished through her father.

Colonel Armstrong's indebtedness to Ephraim Darke has become known
throughout the settlement--all about the mortgage.  Taking into
consideration the respective characters of the mortgagor and mortgagee,
men shake their heads, and say that Darke will soon own the Armstrong
plantation.  All the sooner, since the chief obstacle to the fulfilment
of his long-cherished design has been his son, and this is now removed.

Notwithstanding the near prospect of having his spite gratified, Richard
Darke keenly feels his humiliation.  He has done so ever since the day
of his receiving it; and as determinedly has he been nursing his wrath.
He has been still further exasperated by a circumstance which has lately
occurred--the return of Charles Clancy from Texas.  Someone has told him
of Clancy having been seen in company with Helen Armstrong--the two
walking the woods _alone_!

Such an interview could not have been with her father's consent, but
_clandestine_.  So much the more aggravating to him--Darke.  The thought
of it is tearing his heart, as he returns from his fruitless search
after the fugitive.

He has left the swamp behind, and is continuing on through a tract of
woodland, which separates his father's plantation from that of Colonel
Armstrong, when he sees something that promises relief to his perturbed
spirit.  It is a woman, making her way through the woods, coming towards
him, from the direction of Armstrong's house.

She is not the colonel's daughter--neither one.  Nor does Dick Darke
suppose it either.  Though seen indistinctly under the shadow of the
trees, he identifies the approaching form as that of Julia--a mulatto
maiden, whose special duty it is to attend upon the young ladies of the
Armstrong family, "Thank God for the devil's luck!" he mutters, on
making her out.  "It's Jupiter's sweetheart; his Juno or Leda,
yellow-hided as himself.  _No_ doubt she's on her way to keep an
appointment with him?  No more, that I shall be present at the
interview.  Two hundred dollars reward for old Jupe, and the fun of
giving the damned nigger a good `lamming,' once I lay hand on him.  Keep
on, Jule, girl!  You'll track him up for me, better than the sharpest
scented hound in my kennel."

While making this soliloquy, the speaker withdraws himself behind a
bush; and, concealed by its dense foliage, keeps his eye on the mulatto
wench, still wending her way through the thick standing tree trunks.

As there is no path, and the girl is evidently going by stealth, he has
reason to believe she is on the errand conjectured.

Indeed he can have no doubt about her being on the way to an interview
with Jupiter; and he is now good as certain of soon discovering, and
securing, the runaway who has so long contrived to elude him.

After the girl has passed the place of his concealment--which she very
soon does--he slips out from behind the bush, and follows her with
stealthy tread, still taking care to keep cover between them.

Not long before she comes to a stop; under a grand magnolia, whose
spreading branches, with their large laurel like leaves, shadow a vast
circumference of ground.

Darke, who has again taken stand behind a fallen tree, where he has a
full view of her movements, watches them with eager eyes.  Two hundred
dollars at stake--two hundred on his own account--fifteen hundred for
his father--Jupe's market value--no wonder at his being all eyes, all
ears, on the alert!

What is his astonishment, at seeing the girl take a letter from her
pocket, and, standing on tiptoe, drop it into a knot-hole in the
magnolia!

This done, she turns shoulder towards the tree; and, without staying
longer under its shadow, glides back along the path by which she has
come--evidently going home again!

The negro-catcher is not only surprised, but greatly chagrined.  He has
experienced a double disappointment--the anticipation of earning two
hundred dollars, and giving his old slave the lash: both pleasant if
realised, but painful the thought in both to be foiled.

Still keeping in concealment, he permits Julia to depart, not only
unmolested, but unchallenged.  There may be some secret in the letter to
concern, though it may not console him.  In any case, it will soon be
his.

And it soon is, without imparting consolation.  Rather the reverse.
Whatever the contents of that epistle, so curiously deposited, Richard
Darke, on becoming acquainted with them, reels like a drunken man; and
to save himself from falling, seeks support against the trunk of the
tree!

After a time, recovering, he re-reads the letter, and gazes at a
picture--a photograph--also found within the envelope.

Then from his lips come words, low-muttered--words of menace, made
emphatic by an oath.

A man's name is heard among his mutterings, more than once repeated.

As Dick Darke, after thrusting letter and picture into his pocket,
strides away from the spot, his clenched teeth, with the lurid light
scintillating in his eyes, to this man foretell danger--maybe death.



CHAPTER FOUR.

TWO GOOD GIRLS.

The dark cloud, long lowering over Colonel Armstrong and his fortunes,
is about to fall.  A dialogue with his eldest daughter occurring on the
same day--indeed in the same hour--when she refused Richard Darke, shows
him to have been but too well aware of the prospect of impending ruin.

The disappointed suitor had not long left the presence of the lady, who
so laconically denied him, when another appears by her side.  A man,
too; but no rival of Richard Darke--no lover of Helen Armstrong.  The
venerable white-haired gentleman, who has taken Darke's place, is her
father, the old colonel himself.  His air, on entering the room, betrays
uneasiness about the errand of the planter's son--a suspicion there is
something amiss.  He is soon made certain of it, by his daughter
unreservedly communicating the object of the interview.  He says in
rejoinder:--

"I supposed that to be his purpose; though, from his coming at this
early hour, I feared something worse."

These words bring a shadow over the countenance of her to whom they are
addressed, simultaneous with a glance of inquiry from her grand,
glistening eyes.

First exclaiming, then interrogating, she says:--

"Worse!  Feared!  Father, what should you be afraid of?"

"Never mind, my child; nothing that concerns you.  Tell me: in what way
did you give him answer?"

"In one little word.  I simply said _no_."

"That little word will, no doubt, be enough.  O Heaven! what is to
become of us?"

"Dear father!" demands the beautiful girl, laying her hand upon his
shoulder, with a searching look into his eyes; "why do you speak thus?
Are you angry with me for refusing him?  Surely you would not wish to
see me the wife of Richard Darke?"

"You do not love him, Helen?"

"Love him!  Can you ask?  Love that man!"

"You would not marry him?"

"Would not--could not.  I'd prefer death."

"Enough; I must submit to my fate."

"Fate, father!  What may be the meaning of this?  There is some secret--
a danger?  Trust to me.  Let me know all."

"I may well do that, since it cannot remain much longer a secret.  There
_is_ danger, Helen--_the danger of debt_!  My estate is mortgaged to the
father of this fellow--so much as to put me completely in his power.
Everything I possess, land, houses, slaves, may become his at any hour;
this day, if he so will it.  He is sure to will it now.  Your little
word `no,' will bring about a big change--the crisis I've been long
apprehending.  Never mind!  Let it come!  I must meet it like a man.  It
is for you, daughter--you and your sister--I grieve.  My poor dear
girls; what a change there will be in your lives, as your prospects!
Poverty, coarse fare, coarse garments to wear, and a log-cabin to live
in!  Henceforth, this must be your lot.  I can hold out hope of no
other."

"What of all that, father?  I, for one, care not; and I'm sure sister
will feel the same.  But is there no way to--"

"Save me from bankruptcy, you'd say?  You need not ask that.  I have
spent many a sleepless night thinking it there was.  But no; there is
only one--that one.  It I have never contemplated, even for an instant,
knowing it would not do.  I was sure you did not love Richard Darke, and
would not consent to marry him.  You could not, my child?"

Helen Armstrong does not make immediate answer, though there is one
ready to leap to her lips.

She hesitates giving it, from a thought, that it may add to the weight
of unhappiness pressing upon her father's spirit.

Mistaking her silence, and perhaps with the spectre of poverty staring
him in the face--oft inciting to meanness, even the noblest natures--he
repeats the test interrogatory:--

"Tell me, daughter!  Could you marry him?"

"Speak candidly," he continues, "and take time to reflect before
answering.  If you think you could not be contented--happy--with Richard
Darke for your husband, better it should never be.  Consult your own
heart, and do not be swayed by me, or my necessities.  Say, is the thing
impossible?"

"I have said.  _It is impossible_!"

For a moment both remain silent; the father drooping, spiritless, as if
struck by a galvanic shock; the daughter looking sorrowful, as though
she had given it.

She soonest recovering, makes an effort to restore him.

"Dear father!" she exclaims, laying her hand upon his shoulder, and
gazing tenderly into his eyes; "you speak of a change in our
circumstances--of bankruptcy and other ills.  Let them come!  For myself
I care not.  Even if the alternative were death, I've told you--I tell
you again--I would rather that, than be the wife of Richard Darke."

"Then his wife you'll never be!  Now, let the subject drop, and the ruin
fall!  We must prepare for poverty, and Texas!"

"Texas, if you will, but not poverty.  Nothing of the kind.  The wealth
of affection will make you feel rich; and in a lowly log-hut, as in this
grand house, you'll still have mine."

So speaking, the fair girl flings herself upon her father's breast, her
hand laid across his forehead, the white fingers soothingly caressing
it.

The door opens.  Another enters the room--another girl, almost fair as
she, but brighter, and younger.  'Tis Jessie.

"Not only my affection," Helen adds, at sight of the newcomer, "but hers
as well.  Won't he, sister?"

Sister, wondering what it is all about, nevertheless sees something is
wanted of her.  She has caught the word "affection," at the same time
observing an afflicted cast upon her father's countenance.  This decides
her; and, gliding forward, in another instant she is by his side,
clinging to the opposite shoulder, with an arm around his neck.

Thus grouped, the three figures compose a family picture expressive of
purest love.

A pleasing tableau to one who knew nothing of what has thus drawn them
together; or knowing it, could truly appreciate.  For in the faces of
all beams affection, which bespeaks a happy, if not prosperous, future--
without any doubting fear of either poverty, or Texas.



CHAPTER FIVE.

A PHOTOGRAPH IN THE FOREST.

On the third day, after that on which Richard Darke abstracted the
letter from the magnolia, a man is seen strolling along the edge of the
cypress swamp.  The hour is nearly the same, but the individual
altogether different.  Only in age does he bear any similarity to the
planter's son; for he is also a youth of some three or four and twenty.
In all else he is unlike Dick Darke, as one man could well be to
another.

He is of medium size and height, with a figure pleasingly proportioned.
His shoulders squarely set, and chest rounded out, tell of great
strength; while limbs tersely knit, and a firm elastic tread betoken
toughness and activity.  Features of smooth, regular outline--the jaws
broad, and well balanced; the chin prominent; the nose nearly Grecian--
while eminently handsome, proclaim a noble nature, with courage equal to
any demand that may be made upon it.  Not less the glance of a blue-grey
eye, unquailing as an eagle's.

A grand shock of hair, slightly curled, and dark brown in colour, gives
the finishing touch to his fine countenance, as the feather to a
Tyrolese hat.

Dressed in a sort of shooting costume, with jack-boots, and gaiters
buttoned above them, he carries a gun; which, as can be seen, is a
single-barrelled rifle; while at his heels trots a dog of large size,
apparently a cross between stag-hound and mastiff, with a spice of
terrier in its composition.  Such mongrels are not necessarily curs, but
often the best breed for backwoods' sport; where the keenness of scent
required to track a deer, needs supplementing by strength and
staunchness, when the game chances, as it often does, to be a bear, a
wolf, or a panther.

The master of this trebly crossed canine is the man whose name rose upon
the lips of Richard Darke, after reading the purloined epistle--Charles
Clancy.  To him was it addressed, and for him intended, as also the
photograph found inside.

Several days have elapsed since his return from Texas, having come back,
as already known, to find himself fatherless.  During the interval he
has remained much at home--a dutiful son, doing all he can to console a
sorrowing mother.  Only now and then has he sought relaxation in the
chase, of which he is devotedly fond.  On this occasion he has come down
to the cypress swamp; but, having encountered no game, is going back
with an empty bag.

He is not in low spirits at his ill success; for he has something to
console him--that which gives gladness to his heart--joy almost reaching
delirium.  She, who has won it, loves him.

This she is Helen Armstrong.  She has not signified as much, in words;
but by ways equally expressive, and quite as convincing.  They have met
clandestinely, and so corresponded; the knot-hole in the magnolia
serving them as a post-box.  At first, only phrases of friendship in
their conversation; the same in the letters thus surreptitiously
exchanged.  For despite Clancy's courage among men, he is a coward in
the presence of women--in hers more than any.

For all this, at their latest interview, he had thrown aside his
shyness, and spoken words of love--fervent love, in its last appeal.  He
had avowed himself wholly hers, and asked her to be wholly his.  She
declined giving him an answer _viva voce_, but promised it in writing.
He will receive it in a letter, to be deposited in the place convened.

He feels no offence at her having thus put him off.  He believes it to
have been but a whim of his sweetheart--the caprice of a woman, who has
been so much nattered and admired.  He knows, that, like the Anne
Hathaway of Shakespeare, Helen Armstrong "hath a way" of her own.  For
she is a girl of no ordinary character, but one of spirit, free and
independent, consonant with the scenes and people that surrounded her
youth.  So far from being offended at her not giving him an immediate
answer, he but admires her the more.  Like the proud eagle's mate, she
does not condescend to be wooed as the soft cooing dove, nor yield a too
easy acquiescence.

Still daily, hourly, does he expect the promised response.  And twice,
sometimes thrice, a day pays visit to the forest post-office.

Several days have elapsed since their last interview; and yet he has
found no letter lying.  Little dreams he, that one has been sent, with a
_carte de visite_ enclosed; and less of both being in the possession of
his greatest enemy on earth.

He is beginning to grow uneasy at the delay, and shape conjectures as to
the cause.  All the more from knowing, that a great change is soon to
take place in the affairs of the Armstrong family.  A knowledge which
emboldened him to make the proposal he has made.

And now, his day's hunting done, he is on his way for the tract of
woodland in which stands the sweet trysting tree.

He has no thought of stopping, or turning aside; nor would he do so for
any small game.  But at this moment a deer--a grand antlered stag--comes
"loping" along.

Before he can bring his gun to bear upon it, the animal is out of sight;
having passed behind the thick standing trunks of the cypresses.  He
restrains his hound, about to spring off on the slot.  The stag has not
seen him; and, apparently, going unscared, he hopes to stalk, and again
get sight of it.

He has not proceeded over twenty paces, when a sound fills his ears, as
well as the woods around.  It is the report of a gun, fired by one who
cannot be far off.  And not at the retreating stag, but himself!

He feels that the bullet has hit him.  This, from a stinging sensation
in his arm, like the touch of red-hot iron, or a drop of scalding water.
He might not know it to be a bullet, but for the crack heard
simultaneously--this coming from behind.

The wound, fortunately but a slight one, does not disable him; and, like
a tiger stung by javelins, he is round in an instant, ready to return
the fire.

There is no one in sight!

As there has been no warning--not a word--he can have no doubt of the
intent: some one meaning to murder him!

He is sure about its being an attempt to assassinate him, as of the man
who has made it.  Richard Darke--certain, as if the crack of the gun had
been a voice pronouncing the name.

Clancy's eyes, flashing angrily, interrogate the forest.  The trees
stand close, the spaces between shadowy and sombre.  For, as said, they
are cypresses, and the hour twilight.

He can see nothing save the huge trunks, and their lower limbs,
garlanded with ghostly _tillandsia_ here and there draping down to the
earth.  This baffles him, both by its colour and form.  The grey
gauze-like festoonery, having a resemblance to ascending smoke, hinders
him from perceiving that of the discharged gun.

He can see none.  It must have whiffed up suddenly, and become
commingled with the moss?

It does not matter much.  Neither the twilight obscurity, nor that
caused by the overshadowing trees, can prevent his canine companion from
discovering the whereabouts of the would-be assassin.  On hearing the
shot the hound has harked back; and, at some twenty paces off, brought
up beside a huge trunk, where it stands fiercely baying, as if at a
bear.  The tree is buttressed, with "knees" several feet in height
rising around.  In the dim light, these might easily be mistaken for
men.

Clancy is soon among them; and sees crouching between two pilasters, the
man who meant to murder him--Richard Darke as conjectured.

Darke makes no attempt at explanation.  Clancy calls for none.  His
rifle is already cocked; and, soon as seeing his adversary, he raises it
to his shoulder, exclaiming:--

"Scoundrel! you've had the first shot.  It's my turn now."

Darke does not remain inactive, but leaps--forth from his lurking-place,
to obtain more freedom for his arms.  The buttresses hinder him from
having elbow room.  He also elevates his gun; but, perceiving it will be
too late, instead of taking aim, he lowers the piece again, and dodges
behind the tree.

The movement, quick and subtle, as a squirrel's bound, saves him.
Clancy fires without effect.  His ball but pierces through the skirt of
Darke's coat, without touching his body.

With a wild shout of triumph, the latter advances upon his adversary,
whose gun is now empty.  His own, a double-barrel, has a bullet still
undischarged.  Deliberately bringing the piece to his shoulder, and
covering the victim he is now sure of, he says derisively,--

"What a devilish poor shot you've made, Mister Charlie Clancy!  A sorry
marksman--to miss a man scarce six feet from the muzzle of your gun!  I
shan't miss you.  Turn about's fair play.  I've had the first, and I'll
have the last.  Dog! take your _death shot_!"

While delivering the dread speech, his finger presses the trigger; the
crack comes, with the flash and fiery jet.

For some seconds Clancy is invisible, the sulphurous smoke forming a
nimbus around him.  When it ascends, he is seen prostrate upon the
earth; the blood gushing from a wound in his breast, and spurting over
his waistcoat.

He appears writhing in his death agony.

And evidently thinks so himself, from his words spoken in slow, choking
utterance,--

"Richard Darke--you have killed--murdered me!"

"I meant to do it," is the unpitying response.

"O Heavens!  You horrid wretch!  Why--why--"

"Bah! what are you blubbering about?  You know why.  If not, I shall
tell you--_Helen Armstrong_, After all, it isn't jealousy that's made me
kill you; only your impudence, to suppose you had a chance with her.
You hadn't; she never cared a straw for you.  Perhaps, before dying, it
may be some consolation for you to know she didn't.  I've got the proof.
Since it isn't likely you'll ever see herself again, it may give you a
pleasure to look at her portrait.  Here it is!  The sweet girl sent it
me this very morning, with her autograph attached, as you see.  A
capital likeness, isn't it?"

The inhuman wretch stooping down, holds the photograph before the eyes
of the dying man, gradually growing dim.

But only death could hinder them from turning towards that sun-painted
picture--the portrait of her who has his heart.

He gazes on it lovingly, but not long.  For the script underneath claims
his attention.  In this he recognises her handwriting, well-known to
him.  Terrible the despair that sweeps through his soul, as he deciphers
it:--

"_Helen Armstrong_.--_For him she loves_."

The picture is in the possession of Richard Darke.  To him have the
sweet words been vouchsafed!

"A charming creature!"  Darke tauntingly continues, kissing the carte,
and pouring the venomous speech into his victim's ear.  "It's the very
counterpart of her sweet self.  As I said, she sent it me this morning.
Come, Clancy!  Before giving up the ghost, tell me what you think of it.
Isn't it an excellent likeness?"

To the inhuman interrogatory Clancy makes no response--either by word,
look, or gesture.  His lips are mute, his eyes without light of life,
his limbs and body motionless as the mud on which they lie.

A short, but profane, speech terminates the terrible episode; four words
of most heartless signification:--

"Damn him; he's dead!"



CHAPTER SIX.

A COON-CHASE INTERRUPTED.

Notwithstanding the solitude of the place where the strife, apparently
fatal, has occurred, and the slight chances of its being seen, its
sounds have been heard.  The shots, the excited speeches, and angry
exclamations, have reached the ears of one who can well interpret them.
This is a coon-hunter.

There is no district in the Southern States without its coon-hunter.  In
most, many of them; but in each, one who is noted.  And, notedly, he is
a negro.  The pastime is too tame, or too humble, to tempt the white
man.  Sometimes the sons of "poor white trash" take part in it; but it
is usually delivered over to the "darkey."

In the old times of slavery every plantation could boast of one, or
more, of these sable Nimrods; and they are not yet extinct.  To them
coon-catching is a profit, as well as sport; the skins keeping them in
tobacco--and whisky, when addicted to drinking it.  The flesh, too,
though little esteemed by white palates, is a _bonne-bouche_ to the
negro, with whom animal food is a scarce commodity.  It often furnishes
him with the substance for a savoury roast.

The plantation of Ephraim Darke is no exception to the general rule.
It, too, has its coon-hunter--a negro named, or nicknamed, "Blue Bill;"
the qualifying term bestowed, from a cerulean tinge, that in certain
lights appears upon the surface of his sable epidermis.  Otherwise he is
black as ebony.

Blue Bill is a mighty hunter of his kind, passionately fond of the
coon-chase--too much, indeed, for his own personal safety.  It carries
him abroad, when the discipline of the plantation requires him to be at
home; and more than once, for so absenting himself, have his shoulders
been scored by the "cowskin."

Still the punishment has not cured him of his proclivity.  Unluckily for
Richard Darke, it has not.  For on the evening of Clancy's being shot
down, as described, Blue Bill chances to be abroad; and, with a small
cur, which he has trained to his favourite chase, is scouring the timber
near the edge of the cypress swamp.

He has "treed" an old he-coon, and is just preparing to ascend to the
creature's nest--a cavity in a sycamore high up--when a deer comes
dashing by.  Soon after a shot startles him.  He is more disturbed at
the peculiar crack, than by the mere fact of its being the report of a
gun.  His ear, accustomed to such sounds, tells him the report has
proceeded from a fowling-piece, belonging to his young master--just then
the last man he would wish to meet.  He is away from the "quarter"
without "pass," or permission of any kind.

His first impulse is, to continue the ascent of the sycamore, and
conceal himself among its branches.

But his dog, remaining below--that will betray him?

While hurriedly reflecting on what he had best do, he hears a second
shot.  Then a third, coming quickly after; while preceding, and mingling
with the reports are men's voices, apparently in mad expostulation.  He
hears, too, the angry growling of a hound, at intervals barking and
baying.

"Gorramity!" mutters Blue Bill; "dar's a skrimmage goin' on dar--a
_fight_, I reck'n, an' seemin' to be def!  Clar enuf who dat fight's
between.  De fuss shot wa' Mass' Dick's double-barrel; de oder am Charl
Clancy rifle.  By golly! 'taint safe dis child be seen hya, no how.
Whar kin a hide maseff?"

Again he glances upward, scanning the sycamore: then down at his dog;
and once more to the trunk of the tree.  This is embraced by a creeper--
a gigantic grape-vine--up which an ascent may easily be made; so easily,
there need be no difficulty in carrying the cur along.  It was the
ladder he intended using to get at the treed coon.

With the fear of his young master coming past--and if so, surely
"cow-hiding" him--he feels there is no time to be wasted in vacillation.

Nor does he waste any.  Without further stay, he flings his arm around
the coon-dog: raises the unresisting animal from the earth; and "swarms"
up the creeper, like a she-bear carrying her cub.

In ten seconds after, he is snugly ensconced in a crotch of the
sycamore; screened from observation of any one who may pass underneath,
by the profuse foliage of the parasite.

Feeling fairly secure, he once more sets himself to listen.  And,
listening attentively, he hears the same voices as before.  But not any
longer in angry ejaculation.  The tones are tranquil, as though the two
men were now quietly conversing.  One says but a word or two; the other
all.  Then the last alone appears to speak, as if in soliloquy, or from
the first failing to make response.

The sudden transition of tone has in it something strange--a contrast
inexplicable.

The coon-hunter can tell, that he continuing to talk is his young
master, Richard Darke; though he cannot catch, the words, much less make
out their meaning.  The distance is too great, and the current of sound
interrupted by the thick standing trunks of the cypresses.

At length, also, the monologue ends; soon after, succeeded by a short
exclamatory phrase, in voice louder and more earnest.

Then there is silence; so profound, that Blue Bill hears but his own
heart, beating in loud sonorous thumps--louder from his ribs being
contiguous to the hollow trunk of the tree.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

MURDER WITHOUT REMORSE.

The breathless silence, succeeding Darke's profane speech, is
awe-inspiring; death-like, as though every living creature in the forest
had been suddenly struck dumb, or dead, too.

Unspeakably, incredibly atrocious is the behaviour of the man who has
remained master of the ground.  During the contest, Dick Darke has shown
the cunning of the fox, combined with the fiercer treachery of the
tiger; victorious, his conduct seems a combination of the jackal and
vulture.

Stooping over his fallen foe, to assure himself that the latter no
longer lives, he says,--

"Dead, I take it."

These are his cool words; after which, as though still in doubt, he
bends lower, and listens.  At the same time he clutches the handle of
his hunting knife, as with the intent to plunge its blade into the body.

He sees there is no need.  It is breathless, almost bloodless--clearly a
corpse!

Believing it so, he resumes his erect attitude, exclaiming in louder
tone, and with like profanity as before,--

"Yes, dead, damn him!"

As the assassin bends over the body of his fallen foe, he shows no sign
of contrition, for the cruel deed he has done.  No feeling save that of
satisfied vengeance; no emotion that resembles remorse.  On the
contrary, his cold animal eyes continue to sparkle with jealous hate;
while his hand has moved mechanically to the hilt of his knife, as
though he meant to mutilate the form he has laid lifeless.  Its beauty,
even in death, seems to embitter his spirit!

But soon, a sense of danger comes creeping over him, and fear takes
shape in his soul.  For, beyond doubt, he has done murder.

"No!" he says, in an effort at self-justification.  "Nothing of the
sort.  I've killed him; that's true; but he's had the chance to kill me.
They'll see that his gun's discharged; and here's his bullet gone
through the skirt of my coat.  By thunder, 'twas a close shave!"

For a time he stands reflecting--his glance now turned towards the body,
now sent searchingly through the trees, as though in dread of some one
coming that way.

Not much likelihood of this.  The spot is one of perfect solitude, as is
always a cypress forest.  There is no path near, accustomed to be
trodden by the traveller.  The planter has no business among those great
buttressed trunks.  The woodman will never assail them with his axe.
Only a stalking hunter, or perhaps some runaway slave, is at all likely
to stray thither.

Again soliloquising, he says,--

"Shall I put a bold face upon it, and confess to having killed him?  I
can say we met while out hunting; quarrelled, and fought--a fair fight;
shot for shot; my luck to have the last.  Will that story stand?"

A pause in the soliloquy; a glance at the prostrate form; another, which
interrogates the scene around, taking in the huge unshapely trunks,
their long outstretched limbs, with the pall-like festoonery of Spanish
moss; a thought about the loneliness of the place, and its fitness for
concealing a dead body.

Like the lightning's flashes, all this flits through the mind of the
murderer.  The result, to divert him from his half-formed resolution--
perceiving its futility.

"It won't do," he mutters, his speech indicating the change.  "No, that
it won't!  Better say nothing about what's happened.  They're not likely
to look for him here..."

Again he glances inquiringly around, with a view to secreting the
corpse.  He has made up his mind to this.

A sluggish creak meanders among the trees, some two hundred yards from
the spot.  At about a like distance below, it discharges itself into the
stagnant reservoir of the swamp.

Its waters are dark, from the overshadowing of the cypresses, and deep
enough for the purpose he is planning.

But to carry the body thither will require an effort of strength; and to
drag it would be sure to leave traces.

In view of this difficulty, he says to himself,--

"I'll let it lie where it is.  No one ever comes along hero--not likely.
At the same time, I take it, there can be no harm in hiding him a
little.  So, Charley Clancy, if I have sent you to kingdom come, I
shan't leave your bones unburied.  Your ghost might haunt me, if I did.
To hinder that you shall have interment."

In the midst of this horrid mockery, he rests his gun against a tree,
and commences dragging the Spanish moss from the branches above.  The
beard-like parasite comes off in flakes--in armfuls.  Half a dozen he
flings over the still palpitating corpse; then pitches on top some
pieces of dead wood, to prevent any stray breeze from sweeping off the
hoary shroud.

After strewing other tufts around, to conceal the blood and boot tracks,
he rests from his labour, and for a time stands surveying what he has
done.

At length seeming satisfied, he again grasps hold of his gun; and is
about taking departure from the place, when a sound, striking his ear,
causes him to start.  No wonder, since it seems the voice of one wailing
for the dead!

At first he is affrighted, fearfully so; but recovers himself on
learning the cause.

"Only the dog!" he mutters, perceiving Clancy's hound at a distance,
among the trees.

On its master being shot down, the animal had scampered off--perhaps
fearing a similar fate.  It had not gone far, and is now returning--by
little and little, drawing nearer to the dangerous spot.

The creature seems struggling between two instincts--affection for its
fallen master, and fear for itself.

As Darke's gun is empty, he endeavours to entice the dog within reach of
his knife.  Despite his coaxing, it will not come!

Hastily ramming a cartridge into the right-hand barrel, he aims, and
fires.

The shot takes effect; the ball passing through the fleshy part of the
dog's neck.  Only to crease the skin, and draw forth a spurt of blood.

The hound hit, and further frightened, gives out a wild howl, and goes
off, without sign of return.

Equally wild are the words that leap from the lips of Richard Darke, as
he stands gazing after.

"Great God!" he cries; "I've done an infernal foolish thing.  The cur
will go home to Clancy's house.  That'll tell a tale, sure to set people
searching.  Ay, and it may run back here, guiding them to the spot.
Holy hell!"

While speaking, the murderer turns pale.  It is the first time for him
to experience real fear.  In such an out-of-the-way place he has felt
confident of concealing the body, and along with it the bloody deed.
Then, he had not taken the dog into account, and the odds were in his
favour.  Now, with the latter adrift, they are heavily against him.

It needs no calculation of chances to make this clear.  Nor is it any
doubt which causes him to stand hesitating.  His irresolution springs
from uncertainty as to what course he shall pursue.

One thing certain--he must not remain there.  The hound has gone off
howling.  It is two miles to the widow Clancy's house; but there is an
odd squatter's cabin and clearing between.  A dog going in that guise,
blood-bedraggled, in full cry of distress, will be sure of being seen--
equally sure to raise an alarm.

On the probable, or possible, contingencies Dick Darke does not stand
long reflecting.  Despite its solitude, the cypress forest is not the
place for tranquil thought--at least, not now for him.  Far off through
the trees he can hear the wail of the wounded Molossian.

Is it fancy, or does he also hear human voices?

He stays not to be sure.  Beside that gory corpse, shrouded though it
be, he dares not remain a moment longer.

Hastily shouldering his gun, he strikes off through the trees; at first
in quick step; then in double; this increasing to a rapid run.

He retreats in a direction contrary to that taken by the dog.  It is
also different from the way leading to his father's house.  It forces
him still further into the swamp--across sloughs, and through soft mud,
where he makes footmarks.  Though he has carefully concealed Clancy's
corpse, and obliterated all other traces of the strife, in his "scare,"
he does not think of those he is now making.

The murderer is only--cunning before the crime.  After it, if he have
conscience, or be deficient in coolness, he loses self-possession, and
is pretty sure to leave behind something which will furnish a clue for
the detective.

So is it with Richard Darke.  As he retreats from the scene of his
diabolical deed, his only thought is to put space between himself and
the spot where he has shed innocent blood; to get beyond earshot of
those canine cries, that seem commingled with the shouts of men--the
voices of avengers!



CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE COON-HUNTER CAUTIOUS.

During the time that Darke is engaged in covering up Clancy's body, and
afterwards occupied in the attempt to kill his dog, the coon-hunter,
squatted in the sycamore fork, sticks to his seat like "death to a dead
nigger."  And all the time trembling.  Not without reason.  For the
silence succeeding the short exclamatory speech has not re-assured him.
He believes it to be but a lull, denoting some pause in the action, and
that one, or both, of the actors is still upon the ground.  If only one,
it will be his master, whose monologue was last heard.  During the
stillness, somewhat prolonged, he continues to shape conjectures and put
questions to himself, as to what can have been the _fracas_, and its
cause.  Undoubtedly a "shooting scrape" between Dick Darke and Charles
Clancy.  But how has it terminated, or is the end yet come?  Has one of
the combatants been killed, or gone away?  Or have both forsaken the
spot where they have been trying to spill each other's blood?

While thus interrogating himself, a new sound disturbs the tranquillity
of the forest--the same, which the assassin at first fancied was the
voice of one wailing for his victim.  The coon-hunter has no such
delusion.  Soon as hearing, he recognises the tongue of a stag-hound,
knowing it to be Clancy's.  He is only astray about its peculiar tone,
now quite changed.  The animal is neither barking nor baying; nor yet
does it yelp as if suffering chastisement.  The soft tremulous whine,
that comes pealing in prolonged reverberation through the trunks of the
cypresses, proclaims distress of a different kind--as of a dog asleep
and dreaming!

And now, once more a man's voice, his master's.  It too changed in tone.
No longer in angry exclaim, or quiet conversation, but as if earnestly
entreating; the speech evidently not addressed to Clancy, but the hound.

Strange all this; and so thinks the coon-hunter.  He has but little time
to dwell on it, before another sound waking the echoes of the forest,
interrupts the current of his reflections.  Another shot!  This time, as
twice before, the broad round boom of a smooth-bore, so different from
the short sharp "spang" of a rifle.

Thoroughly versed in the distinction--indeed an adept--Blue Bill knows
from whose gun the shot has been discharged.  It is the double-barrel
belonging to Richard Darke.  All the more reason for him to hug close to
his concealment.

And not the less to be careful about the behaviour of his own dog, which
he is holding in hard embrace.  For hearing the bound, the cur is
disposed to give response; would do so but for the muscular fingers of
its master closed chokingly around its throat, at intervals detached to
give it a cautionary cuff.

After the shot the stag-hound continues its lugubrious cries; but again
with altered intonation, and less distinctly heard; as though the animal
had gone farther off, and were still making away.

But now a new noise strikes upon the coon-hunter's ears; one at first
slight, but rapidly growing louder.  It is the tread of footsteps,
accompanied by a swishing among the palmettoes, that form an underwood
along the edge of the swamp.  Some one is passing through them,
advancing towards the tree where he is concealed.

More than ever does he tremble on his perch; tighter than ever clutching
the throat of his canine companion.  For he is sure, that the man whose
footsteps speak approach, is his master, or rather his master's son.
The sounds seem to indicate great haste--a retreat rapid, headlong,
confused.  On which the peccant slave bases a hope of escaping
observation, and too probable chastisement.  Correct in his conjecture,
as in the prognostication, in a few seconds after he sees Richard Darke
coming between the trees; running as for very life--the more like it
that he goes crouchingly; at intervals stopping to look back and listen,
with chin almost touching his shoulder!

When opposite the sycamore--indeed under it--he makes pause longer than
usual.  The perspiration stands in beads upon his forehead, pours down
his cheeks, over his eyebrows, almost blinding him.  He whips a kerchief
out of his coat pocket, and wipes it off.  While so occupied, he does
not perceive that he has let something drop--something white that came
out along with the kerchief.  Replacing the piece of cambric he hurries
on again, leaving it behind; on, on, till the dull thud of his footfall,
and the crisp rustling of the stiff fan-like leaves, become both blended
with the ordinary noises of the forest.

Then, but not before, does Blue Bill think of forsaking the fork.
Descending from his irksome seat, he approaches the white thing left
lying on the ground--a letter enveloped in the ordinary way.  He takes
it up, and sees it has been already opened.  He thinks not of drawing
out the sheet folded inside.  It would be no use; since the coon-hunter
cannot read.  Still, an instinct tells him, the little bit of
treasure-trove may some time, and in some way, prove useful.  So
forecasting, he slips it into his pocket.

This done he stands reflecting.  No noise to disturb him now.  Darke's
footsteps have died away in the distance, leaving swamp and cypress
forest restored to their habitual stillness.  The only sound, Blue Bill
hears, is the beating of his own heart, yet loud enough.

No longer thinks he of the coon he has succeeded in treeing.  The
animal, late devoted to certain death, will owe its escape to an
accident, and may now repose securely within its cave.  Its pursuer has
other thoughts--emotions, strong enough to drive coon-hunting clean out
of his head.  Among these are apprehensions about his own safety.
Though unseen by Richard Darke--his presence there unsuspected--he knows
that an unlucky chance has placed him in a position of danger.  That a
sinister deed has been done he is sure.

Under the circumstances, how is he to act?  Proceed to the place whence
the shots came, and ascertain what has actually occurred?

At first he thinks of doing this; but surrenders the intention.
Affrighted by what is already known to him, he dares not know more.  His
young master may be a murderer?  The way in which he was retreating
almost said as much.  Is he, Blue Bill, to make himself acquainted with
the crime, and bear witness against him who has committed it?  As a
slave, he knows his testimony will count for little in a court of
justice.  And as the slave of Ephraim Darke, as little would his life be
worth after giving it.

The last reflection decides him; and, still carrying the coon-dog under
his arm, he parts from the spot, in timid skulking gait, never stopping,
not feeling safe, till he finds himself inside the limits of the "negro
quarter."



CHAPTER NINE.

AN ASSASSIN IN RETREAT.

Athwart the thick timber, going as one pursued--in a track straight as
the underwood will allow--breaking through it like a chased bear--now
stumbling over a fallen log, now caught in a trailing grape-vine--
Richard Darke flees from the place where he has laid his rival low.

He makes neither stop, nor stay.  If so, only for a few instants, just
long enough to listen, and if possible learn whether he is being
followed.

Whether or not, he fancies it; again starting off, with terror in his
looks, and trembling in his limbs.  The _sangfroid_ he exhibited while
bending over the dead body of his victim, and afterwards concealing it,
has quite forsaken him now.  Then he was confident, there could be no
witness of the deed--nothing to connect him with it as the doer.  Since,
there is a change--the unthought-of presence of the dog having produced
it.  Or, rather, the thought of the animal having escaped.  This, and
his own imagination.

For more than a mile he keeps on, in headlong reckless rushing.  Until
fatigue overtaking him, his terror becomes less impulsive, his fancies
freer from exaggeration; and, believing himself far enough from the
scene of danger, he at length desists from flight, and comes to a dead
stop.

Sitting down upon a log, he draws forth his pocket-handkerchief, and
wipes the sweat from his face.  For he is perspiring at every pore,
panting, palpitating.  He now finds time to reflect; his first
reflection being the absurdity of his making such precipitate retreat;
his next, its imprudence.

"I've been a fool for it," he mutters.  "Suppose that some one has seen
me?  'Twill only have made things worse.  And what have I been running
away from?  A dead body, and a living dog!  Why should I care for
either?  Even though the adage be true--about a live dog better than a
dead lion.  Let me hope the hound won't tell a tale upon me.  For
certain the shot hit him.  That's nothing.  Who could say what sort of
ball, or the kind of gun it came from?  No danger in that.  I'd be
stupid to think there could be.  Well, it's all over now, and the
question is: what next?"

For some minutes he remains upon the log, with the gun resting across
his knees, and his head bent over the barrels.  He appears engaged in
some abstruse calculation.  A new thought has sprang up in his mind--a
scheme requiring all his intellectual power to elaborate.

"I shall keep that tryst," he says, in soliloquy, seeming at length to
have settled it.  "Yes; I'll meet her under the magnolia.  Who can tell
what changes may occur in the heart of a woman?  In history I had a
royal namesake--an English king, with an ugly hump on his shoulders--as
he's said himself, `deformed, unfinished, sent into the world scarce
half made up,' so that the `dogs barked at _him_,' just as this brute of
Clancy's has been doing at me.  And this royal Richard, shaped `so
lamely and unfashionable,' made court to a woman, whose husband he had
just assassinated--more than a woman, a proud queen--and more than
wooed, he subdued her.  This ought to encourage me; the better that I,
Richard Darke, am neither halt, nor hunchbacked.  No, nor yet
unfashionable, as many a Mississippian girl says, and more than one is
ready to swear.

"Proud Helen Armstrong may be, and is; proud as England's queen herself.
For all that, I've got something to subdue her--a scheme, cunning as
that of my royal namesake.  May God, or the Devil, grant me like
success!"

At the moment of giving utterance to the profane prayer, he rises to his
feet.  Then, taking out his watch, consults it.

It is too dark for him to see the dial; but springing open the glass, he
gropes against it, feeling for the hands.

"Half-past nine," he mutters, after making out the time.  "Ten is the
hour of her assignation.  No chance for me to get home before, and then
over to Armstrong's wood-ground.  It's more than two miles from here.
What matters my going home?  Nor any need changing this dress.  She
won't notice the hole in the skirt.  If she do, she wouldn't think of
what caused it--above all it's being a bullet.  Well, I must be off!  It
will never do to keep the young lady waiting.  If she don't feel
disappointed at seeing me, bless her!  If she do, I shall curse her!
What's passed prepares me for either event.  In any case, I shall have
satisfaction for the slight she's put upon me.  By God I'll get that!"

He is moving away, when a thought occurs staying him.  He is not quite
certain about the exact hour of Helen Armstrong's tryst, conveyed in her
letter to Clancy.  In the madness of his mind ever since perusing that
epistle, no wonder he should confuse circumstances, and forget dates.

To make sure, he plunges his hand into the pocket, where he deposited
both letter and photograph--after holding the latter before the eyes of
his dying foeman, and witnessing the fatal effect.  With all his
diabolical hardihood, he had been awed by this--so as to thrust the
papers into his pocket, hastily, carelessly.

They are no longer there!

He searches in his other pockets--in all of them, with like result.  He
examines his bullet-pouch and gamebag.  But finds no letter, no
photograph, not a scrap of paper, in any!  The stolen epistle, its
envelope, the enclosed _carte de visite_--all are absent.

After ransacking his pockets, turning them inside out, he comes to the
conclusion that the precious papers are lost.

It startles, and for a moment dismays him.  Where are they?  He must
have let them fall in his hasty retreat through the trees; or left them
by the dead body.

Shall he go back in search of them?

No--no--no!  He does not dare to return upon that track.  The forest
path is too sombre, too solitary, now.  By the margin of the dank
lagoon, under the ghostly shadow of the cypresses, he might meet the
ghost of the man murdered!

And why should he go back?  After all, there is no need; nothing in the
letter which can in any way compromise him.  Why should he care to
recover it?

"It may go to the devil, her picture along!  Let both rot where I
suppose I must have dropped them--in the mud, or among the palmettoes.
No matter where.  But it does matter, my being under the magnolia at the
right time, to meet her.  Then shall I learn my fate--know it, for
better, for worse.  If the former, I'll continue to believe in the story
of Richard Plantagenet; if the latter, Richard Darke won't much care
what becomes of him."

So ending his strange soliloquy, with a corresponding cast upon his
countenance, the assassin rebuttons his coat--thrown open in search for
the missing papers.  Then, flinging the double-barrelled fowling-piece--
the murder-gun--over his sinister shoulder, he strides off to keep an
appointment not made for him, but for the man he has murdered!



CHAPTER TEN.

THE EVE OF DEPARTURE.

The evil day has arrived; the ruin, foreseen, has fallen.

The mortgage deed, so long held in menace over the head of Archibald
Armstrong--suspended, as it were, by a thread, like the sword of
Damocles--is to be put into execution.  Darke has demanded immediate
payment of the debt, coupled with threat of foreclosure.

The demand is a month old, the threat has been carried out, and the
foreclosure effected.  The thread having been cut, the keen blade of
adversity has come down, severing the tie which attached Colonel
Armstrong to his property, as it to him.  Yesterday, he was owner,
reputedly, of one of the finest plantations along the line of the
Mississippi river, an hundred able-bodied negroes hoeing cotton in his
fields, with fifty more picking it from the pod, and "ginning" the
staple clear of seed; to-day, he is but their owner in seeming, Ephraim
Darke being this in reality.  And in another day the apparent ownership
will end: for Darke has given his debtor notice to yield up houses,
lands, slaves, plantation-stock--in short, everything he possesses.

In vain has Armstrong striven against this adverse fate; in vain made
endeavours to avert it.  When men are falling, false friends grow
falser; even true ones becoming cold.  Sinister chance also against him;
a time of panic--a crisis in the money-market--as it always is on such
occasions, when interest runs high, and _second_ mortgages are sneered
at by those who grant loans.

As no one--neither friend nor financial speculator--comes to Armstrong's
rescue, he has no alternative but submit.

Too proud, to make appeal to his inexorable creditor--indeed deeming it
idle--he vouchsafes no answer to the notice of foreclosure, beyond
saying: "Let it be done."

At a later period he gives ear to a proposal, coming from the mortgagee:
to put a valuation upon the property, and save the expenses of a public
sale, by disposing of it privately to Darke himself.

To this he consents; less with a view to the convenience of the last,
than because his sensitive nature recoils from the vulgarism of the
first.  Tell me a more trying test to the delicate sensibilities of a
gentleman, or his equanimity, than to see his gate piers pasted over
with the black and white show bills of the auctioneer; a strip of stair
carpet dangling down from one of his bedroom windows, and a crowd of
hungry harpies clustered around his door-stoop; some entering with eyes
that express keen concupiscence; others coming out with countenances
more beatified, bearing away his Penates--jeering and swearing over
them--insulting the Household Gods he has so long held in adoration.
Ugh!  A hideous, horrid sight--a spectacle of Pandemonium!

With a vision of such domestic iconoclasm flitting before his mind--not
a dream, but a reality, that will surely arise by letting his estate go
to the hammer--Colonel Armstrong accepts Darke's offer to deliver
everything over in a lump, and for a lamp sum.  The conditions have been
some time settled; and Armstrong now knows the worst.  Some half-score
slaves he reserves; the better terms secured to his creditor by private
bargain enabling him to obtain this concession.

Several days have elapsed since the settlement came to a conclusion--the
interval spent in preparation for the change.  A grand one, too; which
contemplates, not alone leaving the old home, but the State in which it
stands.  The fallen man shrinks from further association with those who
have witnessed his fall.  Not but that he will leave behind many
friends, faithful and true.  Still to begin life again in their midst--
to be seen humbly struggling at the bottom of the ladder on whose top he
once proudly reposed--that would indeed be unendurable.

He prefers to carry out the design, he once thought only a dreamy
prediction--migrating to Texas.  There, he may recommence life with more
hopeful energy, and lesser sense of humiliation.

The moving day has arrived, or rather the eve preceding it.  On the
morrow, Colonel Archibald Armstrong is called upon by the exigency of
human laws,--oft more cruel, if not more inexorable, than those of
Nature--to vacate the home long his.

'Tis night.  Darkness has spread its sable pall over forest and field,
and broods upon the brighter surface of the stream gliding between--the
mighty Mississippi.  All are equally obscured--from a thick veil of
lead-coloured cloud, at the sun's setting, drawn over the canopy of the
sky.  Any light seen is that of the fire-flies, engaged in their
nocturnal cotillon; while the sounds heard are nightly noises in a
Southern States forest, semi-tropical, as the wild creatures who have
their home in it.  The green _cicada_ chirps continuously, "Katy did--
Katy did;" the _hyladae_, though reptiles, send forth an insect note;
while the sonorous "gluck-gluck" of the huge _rana pipiens_ mingles with
the melancholy "whoo-whooa" of the great horned owl; which, unseen,
sweeps on silent wing through the shadowy aisles of the forest, leading
the lone traveller to fancy them peopled by departed spirits in torment
from the pains of Purgatory.

Not more cheerful are the sounds aloft: for there are such, far above
the tops of the tallest trees.  There, the nightjar plies its calling,
not so blind but that it can see in deepest darkness the smallest moth
or midge, that, tired of perching on the heated leaves essays to soar
higher.  Two sorts of these goatsuckers, utter cries quite distinct;
though both expressing aversion to "William."  One speaks of him as
still alive, mingling pity with its hostile demand: "Whippoor-Will!"
The other appears to regard him as dead, and goes against his marital
relict, at intervals calling out: "Chuck Will's widow!"

Other noises interrupt the stillness of a Mississippian night.  High up
in heaven the "honk" of a wild gander leading his flock in the shape of
an inverted V; at times the more melodious note of a trumpeter swan; or
from the top of a tall cottonwood, or cypress, the sharp saw-filing
shriek of the white-headed eagle, angered by some stray creature coming
too close, and startling it from its slumbers.  Below, out of the swamp
sedge, rises the mournful cry of the quabird--the American bittern--and
from the same, the deep sonorous bellow of that ugliest animal on
earth--the alligator.

Where fields adjoin the forest--plantation clearings--oft few and far
between--there are sounds more cheerful.  The song of the slave, his
day's work done, sure to be preceded, or followed, by peals of loud
jocund laughter; the barking of the house-dog, indicative of a
well-watched home; with the lowing of cattle, and other domestic calls
that proclaim it worth watching.  A galaxy of little lights, in rows
like street lamps, indicate the "negro quarter;" while in the foreground
a half-dozen windows of larger size, and brighter sheen, show where
stands the "big house"--the planter's own dwelling.

To that of Colonel Armstrong has come a night of exceptional character,
when its lights are seen burning later than usual.  The plantation clock
has tolled nine, nearly an hour ago.  Still light shines through the
little windows of the negro cabins, while the larger ones of the "big
house" are all aflame.  And there are candles being carried to and fro,
lighting up a scene of bustling activity: while the clack of voices--
none of them in laughter--is heard commingled with the rattling of
chains, and the occasional stroke of a hammer.  The forms of men and
women, are seen to flit athwart the shining windows, all busy about
something.

There is no mystery in the matter.  It is simply the planter, with his
people, occupied in preparation for the morrow's moving.  Openly, and
without restraint: for, although so near the mid hour of night, it is no
midnight flitting.

The only individual, who appears to act surreptitiously, is a young
girl; who, coming out by the back door of the dwelling, makes away from
its walls in gliding gait--at intervals glancing back over her shoulder,
as if in fear of being followed, or observed.

Her style of dress also indicates a desire to shun observation; for she
is cloaked and close hooded.  Not enough to ensure disguise, though she
may think so.  The most stolid slave on all Colonel Armstrong's
plantation, could tell at a glance whose figure is enfolded in the
shapeless garment, giving it shape.  He would at once identify it as
that of his master's daughter.  For no wrap however loosely flung over
it, could hide the queenly form of Helen Armstrong, or conceal the
splendid symmetry of her person.  Arrayed in the garb of a laundress,
she would still look the lady.

Perhaps, for the first time in her life she is walking with stealthy
step, crouched form, and countenance showing fear.  Daughter of a large
slave-owner--mistress over many slaves--she is accustomed to an upright
attitude, and aristocratic bearing.  But she is now on an errand that
calls for more than ordinary caution, and would dread being recognised
by the humblest slave on her father's estate.

Fortunately for her, none see; therefore no one takes note of her
movements, or the mode of her apparel.  If one did, the last might cause
remark.  A woman cloaked, with head hooded in a warm summer night, the
thermometer at ninety!

Notwithstanding the numerous lights, she is not observed as she glides
through their crossing coruscations.  And beyond, there is but little
danger--while passing through the peach orchard, that stretches rearward
from the dwelling.  Still less, after getting out through a wicket-gate,
which communicates with a tract of woodland.  For then she is among
trees whose trunks stand close, the spaces between buried in deep
obscurity--deeper from the night being a dark one.  It is not likely so
to continue: for, before entering into the timber, she glances up to the
sky, and sees that the cloud canopy has broken; here and there stars
scintillating in the blue spaces between.  While, on the farther edge of
the plantation clearing, a brighter belt along the horizon foretells the
uprising of the moon.

She does not wait for this; but plunges into the shadowy forest, daring
its darkness, regardless of its dangers.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

UNDER THE TRYSTING TREE.

Still stooping in her gait, casting furtive glances to right, to left,
before and behind--at intervals stopping to listen--Helen Armstrong
continues her nocturnal excursion.  Notwithstanding the obscurity, she
keeps in a direct course, as if to reach some particular point, and for
a particular reason.

What this is needs not be told.  Only love could lure a young lady out
at that late hour, and carry her along a forest path, dark, and not
without dangers.  And love unsanctioned, unallowed--perhaps forbidden,
by some one who has ascendancy over her.

Just the first it is which has tempted her forth; while the last, not
the cold, has caused her to cloak herself, and go close hooded.  If her
father but knew of the errand she is on, it could not be executed.  And
well is she aware of this.  For the proud planter is still proud,
despite his reverses, still clings to the phantom of social superiority;
and if he saw her now, wandering through the woods at an hour near
midnight, alone; if he could divine her purpose: to meet a man, who in
time past has been rather coldly received at his house--because scarce
ranking with his own select circle--had Colonel Armstrong but the gift
of clairvoyance, in all probability he would at once suspend the
preparations for departure, rush to his rifle, then off through the
woods on the track of his erring daughter, with the intent to do a deed
sanguinary as that recorded, if not so repulsive.

The girl has not far to go--only half a mile or so, from the house, and
less than a quarter beyond the zigzag rail fence, which forms a boundary
line between the maize fields and primeval forest.  Her journey, when
completed, will bring her under a tree--a grand magnolia, monarch of the
forest surrounding.  Well does she know it, as the way thither.

Arriving at the tree, she pauses beneath its far-stretching boughs.  At
the same time tossing back her hood, she shows her face unveiled.

She has no fear now.  The place is beyond the range of night-strolling
negroes.  Only one in pursuit of 'possum, or 'coon, would be likely to
come that way; a contingency too rare to give her uneasiness.

With features set in expectation, she stands.  The fire-flies illuminate
her countenance--deserving a better light.  But seen, even under their
pale fitful coruscation, its beauty is beyond question.  Her features of
gipsy cast--to which the cloak's hood adds characteristic expression--
produce a picture appropriate to its framing--the forest.

Only for a few short moments does she remain motionless.  Just long
enough to get back her breath, spent by some exertion in making her way
through the wood--more difficult in the darkness.  Strong emotions, too,
contribute to the pulsations of her heart.

She does not wait for them to be stilled.  Facing towards the tree, and
standing on tiptoe, she raises her hand aloft, and commences groping
against the trunk.  The fire-flies flicker over her snow-white fingers,
as these stray along the bark, at length resting upon the edge of a dark
disc--the knot-hole in the tree.

Into this her hand is plunged; then drawn out--empty!

At first there is no appearance of disappointment.  On the contrary, the
phosphoric gleam dimly disclosing her features, rather shows
satisfaction--still further evinced by the phrase falling from her lips,
with the tone of its utterance.  She says, contentedly:--"_He has got
it_!"

But by the same fitful light, soon after is perceived a change--the
slightest expression of chagrin, as she adds, in murmured interrogatory,
"Why hasn't he left an answer?"

Is she sure he has not?  No.  But she soon will be.

With this determination, she again faces towards the tree; once more
inserts her slender fingers; plunges in her white hand up to the wrist--
to the elbow; gropes the cavity all round; then draws out again, this
time with an exclamation which tells of something more than
disappointment.  It is discontent--almost anger.  So too a speech
succeeding, thus:--

"He might at least have let me know, whether he was coming or not--a
word to say, I might expect him.  He should have been here before me.
It's the hour--past it!"

She is not certain--only guessing.  She may be mistaken about the time--
perhaps wronging the man.  She draws the watch from her waistbelt, and
holds the dial up.  By the moon, just risen, she can read it.
Reflecting the rays, the watch crystal, the gold rings on her fingers,
and the jewels gleam joyfully.  But there is no joy on her countenance.
On the contrary, a mixed expression of sadness and chagrin.  For the
hands indicate ten minutes after the hour of appointment.

There can be no mistake about the time--she herself fixed it.  And none
in the timepiece.  Her watch is not a cheap one.  No fabric of Germany,
or Geneva; no pedlar's thing from Yankeeland, which as a Southron she
would despise; but an article of solid English manufacture, _sun-sure_,
like the machine-made watches of "Streeter."

In confidence she consults it; saying vexatiously:

"Ten minutes after, and he not here!  No answer to my note!  He must
have received it: Surely Jule put it into the tree?  Who but he could
have taken it out?  Oh, this is cruel!  He comes not--I shall go home."

The cloak is once more closed, the hood drawn over her head.  Still she
lingers--lingers, and listens.

No footstep--no sound to break the solemn stillness--only the chirrup of
tree-crickets, and the shrieking of owls.

She takes a last look at the dial, sadly, despairingly.  The hands
indicate full fifteen minutes after the hour she had named--going on to
twenty.

She restores the watch to its place, beneath her belt, her demeanour
assuming a sudden change.  Some chagrin still, but no sign of sadness.
This is replaced by an air of determination, fixed and stern.  The
moon's light, with that of the fire-flies, have both a response in
flashes brighter than either--sparks from the eyes of an angry woman.
For Helen Armstrong is this, now.

Drawing her cloak closer around, she commences moving off from the tree.

She is not got beyond the canopy of its branches, ere her steps are
stayed.  A rustling among the dead leaves--a swishing against those that
live--a footstep with tread solid and heavy--the footfall of a man!

A figure is seen approaching; as yet only indistinctly, but surely that
of a man.  As surely the man expected?

"He's been detained--no doubt by some good cause," she reflects, her
spite and sadness departing as he draws near.

They are gone, before he can get to her side.  But woman-like, she
resolves to make a grace of forgiveness, and begins by upbraiding him.

"So you're here at last.  A wonder you condescended coming at all!
There's an old adage `Better late than never.'  Perhaps, you think it
befits present time and company?  And, perhaps, you may be mistaken.
Indeed you are, so far as I'm concerned.  I've been here long enough,
and won't be any longer.  Good-night, sir!  Good-night!"

Her speech is taunting in tone, and bitter in sense.  She intends it to
be both--only in seeming.  But to still further impress a lesson on the
lover who has slighted her, she draws closer the mantle, and makes as if
moving away.

Mistaking her pretence for earnest, the man flings himself across her
path--intercepting her.  Despite the darkness she can see that his arms
are in the air, and stretched towards her, as if appealingly.  The
attitude speaks apology, regret, contrition--everything to make her
relent.

She relents; is ready to fling herself upon his breast, and there lie
lovingly, forgivingly.

But again woman-like, not without a last word of reproach, to make more
esteemed her concession, she says:--

"'Tis cruel thus to have tried me.  Charles!  Charles! why have you done
it?"

As she utters the interrogatory a cloud comes over her countenance,
quicker than ever shadow over sun.  Its cause--the countenance of him
standing _vis-a-vis_.  A change in their relative positions has brought
his face full under the moonlight.  He is _not_ the man she intended
meeting!

Who he really is can be gathered from his rejoinder:--

"You are mistaken, Miss Armstrong.  My name is not Charles, but Richard.
I am _Richard Darke_."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE WRONG MAN.

Richard Darke instead of Charles Clancy!

Disappointment were far too weak a word to express the pang that shoots
through the heart of Helen Armstrong, on discovering the mistake she has
made.  It is bitter vexation, commingled with a sense of shame.  I or
her speeches, in feigned reproach, have terribly compromised her.

She does not drop to the earth, nor show any sign of it.  She is not a
woman of the weak fainting sort.  No cry comes from her lips--nothing to
betray surprise, or even the most ordinary emotion.

As Darke stands before her with arms upraised, she simply says,--

"Well, sir; if you _are_ Richard Darke, what then?  Your being so
matters not to me; and certainly gives you no right thus to intrude upon
me.  I wish to be alone, and must beg of you to leave me so."

The cool firm tone causes him to quail.  He had hoped that the surprise
of his unexpected appearance--coupled with his knowledge of her
clandestine appointment--would do something to subdue, perhaps make her
submissive.

On the contrary, the thought of the last but stings her to resentment,
as he soon perceives.

His raised arms drop down, and he is about to step aside, leaving her
free to pass.  Though not before making an attempt to justify himself;
instinct supplying a reason, with hope appended.  He does so, saying,--

"If I've intruded, Miss Armstrong, permit me to apologise for it.  I
assure you it's been altogether an accident.  Having heard you are about
to leave the neighbourhood--indeed, that you start to-morrow morning--I
was on the way to your father's house to say farewell.  I'm sorry my
coming along here, and chancing to meet you, should lay me open to the
charge of intrusion.  I shall still more regret, if my presence has
spoiled any plans, or interfered with an appointment.  Some one else
expected, I presume?"

For a time she is silent--abashed, while angered, by the impudent
interrogatory.

Recovering herself, she rejoins,--

"Even were it as you say, sir, by what authority do you question me?
I've said I wish to be alone."

"Oh, if that's your wish, I must obey, and relieve you of my presence,
apparently so disagreeable."

Saying this he steps to one side.  Then continues,--

"As I've told you, I was on the way to your father's house to take leave
of the family.  If you're not going immediately home, perhaps I may be
the bearer of a message for you?"

The irony is evident; but Helen Armstrong is not sensible of it.  She
does not even think of it.  Her only thought is how to get
disembarrassed of this man who has appeared at a moment so _mal
apropos_.  Charles Clancy--for he was the expected one--may have been
detained by some cause unknown, a delay still possible of justification.
She has a lingering thought he may yet come; and, so thinking, her eye
turns towards the forest with a quick, subtle glance.

Notwithstanding its subtlety, and the obscurity surrounding them, Darke
observes, comprehends it.

Without waiting for her rejoinder, he proceeds to say,--

"From the mistake you've just made, Miss Armstrong, I presume you took
me for some one bearing the baptismal name of Charles.  In these parts I
know only one person who carries that cognomen--one Charles Clancy.  If
it be he you are expecting, I think I can save you the necessity of
stopping out in the night air any longer.  If you're staying for him
you'll be disappointed; he will certainly not come."

"What mean you, Mr Darke?  Why do you say that?"

His words carry weighty significance, and throw the proud girl off her
guard.  She speaks confusedly, and without reflection.

His rejoinder, cunningly conceived, designed with the subtlety of the
devil, still further affects her, and painfully.

He answers, with assumed nonchalance,--

"Because I know it."

"How?" comes the quick, unguarded interrogatory.

"Well; I chanced to meet Charley Clancy this morning, and he told me he
was going off on a journey.  He was just starting when I saw him.  Some
affair of the heart, I believe; a little love-scrape he's got into with
a pretty Creole girl, who lives t'other side of Natchez.  By the way, he
showed me a photograph of yourself, which he said you had sent him.  A
very excellent likeness, indeed.  Excuse me for telling you, that he and
I came near quarrelling about it.  He had another photograph--that of
his Creole _chere amie_--and would insist that she is more beautiful
than you.  I may own, Miss Armstrong, you've given me no great reason
for standing forth as your champion.  Still, I couldn't stand that; and,
after questioning Clancy's taste, I plainly told him he was mistaken.
I'm ready to repeat the same to him, or any one, who says you are not
the most beautiful woman in the State of Mississippi."

At the conclusion of his fulsome speech Helen Armstrong cares but little
for the proffered championship, and not much for aught else.

Her heart is nigh to breaking.  She has given her affections to Clancy--
in that last letter written, lavished them.  And they have been trifled
with--scorned!  She, daughter of the erst proudest planter in all
Mississippi State, has been slighted for a Creole girl; possibly, one of
the "poor white trash" living along the bayous' edge.  Full proof she
has of his perfidy, or how should Darke know of it?  More maddening
still, the man so slighting her, has been making boast of it,
proclaiming her suppliance and shame, showing her photograph, exulting
in the triumph obtained!  "O God!"

Not in prayer, but angry ejaculation, does the name of the Almighty
proceed from her lips.  Along with it a scarce-suppressed scream, as,
despairingly, she turns her face towards home.

Darke sees his opportunity, or thinks so; and again flings himself
before her--this time on his knees.

"Helen Armstrong!" he exclaims, in an earnestness of passion--if not
pure, at least heartfelt and strong--"why should you care for a man who
thus mocks you?  Here am I, who love you, truly--madly--more than my own
life!  'Tis not too late to withdraw the answer you have given me.
Gainsay it, and there need be no change--no going to Texas.  Your
father's home may still be his, and yours.  Say you'll be my wife, and
everything shall be restored to him--all will yet be well."

She is patient to the conclusion of his appeal.  Its apparent sincerity
stays her; though she cannot tell, or does not think, why.  It is a
moment of mechanical irresolution.

But, soon as ended, again returns the bitterness that has just swept
through her soul--torturing her afresh.

There is no balm in the words spoken by Dick Darke; on the contrary,
they but cause increased rankling.

To his appeal she makes answer, as once before she has answered him--
with a single word.  But now repeated three times, and in a tone not to
be mistaken.

On speaking it, she parts from the spot with proud haughty step, and a
denying disdainful gesture, which tells him, she is not to be further
stayed.

Spited, chagrined, angry, in his craven heart he feels also cowed,
subdued, crestfallen.  So much, he dares not follow her, but remains
under the magnolia; from whose hollow trunk seems to reverberate
the echo of her last word, in its treble repetition:
"_never_--_never_--_never_!"



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

THE COON-HUNTER AT HOME.

Over the fields of Ephraim Darke's plantation a lingering ray of
daylight still flickers, as Blue Bill, returning from his abandoned
coon-hunt, gets back to the negro quarter.  He enters it, with stealthy
tread, and looking cautiously around.

For he knows that some of his fellow-slaves are aware of his having gone
out "a-cooning," and will wonder at his soon return--too soon to pass
without observation.  If seen by them he may be asked for an
explanation, which he is not prepared to give.

To avoid being called upon for it, he skulks in among the cabins; still
carrying the dog under his arm, lest the latter may take a fancy to go
smelling among the utensils of some other darkey's kitchen, and betray
his presence in the "quarter."

Fortunately for the coon-hunter, the little "shanty" that claims him as
its tenant stands at the outward extremity of the row of cabins--nearest
the path leading to the plantation woodland.  He is therefore enabled to
reach, and re-enter it, without any great danger of attracting
observation.

And as it chances, he is not observed; but gets back into the bosom of
his family, no one being a bit the wiser.

Blue Bill's domestic circle consists of his wife, Phoebe, and several
half-naked little "niggers," who, at his return, tackle on to his legs,
and, soon as he sits down, clamber confusedly over his knees.  So
circumstanced, one would think he should now feel safe, and relieved
from further anxiety.  Far from it: he has yet a gauntlet to run.

His re-appearance so early, unexpected; his empty gamebag; the coon-dog
carried under his arm; all have their effect upon Phoebe.  She cannot
help feeling surprise, accompanied by a keen curiosity.

She is not the woman to submit to it in silence.

Confronting her dark-skinned lord and master, with arms set akimbo, she
says,--

"Bress de Lor', Bill!  Wha' for you so soon home?  Neider coon nor
possum!  An' de dog toated arter dat trange fashun!  You ain't been gone
more'n a hour!  Who'd speck see you come back dat a way, empty-handed;
nuffin, 'cep your own ole dog!  'Splain it, sah?"

Thus confronted, the coon-hunter lets fall his canine companion; which
drops with a dump upon the floor.  Then seats himself on a stool, but
without entering upon the demanded explanation.  He only says:--

"Nebba mind, Phoebe, gal; nebba you mind why I'se got home so soon.
Dat's nuffin 'trange.  I seed de night warn't a gwine to be fav'ble fo'
trackin' de coon; so dis nigga konklood he'd leab ole cooney 'lone."

"Lookee hya, Bill!" rejoins the sable spouse, laying her hand upon his
shoulder, and gazing earnestly into his eyes.  "Dat ere ain't de correck
explicashun.  You's not tellin' me de troof!"

The coon-hunter quails under the searching glance, as if in reality a
criminal; but still holds back the demanded explanation.  He is at a
loss what to say.

"Da's somethin' mysteerus 'bout dis," continues his better half.
"You'se got a seecrit, nigga; I kin tell it by de glint ob yer eye.  I
nebba see dat look on ye, but I know you ain't yaseff; jess as ye use
deseeve me, when you war in sich a way 'bout brown Bet."

"Wha you talkin 'bout, Phoebe?  Dar's no brown Bet in de case.  I swar
dar ain't."

"Who sayed dar war?  No, Bill, dat's all pass.  I only spoked ob her
'kase ya look jess now like ye did when Bet used bamboozle ye.  What I
say now am dat you ain't yaseff.  Dar's a cat in de bag, somewha; you
better let her out, and confess de whole troof."

As Phoebe makes this appeal, her glance rests inquiringly on her
husband's countenance, and keenly scrutinises the play of his features.

There is not much play to be observed.  The coon-hunter is a
pure-blooded African, with features immobile as those of the Sphinx.
And from his colour nought can be deduced.  As already said, it is the
depth of its ebon blackness, producing a purplish iridescence over the
epidermis, that has gained for him the sobriquet "Blue Bill."

Unflinchingly he stands the inquisitorial glance, and for the time
Phoebe is foiled.

Only until after supper, when the frugality of the meal--made so by the
barren chase--has perhaps something to do in melting his heart, and
relaxing his tongue.  Whether this, or whatever the cause, certain it
is, that before going to bed, he unburdens himself to the partner of his
joys, by making full confession of what he has heard and seen by the
side of the cypress swamp.

He tells her, also, of the letter picked up; which, cautiously pulling
out of his pocket, he submits to her inspection.

Phoebe has once been a family servant--an indoor domestic, and
handmaiden to a white mistress.  This in the days of youth--the halcyon
days of her girlhood, in "Ole Varginny"--before she was transported
west, sold to Ephraim Darke, and by him degraded to the lot of an
ordinary outdoor slave.  But her original owner taught her to read, and
her memory still retains a trace of this early education--sufficient for
her to decipher the script put into her hands.

She first looks at the photograph; as it is the first to come out of the
envelope.  There can be no mistaking whose likeness it is.  A lady too
conspicuously beautiful to have escaped notice from the humblest slave
in the settlement.

The negress spends some seconds gazing upon the portrait, as she does so
remarking,--

"How bewful dat young lady!"

"You am right 'bout dat, Phoebe.  She bewful as any white gal dis nigga
ebber sot eyes on.  And she good as bewful.  I'se sorry she gwine leab
dis hya place.  Dar's many a darkie 'll miss de dear young lady.  An'
won't Mass Charl Clancy miss her too!  Lor!  I most forgot; maybe he no
trouble 'bout her now; maybe he's gone dead!  Ef dat so, she miss _him_,
a no mistake.  She cry her eyes out."

"You tink dar war something 'tween dem two?"

"Tink!  I'se shoo ob it, Phoebe.  Didn't I see dem boaf down dar in de
woodland, when I war out a-coonin.  More'n once I seed em togedder.  A
young white lady an' genl'm don't meet dat way unless dar's a feelin'
atween em, any more dan we brack folks.  Besides, dis nigga know dey lub
one noder--he know fo sartin.  Jule, she tell Jupe; and Jupe hab trussed
dat same seecret to me.  Dey been in lub long time; afore Mass Charl
went 'way to Texas.  But de great Kurnel Armstrong, he don't know
nuffin' 'bout it.  Golly! ef he did, he shoo kill Charl Clancy; dat is,
if de poor young man ain't dead arready.  Le's hope 'tain't so.  But,
Phoebe, gal, open dat letter, an' see what de lady say.  Satin it's been
wrote by her.  Maybe it trow some light on dis dark subjeck."

Phoebe, thus solicited, takes the letter from the envelope.  Then
spreading it out, and holding it close to the flare of the tallow dip,
reads it from beginning to end.

It is a task that occupies her some considerable time; for her
scholastic acquirements, not very bright at the best, have become dimmed
by long disuse.  For all, she succeeds in deciphering its contents and
interpreting them to Bill; who listens with ears wide open and eyes in
staring wonderment.

When the reading is at length finished, the two remain for some time
silent,--pondering upon the strange circumstances thus revealed to them.

Blue Bill is the first to resume speech.  He says:--

"Dar's a good deal in dat letter I know'd afore, and dar's odder points
as 'pear new to me; but whether de old or de new, 'twon't do for us folk
declar a single word o' what de young lady hab wrote in dat ere 'pistle.
No, Phoebe, neery word must 'scape de lips ob eider o' us.  We muss
hide de letter, an' nebba let nob'dy know dar's sich a dockyment in our
posseshun.  And dar must be nuffin' know'd 'bout dis nigga findin' it.
Ef dat sakumstance war to leak out, I needn't warn you what 'ud happen
to me.  Blue Bill 'ud catch de cowhide,--maybe de punishment ob de pump.
So, Phoebe, gal, gi'e me yar word to keep dark, for de case am a
dangersome, an a desprit one."

The wife can well comprehend the husband's caution, with the necessity
of compliance; and the two retire to rest, in the midst of their black
olive branches, with a mutual promise to be "mum."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

WHY COMES HE NOT?

Helen Armstrong goes to bed, with spiteful thoughts about Charles
Clancy.  So rancorous she cannot sleep, but turns distractedly on her
couch, from time to time changing cheek upon the pillow.

At little more than a mile's distance from this chamber of unrest,
another woman is also awake, thinking of the same man--not spitefully,
but anxiously.  It is his mother.

As already said, the road running north from Natchez leads past Colonel
Armstrong's gate.  A traveller, going in the opposite direction--that is
towards the city--on clearing the skirts of the plantation, would see,
near the road side, a dwelling of very different kind; of humble
unpretentious aspect, compared with the grand mansion of the planter.
It would be called a cottage, were this name known in the State of
Mississippi--which it is not.  Still it is not a log-cabin; but a
"frame-house," its walls of "weather-boarding," planed and painted, its
roof cedar-shingled; a style of architecture occasionally seen in the
Southern States, though not so frequently as in the Northern--inhabited
by men in moderate circumstances, poorer than planters, but richer, or
more gentle, than the "white trash," who live in log-cabins.

Planters they are in social rank, though poor; perhaps owning a
half-dozen slaves, and cultivating a small tract of cleared ground, from
twenty to fifty acres.  The frame-house vouches for their
respectability; while two or three log structures at back--representing
barn, stable, and other outbuildings--tell of land attached.

Of this class is the habitation referred to--the home of the widow
Clancy.

As already known, her widowhood is of recent date.  She still wears its
emblems upon her person, and carries its sorrow in her heart.

Her husband, of good Irish lineage, had found his way to Nashville, the
capital city of Tennessee; where, in times long past, many Irish
families made settlements.  There he had married her, she herself being
a native Tennesseean--sprung from the old Carolina pioneer stock, that
colonised the state near the end of the eighteenth century--the
Robertsons, Hyneses, Hardings, and Bradfords--leaving to their
descendants a patent of nobility, or at least a family name deserving
respect, and generally obtaining it.

In America, as elsewhere, it is not the rule for Irishmen to grow rich;
and still more exceptional in the case of Irish gentlemen.  When these
have wealth their hospitality is too apt to take the place of a
spendthrift profuseness, ending in pecuniary embarrassment.

So was it with Captain Jack Clancy; who got wealth with his wife, but
soon squandered it entertaining his own and his wife's friends.  The
result, a move to Mississippi, where land was cheaper, and his
attenuated fortune would enable him to hold out a little longer.

Still, the property he had purchased in Mississippi State was but a poor
one; leading him to contemplate a further flit into the rich red lands
of North-Eastern Texas, just becoming famous as a field for
colonisation.  His son Charles sent thither, as said, on a trip of
exploration, had spent some months in the Lone Star State, prospecting
for the new home; and brought back a report in every way favourable.

But the ear, to which it was to have been spoken, could no more hear.
On his return, he found himself fatherless; and to the only son there
remains only a mother; whose grief, pressing heavily, has almost brought
her to the grave.  It is one of a long series of reverses which have
sorely taxed her fortitude.  Another of like heaviness, and the tomb may
close over her.

Some such presentiment is in the mother's mind, on this very day, as the
sun goes down, and she sits in her chamber beside a dim candle, with ear
keenly bent to catch the returning footsteps of her son.

He has been absent since noon, having gone deer-stalking, as frequently
before.  She can spare him for this, and pardon his prolonged absence.
She knows how fond he is of the chase; has been so from a boy.

But, on the present occasion, he is staying beyond his usual time.  It
is now night; the deer have sought their coverts; and he is not
"torch-hunting."

Only one thing can she think of to explain the tardiness of his return.
The eyes of the widowed mother have been of late more watchful than
wont.  She has noticed her son's abstracted air, and heard sighs that
seemed to come from his inner heart.  Who can mistake the signs of love,
either in man or woman?  Mrs Clancy does not.  She sees that Charles
has lapsed into this condition.

Rumours that seem wafted on the air--signs slight, but significant--
perhaps the whisper of a confidential servant--these have given her
assurance of the fact: telling her, at the same time, who has won his
affections.

Mrs Clancy is neither dissatisfied nor displeased.  In all the
neighbourhood there is no one she would more wish to have for a
daughter-in-law than Helen Armstrong.  Not from any thought of the
girl's great beauty, or high social standing.  Caroline Clancy is
herself too well descended to make much of the latter circumstance.  It
is the reputed noble character of the lady that influences her approval
of her son's choice.

Thinking of this--remembering her own youth, and the stolen interviews
with Charles Clancy's father--oft under the shadow of night--she could
not, does not, reflect harshly on the absence of that father's son from
home, however long, or late the hour.

It is only as the clock strikes twelve, she begins to think seriously
about it.  Then creeps over her a feeling of uneasiness, soon changing
to apprehension.  Why should he be staying out so late--after midnight?
The same little bird, that brought her tidings of his love-affair, has
also told her it is clandestine.  Mrs Clancy may not like this.  It has
the semblance of a slight to her son, as herself--more keenly felt by
her in their reduced circumstances.  But then, as compensation, arises
the retrospect of her own days of courtship carried on in the same way.

Still, at that hour the young lady cannot--dares not--be abroad.  All
the more unlikely, that the Armstrongs are moving off--as all the
neighbourhood knows--and intend starting next day, at an early hour.

The plantation people will long since have retired to rest; therefore an
interview with his sweetheart can scarce be the cause of her son's
detention.  Something else must be keeping him.  What?  So run the
reflections of the fond mother.

At intervals she starts up from her seat, as some sound reaches her;
each time gliding to the door, and gazing out--again to go back
disappointed.

For long periods she remains in the porch, her eye interrogating the
road that runs past the cottage-gate; her ear acutely listening for
footsteps.

Early in the night it has been dark; now there is a brilliant moonlight.
But no man, no form moving underneath it.  No sound of coming feet;
nothing that resembles a footfall.

One o'clock, and still silence; to the mother of Charles Clancy become
oppressive, as with increased anxiety she watches and waits.

At intervals she glances at the little "Connecticut" clock that ticks
over the mantel.  A pedlar's thing, it may be false, as the men who come
south selling "sech."  It is the reflection of a Southern woman, hoping
her conjecture may be true.

But, as she lingers in the porch, and looks at the moving moon, she
knows the hour must be late.

Certain sounds coming from the forest, and the farther swamp, tell her
so.  As a backwoods woman she can interpret them.  She hears the call of
the turkey "gobbler."  She knows it means morning.

The clock strikes two; still she hears no fall of footstep--sees no son
returning!

"Where is my Charles?  What can be detaining him?"

Phrases almost identical with those that fell from the lips of Helen
Armstrong, but a few hours before, in a different place, and prompted by
a different sentiment--a passion equally strong, equally pure!

Both doomed to disappointment, alike bitter and hard to bear.  The same
in cause, but dissimilar in the impression produced.  The sweetheart
believing herself slighted, forsaken, left without a lover; the mother
tortured with the presentiment, she no longer has a son!

When, at a yet later hour--or rather earlier, since it is nigh
daybreak--a dog, his coat disordered, comes gliding through the gate,
and Mrs Clancy recognises her son's favourite hunting hound, she has
still only a presentiment of the terrible truth.  But one which to the
maternal heart, already filled with foreboding, feels too like
certainty.

And too much for her strength.  Wearied with watching, prostrated by the
intensity of her vigil, when the hound crawls up the steps, and under
the dim light she sees his bedraggled body--blood as well as mud upon
it--the sight produces a climax--a shock apparently fatal.

She swoons upon the spot, and is carried inside the house by a female
slave--the last left to her.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

A MOONLIGHT MOVING.

While the widowed mother, now doubly bereft--stricken down by the blow--
is still in a state of syncope, the faithful negress doing what she can
to restore her, there are sounds outside unheard by either.  A dull
rumble of wheels, as of some heavy vehicle coming along the main road,
with the occasional crack of a whip, and the sonorous "wo-ha" of a
teamster.

Presently, a large "Conestoga" wagon passes the cottage-gate, full
freighted with what looks like house furniture, screened under canvas.
The vehicle is drawn by a team of four strong mules, driven by a negro;
while at the wagon's tail, three or four other darkeys follow afoot.

The cortege, of purely southern character, has scarce passed out of
sight, and not yet beyond hearing, when another vehicle comes rolling
along the road.  This, of lighter build, and proceeding at a more rapid
rate, is a barouche, drawn by a pair of large Kentucky horses.  As the
night is warm, and there is no need to spring up the leathern hood--its
occupants can all be seen, and their individuality made out.  On the
box-seat is a black coachman; and by his side a young girl whose tawny
complexion, visible in the whiter moonbeams, tells her to be a mulatto.
Her face has been seen before, under a certain forest tree--a magnolia--
its owner depositing a letter in the cavity of the trunk.  She who sits
alongside the driver is "Jule."

In the barouche, behind, is a second face that has been seen under the
same tree, but with an expression upon it sadder and more disturbed.
For of the three who occupy the inside seats one is Helen Armstrong; the
others her father, and sister.  They are _en route_ for the city of
Natchez, the port of departure for their journey south-westward into
Texas; just starting away from their old long-loved dwelling, whose
gates they have left ajar, its walls desolate behind thorn.

The wagon, before, carries the remnant of the planter's property,--all
his inexorable creditor allows him to take along.  No wonder he sits in
the barouche, with bowed head, and chin between his knees, not caring to
look back.  For the first time in his life he feels truly, terribly
humiliated.

This, and no flight from creditors, no writ, nor pursuing sheriff, will
account for his commencing the journey at so early an hour.  To be seen
going off in the open daylight would attract spectators around; it may
be many sympathisers.  But in the hour of adversity his sensitive nature
shrinks from the glance of sympathy, as he would dread the stare of
exultation, were any disposed to indulge in it.

But besides the sentiment, there is another cause for their night
moving--an inexorable necessity as to time.  The steamboat, which is to
take them up Red River, leaves Natchez at sunrise.  He must be aboard by
daybreak.

If the bankrupt planter be thus broken-spirited, his eldest daughter is
as much cast down as he, and far more unhappily reflecting.

Throughout all that night Helen Armstrong has had no sleep; and now, in
the pale moonlight of the morning, her cheeks show white and wan, while
a dark shadow broods upon her brow, and her eyes glisten with wild
unnatural light, as one in a raging fever.  Absorbed in thought, she
takes no heed of anything along the road; and scarce makes answer to an
occasional observation addressed to her by her sifter, evidently with
the intention to cheer her.  It has less chance of success, because of
Jessie herself being somewhat out of sorts.  Even she, habitually merry,
is for the time sobered; indeed saddened at the thought of that they are
leaving behind, and what may be before them.  Possibly, as she looks
back at the gate of their grand old home, through which they will never
again go, she may be reflecting on the change from their late luxurious
life, to the log-cabin and coarse fare, of which her father had
forewarned them.

If so, the reflection is hers--not Helen's.  Different with the latter,
and far more bitter the emotion that stirs within her person, scalding
her heart.  Little cares she what sort of house she is hitherto to dwell
in, what she will have to wear, or eat.  The scantiest raiment, or
coarsest food, can give no discomfort now.  She could bear the thought
of sheltering under the humblest roof in Texas--ay, think of it with
cheerfulness--had Charles Clancy been but true, to share its shelter
along with her.  He has not, and that is an end of it.

Is it?  No; not for her, though it may be for him.  In the company of
his Creole girl he will soon cease to think of her--forget the solemn
vows made, and the sweet words spoken, beneath the magnolia--tree, in
her retrospect seeming sadder than yew, or cypress.

Will she ever forget him?  Can she?  No; unless in that land, whither
her face is set, she find the fabled Lethean stream.  Oh! it is bitter--
keenly bitter!

It reaches the climax of its bitterness, when the barouche rolling along
opens out a vista between the trees, disclosing a cottage--Clancy's.
Inside it sleeps the man, who has made her life a misery!  Can he sleep,
after what he has done?

While making this reflection she herself feels, as if never caring to
close her eyelids more--except in death!

Her emotions are terribly intense, her anguish so overpowering, she can
scarce conceal it--indeed does not try, so long as the house is in
sight.  Perhaps fortunate that her father is absorbed in his own
particular sadness.  But her sister observes all, guessing--nay, knowing
the cause.  She says nothing.  Such sorrow is too sacred to be intruded
on.  There are times, when even a sister may not attempt consolation.

Jessie is glad when the carriage, gliding on, again enters among trees,
and the little cottage of the Clancys, like their own great house, is
forever lost to view.

Could the eyes of Helen Armstrong, in passing, have penetrated through
the walls of that white painted dwelling--could she have rested them
upon a bed with a woman laid astretch upon it, apparently dead, or
dying--could she have looked on another bed, unoccupied, untouched, and
been told how he, its usual occupant, was at that moment lying in the
middle of a chill marsh, under the sombre canopy of cypresses--it would
have caused a revulsion in her feelings, sudden, painful, and powerful
as the shock already received.

There would still be sadness in her breast, but no bitterness.  The
former far easier to endure; she would sooner believe Clancy dead, than
think of his traitorous defection.

But she is ignorant of all that has occurred; of the sanguinary scene
enacted--played out complete--on the edge of the cypress swamp, and the
sad one inside the house--still continuing.  Aware of the one, or
witness of the other, while passing that lone cottage, as with wet eyes
she takes a last look at its walls, she would still be shedding tears--
not of spite, but sorrow.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

WHAT HAS BECOME OF CLANCY?

The sun is up--the hour ten o'clock, morning.  Around the residence of
the widow Clancy a crowd of people has collected.  They are her nearest
neighbours; while those who dwell at a distance are still in the act of
assembling.  Every few minutes two or three horsemen ride up, carrying
long rifles over their shoulders, with powder-horns and bullet-pouches
strapped across their breasts.  Those already on the ground are
similarly armed, and accoutred.

The cause of this warlike muster is understood by all.  Some hours
before, a report has spread throughout the plantations that Charles
Clancy is missing from his home, under circumstances to justify
suspicion of foul play having befallen him.  His mother has sent
messengers to and fro; hence the gathering around her house.

In the South-Western States, on occasions of this kind, it does not do
for any one to show indifference, whatever his station in life.  The
wealthiest, as well as the poorest, is expected to take part in the
administration of backwoods' justice--at times not strictly _en regle_
with the laws of the land.

For this reason Mrs Clancy's neighbours, far and near, summoned or not
summoned, come to her cottage.  Among them Ephraim Darke, and his son
Richard.

Archibald Armstrong is not there, nor looked for.  Most know of his
having moved away that same morning.  The track of his waggon wheels has
been seen upon the road; and, if the boat he is to take passage by,
start at the advertised hour, he should now be nigh fifty miles from the
spot, and still further departing.  No one is thinking of him, or his;
since no one dreams of the deposed planter, or his family, having ought
to do with the business that brings them together.

This is to search for Charles Clancy, still absent from his home.  The
mother's story has been already told, and only the late comers have to
hear it again.

In detail she narrates what occurred on the preceding night; how the
hound came home wet, and wounded.  Confirmatory of her speech, the
animal is before their eyes, still in the condition spoken of.  They can
all see it has been shot--the tear of the bullet being visible on its
back, having just cut through the skin.  Coupled with its master's
absence, this circumstance strengthens the suspicion of something amiss.

Another, of less serious suggestion, is a piece of cord knotted around
the dog's neck--the loose end looking as though gnawed by teeth, and
then broken off with a pluck; as if the animal had been tied up, and
succeeded in setting itself free.

But why tied?  And why has it been shot?  These are questions that not
anybody can answer.

Strange, too, in the hound having reached home at the hour it did.  As
Clancy went out about the middle of the day, he could not have gone to
such a distance for his dog to have been nearly all night getting back.

Could he himself have fired the bullet, whose effect is before their
eyes?

A question almost instantly answered in the negative; by old
backwoodsmen among the mustered crowd--hunters who know how to interpret
"sign" as surely as Champollion an Egyptian hieroglyph.  These having
examined the mark on the hound's skin, pronounce the ball that made it
to have come from a _smooth-bore, and not a rifle_.  It is notorious,
that Charles Clancy never carried a smooth-bore, but always a rifled
gun.  His own dog has not been shot by him.

After some time spent in discussing the probabilities and possibilities
of the case, it is at length resolved to drop conjecturing, and commence
search for the missing man.  In the presence of his mother no one speaks
of searching for his _dead body_; though there is a general
apprehension, that this will be the thing found.

She, the mother, most interested of all, has a too true foreboding of
it.  When the searchers, starting off, in kindly sympathy tell her to be
of good cheer, her heart more truly says, she will never see her son
again.

On leaving the house, the horsemen separate into two distinct parties,
and proceed in different directions.

With one and the larger, goes Clancy's hound; an old hunter, named
Woodley, taking the animal along.  He has an idea it may prove
serviceable, when thrown on its master's track--supposing this can be
discovered.

Just as conjectured, the hound does prove of service.  Once inside the
woods, without even setting nose to the ground, it starts off in a
straight run--going so swiftly, the horsemen find it difficult to keep
pace with it.

It sets them all into a gallop; this continued for quite a couple of
miles through timber thick and thin, at length ending upon the edge of
the swamp.

Only a few have followed the hound thus far, keeping close.  The others,
straggling behind, come up by twos and threes.

The hunter, Woodley, is among the foremost to be in at the death; for
_death_ all expect it to prove.  They are sure of it, on seeing the
stag-hound stop beside something, as it does so loudly baying.

Spurring on towards the spot, they expect to behold the dead body of
Charles Clancy.  They are disappointed.

There is no body there--dead or alive.  Only a pile of Spanish moss,
which appears recently dragged from the trees; then thrown into a heap,
and afterwards scattered.

The hound has taken stand beside it; and there stays, giving tongue.  As
the horsemen dismount, and get their eyes closer to the ground, they see
something red; which proves to be blood.  It is dark crimson, almost
black, and coagulated.  Still is it blood.

From under the edge of the moss-heap protrudes the barrel of a gun.  On
kicking the loose cover aside, they see it is a rifle--not of the kind
common among backwoodsmen.  But they have no need to waste conjecture on
the gun.  Many present identify it as the yager usually carried by
Clancy.

More of the moss being removed, a hat is uncovered--also Clancy's.
Several know it as his--can swear to it.

A gun upon the ground, abandoned, discharged as they see; a hat
alongside it; blood beside both--there must have been shooting on the
spot--some one wounded, if not actually killed?  And who but Charles
Clancy?  The gun is his, the hat too, and his must be the blood.

They have no doubt of its being his, no more of his being dead; the only
question asked is "Where's his body?"

While those first up are mutually exchanging this interrogatory, others,
later arriving, also put it in turn.  All equally unable to give a
satisfactory answer--alike surprised by what they see, and puzzled to
explain it.

There is one man present who could enlighten them in part, though not
altogether--one who comes lagging up with the last.  It is Richard
Darke.

Strange he should be among the stragglers.  At starting out he appeared
the most zealous of all!

Then he was not thinking of the dog; had no idea how direct, and soon,
the instinct of the animal would lead them to the spot where he had
given Clancy his death shot.

The foremost of the searchers have dismounted and are standing grouped
around it.  He sees them, and would gladly go back, but dares not.
Defection now would be damning evidence against him.  After all, what
has he to fear?  They will find a dead body--Clancy's--a corpse with a
bullet-hole in the breast.  They can't tell who fired the fatal shot--
how could they?  There were no witnesses save the trunks of the
cypresses, and the dumb brute of a dog--not so dumb but that it now
makes the woods resound with its long-drawn continuous whining.  If it
could but shape this into articulate speech, then he might have to fear.
As it is, he need not.

Fortified with these reflections, he approaches the spot, by himself
made bloody.  Trembling, nevertheless, and with cheeks pale.  _Not_
strange.  He is about being brought face to face with the man he has
murdered--with his corpse!

Nothing of the kind.  There is no murdered man there, no corpse!  Only a
gun, a hat, and some blotches of crimson!

Does Darke rejoice at seeing only this?  Judging by his looks, the
reverse.  Before, he only trembled slightly, with a hue of pallor on his
cheeks.  Now his lips show white, his eyes sunken in their sockets,
while his teeth chatter and his whole frame shivers as if under an ague
chill!

Luckily for the assassin this tale-telling exhibition occurs under the
shadow of the great cypress, whose gloomy obscurity guards against its
being observed.  But to counteract this little bit of good luck there
chances to be present a detective that trusts less to sight, than scent.
This is Clancy's dog.  As Darke presents himself in the circle of
searchers collected around it, the animal perceiving, suddenly springs
towards him with the shrill cry of an enraged cat, and the elastic leap
of a tiger!

But for Simeon Woodley seizing the hound, and holding it back, the
throat of Richard Darke would be in danger.

It is so, notwithstanding.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Around the blood-stained spot there is a pause; the searchers forming a
tableau strikingly significant.  They have come up, to the very last
lagger; and stand in attitudes expressing astonishment, with glances
that speak inquiry.  These, not directed to the ground, nor straying
through the trees, but fixed upon Dick Darke.

Strange the antipathy of the dog, which all observe!  For the animal,
soon as let loose, repeats its hostile demonstrations, and has to be
held off again.  Surely it signifies something, and this bearing upon
the object of their search?  The inference is unavoidable.

Darke is well aware their eyes are upon him, as also their thoughts.
Fortunate for him, that night-like shadow surrounding.  But for it, his
blanched lips, and craven cast of countenance, would tell a tale to
condemn him at once--perhaps to punishment on the spot.

As it if, his scared condition is not unnoticed.  It is heard, if not
clearly seen.  Two or three, standing close to him, can hear his teeth
clacking like castanets!

His terror is trebly intensified--from a threefold cause.  Seeing no
body first gave him a shock of surprise; soon followed by superstitious
awe; this succeeded by apprehension of another kind.  But he had no time
to dwell upon it before being set upon by the dog, which drove the more
distant danger out of his head.

Delivered also from this, his present fear is about those glances
regarding him.  In the obscurity he cannot read them, but for all that
can tell they are sternly inquisitorial.  _En revanche_, neither can
they read his; and, from this drawing confidence, he recovers his
habitual coolness--knowing how much he now needs it.

The behaviour of the hound must not pass unspoken of.  With a forced
laugh, and in a tone of assumed nonchalance, he says:

"I can't tell how many scores of times that dog of Clancy's has made at
me in the same way.  It's never forgiven me since the day I chastised
it, when it came after one of our sluts.  I'd have killed the cur long
ago, but spared it through friendship for its master."

An explanation plausible, and cunningly conceived; though not
satisfactory to some.  Only the unsuspicious are beguiled by it.
However, it holds good for the time; and, so regarded, the searchers
resume their quest.

It is no use for them to remain longer by the moss-heap.  There they but
see blood; they are looking for a body.  To find this they must go
farther.

One taking up the hat, another the abandoned gun, they scatter off,
proceeding in diverse directions.

For several hours they go tramping among the trees, peering under the
broad fan-like fronds of the saw-palmettoes, groping around the
buttressed trunks of the cypresses, sending glances into the shadowed
spaces between--in short, searching everywhere.

For more than a mile around they quarter the forest, giving it thorough
examination.  The swamp also, far as the treacherous ooze will allow
them to penetrate within its _gloomy_ portals--fit abode of death--place
appropriate for the concealment of darkest crime.

Notwithstanding their zeal, prompted by sympathising hearts, as by a
sense of outraged justice, the day's search proves fruitless--bootless.
No body can be found, dead or living; no trace of the missing man.
Nothing beyond what they have already obtained--his hat and gun.

Dispirited, tired out, hungry, hankering after dinners delayed, as eve
approaches they again congregate around the gory spot; and, with a
mutual understanding to resume search on the morrow, separate, and set
off--each to his own home.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

A BULLET EXTRACTED.

Not all of the searching party leave the place.  Two remain, staying as
by stealth.  Some time before the departure of the others, these had
slipped aside, and sauntered off several hundred yards, taking their
horses along with them.

Halting in an out-of-the-way spot, under deepest shadow, and then
dismounting, they wait till the crowd shall disperse.  To all appearance
impatiently, as if they wanted to have the range of the forest to
themselves, and for some particular reason.  Just this do they, or at
least one of them does; making his design known to the other, soon as he
believes himself beyond earshot of those from whom they separated.

It is the elder that instructs; who, in addition to the horse he is
holding, has another animal by his side--a dog.  For it is the hunter,
Woodley, still in charge of Clancy's hound.

The man remaining with him is one of his own kind and calling; younger
in years, but, like himself, a professional follower of the chase--by
name, Heywood.

Giving his reason for the step he is taking, Woodley says, "We kin do
nothin' till them greenhorns air gone.  Old Dan Boone hisself kedn't
take up trail, wi' sich a noisy clanjamfry aroun him.  For myself I
hain't hardly tried, seein' 'twar no use till they'd clar off out o' the
way.  And now the darned fools hev' made the thing more diffeequilt,
trampin about, an' blottin' out every shadder o' sign, an everything as
looks like a futmark.  For all, I've tuk notice to somethin' none o'
them seed.  Soon's the coast is clar we kin go thar, an' gie it a more
pertikler examinashun."

The younger hunter nods assent, adding a word, signifying readiness to
follow his older confrere.

For some minutes they remain; until silence restored throughout the
forest tells them it is forsaken.  Then, leaving their horses behind,
with bridles looped around branches--the hound also attached to one of
the stirrups--they go back to the place, where the hat and gun were
found.

They do not stay there; but continue a little farther on, Woodley
leading.

At some twenty paces distance, the old hunter comes to a halt, stopping
by the side of a cypress "knee"; one of those vegetable monstrosities
that perplex the botanist--to this hour scientifically unexplained.  In
shape resembling a ham, with the shank end upwards; indeed so like to
this, that the Yankee bacon-curers have been accused, by their southern
customers, of covering them with canvas, and selling them for the real
article!

It may be that the Mississippian backwoodsman, Woodley, could give a
better account of these singular excrescences than all the closet
scientists in the world.

He is not thinking of either science, or his own superior knowledge,
while conducting his companion to the side of that "cypress knee."  His
only thought is to show Heywood something he had espied while passing it
in the search; but of which he did not then appear to take notice, and
said nothing, so long as surrounded by the other searchers.

The time has come to scrutinise it more closely, and ascertain if it be
what he suspects it.

The "knee" in question is one which could not be palmed off for a
porker's ham.  Its superior dimensions forbid the counterfeit.  As the
two hunters halt beside it, its bulk shows bigger than either of their
own bodies, while its top is at the height of their heads.

Standing in front of it, Woodley points to a break in the bark--a round
hole, with edge slightly ragged.  The fibre appears freshly cut, and
more than cut--encrimsoned!  Twenty-four hours may have elapsed, but not
many more, since that hole was made.  So believe the backwoodsmen, soon
as setting their eyes on it.

Speaking first, Woodley asks,--

"What d'ye think o' it, Ned?"

Heywood, of taciturn habit, does not make immediate answer, but stands
silently regarding the perforated spot.  His comrade continues:--

"Thar's a blue pill goed in thar', which jedgin' by the size and shape
o' the hole must a kum out a biggish gun barrel.  An', lookin' at the
red stain 'roun' its edge, that pill must a been blood-coated."

"Looks like blood, certainly."

"_It air blood_--the real red thing itself; the blood o' Charley Clancy.
The ball inside thar' has first goed through his body.  It's been
deadened by something and don't appear to hev penetrated a great way
into the timmer, for all o' that bein' soft as sapwood."

Drawing out his knife, the old hunter inserts the point of its blade
into the hole, probing it.

"Jest as I sayed.  Hain't entered the hul o' an inch.  I kin feel the
lead ludged thar'."

"Suppose you cut it out, Sime?"

"Precisely what I intend doin'.  But not in a careless way.  I want the
surroundin' wood along wi' it.  The two thegither will best answer our
purpiss.  So hyar goes to git 'em thegither."

Saying this, he inserts his knife-blade into the bark, and first makes a
circular incision around the bullet-hole.  Then deepens it, taking care
not to touch the ensanguined edge of the orifice, or come near it.

The soft vegetable substance yields to his keen steel, almost as easily
as if he were slicing a Swedish turnip; and soon he detaches a
pear-shaped piece, but bigger than the largest prize "Jargonelle."

Holding it in his hand, and apparently testing its ponderosity, he says:

"Ned; this chunk o' timmer encloses a bit o' lead as niver kim out o' a
rifle.  Thar's big eends o' an ounce weight o' metal inside.  Only a
smooth-bore barrel ked a tuk it; an' from sech it's been dischurged."

"You're right about that," responds Heywood, taking hold of the piece of
wood, and also trying its weight.  "It's a smooth-bore ball--no doubt of
it."

"Well, then, who carries a smooth-bore through these hyar woods?  Who,
Ned Heywood?"

"I know only one man that does."

"Name him!  Name the damned rascal!"

"Dick Darke."

"Ye kin drink afore me, Ned.  That's the skunk I war a-thinkin' 'bout,
an' hev been all the day.  I've seed other sign beside this--the which
escaped the eyes o' the others.  An' I'm gled it did: for I didn't want
Dick Darke to be about when I war follerin' it up.  For that reezun I
drawed the rest aside--so as none o' 'em shed notice it.  By good luck
they didn't."

"You saw other sign!  What, Sime?"

"Tracks in the mud, clost in by the edge o' the swamp.  They're a good
bit from the place whar the poor young fellur's blood's been spilt, an'
makin' away from it.  I got only a glimp at 'em, but ked see they'd been
made by a man runnin'.  You bet yur life on't they war made by a pair o'
boots I've seen on Dick Darke's feet.  It's too gloomsome now to make
any thin' out o' them.  So let's you an' me come back here by ourselves,
at the earliest o' daybreak, afore the people git about.  Then we kin
gie them tracks a thorrer scrutination.  If they don't prove to be Dick
Darke's, ye may call Sime Woodley a thick-headed woodchuck."

"If we only had one of his boots, so that we might compare it with the
tracks."

"_If_!  Thar's no if.  We _shall_ hev one o' his boots--ay, both--I'm
boun' to hev 'em."

"But how?"

"Leave that to me.  I've thought o' a plan to git purssession o' the
scoundrel's futwear, an' everythin' else belongin' to him that kin throw
a ray o' daylight unto this darksome bizness.  Come, Ned!  Le's go to
the widder's house, an' see if we kin say a word to comfort the poor
lady--for a lady she air.  Belike enough this thing'll be the death o'
her.  She warn't strong at best, an' she's been a deal weaker since the
husban' died.  Now the son's goed too--ah!  Come along, an' le's show
her, she ain't forsook by everybody."

With the alacrity of a loyal heart, alike leaning to pity, the young
hunter promptly responds to the appeal, saying:--

"I'm with you, Woodley!"

The Death Shot--by Captain Mayne Reid



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

"TO THE SHERIFF!"

A day of dread, pitiless suspense to the mother of Charles Clancy, while
they are abroad searching for her son.

Still more terrible the night after their return--not without tidings of
the missing man.  Such tidings!  The too certain assurance of his
death--of his murder--with the added mystery of their not having been
able to find his body.  Only his hat, his gun, his blood!

Her grief, hitherto held in check by a still lingering hope, now escapes
all trammels, and becomes truly agonising.  Her heart seems broken, or
breaking.

Although without wealth, and therefore with but few friends, in her hour
of lamentation she is not left alone.  It is never so in the backwoods
of the Far West; where, under rough home-wove coats, throb hearts gentle
and sympathetic, as ever beat under the finest broadcloth.

Among Mrs Clancy's neighbours are many of this kind; chiefly "poor
whites,"--as scornfully styled by the prouder planters.  Some half-score
of them determine to stay by her throughout the night; with a belief
their presence may do something to solace her, and a presentiment that
ere morning they may be needed for a service yet more solemn.  She has
retired to her chamber--taken to her bed; she may never leave either
alive.

As the night chances to be a warm one--indeed stifling hot, the men stay
outside, smoking their pipes in the porch, or reclining upon the little
grass plot in front of the dwelling, while within, by the bedside of the
bereaved widow, are their wives, sisters, and daughters.

Needless to say, that the conversation of those without relates
exclusively to the occurrences of the day, and the mystery of the
murder.  For this, they all believe it to have been; though utterly
unable to make out, or conjecture a motive.

They are equally perplexed about the disappearance of the body; though
this adds not much to the mystery.

They deem it simply a corollary, and consequence, of the other.  He, who
did the foul deed, has taken steps to conceal it, and so far succeeded.
It remains to be seen whether his astuteness will serve against the
search to be resumed on the morrow.

Two questions in chief, correlative, occupy them: "Who killed Clancy?"
and "What has been the motive for killing him?"

To the former, none of them would have thought of answering "Dick
Darke,"--that is when starting out on the search near noon.

Now that night is on, and they have returned from it, his name is on
every lip.  At first only in whispers, and guarded insinuations; but
gradually pronounced in louder tone, and bolder speech--this approaching
accusation.

Still the second question remains unanswered:--

"Why should Dick Darke have killed Charley Clancy?"

Even put in this familiar form it receives no reply.  It is an enigma to
which no one present holds the key.  For none know aught of a rivalry
having existed between the two men--much less a love-jealousy, than
which no motive more inciting to murder ever beat in human breast.

Darke's partiality for Colonel Armstrong's eldest daughter has been no
secret throughout the settlement.  He himself, childishly, in his cups,
long since made all scandal-mongers acquainted with that.  But Clancy,
of higher tone, if not more secretive habit, has kept his love-affair to
himself; influenced by the additional reason of its being clandestine.

Therefore, those, sitting up as company to his afflicted parent, have no
knowledge of the tender relations that existed between him and Helen
Armstrong, any more than of their being the cause of that disaster for
which the widow now weeps.

She herself alone knows of them; but, in the first moment of her
misfortune, completely prostrated by it, she has not yet communicated
aught of this to the sympathetic ears around her.  It is a family
secret, too sacred for their sympathy; and, with some last lingering
pride of superior birth, she keeps it to herself.  The time has not come
for disclosing it.

But it soon will--she knows that.  All must needs be told.  For, after
the first throes of the overwhelming calamity, in which her thoughts
alone dwelt on the slain son, they turned towards him suspected as the
slayer.  In her case with something stronger than suspicion--indeed
almost belief, based on her foreknowledge of the circumstances; these
not only accounting for the crime, but pointing to the man who must have
committed it.

As she lies upon her couch, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and
sighs heaved from the very bottom of her breast--as she listens to the
kind voices vainly essaying to console her--she herself says not a word.
Her sorrow is too deep, too absorbing, to find expression in speech.
But in her thoughts are two men--before, her distracted fancy two
faces--one of a murdered man, the other his murderer--the first her own
son, the second that of Ephraim Darke.

Notwithstanding ignorance of all these circumstances, the thoughts of
her sympathising neighbours--those in council outside--dwell upon Dick
Darke; while his name is continuously upon their tongues.  His
unaccountable conduct during the day--as also the strange behaviour of
the hound--is now called up, and commented upon.

Why should the dog have made such demonstration?  Why bark at him above
all the others--selecting him out of the crowd--so resolutely and
angrily assailing him?

His own explanation, given at the time, appeared lame and
unsatisfactory.

It looks lamer now, as they sit smoking their pipes, more coolly and
closely considering it.

While they are thus occupied, the wicket-gate, in front of the cottage,
is heard turning upon its hinges, and two men are seen entering the
enclosure.

As these draw near to the porch, where a tallow dip dimly burns, its
light is reflected from the features of Simeon Woodley and Edward
Heywood.

The hunters are both well-known to all upon the ground; and welcomed, as
men likely to make a little less irksome that melancholy midnight watch.

If the new-comers cannot contribute cheerfulness, they may something
else, as predicted by the expression observed upon their faces, at
stepping into the porch.  Their demeanour shows them possessed of some
knowledge pertinent to the subject under discussion, as also important.

Going close to the candle, and summoning the rest around, Woodley draws
from the ample pocket of his large, loose coat a bit of wood, bearing
resemblance to a pine-apple, or turnip roughly peeled.

Holding it to the light, he says: "Come hyar, fellurs! fix yar eyes on
this."

All do as desired.

"Kin any o' ye tell what it air?" the hunter asks.

"A bit of tree timber, I take it," answers one.

"Looks like a chunk carved out of a cypress knee," adds a second.

"It ought," assents Sime, "since that's jest what it air; an' this child
air he who curved it out.  Ye kin see thar's a hole in the skin-front;
which any greenhorn may tell's been made by a bullet: an' he'd be still
greener in the horn as kedn't obsarve a tinge o' red roun' thet hole,
the which air nothin' more nor less than blood.  Now, boys! the bullet's
yit inside the wud, for me an' Heywood here tuk care not to extract it
till the proper time shed come."

"It's come now; let's hev it out!" exclaims Heywood; the others
endorsing the demand.

"Thet ye shall.  Now, fellurs; take partikler notice o' what sort o'
_egg_ hez been hatchin' in this nest o' cypress knee."

While speaking, Sime draws his large-bladed knife from its sheath; and,
resting the piece of wood on the porch bench, splits it open.  When
cleft, it discloses a thing of rounded form and metallic lustre, dull
leaden--a gun-bullet, as all expected.

There is not any blood upon it, this having been brushed off in its
passage through the fibrous texture of the wood.  But it still preserves
its spherical shape, perfect as when it issued from the barrel of the
gun that discharged, or the mould that made it.

Soon as seeing it they all cry out, "A bullet!" several adding, "The
ball of a smooth-bore."

Then one asks, suggestingly:

"Who is there in this neighbourhood that's got a shooting-iron of such
sort?"

The question is instantly answered by another, though not
satisfactorily.

"Plenty of smooth-bores about, though nobody as I knows of hunts with
them."

A third speaks more to the point, saying:--

"Yes; there's one does."

"Name him!" is the demand of many voices.

"_Dick Darke_!"

The statement is confirmed by several others, in succession repeating
it.

After this succeeds silence--a pause in the proceedings--a lull ominous,
not of further speech but, action.

Daring its continuance, Woodley replaces the piece of lead in the wood,
just as it was before; then laying the two cleft pieces together, and
tying them with a string, he returns the chunk to his pocket.

This done, he makes a sign to the chiefs of the conclave to follow him
as if for further communication.

Which they do, drawing off out of the porch, and taking stand upon grass
plot below at some paces distant from the dwelling.

With heads close together, they converse for a while, _sotto voce_.

Not so low, but that a title, the terror of all malefactors, can be
heard repeatedly pronounced.

And also a name; the same, which, throughout all the evening has been
upon their lips, bandied about, spoken of with gritting teeth and brows
contracted.

Not all of those, who watch with the widow are admitted to this
muttering council.  Simon Woodley, who presides over it, has his reasons
for excluding some.  Only men take part in it who can be relied on for
an emergency, such as that the hunter has before him.

Their conference closed, four of them, as if by agreement with the
others, separate from the group, glide out through the wicket-gate, and
on to their horses left tied to the roadside rail fence.

"Unhitching" these, they climb silently into their saddles, and as
silently slip away; only some muttered words passing between them, as
they ride along the road.

Among these may be heard the name of a man, conjoined to a speech, under
the circumstances significant:--

"_Let's straight to the Sheriff_!"



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

THE "BELLE OF NATCHEZ."

While search is still being made for the body of the murdered man, and
he suspected of the crime is threatened with a prison cell, she, the
innocent cause of it, is being borne far away from the scene of its
committal.

The steamboat, carrying Colonel Armstrong and his belongings, having
left port punctually at the hour advertised, has forsaken the "Father of
Waters," entered the Red River of Louisiana, and now, on the second day
after, is cleaving the current of this ochre-tinted stream, some fifty
miles from its mouth.

The boat is the "Belle of Natchez."  Singular coincidence of name; since
one aboard bears also the distinctive sobriquet.

Oft have the young "bloods" of the "City of the Bluffs," while quaffing
their sherry cobblers, or champagne, toasted Helen Armstrong, with this
appellation added.

Taking quality into account, she has a better right to it than the boat.
For this, notwithstanding the proud title bestowed upon it, is but a
sorry craft; a little "stern-wheel" steamer, such as, in those early
days, were oft seen ploughing the bosom of the mighty Mississippi, more
often threading the intricate and shallower channels of its tributaries.
A single set of paddles, placed where the rudder acts in other vessels,
and looking very much like an old-fashioned mill-wheel, supplies the
impulsive power--at best giving but poor speed.

Nevertheless, a sort of craft with correct excuse, and fair _raison
d'etre_; as all know, who navigate narrow rivers, and their still
narrower reaches, with trees from each side outstretching, as is the
case with many of the streams of Louisiana.

Not that the noble Red River can be thus classified; nor in any sense
spoken of as a narrow stream.  Broad, and deep enough, for the biggest
boats to navigate to Natchitoches--the butt of Colonel Armstrong's
journey by water.

Why the broken planter has taken passage on the little "stern-wheeler"
is due to two distinct causes.  It suited him as to time, and also
expense.

On the Mississippi, and its tributaries, a passage in "crack" boats is
costly, in proportion to their character for "crackness."  The "Belle of
Natchez," being without reputation of this kind, carries her passengers
at a reasonable rate.

But, indeed, something beyond ideas of opportune time, or economy,
influenced Colonel Armstrong in selecting her.  The same thought which
hurried him away from his old home under the shadows of night, has taken
him aboard a third-rate river steamboat.  Travelling thus obscurely, he
hopes to shun encounter with men of his own class; to escape not only
observation, but the sympathy he shrinks from.

In this hope he is disappointed, and on both horns of his fancied, not
to say ridiculous, dilemma.  For it so chances, that the "bully" boat,
which was to leave Natchez for Natchitoches on the same day with the
"Belle," has burst one of her boilers.  As a consequence, the smaller
steamer has started on her trip, loaded down to the water-line with
freight, her state-rooms and cabins crowded with passengers--many of
these the best, bluest blood of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Whatever of chagrin this _contretemps_ has caused Colonel Armstrong--
and, it may be, the older of his daughters--to the younger it gives
gladness.  For among the supernumeraries forced to take passage in the
stern-wheel steamer, is a man she has met before.  Not only met, but
danced with; and not only danced but been delighted with; so much, that
souvenirs of that night, with its saltative enjoyment, have since oft
occupied her thoughts, thrilling her with sweetest reminiscence.

He, who has produced this pleasant impression, is a young planter, by
name Luis Dupre.  A Louisianian by birth, therefore a "Creole."  And
without any taint of the African; else he would not be a Creole _pur
sang_.

The English reader seems to need undeceiving about this, constantly,
repeatedly.  In the Creole, simply so-called, there is no admixture of
negro blood.

Not a drop of it in the veins of Luis Dupre; else Jessie Armstrong could
not have danced with him at a Natchez ball; nor would her father, fallen
as he is, permit her to keep company with him on a Red River steamboat.

In this case, there is no condescension on the part of the
ex-Mississippian planter.  He of Louisiana is his equal in social rank,
and now his superior in point of wealth, by hundreds, thousands.  For
Luis Dupre is one of the largest landowners along the line of Red River
plantations, while his slaves number several hundred field-hands, and
house domestics: the able-bodied of both, without enumerating the aged,
the imbecile, and piccaninnies, more costly than profitable.

If, in the presence of such a prosperous man, Colonel Armstrong reflects
painfully upon his own reduced state, it is different with his daughter
Jessie.

Into her ear Luis Dupre has whispered sweet words--a speech telling her,
that not only are his lands, houses, and slaves at her disposal, but
along with them his heart and hand.

It is but repeating what he said on the night of the Natchez ball; his
impulsive Creole nature having then influenced him to speak as he felt.

Now, on the gliding steamboat, he reiterates the proposal, more
earnestly pressing for an answer.

And he gets it in the affirmative.  Before the "Belle of Natchez" has
reached fifty miles from the Red River's mouth, Luis Dupre and Jessie
Armstrong have mutually confessed affection, clasped hands, let lips
meet, and tongues swear, never more to live asunder.  That journey
commenced upon the Mississippi is to continue throughout life.

In their case, there is no fear of aught arising to hinder the
consummation of their hopes; no stern parent to stand in the way of
their life's happiness.  By the death of both father and mother, Luis
Dupre has long since been emancipated from parental authority, and is as
much his own master as he is of his many slaves.

On the other side, Jessie Armstrong is left free to her choice; because
she has chosen well.  Her father has given ready consent; or at all
events said enough to ensure his doing so.

The huge "high-pressure" steam craft which ply upon the western rivers
of America bear but a very slight resemblance to the black, long, low--
hulled leviathans that plough the briny waste of ocean.  The steamboat
of the Mississippi more resembles a house, two stories in height, and,
not unfrequently, something of a third--abode of mates and pilots.
Rounded off at stern, the structure, of oblong oval shape, is
universally painted chalk-white; the second, or cabin story, having on
each face a row of casement windows, with Venetian shutters, of emerald
green.  These also serve as outside doors to the state-rooms--each
having its own.  Inside ones, opposite them, give admission to the main
cabin, or "saloon;" which extends longitudinally nearly the whole length
of the vessel.  Figured glass folding-doors cut it into three
compartments; the ladies' cabin aft, the dining saloon amidships, with a
third division forward, containing clerk's office and "bar," the last
devoted to male passengers for smoking, drinking, and, too often,
gambling.  A gangway, some three feet in width, runs along the outside
facade, forming a balcony to the windows of the state-rooms.  It is
furnished with a balustrade, called "guard-rail," to prevent careless
passengers from stepping overboard.  A projection of the roof, yclept
"hurricane-deck," serves as an awning to this continuous terrace,
shading it from the sun.

Two immense twin chimneys--"funnels" as called--tower above all, pouring
forth a continuous volume of whitish wood-smoke; while a smaller
cylinder--the "scape-pipe"--intermittently vomits a vapour yet whiter,
the steam; at each emission with a hoarse belching bark, that can be
heard reverberating for leagues along the river.

Seen from the bank, as it passes, the Mississippi steamboat looks like a
large hotel, or mansion of many windows, set adrift and moving
majestically--"walking the water like a thing of life," as it has been
poetically described.  Some of the larger ones, taking into account
their splendid interior decoration, and, along with it their sumptuous
table fare, may well merit the name oft bestowed upon them, of "floating
palaces."

Only in point of size, some inferiority in splendour, and having a
stern-wheel instead of side-paddles, does the "Belle of Natchez" differ
from other boats seen upon the same waters.  As them, she has her large
central saloon, with ladies' cabin astern; the flanking rows of
state-rooms; the casements with green jalousies; the gangway and
guard-rail; the twin funnels, pouring forth their fleecy cloud, and the
scape-pipe, coughing in regular repetition.

In the evening hour, after the day has cooled down, the balcony outside
the state-room windows is a pleasant place to stand, saunter, or sit in.
More especially that portion of it contiguous to the stern, and
exclusively devoted to lady passengers--with only such of the male sex
admitted as can claim relationship, or liens of a like intimate order.

On this evening--the first after leaving port--the poop deck of the
little steamer is so occupied by several individuals; who stand gazing
at the scene that passes like a panorama before their eyes.  The hot
southern sun has disappeared behind the dark belt of cypress forest,
which forms, far and near, the horizon line of Louisiana; while the soft
evening breeze, laden with the mixed perfumes of the _liquid ambar_, and
_magnolia grandiflora_, is wafted around them, like incense scattered
from a censer.

Notwithstanding its delights, and loveliness, Nature does not long
detain the saunterers outside.  Within is a spell more powerful, and to
many of them more attractive.  It is after dinner hour; the cabin tables
have been cleared, and its lamps lit.  Under the sheen of brilliant
chandeliers the passengers are drawing together in groups, and coteries;
some to converse, others to play _ecarte_ or _vingt-un_; here and there
a solitary individual burying himself in a book; or a pair, almost as
unsocial, engaging in the selfish duality of chess.

Three alone linger outside; and of these only two appear to do so with
enjoyment.  They are some paces apart from the third, who is now left to
herself: for it is a woman.  Not that they are unacquainted with her, or
in any way wishing to be churlish.  But, simply, because neither can
spare word or thought for any one, save their two sweet selves.

It scarce needs telling who is the couple thus mutually engrossed.  An
easy guess gives Jessie Armstrong and Luis Dupre.  The young Creole's
handsome features, black eyes, brunette complexion, and dark curly hair
have made havoc with the heart of Armstrong's youngest daughter; while,
_en revanche_, her contrasting colours of red, blue, and gold have held
their own in the amorous encounter.  They are in love with one another
to their finger tips.

As they stand conversing in soft whispers, the eyes of the third
individual are turned towards them.  This only at intervals, and with
nought of jealousy in the glance.  For it is Jessie's own sister who
gives it.  Whatever of that burn in Helen's breast, not these, nor by
them, has its torch been kindled.  The love that late occupied her heart
has been plucked therefrom, leaving it lacerated, and lorn.  It was the
one love of her life, and now crushed out, can never be rekindled.  If
she have a thought about her sister's new-sprung happiness, it is only
to measure it against her own misery--to contrast its light of joy, with
the shadow surrounding herself.

But for a short moment, and with transient glance, does she regard them.
Aside from any sentiment of envy, their happy communion calls up a
reminiscence too painful to be dwelt upon.  She remembers how she
herself stood talking in that same way, with one she cannot, must not,
know more.  To escape recalling the painful souvenir, she turns her eyes
from the love episode, and lowers them to look upon the river.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

SAVED BY A SISTER.

The boat is slowly forging its course up-stream, its wheel in constant
revolution, churning the ochre-coloured water into foam.  This, floating
behind, dances and simmers upon the surface, forming a wake-way of white
tinted with red.  In Helen Armstrong's eyes it has the appearance of
blood-froth--such being the hue of her thoughts.

Contemplating it for a time, not pleasantly, and then, turning round,
she perceives that she is alone.  The lovers have stepped inside a
state-room, or the ladies' cabin, or perhaps gone on to the general
saloon, to take part in the sports of the evening.  She sees the lights
shimmering through the latticed windows, and can hear the hum of voices,
all merry.  She has no desire to join in that merriment, though many may
be wishing her.  Inside she would assuredly become the centre of an
admiring circle; be addressed in courtly speeches, with phrases of soft
flattery.  She is aware of this, and keeps away from it.  Strange woman!

In her present mood the speeches would but weary, the flattery fash her.
She prefers solitude; likes better the noise made by the ever-turning
wheel.  In the tumult of the water there is consonance with that
agitating her own bosom.

Night is now down; darkness has descended upon forest and river, holding
both in its black embrace.  Along with it a kindred feeling creeps over
her--a thought darker than night, more sombre than forest shadows.  It
is that which oft prompts to annihilation; a memory of the past, which,
making the future unendurable, calls for life to come to an end.  The
man to whom she has given her heart--its firstlings, as its fulness--a
heart from which there can be no second gleanings, and she knows it--he
has made light of the offering.  A sacrifice grand, as complete; glowing
with all the interests of her life.  The life, too, of one rarely
endowed; a woman of proud spirit, queenly and commanding, beyond air
beautiful.

She does not think thus of herself, as, leaning over the guard-rail,
with eyes mechanically bent upon the wheel, she watches it whipping the
water into spray.  Her thoughts are not of lofty pride, but low
humiliation.  Spurned by him at whose feet she has flung herself, so
fondly, so rashly--ay, recklessly--surrendering even that which woman
deems most dear, and holds back to the ultimate moment of rendition--the
word which speaks it!

To Charles Clancy she has spoken it.  True, only in writing; but still
in terms unmistakeable, and with nothing reserved.  And how has he
treated them?  No response--not even denial!  Only contemptuous silence,
worse than outspoken scorn!

No wonder her breast is filled with chagrin, and her brow burning with
shame!

Both may be ended in an instant.  A step over the low rail--a plunge
into the red rolling river--a momentary struggle amidst its seething
waters--not to preserve life, but destroy it--this, and all will be
over!  Sadness, jealousy, the pangs of disappointed love--these baleful
passions, and all others alike, can be soothed, and set at rest, by one
little effort--a leap into oblivion!

Her nerves are fast becoming strung to the taking it.  The past seems
all dark, the future yet darker.  For her, life has lost its
fascinations, while death is divested of its terrors.

Suicide in one so young, so fair, so incomparably lovely; one capable of
charming others, no longer to be charmed herself!  A thing fearful to
reflect upon.

And yet is she contemplating it!

She stands close to the rail, wavering, irresolute.  It is no lingering
love of life which causes her to hesitate.  Nor yet fear of death, even
in the horrid form, she cannot fail to see before her, spring she but
over that slight railing.

The moon has arisen, and now courses across the blue canopy of sky, in
full effulgence, her beams falling bright upon the bosom of the river.
At intervals the boat, keeping the deeper channel, is forced close to
either bank.  Then, as the surging eddies set the floating but
stationary logs in motion, the huge saurian asleep on them can be heard
giving a grunt of anger for the rude arousing, and pitching over into
the current with dull sullen plash.

She sees, and hears all this.  It should shake her nerves, and cause
shivering throughout her frame.

It does neither.  The despair of life has deadened the dread of death--
even of being devoured by an alligator!

Fortunately, at this moment, a gentle hand is laid on her shoulder, and
a soft voice sounds in her ear.  They are the hand and voice of her
sister.

Jessie, coming out of her state-room, has glided silently up.  She sees
Helen prepossessed, sad, and can somewhat divine the cause.  But she
little suspects, how near things have been to a fatal climax, and dreams
not of the diversion her coming has caused.

"Sister!" she says, in soothing tone, her arms extended caressingly,
"why do you stay out here?  The night is chilly; and they say the
atmosphere of this Red River country is full of miasma, with fevers and
ague to shake the comb out of one's hair!  Come with me inside!  There's
pleasant people in the saloon, and we're going to have a round game at
cards--_vingt-un_, or something of the sort.  Come!"

Helen turns round trembling at the touch, as if she felt herself a
criminal, and it was the sheriff's hand laid upon her shoulder!

Jessie notices the strange, strong emotion.  She could not fail to do
so.  Attributing it to its remotest cause, long since confided to her,
she says:--

"Be a woman, Helen!  Be true to yourself, as I know you will; and don't
think of him any more.  There's a new world, a new life, opening to both
of us.  Forget the sorrows of the old, as I shall.  Pluck Charles Clancy
from your heart, and fling every memory, every thought of him, to the
winds!  I say again, be a woman--be yourself!  Bury the past, and think
only of the future--_of our father_!"

The last words act like a galvanic shock, at the same time soothing as
balm.  For in the heart of Helen Armstrong they touch a tender chord--
that of filial affection.

And it vibrates true to the touch.  Flinging her arms around Jessie's
neck, she cries:--

"Sister; you have saved me!"



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

SEIZED BY SPECTRAL ARMS.

"Sister, you have saved me!"

On giving utterance to the ill-understood speech, Helen Armstrong
imprints a kiss upon her sister's cheek, at the same time bedewing it
with her tears.  For she is now weeping--convulsively sobbing.

Returning the kiss, Jessie looks not a little perplexed.  She can
neither comprehend the meaning of the words, nor the strange tone of
their utterance.  Equally is she at a loss to account for the trembling
throughout her sister's frame, continued while their bosoms stay in
contact.

Helen gives her no time to ask questions.

"Go in!" she says, spinning the other round, and pushing her towards the
door of the state-room.  Then, attuning her voice to cheerfulness, she
adds:--

"In, and set the game of _vingt-un_ going.  I'll join you by the time
you've got the cards shuffled."

Jessie, glad to see her sister in spirits unusually gleeful, makes no
protest, but glides towards the cabin door.

Soon as her back is turned, Helen once more faces round to the river,
again taking stand by the guard-rail.  The wheel still goes round, its
paddles beating the water into bubbles, and casting the crimson-white
spray afar over the surface of the stream.

But now, she has no thought of flinging herself into the seething swirl,
though she means to do so with something else.

"Before the game of _vingt-un_ begins," she says in soliloquy, "I've got
a pack of cards to be dealt out here--among them a knave."

While speaking, she draws forth a bundle of letters--evidently old
ones--tied in a bit of blue ribbon.  One after another, she drags them
free of the fastening--just as if dealing out cards.  Each, as it comes
clear, is rent right across the middle, and tossed disdainfully into the
stream.

At the bottom of the packet, after the letters have been all disposed
of, is something seeming different.  A piece of cardboard--a portrait--
in short, a _carte de visite_.  It is the likeness of Charles Clancy,
given her on one of those days when he flung himself affectionately at
her feet.

She does not tear it in twain, as she has the letters; though at first
this is nearest her intent.  Some thought restraining her, she holds it
up in the moon's light, her eyes for a time resting on, and closely
scanning it.  Painful memories, winters of them, pass through her soul,
shown upon her countenance, while she makes scrutiny of the features so
indelibly graven upon her heart.  She is looking her last upon them--not
with a wish to remember, but the hope to forget--of being able to erase
that image of him long-loved, wildly worshipped, from the tablets of her
memory, at once and for ever.

Who can tell what passed through her mind at that impending moment?  Who
could describe her heart's desolation?  Certainly, no writer of romance.

Whatever resolve she has arrived at, for a while she appears to hesitate
about executing it.--

Then, like an echo heard amidst the rippling waves, return to her ear
the words late spoken by her sister--

"Let us think only of the future--_of our father_."

The thought decides her; and, stepping out to the extremest limit the
guard-rail allows, she flings the photograph upon the paddles of the
revolving wheel, as she does so, saying--

"Away, image of one once loved--picture of a man who has proved false!
Be crushed, and broken, as he has broken my heart!"

The sigh that escapes her, on letting drop the bit of cardboard, more
resembles a subdued scream--a stifled cry of anguish, such as could only
come from what she has just spoken of--a broken heart.

As she turns to re-enter the cabin, she appears ill-prepared for taking
part, or pleasure, in a game of cards.

And she takes not either.  That round of _vingt-un_ is never to be
played--at least not with her as one of the players.

Still half distraught with the agony through which her soul has passed--
the traces of which she fancies must be observable on her face--before
making appearance in the brilliantly-lighted saloon, she passes around
the corner of the ladies' cabin, intending to enter her own state-room
by the outside door.

It is but to spend a moment before her mirror, there to arrange her
dress, the plaiting of her hair--perhaps the expression of her face--all
things that to men may appear trivial, but to women important--even in
the hour of sadness and despair.  No blame to them for this.  It is but
an instinct--the primary care of their lives--the secret spring of their
power.

In repairing to her toilette, Helen Armstrong is but following the
example of her sex.

She does not follow it far--not even so far as to get to her
looking-glass, or even inside her state-room.  Before entering it, she
makes stop by the door, and tarries with face turned towards the river's
bank.

The boat, tacking across stream, has sheered close in shore; so close
that the tall forest trees shadow her track--the tips of their branches
almost touching the hurricane-deck.  They are cypresses, festooned with
grey-beard moss, that hangs down like the drapery of a death-bed.  She
sees one blighted, stretching forth bare limbs, blanched white by the
weather, desiccated and jointed like the arms of a skeleton.

'Tis a ghostly sight, and causes her weird thoughts, as under the clear
moonbeams the steamer sweeps past the place.

It is a relief to her, when the boat, gliding on, gets back into
darkness.

Only momentary; for there under the shadow of the cypresses, lit up by
the flash of the fire-flies, she sees, or fancies it, a face!  It is
that of a man--him latest in her thoughts--Charles Clancy!

It is among the trees high up, on a level with the hurricane-deck.

Of course it can be but a fancy?  Clancy could not be there, either in
the trees, or on the earth.  She knows it is but a deception of her
senses--an illusive vision--such as occur to clairvoyantes, at times
deceiving themselves.

Illusion or not, Helen Armstrong has no time to reflect upon it.  Ere
the face of her false lover fades from view; a pair of arms, black,
sinewy, and stiff, seem reaching towards her!

More than seem; it is a reality.  Before she can stir from the spot, or
make effort to avoid them, she feels herself roughly grasped around the
waist, and lifted aloft into the air.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

UP AND DOWN.

Whatever has lifted Helen Armstrong aloft, for time holds her suspended.
Only for a few seconds, during which she sees the boat pass on beneath,
and her sister rush out to the stern rail, sending forth a scream
responsive to her own.

Before she can repeat the piercing cry, the thing grasping her relaxes
its hold, letting her go altogether, and she feels herself falling, as
from a great height.  The sensation of giddiness is succeeded by a
shock, which almost deprives her of consciousness.  It is but the fall,
broken by a plunge into water.  Then there is a drumming in her ears, a
choking in the throat; in short, the sensation that precedes drowning.

Notwithstanding her late suicidal thoughts, the instinctive aversion to
death is stronger than her weariness of life, and instinctively does she
strive to avert it.

No longer crying out; she cannot; her throat is filled with the water of
the turbid stream.  It stifles, as if a noose were being drawn around
her neck, tighter and tighter.  She can neither speak nor shout, only
plunge and struggle.

Fortunately, while falling, the skirt of her dress, spreading as a
parachute, lessened the velocity of the descent.  This still extended,
hinders her from sinking.  As she knows not how to swim, it will not
sustain her long; itself becoming weighted with the water.

Her wild shriek, with that of her sister responding--the latter still
continued in terrified repetition--has summoned the passengers from the
saloon, a crowd collecting on the stern-guards.

"Some one overboard!" is the cry sent all over the vessel.

It reaches the ear of the pilot; who instantly rings the stop-bell,
causing the paddles to suspend revolution, and bringing the boat to an
almost instantaneous stop.  The strong current, against which they are
contending, makes the movement easy of execution.

The shout of, "some one overboard!" is quickly followed by another of
more particular significance.  "It's a lady!"

This announcement intensifies the feeling of regret and alarm.  Nowhere
in the world more likely to do so, than among the chivalric spirits sure
to be passengers on a Mississippian steamboat.  Half a dozen voices are
heard simultaneously asking, not "who is the lady?" but "where?" while
several are seen pulling off their coats, as if preparing to take to the
water.

Foremost among them is the young Creole, Dupre.  He knows who the lady
is.  Another lady has met him frantically, exclaiming--

"'Tis Helen!  She has fallen, or _leaped_ overboard."

The ambiguity of expression appears strange; indeed incomprehensible, to
Dupre, as to others who overhear it.  They attributed it to incoherence,
arising from the shock of the unexpected catastrophe.

This is its cause, only partially: there is something besides.

Confused, half-frenzied, Jessie continues to cry out:

"My sister!  Save her! save her!"

"We'll try; show us where she is," respond several.

"Yonder--there--under that tree.  She was in its branches above, then
dropped down upon the water.  I heard the plunge, but did not see her
after.  She has gone to the bottom.  Merciful heavens!  O Helen! where
are you?"

The people are puzzled by these incoherent speeches--both the passengers
above, and the boatmen on the under-deck.  They stand as if spell-bound.

Fortunately, one of the former has retained presence of mind, and along
with it coolness.  It is the young planter, Dupre.  He stays not for the
end of her speech, but springing over the guards, swims towards the spot
pointed out.

"Brave fellow!" is the thought of Jessie Armstrong, admiration for her
lover almost making her forget her sister's peril.

She stands, as every one else upon the steamer, watching with earnest
eyes.  Hers are more; they are flashing with feverish excitement, with
glances of anxiety--at times the fixed gaze of fear.

No wonder at its being so.  The moon has sunk to the level of the
tree-tops, and the bosom of the river is in dark shadow; darker by the
bank where the boat is now drifting.  But little chance to distinguish
an object in the water--less for one swimming upon its surface.  And the
river is deep, its current rapid, the "reach" they are in, full of
dangerous eddies.  In addition, it is a spot infested, as all know--the
favourite haunt of that hideous reptile the alligator, with the
equally-dreaded gar-fish--the shark of the South-western rivers.  All
these things are in Jessie Armstrong's thoughts.

Amidst these dangers are the two dearest to her on earth; her sister,
her lover.  Not strange that her apprehension is almost an agony!

Meanwhile the steamer's boat has been manned, and set loose as quickly
as could be done.  It is rowed towards the spot, where the swimmer was
last seen; and all eyes are strained upon it--all ears listening to
catch any word of cheer.

Not long have they to listen.  From the shadowed surface comes the
shout, "_Saved_!"

Then, a rough boatman's voice, saying:

"All right!  We've got 'em both.  Throw us a rope."

It is thrown by ready hands, after which is heard the command, "Haul
in!"

A light, held high upon the steamer, flashes its beams down into, the
boat.  Lying along its thwarts can be perceived a female form, in a
dress once white, now discoloured and dripping.  Her head is held up by
a man, whose scant garments show similarly stained.

It is Helen Armstrong, supported by Dupre.

She appears lifeless, and the first sight of her draws anxious
exclamations from those standing on the steamer.  Her sister gives out
an agonised cry; while her father trembles on taking her into his arms,
and totters as he carries her to her state-room--believing he bears but
a corpse!

But no!  She breathes; her pulse beats; her lips move in low murmur; her
bosom's swell shows sign of returning animation.

By good fortune there chances to be a medical man among the passengers;
who, after administering restoratives, pronounces her out of danger.

The announcement causes universal joy on board the boat--crew and
passengers alike sharing it.

With one alone remains a thought to sadden.  It is Jessie: her heart is
sore with the suspicion, that _her sister has attempted suicide_!



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE SLEEP OF THE ASSASSIN.

On the night after killing Clancy, Richard Darke does not sleep
soundly--indeed scarce at all.

His wakefulness is not due to remorse; there is no such sentiment in his
soul.  It comes from two other causes, in themselves totally,
diametrically distinct; for the one is fear, the other love.

While dwelling on the crime he has committed, he only dreads its
consequences to himself; but, reflecting on what led him to commit it,
his dread gives place to dire jealousy; and, instead of repentance,
spite holds possession of his heart.  Not the less bitter, that the man
and woman who made him jealous can never meet more.  For, at that hour,
he knows Charles Clancy to be lying dead in the dank swamp; while, ere
dawn of the following day, Helen Armstrong will be starting upon a
journey which must take her away from the place, far, and for ever.

The only consolation he draws from her departure is, that she, too, will
be reflecting spitefully and bitterly as himself.  Because of Clancy not
having kept his appointment with her; deeming the failure due to the
falsehood by himself fabricated--the story of the Creole girl.

Withal, it affords him but scant solace.  She will be alike gone from
him, and he may never behold her again.  Her beauty will never belong to
his rival; but neither can it be his, even though chance might take him
to Texas, or by design he should proceed thither.  To what end should
he?  No more now can he build castles in the air, basing them on the
power of creditor over debtor.  That bubble has burst, leaving him only
the reflection, how illusory it has been.  Although, for his nefarious
purpose, it has proved weak as a spider's web, it is not likely Colonel
Armstrong will ever again submit himself to be so ensnared.  Broken men
become cautious, and shun taking credit a second time.

And yet Richard Darke does not comprehend this.  Blinded by passion, he
cannot see any impossibility, and already thoughts of future proceedings
begin to flit vaguely through his mind.  They are too distant to be
dwelt upon now.  For this night he has enough to occupy heart and
brain--keeping both on the rack and stretch, so tensely as to render
prolonged sleep impossible.  Only for a few seconds at a time does he
know the sweet unconsciousness of slumber; then, suddenly starting
awake, to be again the prey of galling reflections.

Turn to which side he will, rest his head on the pillow as he may, two
sounds seem ever ringing in his ears--one, a woman's voice, that speaks
the denying word, "Never!"--the other, a dog's bark, which seems
persistently to say, "I demand vengeance for my murdered master!"

If, in the first night after his nefarious deed, fears and jealous
fancies chase one another through the assassin's soul, on the second it
is different.  Jealousy has no longer a share in his thoughts, fear
having full possession of them.  And no trifling fear of some far off
danger, depending on chances and contingencies, but one real and near,
seeming almost certain.  The day's doings have gone all against him.
The behaviour of Clancy's hound has not only directed suspicion towards
him, but given evidence, almost conclusive, of his guilt; as though the
barking of the dumb brute were words of truthful testimony, spoken in a
witness-box!

The affair cannot, will not, be allowed to rest thus.  The suspicions of
the searchers will take a more definite shape, ending in accusation, if
not in the actual deed of his arrest.  He feels convinced of this.

Therefore, on this second night, it is no common apprehension which
keeps him awake, but one of the intensest kind, akin to stark terror.
For, added to the fear of his fellow man, there is something besides--a
fear of God; or, rather of the Devil.  His soul is now disturbed by a
dread of the supernatural.  He saw Charles Clancy stretched dead, under
the cypress--was sure of it, before parting from the spot.  Returning to
it, what beheld he?

To him, more than any other, is the missing body a mystery.  It has been
perplexing, troubling him, throughout all the afternoon, even when his
blood was up, and nerves strung with excitement.  Now, at night, in the
dark, silent hours, as he dwells ponderingly upon it, it more than
perplexes, more than troubles--it awes, horrifies him.

In vain he tries to compose himself, by shaping conjectures based on
natural causes.  Even these could not much benefit him; for, whether
Clancy be dead or still living--whether he has walked away from the
ground, or been carried from it a corpse--to him, Darke, the danger will
be almost equal.  Not quite.  Better, of course, if Clancy be dead, for
then there will be but circumstantial evidence against, and, surely, not
sufficient to convict him?

Little suspects he, that in the same hour, while he is thus distractedly
cogitating, men are weighing evidence he knows not of; or that, in
another hour, they will be on the march to make him their prisoner.

For all his ignorance of it, he has a presentiment of danger, sprung
from the consciousness of his crime.  This, and no sentiment of remorse,
or repentance, wrings from him the self-interrogation, several times
repeated:--

"Why the devil did I do it?"

He regrets the deed, not because grieving at its guilt, but the position
it has placed him in--one of dread danger, with no advantage derived,
nothing to compensate him for the crime.  No wonder at his asking, in
the name of the Devil, why he has done it!

He is being punished for it now; if not through remorse of conscience,
by coward craven fear.  He feels what other criminals have felt before--
what, be it hoped, they will ever feel--how hard it is to sleep the
sleep of the assassin, or lie awake on a murderer's bed.

On the last Richard Darke lies; since this night he sleeps not at all.
From the hour of retiring to his chamber, till morning's dawn comes
creeping through the window, he has never closed eye; or, if so, not in
the sweet oblivion of slumber.

He is still turning upon his couch, chafing in fretful apprehension,
when daylight breaks into his bedroom, and shows its shine upon the
floor.  It is the soft blue light of a southern morn, which usually
enters accompanied by bird music--the songs of the wild forest warblers
mingling with domestic voices not so melodious.  Among these the harsh
"screek" of the guinea-fowl; the more sonorous call of the turkey
"gobbler;" the scream of the goose, always as in agony; the merrier
cackle of the laying hen, with the still more cheerful note of her
lord--Chanticleer.

All these sounds hears Dick Darke, the agreeable as the disagreeable.
Both are alike to him on this morning, the second after the murder.

Far more unpleasant than the last are some other sounds which salute his
ear, as he lies listening.  Noises which, breaking out abruptly, at once
put an end to the singing of the forest birds, and the calling of the
farm-yard fowls.

They are of two kinds; one, the clattering of horses' hoofs, the other,
the clack and clangour of men's voices.  Evidently there are several,
speaking at the same time, and all in like tone--this of anger, of
vengeance!

At first they seem at some distance off, but evidently drawing nigh.

Soon they are close up to the dwelling, their voices loudly
reverberating from its walls.

The assassin cannot any longer keep to his couch.  Too well knows he
what the noise is, his guilty heart guessing it.

Springing to his feet, he glides across the room, and approaches the
window--cautiously, because in fear.

His limbs tremble, as he draws the curtain and looks out.  Then almost
refusing to support him: for, in the courtyard he sees a half-score of
armed horsemen, and hears them angrily discoursing.  One at their head
he knows to be the Sheriff of the county; beside him his Deputy, and
behind a brace of constables.  In rear of these, two men he has reason
to believe will be his most resolute accusers.

He has no time to discriminate; for, soon as entering the enclosure, the
horsemen dismount, and make towards the door of the dwelling.

In less than sixty seconds after, they knock against that of his
sleeping chamber, demanding admission.

No use denying them, as its occupant is well aware--not even to ask--

"Who's there?"

Instead, he says, in accent tremulous--

"Come in."

Instantly after, he sees the door thrown open, and a form filling up its
outlines--the stalwart figure of a Mississippi sheriff; who, as he
stands upon the threshold, says, in firm voice, with tone of legal
authority:

"Richard Darke, I arrest you!"

"For what?" mechanically demands the culprit, shivering in his shirt.

"_For the murder of Charles Clancy_!"



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE COON-HUNTER CONSCIENCE-STRICKEN.

On the night preceding Richard Darke's arrest, another man, not many
rods distant, lies awake, or, at least, loses more than half his
customary measure of sleep.

This is the coon-hunter.  In his case the disturbing cause _is_
conscience; though his crime is comparatively a light one, and should
scarce rob him of his rest.  It would not, were he a hardened sinner;
but Blue Bill is the very reverse; and though, at times, cruel to
"coony," he is, in the main, merciful, his breast overflowing with the
milk of human kindness.

On the night succeeding his spoilt coon-chase, he has slept sound
enough, his mind being unburdened by the confession to Phoebe.  Besides,
he had then no certain knowledge that a murder had been committed, or of
any one being even killed.  He only knew there were shots, and angry
words, resembling a fight between two men; one his young master; the
other, as he supposed, Charles Clancy.  True, the former, rushing past
in such headlong pace, seemed to prove that the affair had a tragical
termination.

But of this, he, Blue Bill, could only have conjecture; and, hoping the
_denouement_ might not be so bad as at first deemed, neither was he so
alarmed as to let it interfere with his night's slumbers.

In the morning, when, as usual, hoe in hand, he goes abroad to his day's
work, no one would suspect him of being the depository of a secret so
momentous.  He was always noted as the gayest of the working gang--his
laugh, the loudest, longest, and merriest, carried across the plantation
fields; and on this particular day, it rings with its wonted
cheerfulness.

Only during the earlier hours.  When, at mid-day, a report reaches the
place where the slaves are at work, that a man has been murdered--this,
Charles Clancy--the coon-hunter, in common with the rest of the gang,
throws down his hoe; all uniting in a cry of sympathetic sorrow.  For
all of them know young "Massr Clancy;" respecting, many of them loving
him.  He has been accustomed to meet them with pleasant looks, and
accost them in kindly words.

The tidings produce a painful impression upon them; and from that
moment, though their task has to be continued, there is no more
cheerfulness in the cotton field.  Even their conversation is hushed, or
carried on in a subdued tone; the hoes being alone heard, as their steel
blades clink against an occasional "donick."

But while his fellow-labourers are silent through sorrow, Blue Bill is
speechless from another and different cause.  They only hear that young
Massr Clancy has been killed--murdered, as the report says--while he
knows how, when, where, and _by whom_.  The knowledge gives him double
uneasiness; for while sorrowing as much, perhaps more than any, for
Charles Clancy's death, he has fears for his own life, with good reasons
for having them.

If by any sinister chance Massr Dick should get acquainted with the fact
of his having been witness to that rapid retreat among the trees, he,
Blue Bill, would be speedily put where his tongue could never give
testimony.

In full consciousness of his danger, he determines not to commit himself
by any voluntary avowal of what he has seen and heard; but to bury the
secret in his own breast, as also insist on its being so interred within
the bosom of his better half.

This day, Phoebe is not in the field along with the working gang; which
causes him some anxiety.  The coon-hunter can trust his wife's
affections, but is not so confident as to her prudence.  She may say
something in the "quarter" to compromise him.  A word--the slightest
hint of what has happened--may lead to his being questioned, and
confessed; with torture, if the truth be suspected.

No wonder that during the rest of the day Blue Bill wears an air of
abstraction, and hoes the tobacco plants with a careless hand, often
chopping off the leaves.  Fortunately for him, his fellow-workers are
not in a mood to observe these vagaries, or make inquiry as to the
cause.

He is rejoiced, when the boom of the evening bell summons them back to
the "big house."

Once more in the midst of his piccaninnies, with Phoebe by his side, he
imparts to her a renewed caution, to "keep dark on dat ere seerous
subjeck."

At supper, the two talk over the events of the day--Phoebe being the
narrator.  She tells him of all that has happened--of the search, and
such incidents connected with it as have reached the plantation of the
Darkes; how both the old and young master took part in it, since having
returned home.  She adds, of her own observation, that Massr Dick looked
"berry scared-like, an' white in de cheeks as a ole she-possum."

"Dats jess de way he oughter look," is the husband's response.

After which they finish their frugal meal, and once more retire to rest.

But on this second night, the terrible secret shared by them, keeps both
from sleeping.  Neither gets so much as a wink.

As morning dawns, they are startled by strange noises in the negro
quarter.  These are not the usual sounds consequent on the uprising of
their fellow-slaves--a chorus of voices, in jest and jocund laughter.
On the contrary, it is a din of serious tone, with cries that tell of
calamity.

When the coon-hunter draws--back his door, and looks forth, he sees
there is commotion outside; and is soon told its cause.  One of his
fellow-bondsmen, coming forward, says:--

"Massr Dick am arrested by de sheriff.  Dey've tuk 'im for de murder ob
Massr Charl Clancy."

The coon-hunter rushes out, and up to the big house.

He reaches it in time to see Richard Darke set upon a horse, and
conducted away from the place, with a man on each side, guarding him.
All know that he goes a prisoner.

With a sense of relief, Blue Bill hastens back to his own domicile,
where lie communicates what has happened to the wife anxiously waiting.

"Phoebe, gal," he adds, in a congratulatory whisper, "dar ain't no
longer so much reezun for us to hab fear.  I see Sime Woodley mong de
men; and dis nigger know dat he'll gub me his purtecshun, whatsomever I
do.  So I'se jess made up my mind to make a clean bress ob de hul ting,
and tell what I heern an' see, besides deliverin' up boaf dat letter an'
picter.  What's yar view ob de matter?  Peak plain, and doan be noways
mealy-moufed 'bout it."

"My views is den, for de tellin' ob de troof.  Ole Eph Darke may flog us
till dar ain't a bit o' skin left upon our bare backs.  I'll take my
share ob de 'sponsibility, an a full half ob de noggin'.  Yes, Bill,
I'se willin' to do dat.  But let de troof be tole--de whole troof, an'
nuffin but de troof."

"Den it shall be did.  Phoebe, you's a darlin'.  Kiss me, ole gal.  If
need be, we'll boaf die togedder."

And their two black faces come in contact, as also their bosoms; both
beating with a humanity that might shame whiter skins.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

AN UNCEREMONIOUS SEARCH.

Arrested, Richard Darke is taken to jail.  This not in Natchez, but a
place of less note; the Court-house town of the county, within the
limits of which lie the Darke and Armstrong plantations.  He is there
consigned to the custody of Joe Harkness, jailer.

But few, who assisted at the arrest, accompany him to the place of
imprisonment; only the Deputy, and the brace of constables.

The sheriff himself, with the others, does not leave Ephraim Darke's
premises, till after having given them a thorough examination, in quest
of evidence against the accused.

This duty done, without regard to the sensibilities of the owner, who
follows them from room to room, now childishly crying--now frantically
cursing.

Alike disregarded are his tears and oaths.

The searchers have no sympathy for him in his hour of affliction.  Some
even secretly rejoice at it.

Ephraim Darke is not a Southerner, _pur sang_; and, though without the
slightest taint of abolitionism--indeed the very opposite--he has always
been unpopular in the neighbourhood; alike detested by planter and "poor
white."  Many of both have been his debtors, and felt his iron hand over
them, just as Archibald Armstrong.

Besides, some of these now around his house were present two days before
upon Armstrong's plantation; saw his establishment broken up, his goods
and chattels confiscated, his home made desolate.

Knowing by whom all this was done, with ill-concealed satisfaction, they
now behold the _arcana_ of Ephraim Darke's dwelling exposed to public
gaze; himself humiliated, far more than the man he made homeless.

With no more ceremony than was shown in making the arrest, do the
sheriff and party explore the paternal mansion of him arrested, rudely
ransacking it from cellar to garret; the outbuildings as well, even to
the grounds and garden.

Their search is but poorly rewarded.  All they get, likely to throw
light on the matter of inquiry, is Richard Darke's double-barrelled gun,
with the clothes he wore on the day fatal to Clancy.  On these there is
no blood; but while they are looking for it, something comes under their
eyes, almost equally significant of strife.

Through the coat-skirt is a hole, ragged, and recently made.  Several
pronounce it a bullet-hole; further declaring the ball to have been
discharged from a rifle.

For certain, a singular discovery!

But like all the others that have been made, only serving to perplex
them.  It is rather in favour of the accused; giving colour to the idea,
that between him and Clancy there has been a fight, with shots fired
from both sides.  The question is, "has it been a fair one?"

To negative this, a bit of adjunct evidence is adduced, which goes
against the accused.  The coat, with the perforated skirt, is _not_ the
one worn by him on the day before, when out assisting in the search;
while it is that he had on, the day preceding, when Clancy came not
home.  Ephraim Darke's domestics, on being sternly interrogated, and
aside, disclose this fact; unaware how greatly their master may desire
them to keep it concealed.

Still, it is not much.  A man might have many reasons for changing his
coat, especially for the dress of two different days.  It would be
nothing, but for the conjoint circumstance of the shot through the
skirt.  This makes it significant.

Another item of intelligence, of still more suspicious nature, is got
out of the domestics, whose stern questioners give them no chance to
prevaricate.  Indeed, terrified, they do not try.

Their young "Massr Dick" had on a different pair of boots the day he
went out hunting, from those worn by him, when, yesterday, he went
searching.

The latter are in the hands of the sheriff, but the former are missing--
cannot be found anywhere, in or about the house!

All search for them proves idle.  And not strange it should; since one
is in the side-pocket of Sime Woodley's surtout, the other having a like
lodgment in that of Ned Heywood.

The two hunters, "prospecting" apart, found the boots thickly coated
with mud, concealed under a brush pile, at the bottom of the peach
orchard.  Even the sheriff does not know what bulges out the coat-skirts
of the two backwoodsmen.

Nor is he told there or then.  Sime has an object in keeping that secret
to himself and his companion; he will only reveal it, when the time
comes to make it more available.

The affair of the arrest and subsequent action over, the sheriff and his
party retire from the plantation of Ephraim Darke, leaving its owner in
a state of frenzied bewilderment.

They go direct to Mrs Clancy's cottage; not to stay there, but as a
starting point, to resume the search for the body of her son, adjourned
since yester-eve.

They do not tell her of Dick Darke's arrest.  She is inside her
chamber--on her couch--so prostrated by the calamity already known to
her, they fear referring to it.

The doctor in attendance tells them, that any further revelation
concerning the sad event may prove fatal to her.

Again her neighbours, now in greater number, go off to the woods, some
afoot, others on horseback.  As on the day preceding, they divide into
different parties, and scatter in diverse directions.  Though not till
after all have revisited the ensanguined spot under the cypress, and
renewed their scrutiny of the stains.  Darker than on the day before,
they now look more like ink than blood!

The cypress knee, out of which Woodley and Heywood "gouged" the
smooth-bore bullet, is also examined, its position noted.  Attempts are
made to draw inferences therefrom, though with but indifferent success.
True, it tells a tale; and, judging by the blood around the bullet-hole,
which all of them have seen, a tragic one, though it cannot of itself
give the interpretation.

A few linger around the place, now tracked and trodden hard by their
going and coming feet.  The larger number proceeds upon the search, in
scattered parties of six or eight each, carrying it for as many miles
around.

They pole and drag the creek near by, as others at a greater distance;
penetrate the swamp as far as possible, or likely that a dead body might
be carried for concealment.  In its dim recesses they discover no body,
living or dead, no trace of human being, nought save the solitude-loving
heron, the snake-bird, and scaly alligator.

On this second day's quest they observe nothing new, either to throw
additional light on the commission of the crime, or assist them in
recovering the corpse.

It is but an unsatisfactory report to take back to the mother of the
missing man.  Perhaps better for her she should never receive it?

And she never does.  Before it can reach her ear, this is beyond hearing
sound.  The thunder of heaven could not awake Mrs Clancy from the sleep
into which she has fallen.  For it is no momentary unconsciousness, but
the cold insensible slumber of Death.

The long-endured agony of ill fortune, the more recent one of widowhood,
and, now, this new bereavement of a lost, only son--these accumulated
trials have proved too much for her woman's strength, of late fast
failing.

When, at evening hour, the searchers, on their return, approach the
desolated dwelling, they hear sounds within that speak of some terrible
disaster.

On the night before their ears were saluted by the same, though in tones
somewhat different.  Then the widow's voice was lifted in lamentation;
now it is not heard at all.

Whatever of mystery there may be is soon removed.  A woman, stepping out
upon the porch, and, raising her hand in token of attention, says, in
sad solemn voice,--

"_Mrs Clancy is dead_!"



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

TELL-TALE TRACKS.

"Mrs Clancy is dead!"

The simple, but solemn speech, makes an impression on the assembled
backwoodsmen difficult to be described.  All deem it a double-murder;
her death caused by that of her son.  The same blow has killed both.

It makes them all the more eager to discover the author of this crime,
by its consequence twofold; and now, more than ever, do their thoughts
turn towards Dick Darke, and become fixed upon him.

As the announcement of Mrs Clancy's death makes complete the events of
the day, one might suppose, that after this climax, her neighbours,
satisfied nothing more could be done, would return to their own homes.

This is not the custom in the backwoods of America, or with any people
whose hearts beat true to the better instincts of humanity.  It is only
in Old world countries, under tyrannical rule, where these have been
crushed out, that such selfishness can prevail.

Nothing of this around Natchez--not a spark of it in the breasts of
those collected about that cottage, in which lies the corpse of a woman.

The widow will be waked by men ready to avenge her wrongs.

If friendless and forlorn while living, it is different now she is dead.
There is not a man among them but would give his horse, his gun, ay, a
slice of his land, to restore her to life, or bring back that of her
son.

Neither being now possible, they can only show their sympathy by the
punishment of him who has caused the double desolation.

It still needs to know who.  After all, it may not be the man arrested
and arraigned, though most think it is.  But, to be fully convinced,
further evidence is wanted; as also a more careful sifting of that
already obtained.

As on the night before, a council is convened, the place being the bit
of green sward, that, lawn-like, extends from the cottage front to the
rail fence of the road.  But now the number taking part in it is
different.  Instead of a half-score, there is nearer a half hundred.
The news of the second death has been spreading meanwhile, and the added
sympathy causes the crowd to increase.

In its centre soon forms a ring, an open space, surrounded by men,
acknowledged as chief on such occasions.  They discuss the points of the
case; state such incidents and events as are known; recall all
circumstances that can be remembered; and inquire into their connection
with motives.

It is, in short, a jury, _standing_, not _sitting_, on the trial of a
criminal case; and, with still greater difference between them and the
ordinary "twelve good men and true," in that, unlike these, they are not
mere dummies, with a strong inclination to accept the blandishments of
the barrister, or give way to the rulings of the judge, too often wrong.
On the contrary, men who, in themselves, combine the functions of all
three--judge, jury, and counsel--with this triple power, inspired by a
corresponding determination to arrive at the truth.

In short it is the court of "Justice Lynch" in session.  Every
circumstance which has a possible bearing on the case, or can throw
light into its dark ambiguity, is called up and considered.  The
behaviour of the accused himself, coupled with that of the hound, are
the strongest points yet appearing against him.  Though not the only
ones.  The bullet extracted from the cypress knee, has been tried in the
barrel of his gun, and found to fit exactly.  About the other ball,
which made the hole through the skirt of his coat, no one can say more
than that it came out of a rifle.  Every backwoodsman among them can
testify to this.

A minor point against the accused man is, his having changed his clothes
on the two succeeding days; though one stronger and more significant, is
the fact that the boots, known to have been worn by him on the former,
are still missing and cannot anywhere be found.

"Can't they, indeed?" asks Sime Woodley, in response to one, who has
just expressed surprise at this.

The old hunter has been hitherto holding back; not from any want of will
to assist the lynch jury in their investigation, but because, only
lately arrived, he has scarce yet entered into the spirit of their
proceedings.

His grief, on getting the news of Mrs Clancy's death, for a time holds
him in restraint.  It is a fresh sorrow; since, not only had her son
been long his friend, but in like manner her husband and herself.

In loyal memory of this friendship, he has been making every effort to
bring the murderer to justice; and one just ended accounts for his late
arrival at the cottage.  As on the day before, he and Heywood have
remained behind the other searchers; staying in the woods till all these
returned home.  Yesterday they were detained by an affair of _bullets_--
to-day it is _boots_.  The same that are missing, and about which
questions have just been asked, the last by Sime Woodley himself.

In answer to it he continues:--

"They not only kin be foun', but hev been.  Hyar they air!"

Saying this, the hunter pulls a boot out of his pocket, and holds it up
before their eyes; Heywood simultaneously exposing another--its fellow!

"That's the fut wear ye're in sarch o', I reck'n," pursues Woodley.  "'T
all eevents it's a pair o' boots belongin' to Dick Darke, an' war worn
by him the day afore yesterday.  What's more, they left thar marks down
on the swamp mud, not a hunderd mile from the spot whar poor Charley
Clancy hez got his death shot; an' them tracks war made not a hundred
minnits from the time he got it.  Now boys! what d'ye think o' the
thing?"

"Where did you get the boots?" ask several, speaking at the same time.

"No matter whar.  Ye kin all see we've got 'em.  Time enuf to tell o'
the whar an' the wharf or when it kums to a trial.  Tho lookin' in yur
faces, fellurs, I shed say it's kim to somethin' o' that sort now."

"_It has_!" responds one of the jury, in a tone of emphatic affirmation.

"In that case," pursues the hunter, "me an' Ned Heywood are ready to
_gie_ sech evidince as we've got.  Both o' us has spent good part o'
this arternoon collectin' it; an' now it's at the sarvice o' the court
o' Judge Lynch, or any other."

"Well then, Woodley!" says a planter of respectability, who by tacit
consent is representing the stern terrible judge spoken of.  "Suppose
the Court to be in session.  Tell us all you know."

With alacrity Woodley responds to the appeal; giving his experience,
along with it his suspicions and conjectures; not simply as a witness,
but more like a counsel in the case.  It needs not to say, he is against
the accused, in his statement of facts, as the deductions he draws from
them.  For the hunter has long since decided within himself, as to who
killed Clancy.

Heywood follows him in like manner, though with no new matter.  His
testimony but corroborates that of his elder confrere.

Taken together, or separately, it makes profound impression on the
jurors of Judge Lynch; almost influencing them to pronounce an instant
verdict, condemnatory of the accused.

If so, it will soon be followed by the sentence; this by execution,
short and quick, but sternly terrible!



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE.

While the Lynchers are still in deliberation, the little clock on the
mantel strikes twelve, midnight; of late, not oft a merry hour in the
cottage of the Clancys; but this night more than ever sad.

Its striking seems the announcement of a crisis.  For a time it silences
the voices of those conversing.

Scarce has the last stroke ceased to vibrate on the still night air,
when a voice is heard; one that has not hitherto taken part in the
deliberations.  It sounds as though coming up from the road gate.

"Mass Woodley in da?" are the words spoken interrogatively; the question
addressed generally to the group gathered in front of the house.  "Yes:
he's here," simultaneously answer several.

"Kin I peak a wud wif you, Mass Woodley?" again asks the inquirer at the
wicket.

"Sartinly," says the hunter, separating from the others, and striding
off towards the entrance.

"I reck'n I know that voice," he adds, on drawing near the gate.  "It's
Blue Bill, ain't it?"

"Hush, Mass' Woodley!  For Goramity's sake doan peak out ma name.  Not
fo' all de worl let dem people hear it.  Ef dey do, dis nigger am a dead
man, shoo."

"Darn it, Bill; what's the matter?  Why d'ye talk so mysteerous?  Is
thar anythin' wrong?  Oh! now I think o't, you're out arter time.  Never
mind 'bout that; I'll not betray you.  Say; what hev ye kim for?"

"Foller me, Mass Woodley; I tell yer all.  I dasent tay hya, less some
ob dem folk see me.  Les' go little way from de house, into de wood
groun' ober yonner; den I tell you wha fotch me out.  Dis nigger hab
someting say to you, someting berry patickler.  Yes, Mass Woodley, berry
patickler.  'Tarn a matter ob life an' def."

Sime does not stay to hear more; but, lifting the latch, quietly pushes
open the gate, and passes out into the road.  Then following the negro,
who flits like a shadow before him, the two are soon standing among some
bushes that form a strip of thicket running along the roadside.

"Now, what air it?" asks Woodley of the coon-hunter, with whom he is
well acquainted--having often met him in his midnight rambles.

"Mass Woodley, you want know who kill Mass Charl Clancy?"

"Why, Bill, that's the very thing we're all talkin' 'bout, an' tryin' to
find out.  In coorse we want to know.  But who's to tell us?"

"Dis nigger do dat."

"Air ye in airnest, Bill?"

"So much in earness I ha'n't got no chance get sleep, till I make clean
bress ob de seecret.  De ole ooman neider.  No, Mass Woodley, Phoebe she
no let me ress till I do dat same.  She say it am de duty ob a Christyun
man, an', as ye know, we boaf b'long to de Methodies.  Darfore, I now
tell ye, de man who kill Charl Clancy was my own massr--de young un--
Dick."

"Bill! are you sure o' what ye say?"

"So shoo I kin swa it as de troof, de whole troof, an' nuffin but de
troof."

"But what proof have ye?"

"Proof!  I moas seed it wif ma own eyes.  If I didn't see, I heerd it
wif ma ears."

"By the 'tarnal! this looks like clar evydince at last.  Tell me, Bill,
o' all that you seed an' what you heern?"

"Ya, Mass Woodley, I tell you ebberyting; all de sarkunistances c'nected
wif de case."

In ten minutes after, Simeon Woodley is made acquainted with everything
the coon-hunter knows; the latter having given him full details of all
that occurred on that occasion when his coon-chase was brought to such
an unsatisfactory termination.

To the backwoodsman it brings no surprise.  He has already arrived at a
fixed conclusion, and Bill's revelation is in correspondence with it.

On hearing it, he but says:--

"While runnin' off, yur master let fall a letter, did he?  You picked it
up, Bill?  Ye've gob it?"

"Hya's dat eyedentikil dockyment."

The negro hands over the epistle, the photograph inside.

"All right, Bill!  I reck'n this oughter make things tol'ably clur.
Now, what d'ye want me to do for yurself?"

"Lor, Mass Woodley, you knows bess.  I'se needn't tell ye, dat ef ole
Eph'm Darke hear wha dis nigger's been, an' gone, an' dud, de life ob
Blue Bill wuldn't be wuth a ole coon-skin--no; not so much as a
corn-shuck.  I'se get de cowhide ebbery hour ob de day, and de night
too.  I'se get flog to def, sa'tin shoo."

"Yur right thar, I reck'n," rejoins the hunter; then continues,
reflectingly, "Yes; you'd be sarved putty saveer, if they war to know
on't.  Wal, that mustn't be, and won't.  So much I kin promise ye, Bill.
Yur evydince wouldn't count for nuthin' in a law court, nohow.
Tharfor, we won't bring ye forrad; so don't you be skeeart.  I guess we
shan't wan't no more testymony, as thar ain't like to be any
crosskwestenin' lawyers in this case.  Now; d'you slip back to yur
quarters, and gi'e yurself no furrer consarn.  I'll see you don't git
into any trouble.  May I be damned ef ye do!"

With this emphatic promise, the old bear-hunter separates from the less
pretentious votary of the chase; as he does so giving the latter a
squeeze of the hand, which tells him he may go back in confidence to the
negro quarter, and sit, or sleep, by the side of his Phoebe, without
fear.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

"TO THE JAIL!"

With impatience Judge Lynch and his jurors await the hunter's return.
Before his leaving them, they had well-nigh made up their minds to the
verdict.  All know it will be "Guilty," given unanimously.  Woodley's
temporary absence will not affect it.  Neither the longer time allowed
them for deliberation.  If this cause change, it will not be to modify,
but make more fixed their determination.  Still others keep coming up.
Like wildfire the news has spread that the mother of the murdered man is
herself stricken down.  This, acting as a fresh stimulus to sympathy,
brings back such of the searchers as had gone home; many starting from
beds to which they had betaken themselves after the day's fatigue.

It is past midnight, and the crowd collected around the cottage is
greater than ever.  As one after another arrives upon the ground they
step across the threshold, enter the chamber of death, and look upon the
corpse, whose pale face seems to make mute appeal to them for justice.
After gazing on it for an instant, their anger with difficulty subdued
in the solemn presence of death, each comes out muttering a resolve
there shall be both justice and vengeance, many loudly vociferating it
with the added emphasis of an oath.

It does not need what Simeon Woodley has in store to incite them to
action.  Already are they sufficiently inflamed.  The furor of the mob,
with its mutually maddening effect, gradually growing upon them,
permeating their spirits, has reached the culminating point.

Still do they preserve sufficient calmness to wait a little longer, and
hear what the hunter may have to say.  They take it, he has been called
from them on some matter connected with the subject under consideration.
At such a time who would dare interrupt their deliberations for any
trivial purpose?  Although none of them has recognised Blue Bill's
voice, they know it to have been that of a negro.  This, however, is no
reason why he should not have made some communication likely to throw
new light on the affair.  So, on Woodley's return, once more gathering
around him, they demand to hear what it is.

He tells all that has been imparted to him; but without making known the
name of his informant, or in any way compromising the brave fellow with
a black skin, who has risked life itself by making disclosure of the
truth.

To him the old hunter refers in a slight but significant manner.
Comprehending, no one presses for more minute explanation.

"He as says all that," Woodley continues, after stating the
circumstances communicated by the coon-hunter, "has guv me the letter
dropped by Dick Darke; which, as I've tolt, ye, he picked up.  Here air
the thing itself.  Preehaps it may let some new light into the matter;
though I guess you'll all agree wi' me, it's clar enough a'ready."

They all do agree.  A dozen voices have declared, are still declaring
that.  One now cries out--

"What need to talk any more?  Charley Clancy's been killed--he's been
murdered.  An' Dick Darke's the man that did it!"

It is not from any lack of convincing evidence, but rather a feeling of
curiosity, that prompts them to call for the reading of the letter,
which the hunter now holds conspicuously in his hand.  Its contents may
have no bearing upon the case.  Still it can be no harm to know what
they are.

"You read it, Henry Spence!  You're a scholart, an' I ain't," says
Woodley, handing the letter over to a young fellow of learned look--the
schoolmaster of the settlement.

Spence, stepping close up to the porch--into which some one has carried
a candle--and holding the letter before the light, first reads the
superscription, which, as he informs them, is in a lady's handwriting.

"_To Charley Clancy_" it is.

"Charles Clancy!"

Half a score voices pronounce the name, all in a similar tone--that of
surprise.  One interrogates,--

"Was that letter dropped by Dick Darke?"

"It was," responds Woodley, to whom the question is addressed.

"Have patience, boys!" puts in the planter, who represents Justice
Lynch; "don't interrupt till we hear what's in it."

They take the hint, and remain silent.

But when the envelope is laid open, and a photograph drawn out, showing
the portrait of a young lady, recognised by all as a likeness of Helen
Armstrong, there is a fresh outburst of exclamations which betoken
increased surprise; this stronger still, after Spence reads out the
inscript upon the picture:

"Helen Armstrong--for him she loves."

The letter is addressed to Charles Clancy; to him the photograph must
have been sent.  A love-affair between Miss Armstrong and the man who
has been murdered!  A new revelation to all--startling, as pertinent to
the case.--

"Go on, Spence!  Give us the contents of the letter!" demands an
impatient voice.

"Yes, give them!" adds another.  "I reckon we're on the right track
now."

The epistle is taken out of the envelope.  The schoolmaster, unfolding
it, reads aloud:--

"Dear Charles,--

"When we last met under the magnolia, you asked me a question.  I told
you I would answer it in writing.  I now keep my promise, and you will
find the answer underneath my own very imperfect image, which I herewith
send in closed.  Papa has finally fixed the day of our departure from
the old home.  On Tuesday next we are to set out in search of a new one.
Will it ever be as dear as that we are leaving behind?  The answer will
depend upon--need I say whom?  After reading what I have written upon
the _carte_, surely you can guess.  There, I have confessed all--all
woman can, could, or should.  In six little words I have made over to
you my heart.  Accept them as its surrender!

"And now, Charles, to speak of things prosaic, as in this hard world we
are too oft constrained to do.  On Tuesday morning--at a very early
hour, I believe--a boat will leave Natchez, bound up the Red River.
Upon it we travel, as far as Natchitoches.  There to remain for some
time, while papa is completing preparations for our farther transport
into Texas, I am not certain what part of the `Lone Star' State he will
select for our future home.  He speaks of a place upon some branch of
the Colorado River, said to be a beautiful country; which, you, having
been out there, will know all about.  In any case, we are to remain for
a time, a month or more, in Nachitoches; and there, _Carlos mio_, I need
not tell you, there is a post-office for receiving letters, as also for
delivering them.  Mind, I say for _delivering_ them!  Before we leave
for the far frontier, where there may be neither post-office nor post, I
shall write you full particulars about our intended `location'--with
directions how to reach it.  Need I be very minute?  Or can I promise
myself, that your wonderful skill as a `tracker,' of which we've heard,
will enable you to discover it?  They say Love is blind.  I hope, yours
will not be so: else you may fail in finding the way to your sweetheart
in the wilderness.

"How I go on talking, or rather writing, things I intended to say to you
at our next meeting tinder the magnolia--our magnolia!  Sad thought
this, tagged to a pleasant expectation: for it must be our last
interview under the dear old tree.  Our last anywhere, until we come
together again in Texas--perhaps on some prairie where there are no
trees.  Well; we shall then meet, I hope, never more to part; and in the
open daylight, with no need either of night, or tree-shadows to conceal
us.  I'm sure father, humbled as he now is, will no longer object.  Dear
Charles, I don't think he would have done so at any time, but for his
reverses.  They made him think of--never mind what.  I shall tell you
all under the magnolia.

"And now, master mine--this makes you so--be punctual!  Monday night,
and ten o'clock--the old hour.  Remember that the morning after?  I
shall be gone--long before the wild-wood songsters are singing their
`_reveille_' to awake you.  Jule will drop this into our tree
post-office this evening--Saturday.  As you've told me you go there
every day, you'll be sure of getting it in time; and once more I may
listen to your flattery, as when you quoted the words of the old song,
making me promise to come, saying you would `show the night flowers
their queen.'

"Ah!  Charles, how easy to keep that promise!  How sweet the flattery
was, is, and ever will be, to yours,--

"Helen Armstrong."

"And that letter was found on Dick Darke?" questions a voice, as soon as
the reading has come to an end.

"It war dropped by him," answers Woodley; "and tharfor ye may say it war
found on him."

"You're sure of that, Simeon Woodley?"

"Wal, a man can't be sure o' a thing unless he sees it.  I didn't see it
myself wi' my own eyes.  For all that, I've had proof clar enough to
convince me; an' I'm reddy to stan' at the back o' it."

"Damn the letter!" exclaims one of the impatient ones, who has already
spoken in similar strain; "the picture, too!  Don't mistake me, boys.  I
ain't referrin' eyther to the young lady as wrote it, nor him she wrote
to.  I only mean that neither letter nor picture are needed to prove
what we're all wantin' to know, an' do know.  They arn't nor warn't
reequired.  To my mind, from the fust go off, nothin' ked be clarer than
that Charley Clancy has been killed, cepting as to who killed him--
murdered him, if ye will; for that's what's been done.  Is there a man
on the ground who can't call out the murderer?"

The interrogatory is answered by a unanimous negative, followed by the
name, "Dick Darke."

And along with the answer commences a movement throughout the crowd.  A
scattering with threats heard--some muttered, some spoken aloud--while
men are observed looking to their guns, and striding towards their
horses; as they do so, saying sternly,--

"To the jail!"

In ten minutes after both men and horses are in motion moving along the
road between Clancy's cottage and the county town.  They form a phalanx,
if not regular in line of march, terribly imposing in aspect.

Could Richard Darke, from inside the cell where he is confined, but see
that approaching cavalcade, hear the conversation of those who compose
it, and witness their angry gesticulations, he would shake in his shoes,
with trembling worse than any ague that ever followed fever.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

A SCHEME OF COLONISATION.

About two hundred miles from the mouth of Red River--the Red of
Louisiana--stands the town of Natchitoches.  The name is Indian, and
pronounced as if written "Nak-e-tosh."  Though never a populous place,
it is one of peculiar interest, historically and ethnologically.  Dating
from the earliest days of French and Spanish colonisation, on the Lower
Mississippi, it has at different periods been in possession of both
these nations; finally falling to the United States, at the transfer of
the Louisiana territory by Napoleon Bonaparte.  Hence, around its
history is woven much of romantic interest; while from the same cause
its population, composed of many various nationalities, with their
distinctive physical types and idiosyncracies of custom, offers to the
eye of the stranger a picturesqueness unknown to northern towns.  Placed
on a projecting bluff of the river's bank, its painted wooden houses, of
French Creole fashion, with "piazzas" and high-pitched roofs, its
trottoirs brick-paved, and shaded by trees of sub-tropical foliage--
among them the odoriferous magnolia, and _melia azedarach_, or "Pride of
China,"--these, in places, completely arcading the street--Natchitoches
has the orthodox aspect of a _rus in urbe_, or _urbs in rure_, whichever
way you wish it.

Its porticoes, entwined with parasites, here and there show stretches of
trellis, along which meander the cord-like tendrils of bignonias,
aristolochias, and orchids, the flowers of which, drooping over windows
and doorways, shut out the too garish sunlight, while filling the air
with fragrance.  Among these whirr tiny humming birds, buzz humble bees
almost as big, while butterflies bigger than either lazily flout and
flap about on soft, silent wing.

Such sights greet you at every turning as you make promenade through the
streets of Natchitoches.

And there are others equally gratifying.  Within these same trellised
verandahs, you may observe young girls of graceful mien, elegantly
apparelled, lounging on cane rocking-chairs, or perhaps peering coyly
through the half-closed jalousies, their eyes invariably dark brown or
coal black, the marble forehead above surmounted with a chevelure in hue
resembling the plumage of the raven.  For most of these demoiselles are
descended from the old colonists of the two Latinic races; not a few
with some admixture of African, or Indian.  The flaxen hair, blue eyes,
and blonde complexion of the Northland are only exceptional appearances
in the town of Natchitoches.

Meet these same young ladies in the street, it is the custom, and _comme
il faut_, to take off your hat, and make a bow.  Every man who claims to
be a gentleman does this deference; while every woman, with a white
skin, expects it.  On whichever side the privilege may be supposed to
lie, it is certainly denied to none.  The humblest shop clerk or
artisan--even the dray-driver--may thus make obeisance to the proudest
and daintiest damsel who treads the trottoirs of Natchitoches.  It gives
no right of converse, nor the slightest claim to acquaintanceship.  A
mere formality of politeness; and to presume carrying it further would
not only be deemed a rudeness, but instantly, perhaps very seriously,
resented.

Such is the polished town to which the Belle of Natchez has brought
Colonel Armstrong, with his belongings, and from which he intends taking
final departure for Texas.  The "Lone Star State" lies a little beyond--
the Sabine River forming the boundary line.  But from earliest time of
Texan settlement on the north-eastern side, Natchitoches has been the
place of ultimate outfit and departure.

Here the ex-Mississippian planter has made halt, and purposes to remain
for a much longer time than originally intended.  For a far grander
scheme of migration, than that he started out with, is now in his mind.
Born upon the Belle of Natchez, it has been gradually developing itself
during the remainder of the voyage, and is now complete--at least as to
general design.

It has not originated with Archibald Armstrong himself, but one, whom he
is soon to call son-in-law.  The young Creole, Dupre, entranced with
love, has nevertheless not permitted its delirium to destroy all ideas
of other kind.  Rather has it re-inspired him with one already
conceived, but which, for some time, has been in abeyance.  He, too, has
been casting thoughts towards Texas, with a view to migrating thither.
Of late travelling in Europe--more particularly in France--with some of
whose noblest families he holds relationship, he has there been smitten
with a grand idea, dictated by a spirit of ambition.  In Louisiana he is
only a planter among planters and though a rich one, is still not
satisfied, either with the number of his negroes, or the area of his
acres.  In Texas, where land is comparatively low priced, he has
conceived a project of colonisation, on an extended scale--in short, the
founding a sort of Transatlantic _seigneurie_.  For some months has this
ambitious dream been brooding in his brain; and now, meeting the
Mississippian planter aboard the boat and learning the latter's
intentions, this, and the more tender _liens_ late established between,
them, have determined Louis Dupre to make his dream a reality, and
become one of the migrating party.  He will sell his Louisiana houses
and lands, but not his slaves.  These can be taken to Texas.

Scarce necessary to say, that, on thus declaring himself, he becomes the
real chief of the proposed settlement.  Whether showing conspicuously in
front, or remaining obscurely in the rear, the capitalist controls all;
and Dupre is this.

Still, though virtually the controlling spirit, apparently the power
remains in the hands of Colonel Armstrong.  The young Creole wishes it
to appear so.  He has no jealousy of him, who is soon to be his second
father.  Besides, there is another and substantial reason why Colonel
Armstrong should assume the chieftainship of the purposed expedition.
Though reduced in circumstances, the ex-Mississippian planter is held in
high respect.  His character commands it; while his name, known
throughout all the South-west, will be sure to draw around, and rally
under his standard, some of those strong stalwart men of the backwoods,
equally apt with axe and rifle, without whom no settlement on the far
frontier of Texas would stand a chance of either security, or success.

For it is to the far frontier they purpose going, where land can be got
at government prices, and where they intend to purchase it not by the
acre, but in square miles--in leagues.

Such is Dupre's design, easy of execution with the capital he can
command after disposing of his Red River plantation.

And within a week after his arrival in Natchitoches, he has disposed of
it; signed the deed of delivery, and received the money.  An immense
sum, notwithstanding the sacrifice of a sale requiring quick despatch.
On the transfer being completed, the Creole holds in hand a cash capital
of $200,000; in those days sufficient not only for the purchase of a
large tract of territory, but enough to make the dream of a seignorial
estate appear a possible reality.

Not much of the future is he reflecting upon now.  If, at times, he cast
a chance thought towards it, it may be to picture to himself how his
blonde beauty will look as lady _suzeraine_--_chatelaine_ of the castle
to be erected in Texas.

In his fancy, no doubt, he figures her as the handsomest creature that
ever carried keys at her belt.

If these fancies of the future are sweet, the facts of the present are
even more so.  Daring their sojourn in Natchitoches the life of Louis
Dupre and Jessie Armstrong is almost a continuous chapter of amorous
converse and dalliance; left hands mutually clasped, right ones around
waists, or playing with curls and tresses; lips at intervals meeting in
a touch that intoxicates the soul--the delicious drunkenness of love,
from which no one need ever wish to get sober.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

NEWS FROM NATCHEZ.

While thus pleasantly pass the days with Colonel Armstrong's younger
daughter, to the elder they are drear and dark.  No love lights up the
path of _her_ life, no sun shines upon it; nothing save shadow and
clouds.

More than a week has elapsed since their arrival in Natchitoches, and
for much of this time has she been left alone.  Love, reputed a generous
passion, is of all the most selfish.  Kind to its own chosen, to others
it can be cruel; often is, when the open exhibition of its fervid zeal
recalls the cold neglect, it may be, making their misery.

Not that Jessie Armstrong is insensible to the sufferings of her sister.
On the contrary, she feels for--all that sister can--on occasions tries
to comfort her, by words such as she has already spoken, beseeching her
to forget--to pluck the poison from out her heart.

Easy to counsel thus, for one in whose heart there is no poison; instead
a honeyed sweetness, almost seraphic.  She, who this enjoys can ill
understand the opposite; and, Jessie, benighted with her own bliss,
gives less thought to the unhappiness of Helen.  Even less than she
might, were it more known to her.  For the proud elder sister keeps her
sorrow to herself, eschewing sympathy, and scarce ever recurring to the
past.  On her side the younger rarely refers to it.  She knows it would
cause pain.  Though once a reference to it has given pleasure to
herself; when Helen explained to her the mystery of that midnight plunge
into the river.  This, shortly after its occurrence; soon as she herself
came to a clear comprehension of it.  It was no mystery after all.  The
face seen among the cypress tops was but the fancy of an overwrought
brain; while the spectral arms were the forking tines of a branch,
which, catching upon the boat, in rebound had caught Helen Armstrong,
first raising her aloft, then letting her drop out of their innocent,
but withal dangerous, embrace.

An explanation more pleasing to Jessie than she cared to let Helen know;
since it gave the assurance that her sister had no thought of
self-destruction.  She is further comforted by the reflection, that
Helen has no need to repine, and the hope it may not be for long.  Some
other and truer lover will replace the lost false one, and she will soon
forget his falsehood.  So reasons the happy heart.  Indeed, judging by
what she sees, Jessie Armstrong may well come to this conclusion.
Already around her sister circle new suitors; a host seeking her hand.
Among them the best blood of which the neighbourhood can boast.  There
are planters, lawyers, members of the State Assembly--one of the General
Congress--and military men, young officers stationed at Fort Jessup,
higher up the river; who, forsaking the lonely post, occasionally come
down on a day's furlough to enjoy the delights of town life, and dip a
little into its dissipations.

Before Helen Armstrong has been two weeks in Natchitoches she becomes,
what for over two years she has been in Natchez--its _belle_.  The
"bloods" toast her at the drinking bar, and talk of her over the
billiard table.

Some of them too much for their safety, since already two or three duels
have occurred on her account--fortunately without fatal termination.

Not that she has given any of them cause to stand forth as her champion;
for not one can boast of having been favoured even with a smile.  On the
contrary, she has met their approaches if not frowningly, at least with
denying indifference.  All suspect there is _un ver_--_rongeur_--a worm
eating at her heart; that she suffers from a passion of the past.  This
does not dismay her Natchitoches adorers, nor hinder them from
continuing their adoration.  On the contrary it deepens it; her
indifference only attracting them, her very coldness setting their hot
southern hearts aflame, maddening them all the more.

She is not unconscious of the admiration thus excited.  If she were, she
would not be woman.  But also, because being a true woman, she has no
care for, and does not accept it.  Instead of oft showing herself in
society to receive homage and hear flattering speeches, she stays almost
constantly within her chamber--a little sitting-room in the hotel,
appropriated to herself and sister.

For reasons already known, she is often deprived of her sister's
company; having to content herself with that of her mulatto maid.

A companion who can well sympathise; for Jule, like herself, has a
canker at the heart.  The "yellow girl" on leaving Mississippi State has
also left a lover behind.  True, not one who has proved false--far from
it.  But one who every day, every hour of his life, is in danger of
losing it.  Jupe she supposes to be still safe, within the recesses of
the cypress swamp, but cannot tell how long his security may continue.
If taken, she may never see him more, and can only think of his
receiving some terrible chastisement.  But she is sustained by the
reflection, that her Jupiter is a brave fellow, and crafty as
courageous; by the hope he will yet get away from that horrid
hiding-place, and rejoin her, in a land where the dogs of Dick Darke can
no more scent or assail him.  Whatever may be the fate of the fugitive,
she is sure of his devotion to herself; and this hinders her from
despairing.

She is almost as much alarmed about her young mistress whom she sees
grieving, day by day evidently sinking under some secret sorrow.

To her it is not much of a secret.  She more than guesses at the cause;
in truth, knows it, as it is known to that mistress herself.  For the
wench can read; and made the messenger of that correspondence carried on
clandestinely, strange, if, herself a woman, she should not surmise many
things beyond what could be gleaned from the superscription on the
exchanged epistles.

She has surmised; but, like her mistress, something wide away from the
reality.  No wonder at her being surprised at what she sees in a Natchez
newspaper--brought to the hotel from a boat just arrived at
Natchitoches--something concerning Charles Clancy, very different from
that suspected of him.  She stays not to consider what impression it may
produce on the mind of the young lady.  Unpleasant no doubt; but a
woman's instinct whispers the maid, it will not be worse than the agony
her mistress is now enduring.

Entering the chamber, where the latter is alone, she places the paper in
her hands, saying: "Missy Helen, here's a newspaper from Natchez,
brought by a boat just arrived.  There's something in it, I think, will
be news to you--sad too."

Helen Armstrong stretches forth her hand, and takes hold of the sheet.
Her fingers tremble, closing upon it; her whole frame, as she searches
through its columns.

At the same time her eyes glow, burn, almost blaze, with a wild
unnatural light--an expression telling of jealousy roused, rekindled, in
a last spurt of desperation.  Among the marriage notices she expects to
see that of Charles Clancy with a Creole girl, whose name is unknown to
her.  It will be the latest chapter, climax and culminating point, of
his perfidy!

Who could describe the sudden revulsion of thought; what pen depict the
horror that sweeps through her soul; or pencil portray the expression of
her countenance, as, with eyes glaring aghast, she rests them on a large
type heading, in which is the name "Charles Clancy?"

For, the paragraph underneath tells not of his _marriage_, but his
_murder_!

Not the climax of his perfidy, as expected, but of her suffering.  Her
bosom late burning with indignant jealousy, is now the prey of a very
different passion.

Letting the paper fall to the floor, she sinks back into her chair, her
heart audibly beating--threatening to beat no more.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

SPECTRES IN THE STREET.

Colonel Armstrong is staying at the "Planters' House," the chief hotel
in the town of Natchitoches.  Not a very grand establishment,
nevertheless.  Compared with such a princely hostelry as the "Langham"
of London, it would be as a peasant's hut to a palace.  Withal, in every
way comfortable; and what it may lack in architectural style is made up
in natural adornment; a fine effect, produced by trees surrounding and
o'ershading it.

A hotel of the true Southern States type: weather-board walls, painted
chalk-white, with green Venetian shutters to the windows; a raised
verandah--the "piazza"--running all around it; a portion of this usually
occupied by gentlemen in white linen coats, sky-blue "cottonade" pants,
and Panama hats, who drink mint-juleps all day long; while another
portion, furnished with cane rocking-chairs, presents a certain air of
exclusiveness, which tells of its being tabooed to the sterner sex, or
more particularly meant for ladies.

A pleasant snuggery this, giving a good view of the street, while its
privacy is secured by a trellis, which extends between the supporting
pillars, clustered with Virginia creepers and other plants trained to
such service.  A row of grand magnolias stands along the brick banquette
in front, their broad glabrous leaves effectually fending off the sun;
while at the ladies' end two large Persian lilacs, rivalling the
indigenous tree both in the beauty of their leaves and the fragrance of
their flowers, waft delicious odours into the windows of the chambers
adjacent, ever open.

Orange-trees grow contiguous, and so close to the verandah rail, that
one leaning over may pluck either their ripe golden globes, or white
wax-like blossoms in all stages of expansion; these beautiful evergreens
bearing fruit and flower at the same time.

A pleasant place at all hours this open air boudoir; and none more
enjoyable than at night, just after sunset.  For then the hot atmosphere
has cooled down, and the soft southern breeze coming up from the bosom
of the river, stirs the leaves of the lilacs into gentle rustling, and
shakes their flower-spikes, scattering sweet incense around.  Then the
light from street lamps and house windows, gleaming through the foliage,
mingles with that of the fire-flies crossing and scintillating like
sparks in a pyrotechnic display.  Then the tree-crickets have commenced
their continuous trill, a sound by no means disagreeable; if it were,
there is compensation in the song of the mock-bird, that, perched upon
the top of some tall tree, makes the night cheerful with its
ever-changing notes.  Sometimes there are other sounds in this shady
retreat, still more congenial to the ears of those who hear them.  Oft
is it tenanted by dark-eyed demoiselles, and their Creole cavaliers, who
converse in the low whisperings of love, to them far sweeter than song
of thrush, or note of nightingale--words speaking the surrender of a
heart, with others signifying its acceptance.

To-night there is nothing of this within the vine-trellised verandah;
for only two individuals occupy it, both ladies.  By the light from
street lamps and open casements, from moonbeams shining through the
lilac leaves, from fire-flies hovering and shooting about, it can be
seen that both are young, and both beautiful.  Of two different types,
dark and fair: for they are the two daughters of Archibald Armstrong.

As said, they are alone, nor man nor woman near.  There have been others
of both sexes, but all have gone inside; most to retire for the night,
now getting late.

Colonel Armstrong is not in the hotel, nor Dupre.  Both are abroad on
the business of their colonising scheme.  About this everything has been
arranged, even to selection of the place.  A Texan land speculator, who
holds a large "grant" upon the San Saba river, opportunely chances to be
in Natchitoches at the time.  It is a tract of territory surrounding,
and formerly belonging to, an old mission by the monks, long ago
abandoned.  Dupre has purchased it; and all now remaining to be done is
to complete the make-up of the migrating party, and start off to take
possession.

Busied with these preparations, the young Creole, and his future
father-in-law, are out to a later hour than usual, which accounts for
the ladies being left alone.  Otherwise, one, at least, would not be
long left to herself.  If within the hotel, Dupre would certainly be by
the side of his Jessie.

The girls are together, standing by the baluster rail, with eyes bent
upon the street.  They have been conversing, but have ceased.  As usual,
the younger has been trying to cheer the elder, still sad, though now
from a far different cause.  The pain at her heart is no longer that of
jealousy, but pure grief, with an admixture of remorse.  The Natchez
newspaper has caused this change; what she read there, clearing Clancy
of all treason, leaving herself guilty for having suspected him.

But, oh! such an _eclaircissement_!  Obtained at the expense of a life
dear to her as her own--dearer now she knows he is dead!

The newspaper has furnished but a meagre account of the murder.  It
bears date but two days subsequent, and must have been issued subsequent
to Mrs Clancy's death, as it speaks of this event having occurred.

It would be out at an early hour that same morning.

In epitome its account is: that a man is missing, supposed to be
murdered; by name, Charles Clancy.  That search is being made for his
body, not yet found.  That the son of a well-known planter, Ephraim
Darke, himself called Richard, has been arrested on suspicion, and
lodged in the county jail; and, just as the paper is going to press, it
has received the additional intelligence, that the mother of the
murdered man has succumbed to the shock, and followed her unfortunate
son to the "bourne from which no traveller returns."

The report is in the flowery phraseology usually indulged, in by the
south-western journals.  It is accompanied by comments and conjectures
as to the motive of the crime.  Among these Helen Armstrong has read her
own name, with the contents of that letter addressed to Clancy, but
proved to have been in the possession of Darke.  Though given only in
epitome--for the editor confesses not to have seen the epistle, but only
had account of it from him who furnished the report--still to Helen
Armstrong is the thing painfully compromising.  All the world will now
know the relations that existed between her and Charles Clancy.  What
would she care were he alive?  And what need she, now he is dead?

She does not care--no.  It is not this that afflicts her.  Could she but
bring him to life again, she would laugh the world to scorn, brave the
frowns of her father, to prove herself a true woman by becoming the wife
of him her heart had chosen for a husband.

"It cannot be; he is dead--gone--lost for ever!"

So run her reflections, as she stands in silence by her sister's side,
their conversation for the time suspended.  Oppressed by their
painfulness, she retires a seep, and sinks down into one of the chairs;
not to escape the bitter thoughts--for she cannot--but to brood on them
alone.

Jessie remains with hands rested on the rail, gazing down into the
street.  She is looking for her Luis, who should now soon be returning
to the hotel.

People are passing, some in leisurely promenade, others in hurried step,
telling of early habits and a desire to get home.

One catching her eye, causes her to tremble; one for whom she has a
feeling of fear, or rather repulsion.  A man of large stature is seen
loitering under the shadow of a tree, and looking at her as though he
would devour her.  Even in his figure there is an expression of sinister
and slouching brutality.  Still more on his face, visible by the light
of a lamp which beams over the entrance door of the hotel.  The young
girl does not stay to scrutinise it; but shrinking back, cowers by the
side of her sister.

"What's the matter, Jess?" asks Helen, observing her frayed aspect, and
in turn becoming the supporter.  "You've seen something to vex you?
something of--Luis?"

"No--no, Helen.  Not him."

"Who then?"

"Oh, sister!  A man fearful to look at.  A great rough fellow, ugly
enough to frighten any one.  I've met him several times when out
walking, and every time it's made me shudder."

"Has he been rude to you?"

"Not exactly rude, though something like it.  He stares at me in a
strange way.  And such horrid eyes!  They're hollow, gowlish like an
alligator's.  I'd half a mind to tell father, or Luis, about it; but I
know Luis would go wild, and want to kill the big brute.  I saw him just
now, standing on the side-walk close by.  No doubt he's there still."

"Let me have a look at those alligator eyes."

The fearless elder sister, defiant from very despair, steps out to the
rail, and leaning over, looks along the street.

She sees men passing; but no one who answers to the description given.

There is one standing under a tree, but not in the place of which Jessie
has spoken; he is on the opposite side of the street.  Neither is he a
man of large size, but rather short and slight.  He is in shadow,
however, and she cannot be sure of this.

At the moment he moves off, and his gait attracts her attention; then
his figure, and, finally, his face, as the last comes under the
lamp-light.  They attract and fix it, sending a cold shiver through her
frame.

It was a fancy her thinking she saw Charles Clancy among the tree-tops.
Is it a like delusion, that now shows her his assassin in the streets of
Natchitoches?  No; it cannot be!  It is a reality; assuredly the man
moving off is _Richard Darke_!

She has it on her tongue to cry "murderer!" and raise a "hue and cry;"
but cannot.  She feels paralysed, fascinated; and stands speechless, not
stirring, scarce breathing.

Thus, till the assassin is out of sight.

Then she totters back to the side of her sister, to tell in trembling
accents, how she, too, had been frayed by a _spectre in the street_!



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

THE "CHOCTAW CHIEF."

"You'll excuse me, stranger, for interruptin' you in the readin' o' your
newspaper.  I like to see men in the way o' acquirin' knowledge.  But
we're all of us here goin' to licker up.  Won't you join?"

The invitation, brusquely, if not uncourteously, extended, comes from a
man of middle age, in height at least six feet three, without reckoning
the thick soles of his bull-skin boots--the tops of which rise several
inches above the knee.  A personage, rawboned, and of rough exterior,
wearing a red blanket-coat; his trousers tucked into the aforesaid
boots; with a leather belt buckled around his waist, under the coat, but
over the haft of a bowie-knife, alongside which peeps out the butt of a
Colt's revolving pistol.  In correspondence with his clothing and
equipment, he shows a cut-throat countenance, typical of the State
Penitentiary; cheeks bloated as from excessive indulgence in drink; eyes
watery and somewhat bloodshot; lips thick and sensual; with a nose set
obliquely, looking as if it had received hard treatment in some
pugilistic encounter.  His hair is of a yellowish clay colour, lighter
in tint upon the eyebrows.  There is none either on his lips or jaws,
nor yet upon his thick hog-like throat; which looks as if some day it
may need something stiffer than a beard to protect it from the hemp of
the hangman.

He, to whom the invitation has been extended, is of quite a different
appearance.  In age a little over half that of the individual who has
addressed him; complexion dark and cadaverous; the cheeks hollow and
haggard, as from sleepless anxiety; the upper lip showing two elongated
bluish blotches--the stub of moustaches recently removed; the eyes coal
black, with sinister glances sent in suspicious furtiveness from under a
broad hat-brim pulled low down over the brow; the figure fairly shaped,
but with garments coarse and clumsily fitting, too ample both for body
and limbs, as if intended to conceal rather than show them to advantage.

A practised detective, after scanning this individual, taking note of
his habiliments, with the hat and his manner of wearing it, would
pronounce him a person dressed in disguise--this, for some good reason,
adopted.  A suspicion of the kind appears to be in the mind of the rough
Hercules, who has invited him to "licker up;" though _he_ is no
detective.

"Thank you," rejoins the young fellow, lowering the newspaper to his
knee, and raising the rim of his hat, as little as possible; "I've just
had a drain.  I hope you'll excuse me."

"Damned if we do!  Not this time, stranger.  The rule o' this tavern is,
that all in its bar takes a smile thegither--leastwise on first meeting.
So, say what's the name o' yer tipple."

"Oh! in that case I'm agreeable," assents the newspaper reader, laying
aside his reluctance, and along with it the paper--at the same time
rising to his feet.  Then, stepping up to the bar, he adds, in a tone of
apparent frankness: "Phil Quantrell ain't the man to back out where
there's glasses going.  But, gentlemen, as I'm the stranger in this
crowd, I hope you'll let me pay for the drinks."

The men thus addressed as "gentlemen" are seven or eight in number; not
one of whom, from outward seeming, could lay claim to the epithet.  So
far as this goes, they are all of a sort with the brutal-looking bully
in the blanket-coat who commenced the conversation.  Did Phil Quantrell
address them as "blackguards," he would be much nearer the mark.
Villainous scoundrels they appear, every one of them, though of
different degrees, judging by their countenances, and with like variety
in their costumes.

"No--no!" respond several, determined to show themselves gentlemen in
generosity.  "No stranger can stand treat here.  You must drink with us,
Mr Quantrell."

"This score's mine!" proclaims the first spokesman, in an authoritative
voice.  "After that anybody as likes may stand treat.  Come, Johnny!
trot out the stuff.  Brandy smash for me."

The bar-keeper thus appealed to--as repulsive-looking as any of the
party upon whom he is called to wait--with that dexterity peculiar to
his craft, soon furnishes the counter with bottles and decanters
containing several sorts of liquors.  After which he arranges a row of
tumblers alongside, corresponding to the number of those designing to
drink.

And soon they are all drinking; each the mixture most agreeable to his
palate.

It is a scene of every-day occurrence, every hour, almost every minute,
in a hotel bar-room of the Southern United States; the only peculiarity
in this case being, that the Natchitoches tavern in which it takes place
is very different from the ordinary village inn, or roadside hotel.  It
stands upon the outskirts of the town, in a suburb known as the "Indian
quarter;" sometimes also called "Spanish town"--both name having
reference to the fact, that some queer little shanties around are
inhabited by pure-blooded Indians and half-breeds, with poor whites of
Spanish extraction--these last the degenerate descendants of heroic
soldiers who originally established the settlement.

The tavern itself, bearing an old weather-washed swing-sign, on which is
depicted an Indian in full war-paint, is known as the "Choctaw Chief,"
and is kept by a man supposed to be a Mexican, but who may be anything
else; having for his bar-keeper the afore-mentioned "Johnny," a
personage supposed to be an Irishman, though of like dubious nationality
as his employer.

The Choctaw Chief takes in travellers; giving them bed, board, and
lodging, without asking them any questions, beyond a demand of payment
before they have either eaten or slept under its roof.  It usually has a
goodly number, and of a peculiar kind--strange both in aspect and
manners--no one knowing whence they come, or whither bent when taking
their departure.

As the house stands out of the ordinary path of town promenaders, in an
outskirt scarce ever visited by respectable people, no one cares to
inquire into the character of its guests, or aught else relating to it.
To those who chance to stray in its direction, it is known as a sort of
cheap hostelry, that gives shelter to all sorts of odd customers--
hunters, trappers, small Indian traders, returned from an expedition on
the prairies; along with these, such travellers as are without the means
to stop at the more pretentious inns of the village; or, having the
means, prefer, for reasons of their own, to put up at the Choctaw Chief.

Such is the reputation of the hostelry, before whose drinking bar stands
Phil Quantrell--so calling himself--with the men to whose boon
companionship he has been so unceremoniously introduced; as declared by
his introducer, according to the custom of the establishment.

The first drinks swallowed, Quantrell calls for another round; and then
a third is ordered, by some one else, who pays, or promises to pay for
it.

A fourth "smile" is insisted upon by another some one who announces
himself ready to stand treat; all the liquor, up to this time consumed,
being either cheap brandy or "rot-gut" whisky.

Quantrell, now pleasantly convivial, and acting under the generous
impulse the drink has produced, sings out "Champagne!" a wine which the
poorest tavern in the Southern States, even the Choctaw Chief, can
plentifully supply.

After this the choice vintage of France, or its gooseberry counterfeit,
flows feebly; Johnny with gleeful alacrity stripping off the leaden
capsules, twisting the wires, and letting pop the corks.  For the
stranger guest has taken a wallet from his pocket, which all can
perceive to be "chock full" of gold "eagles," some reflecting upon, but
saying nothing about, the singular contrast between this plethoric
purse, and the coarse coat out of whose pocket it is pulled.

After all, not much in this.  Within the wooden walls of the Choctaw
Chief there have been seen many contrasts quite as curious.  Neither its
hybrid landlord, nor his bar-keeper, nor its guests are addicted to take
note--or, at all events make remarks upon--circumstances which elsewhere
would seem singular.

Still, is there one among the roystering crowd who does note this; as
also other acts done, and sayings spoken, by Phil Quantrell in his cups.
It is the Colossus who has introduced him to the jovial company, and
who still sticks to him as chaperon.

Some of this man's associates, who appear on familiar footing, called
him "Jim Borlasse;" others, less free, address him as "Mister Borlasse;"
while still others, at intervals, and as if by a slip of the tongue,
give him the title "Captain."  Jim, Mister, or Captain Borlasse--
whichever designation he deserve--throughout the whole debauch, keeps
his bloodshot eyes bent upon their new acquaintance, noting his every
movement.  His ears, too, are strained to catch every word Quantrell
utters, weighing its import.

For all he neither says nor does aught to tell of his being thus
attentive to the stranger--at first his guest, but now a spendthrift
host to himself and his party.

While the champagne is being freely quaffed, of course there is much
conversation, and on many subjects.  But one is special; seeming more
than all others to engross the attention of the roysterers under the
roof of the Choctaw Chief.

It is a murder that has been committed in the State of Mississippi, near
the town of Natchez; an account of which has just appeared in the local
journal of Natchitoches.  The paper is lying on the bar-room table; and
all of them, who can read, have already made themselves acquainted with
the particulars of the crime.  Those, whose scholarship does not extend
so far, have learnt them at secondhand from their better-educated
associates.

The murdered man is called Clancy--Charles Clancy--while the murderer,
or he under suspicion of being so, is named Richard Darke, the son of
Ephraim Darke, a rich Mississippi planter.

The paper gives further details: that the body of the murdered man has
not been found, before the time of its going to press; though the
evidence collected leaves no doubt of a foul deed having been done;
adding, that Darke, the man accused of it, after being arrested and
lodged in the county jail, has managed to make his escape--this through
connivance with his jailer, who has also disappeared from the place.
Just in time, pursues the report, to save the culprit's neck from a
rope, made ready for him by the executioners of Justice Lynch, a party
of whom had burst open the doors of the prison, only to find it
untenanted.  The paper likewise mentions the motive for the committal of
the crime--at least as conjectured; giving the name of a young lady,
Miss Helen Armstrong, and speaking of a letter, with her picture, found
upon the suspected assassin.  It winds up by saying, that no doubt both
prisoner and jailer have G.T.T.--"Gone to Texas"--a phrase of frequent
use in the Southern States, applied to fugitives from justice.  Then
follows the copy of a proclamation from the State authorities, offering
a reward of two thousand dollars for the apprehension of Richard Darke,
and five hundred for Joe Harkness--this being the name of the conniving
prison-keeper.

While the murder is being canvassed and discussed by the _bon-vivants_
in the bar-room of the Choctaw Chief--a subject that seems to have a
strange fascination for them--Borlasse, who has become elevated with the
alcohol, though usually a man of taciturn habit, breaks out with an
asseveration, which causes surprise to all, even his intimate
associates.

"Damn the luck!" he vociferates, bringing his fist down upon the counter
till the decanters dance at the concussion; "I'd 'a given a hundred
dollars to 'a been in the place o' that fellow Darke, whoever he is!"

"Why?" interrogate several of his confreres, in tones that express the
different degrees of their familiarity with him questioned, "Why, Jim?"

"Why, Mr Borlasse?"

"Why, Captain?"

"Why?" echoes the man of many titles, again striking the counter, and
causing decanters and glasses to jingle.  "Why?  Because that Clancy--
that same Clancy--is the skunk that, before a packed jury, half o' them
yellar-bellied Mexikins, in the town of Nacogdoches, swore I stealed a
horse from him.  Not only swore it, but war believed; an' got me--me,
Jim Borlasse--tied for twenty-four hours to a post, and whipped into the
bargain.  Yes, boys, whipped!  An' by a damned Mexikin nigger, under the
orders o' one o' their constables, they call algazeels.  I've got the
mark o' them lashes on me now, and can show them, if any o' ye hev a
doubt about it.  I ain't 'shamed to show 'em to _you_ fellows; as ye've
all got something o' the same, I guess.  But I'm burnin' mad to think
that Charley Clancy's escaped clear o' the vengeance I'd sworn again
him.  I know'd he was comin' back to Texas, him and his.  That's what
took him out thar, when I met him at Nacogdoches.  I've been waitin' and
watchin' till he shed stray this way.  Now, it appears, somebody has
spoilt my plans--somebody o' the name Richard Darke.  An', while I envy
this Dick Darke, I say damn him for doin' it!"

"Damn Dick Darke!  Damn him for doin' it!" they shout, till the walls
re-echo their ribald blasphemy.

The drinking debauch is continued till a late hour, Quantrell paying
shot for the whole party.  Maudlin as most of them have become, they
still wonder that a man so shabbily dressed can command so much cash and
coin.  Some of them are not a little perplexed by it.

Borlasse is less so than any of his fellow-tipplers.  He has noted
certain circumstances that give him a clue to the explanation; one,
especially, which seems to make everything clear.  As the stranger,
calling himself Phil Quantrell, stands holding his glass in hand, his
handkerchief employed to wipe the wine from his lips, and carelessly
returned to his pocket, slips out, and fails upon the floor.  Borlasse
stooping, picks it up, but without restoring it to its owner.

Instead, he retires to one side; and, unobserved, makes himself
acquainted with a name embroidered on its corner.

When, at a later hour, the two sit together, drinking a last good-night
draught, Borlasse places his lips close to the stranger's ear,
whispering as if it were Satan himself who spoke, "_Your name is not
Philip Quantrell: 'tis Richard Darke_!"



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

THE MURDERER UNMASKED.

A rattlesnake sounding its harsh "skirr" under the chair on which the
stranger is sitting could not cause him to start up more abruptly than
he does, when Borlasse says:--

"_Your name is not Philip Quantrell: 'tis Richard Darke_!"

He first half rises to his feet, then sits down again; all the while
trembling in such fashion, that the wine goes over the edge of his
glass, sprinkling the sanded floor.

Fortunately for him, all the others have retired to their beds, it being
now a very late hour of the night--near midnight.  The drinking "saloon"
of the Choctaw Chief is quite emptied of its guests.  Even Johnny, the
bar-keeper, has gone kitchen-wards to look after his supper.

Only Borlasse witnesses the effect of his own speech; which, though but
whispered, has proved so impressive.

The speaker, on his side, shows no surprise.  Throughout all the evening
he has been taking the measure of his man, and has arrived at a clear
comprehension of the case.  He now knows he is in the company of Charles
Clancy's assassin.  The disguise which Darke has adopted--the mere
shaving off moustaches and donning a dress of home-wove "cottonade"--the
common wear of the Louisiana Creole--with slouch hat to correspond, is
too flimsy to deceive Captain Jim Borlasse, himself accustomed to
metamorphoses more ingenious, it is nothing new for him to meet a
murderer fleeing from the scene of his crime--stealthily, disguisedly
making way towards that boundary line, between the United States and
Texas--the limit of executive justice.

"Come, Quantrell!" he says, raising his arm in a gesture of reassurance,
"don't waste the wine in that ridikelous fashion.  You and me are alone,
and I reckin we understand one another.  If not, we soon will--the
sooner by your puttin' on no nonsensical airs, but confessin' the clar
and candid truth.  First, then, answer me this questyun: Air you, or air
you not, Richard Darke?  If ye air, don't be afeerd to say so.  No
humbuggery!  Thar's no need for't.  An' it won't do for Jim Borlasse."

The stranger, trembling, hesitates to make reply.

Only for a moment.  He sees it will be of no use denying his identity.
The man who has questioned him--of giant size and formidable aspect--
notwithstanding the copious draughts he has swallowed, appears cool as a
tombstone, and stern as an Inquisitor.  The bloodshot eyes look upon him
with a leer that seems to say: "Tell me a lie, and I'm your enemy."

At the same time those eyes speak of friendship; such as may exist
between two scoundrels equally steeped in crime.

The murderer of Charles Clancy--now for many days and nights wandering
the earth, a fugitive from foiled justice, taking untrodden paths,
hiding in holes and corners, at length seeking shelter under the roof of
the Choctaw Chief, because of its repute, sees he has reached a haven of
safety.

The volunteered confessions of Borlasse--the tale of his hostility to
Clancy, and its cause--inspire him with confidence about any revelations
he may make in return.  Beyond all doubt his new acquaintance stands in
mud, deep as himself.  Without further hesitation, he says--"I _am_
Richard Darke."

"All right!" is the rejoinder.  "And now, Mr Darke, let me tell you, I
like your manly way of answerin' the question I've put ye.  Same time, I
may as well remark, 'twould 'a been all one if ye'd sayed _no_!  This
child hain't been hidin' half o' his life, 'count o' some little
mistakes made at the beginnin' of it, not to know when a man's got into
a sim'lar fix.  First day you showed your face inside the Choctaw Chief
I seed thar war something amiss; tho', in course, I couldn't gie the
thing a name, much less know 'thar that ugly word which begins with a M.
This evenin', I acknowledge, I war a bit put out--seein' you round thar
by the planter's, spyin' after one of them Armstrong girls; which of
them I needn't say."

Darke starts, saying mechanically, "You saw me?"

"In coorse I did--bein' there myself, on a like lay."

"Well?" interrogates the other, feigning coolness.

"Well; that, as I've said, some leetle bamboozled me.  From your looks
and ways since you first came hyar, I guessed that the something wrong
must be different from a love-scrape.  Sartint, a man stayin' at the
Choctaw Chief, and sporting the cheap rig as you've got on, wan't likely
to be aspirin' to sech dainty damsels as them.  You'll give in,
yourself, it looked a leetle queer; didn't it?"

"I don't know that it did," is the reply, pronounced doggedly, and in an
assumed tone of devil-may-care-ishness.

"You don't!  Well, I thought so, up to the time o' gettin' back to the
tavern hyar--not many minutes afore my meetin' and askin' you to jine us
in drinks.  If you've any curiosity to know what changed my mind, I'll
tell ye."

"What?" asks Darke, scarcely reflecting on his words.

"That ere newspaper you war readin' when I gave you the invite.  I read
it _afore_ you did, and had ciphered out the whole thing.  Puttin' six
and six thegither, I could easy make the dozen.  The same bein', that
one of the young ladies stayin' at the hotel is the Miss Helen Armstrong
spoke of in the paper; and the man I observed watchin' her is Richard
Darke, who killed Charles Clancy--_yourself_!"

"I--I am--I won't--I don't deny it to you, Mr Borlasse.  I am Richard
Darke.  I did kill Charles Clancy; though I protest against its being
said I _murdered_ him."

"Never mind that.  Between friends, as I suppose we can now call
ourselves, there need be no nice distinguishin' of tarms.  Murder or
manslaughter, it's all the same, when a man has a motive sech as yourn.
An' when he's druv out o' the pale of what they call society, an' hunted
from the settlements, he's not like to lose the respect of them who's
been sarved the same way.  Your bein' Richard Darke an' havin' killed
Charles Clancy, in no ways makes you an enemy o' Jim Borlasse--except in
your havin' robbed me of a revenge I'd sworn to take myself.  Let that
go now.  I ain't angry, but only envious o' you, for havin' the
satisfaction of sendin' the skunk to kingdom come, without givin' me the
chance.  An' now, Mister Darke, what do you intend doin'?"

The question comes upon the assassin with a sobering effect.  His
copious potations have hitherto kept him from reflecting.

Despite the thieve's confidence with which Borlasse has inspired him,
this reference to his future brings up its darkness, with its dangers;
and he pauses before making response.

Without waiting for it, his questioner continues:

"If you've got no fixed plan of action, and will listen to the advice of
a friend, I'd advise you to become _one o' us_."

"One of you!  What does that mean, Mr Borlasse?"

"Well, I can't tell you here," answers Borlasse, in a subdued tone.
"Desarted as this bar-room appear to be, it's got ears for all that.  I
see that curse, Johnny, sneakin' about, pretendin' to be lookin' after
his supper.  If he knew as much about you as I do, you'd be in limbo
afore you ked get into your bed.  I needn't tell you thar's a reward
offered; for you seed that yourself in the newspaper.  Two thousand
dollars for you, an' five hundred dollars for the fellow as I've seed
about along wi' you, and who I'd already figured up as bein' jailer Joe
Harkness.  Johnny, an' a good many more, would be glad to go halves with
me, for tellin' them only half of what I now know.  _I_ ain't goin' to
betray you.  I've my reasons for not.  After what's been said I reckon
you can trust me?"

"I can," rejoins the assassin, heaving a sigh of relief.

"All right, then," resumes Borlasse; "we understand one another.  But it
won't do to stay palaverin hyar any longer.  Let's go up to my bedroom.
We'll be safe there; and I've got a bottle of whisky, the best stuff for
a nightcap.  Over that we can talk things straight, without any one
havin' the chance to set them crooked.  Come along!"

Darke, without protest, accepts the invitation.  He dares not do
otherwise.  It sounds more like a command.  The man extending it has now
full control over him; can deliver him to justice--have him dragged to a
jail.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

"WILL YOU BE ONE OF US?"

Once inside his sleeping apartment, Borlasse shuts the door, points out
a chair to his invited guest, and plants himself upon another.  With the
promised bottle of whisky between them, he resumes speech.

"I've asked you, Quantrell, to be one o' us.  I've done it for your own
good, as you ought to know without my tellin' ye.  Well; you asked me in
return what that means?"

"Yes, I did," rejoins Darke, speaking without purpose.

"It means, then," continues Borlasse, taking a gulp out of his glass,
"that me, an' the others you've been drinking with, air as good a set of
fellows as ever lived.  That we're a cheerful party, you've seen for
yourself.  What's passed this night ain't nowheres to the merry times we
spend upon the prairies out in Texas--for it's in Texas we live."

"May I ask, Mr Borlasse, what business you follow?"

"Well; when we're engaged in regular business, it's mostly
horse-catchin'.  We rope wild horses, _mustangs_, as they're called; an'
sometimes them that ain't jest so wild.  We bring 'em into the
settlements for sale.  For which reason we pass by the name of
_mustangers_.  Between whiles, when business isn't very brisk, we spend
our time in some of the Texas towns--them what's well in to'rds the Rio
Grande, whar there's a good sprinklin' of Mexikins in the population.
We've some rare times among the Mexikin girls, I kin assure you.  You'll
take Jim Borlasse's word for that, won't you?"

"I have no cause to doubt it."

"Well, I needn't say more, need I?  I know, Quantrell, you're fond of a
pretty face yourself, with sloe-black eyes in it.  You'll see them among
the Mexikin saynoritas, to your heart's content.  Enough o' 'em, maybe,
to make you forget the pair as war late glancin' at you out of the hotel
gallery."

"Glancing at me?" exclaims Darke, showing surprise, not unmixed with
alarm.

"Glancing at ye; strait custrut; them same eyes as inspired ye to do
that little bit of shootin', wi' Charley Clancy for a target."

"You think she _saw_ me?" asks the assassin, with increasing uneasiness.

"Think!  I'm sure of it.  More than saw--she recognised ye.  I could
tell that from the way she shot back into the shadow.  Did ye not notice
it yourself?"

"No," rejoins Darke, the monosyllable issuing mechanically from his
lips, while a shiver runs through his frame.

His questioner, observing these signs, continues,--

"T'ike my advice, and come with us fellows to Texas.  Before you're long
there, the Mexikin girls will make you stop moping about Miss Armstrong.
After the first _fandango_ you've been at, you won't care a straw for
her.  Believe me, you'll soon forget her."

"Never!" exclaims Darke, in the fervour of his passion--thwarted though
it has been--forgetting the danger he is in.

"If that's your detarmination," returns Borlasse, "an' you've made up
your mind to keep that sweetheart in sight, you won't be likely to live
long.  As sure as you're sittin' thar, afore breakfast time to-morrow
mornin' the town of Naketosh 'll be too hot to hold ye."

Darke starts from his chair, as if _it_ had become too hot.

"Keep cool, Quantrell!" counsels the Texan.  "No need for ye to be
scared at what I'm sayin'.  Thar's no great danger jest yet.  There
might be, if you were in that chair, or this room, eight hours later.  I
won't be myself, not one.  For I may as well tell ye, that Jim Borlasse,
same's yourself, has reasons for shiftin' quarters from the Choctaw
Chief.  And so, too, some o' the fellows we've been drinkin' with.
We'll all be out o' this a good hour afore sun-up.  Take a friend's
advice, and make tracks along wi' us.  Will you?"

Darke still hesitates to give an affirmative answer.  His love for Helen
Armstrong--wild, wanton passion though it be--is the controlling
influence of his life.  It has influenced him to follow her thus far,
almost as much as the hope of escaping punishment for his crime.  And
though knowing, that the officers of justice are after him, he clings to
the spot where she is staying, with that fascination which keeps the fox
by the kennel holding the hounds.  The thought of leaving her behind--
perhaps never to see her again--is more repugnant than the spectre of a
scaffold!

The Texan guesses the reason of his irresolution.  More than this, he
knows he has the means to put an end to it.  A word will be sufficient;
or, at most, a single speech.  He puts it thus--

"If you're detarmined to stick by the apron-strings o' Miss Armstrong,
you'll not do that by staying here in Naketosh.  Your best place, to be
_near her_, will be along _with me_."

"How so, Mr Borlasse?" questions Darke, his eyes opening to a new
light.  "Why do you say that?"

"You ought to know, without my tellin' you--a man of your 'cuteness,
Quantrell!  You say you can never forget the older of that pair o'
girls.  I believe you; and will be candid, too, in sayin', no more is
Jim Borlasse like to forget the younger.  I thought nothin' could 'a
fetched that soft feelin' over me.  'Twant likely, after what I've gone
through in my time.  But she's done it--them blue eyes of hers; hanged
if they hain't!  Then, do you suppose that I'm going to run away from,
and lose sight o' her and them?  _No_; not till I've had her within
these arms, and tears out o' them same peepers droppin' on my cheeks.
That is, if she take it in the weepin' way."

"I don't understand," stammers Darke.

"You will in time," rejoins the ruffian; "that is, if you become one o'
us, and go where we're a-goin'.  Enough now for you to be told that,
_there you will find your sweetheart_!"

Without waiting to watch the effect of his last words, the tempter
continues--

"Now, Phil Quantrell, or Dick Darke, as in confidence I may call ye, are
you willin' to be one o' us?"

"I am."

"Good!  That's settled.  An' your comrade, Harkness; I take it, he'll
go, too, when told o' the danger of staying behind; not that he appears
o' much account, anyway.  Still, among us _mustangers_, the more the
merrier; and, sometimes we need numbers to help in the surroundin' o'
the horses.  He'll go along, won't he?"

"Anywhere, with me."

"Well, then, you'd better step into his bedroom, and roust him up.  Both
of ye must be ready at once.  Slip out to the stable, an' see to the
saddles of your horses.  You needn't trouble about settlin' the tavern
bill.  That's all scored to me; we kin fix the proportions of it
afterward.  Now, Quantrell, look sharp; in twenty minutes, time, I
expect to find you an' Harkness in the saddle, where you'll see ten o'
us others the same."

Saying this, the Texan strides out into the corridor, Darke preceding
him.  In the dimly-lighted passage they part company, Borlasse opening
door after door of several bedrooms, ranged on both sides of it; into
each, speaking a word, which, though only in whisper, seems to awake a
sleeper as if a cannon were discharged close to his ears.  Then succeeds
a general shuffling, as of men hastily putting on coats and boots, with
an occasional grunt of discontent at slumber disturbed; but neither
talking nor angry protest.  Soon, one after another, is seen issuing
forth from his sleeping apartment, skulking along the corridor, out
through the entrance door at back, and on towards the stable.

Presently, they fetch their horses forth, saddled and bridled.  Then,
leaping upon their backs, ride silently off under the shadow of the
trees; Borlasse at their head, Quantrell by his side, Harkness among
those behind.

Almost instantly they are in the thick forest which comes close up to
the suburbs of Natchitoches; the Choctaw Chief standing among trees
never planted by the hand of man.

The wholesale departure appearing surreptitious, is not unobserved.
Both the tavern Boniface and his bar-keeper witness it, standing in the
door as their guests go off; the landlord chuckling at the large pile of
glittering coins left behind; Johnny scratching his carroty poll, and
saying,--

"Be japers! they intind clearin' that fellow Quantrell out.  He won't
long be throubled wid that shinin' stuff as seems burnin' the bottom out
av his pocket.  I wudn't be surrprized if they putt both him an' 'tother
fool past tillin' tales afore ayther sees sun.  Will, boss, it's no
bizness av ours."

With this self-consolatory remark, to which the "boss" assents, Johnny
proceeds to shut and lock the tavern door.  Soon after the windows of
the Choctaw Chief show lightless, its interior silent, the moonbeams
shining upon its shingled roof peacefully and innocently, as though it
had never sheltered robber, and drunken talk or ribald blasphemy been
heard under it.

So, till morning's dawn; till daylight; till the sun is o'ertopping the
trees.  Then is it surrounded by angry men; its wooden walls re-echoing
their demand for admittance.

They are the local authorities of the district; the sheriff of
Natchitoches with his _posse_ of constables, and a crowd of people
accompanying.  Among them are Colonel Armstrong and the Creole, Dupre;
these instigating the movement; indeed, directing it.

Ah knew, from yesterday's newspaper, of the murder committed near
Natchez, as also of the murderer having broken jail.  Only this morning
have they learnt that the escaped criminal has been seen in the streets
of their town.  From an early hour they have been scouring these in
search of him; and, at length, reached the Choctaw Chief--the place
where he should be found, if found at all.

On its doors being opened, they discover traces of him.  No man named
Darke has been there, but one calling himself Quantrell, with another,
who went by the name of Walsh.

As, in this case, neither the landlord nor bar-keeper have any interest
in screening that particular pair of their late guests, they make no
attempt to do so; but, on the contrary, tell all they know about them;
adding, how both went away with a number of other gentlemen, who paid
their tavern bills, and took departure at an early hour of the morning.

The description of the other "gentlemen" is not so particularly given,
because not so specially called for.  In that of Quantrell and Walsh,
Colonel Armstrong, without difficulty, identifies Richard Darke and the
jailer, Joe Harkness.

He, sheriff, constables, crowd, stand with countenances expressing
defeat--disappointment.  They have reached the Choctaw Chief a little
too late.  They know nothing of Borlasse, or how he has baffled them.
They but believe, that, for the second time, the assassin of Charles
Clancy has eluded the grasp of justice.



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

A GHOST GOING ITS ROUNDS.

It is nearly a month since the day of Clancy's death; still the
excitement caused by it, though to some extent subsided, has not died
out.  Curiosity and speculation are kept alive by the fact of the body
not having been found.  For it has not.  Search has been made everywhere
for miles around.  Field and forest, creeks, ponds, swamp, and river,
have all been traversed and interrogated, in vain.  All have refused to
surrender up the dead.

That Clancy is dead no one has a doubt.  To say nothing of the blood
spilt beside his abandoned hat and gun, with the other circumstances
attendant, there is testimony of a moral nature, to many quite as
convincing.

Alive he would long since have returned home, at thought of what his
mother must be suffering.  He was just the man to do that, as all who
knew him are aware.  Even wounded and crippled, if able to crawl, it
would be to the side of the only woman at such a crisis he should care
for.

Though it is now known that he cared for another, no one entertains a
thought of his having gone off after _her_.  It would not be in keeping
with his character, any more than with the incidents and events that
have conspired to make the mystery.  Days pass, and it still remains
one.

The sun rises and sets, without throwing any light upon it.  Conjecture
can do nothing to clear it up; and search, over and over unsuccessful,
is at length abandoned.

If people still speculate upon how the body of the murdered man has been
disposed of, there is no speculation as to who was his murderer, or how
the latter made escape.

The treason of the jail-keeper explains this--itself accounted for by
Ephraim Darke having on the previous day paid a visit to his son in the
cell, and left with him a key that ere now has opened many a prison
door.  Joe Harkness, a weak-witted fellow, long suspected of
faithlessness, was not the man to resist the temptation with which his
palm had been touched.

Since that day some changes have taken place in the settlement.  The
plantation late Armstrong's has passed into the hands of a new
proprietor--Darke having disposed of it--while the cottage of the
Clancys, now ownerless, stays untenanted.  Unfurnished too: for the
bailiff has been there, and a bill of sale, which covered its scant
plenishing, farm-stock, implements and utensils, has swept all away.

For a single day there was a stir about the place, with noise
corresponding, when the chattels were being disposed of by public
auction.  Then the household gods of the decayed Irish gentleman were
knocked down to the highest bidder, and scattered throughout the
district.  Rare books, pictures, and other articles, telling of refined
taste, with some slight remnants of _bijouterie_, were carried off to
log-cabins, there to be esteemed in proportion to the prices paid for
them.  In fine, the Clancy cottage, stripped of everything, has been
left untenanted.  Lone as to the situation in which it stands, it is yet
lonelier in its desolation.  Even the dog, that did such service in
pointing out the criminality of him who caused all the ruin, no longer
guards its enclosures, or cheers them with his familiar bark.  The
faithful animal, adopted by Simeon Woodley, has found a home in the
cabin of the hunter.

It is midnight; an hour still and voiceless in Northern climes, but not
so in the Southern.  Far from it in the State of Mississippi.  There the
sun's excessive heat keeps Nature alert and alive, even at night, and in
days of December.

Though night, it is not December, but a date nearer Spring.  February is
written on the heading of letters, and this, a Spring month on the Lower
Mississippi, has commenced making its imprint on the forest trees.
Their buds have already burst, some showing leaves fully expanded,
others of still earlier habit bedecked with blossoms.  Birds, too,
awaking from a short winter's silence, pour forth their amorous lays,
filling glade and grove with music, that does not end with the day; for
the mock-bird, taking up the strain, carries it on through the hours of
night; so well counterfeiting the notes of his fellow-songsters, one
might fancy them awake--still singing.

Not so melodious are other voices disturbing the stillness of the
Southern night.  Quite the opposite are the croaking of frogs, the
screeching of owls, the jerking call of tree-crickets, and the bellowing
of the alligator.  Still, the ear accustomed to such sounds is not
jarred by them.  They are but the bass notes, needed to complete the
symphony of Nature's concert.

In the midst of this melange,--the hour, as already stated, midnight--a
man, or something bearing man's semblance, is seen gliding along the
edge of the cypress swamp, not far from the place where Charles Clancy
fell.

After skirting the mud-flat for a time, the figure--whether ghost or
human--turns face toward the tract of lighter woodland, extending
between the thick timber and cleared ground of the plantations.

Having traversed this, the nocturnal wayfarer comes within sight of the
deserted cottage, late occupied by the Clancys.

The moonlight, falling upon his face, shows it to be white.  Also, that
his cheeks are pallid, with eyes hollow and sunken, as from sickness--
some malady long-endured, and not yet cured.  As he strides over fallen
logs, or climbs fences stretching athwart his course, his tottering step
tells of a frame enfeebled.

When at length clear of the woods, and within sight of the untenanted
dwelling, he stops, and for a time remains contemplating it.  That he is
aware of its being unoccupied is evident, from the glance with which he
regards it.

His familiarity with the place is equally evident.  On entering the
cottage grounds, which he soon after does, through, some shrubbery at
the back, he takes the path leading up to the house, without appearing
to have any doubt about its being the right one.

For all this he makes approach with caution, looking suspiciously
around--either actually afraid, or not desiring to be observed.

There is little likelihood of his being so.  At that hour all in the
settlement should be asleep.  The house stands remote, more than a mile
from its nearest neighbour.  It is empty; has been stripped of its
furniture, of everything.  What should any one be doing there?

What is _he_ doing there?  A question which would suggest itself to one
seeing him; with interest added on making note of his movements.

There is no one to do either; and he continues on to the house, making
for its back door, where there is a porch, as also a covered way,
leading to a log-cabin--the kitchen.

Even as within the porch, he tries the handle of the door which at a
touch goes open.  There is no lock, or if there was, it has not been
thought worth while to turn the key in it.  There are no burglars in the
backwoods.  If there were, nothing in that house need tempt them.

Its nocturnal visitor enters under its roof.  The ring of his footsteps,
though he still treads cautiously, gives out a sad, solemn sound.  It is
in unison with the sighs that come, deep-drawn, from his breast; at
times so sonorous as to be audible all over the house.

He passes from room to room.  There are not many--only five of them.  In
each he remains a few moments, gazing dismally around.  But in one--that
which was the widow's sleeping chamber--he tarries a longer time;
regarding a particular spot--the place formerly occupied by a bed.  Then
a sigh, louder than any that has preceded it, succeeded by the words,
low-muttered:--

"There she must have breathed her last!"

After this speech, more sighing, accompanied by still surer signs of
sorrow--sobs and weeping.  As the moonbeams, pouring in through the open
window, fall upon his face, their pale silvery light sparkles upon
tears, streaming from hollow eyes, chasing one another down emaciated
cheeks.

After surrendering himself some minutes to what appears a very agony of
grief, he turns out of the sleeping chamber; passes through the narrow
hall-way; and on into the porch.  Not now the back one, but that facing
front to the road.

On the other side of this is an open tract of ground, half cleared, half
woodland; the former sterile, the latter scraggy.  It seems to belong to
no one, as if not worth claiming, or cultivating.  It has been, in fact,
an appanage of Colonel Armstrong's estate, who had granted it to the
public as the site for a schoolhouse, and a common burying-ground--free
to all desiring to be instructed, or needing to be interred.  The
schoolhouse has disappeared, but the cemetery is still there--only
distinguishable from the surrounding _terrain_ by some oblong
elevations, having the well-known configuration of graves.  There are in
all about a score of them; some having a plain head-board--a piece of
painted plank, with letters rudely limned, recording the name and age of
him or her resting underneath.

Time and the weather have turned most of them greyish, with dates
decayed, and names scarcely legible.  But there is one upon which the
paint shows fresh and white; in the clear moonlight gleaming like a
meteor.

He who has explored the deserted dwelling, stands for a while with eyes
directed on this recently erected memorial.  Then, stepping down from
the porch, he passes through the wicket-gate; crosses the road; and goes
straight towards it, as though a hand beckoned him thither.

When close up, he sees it to be by a grave upon which the herbage has
not yet grown.

The night is a cold one--chill for that Southern clime.  The dew upon
the withered grass of the grave turf is almost congealed into hoar
frost, adding to its ghostly aspect.

The lettering upon the head-board is in shadow, the moon being on the
opposite side.

But stooping forward, so as to bring his eyes close to the slab, he is
enabled to decipher the inscription.

It is the simplest form of memento--only a name, with the date of
death--

  "Caroline Clancy,
  Died January 18--"

After reading it, a fresh sob bursts from his bosom, new tears start
from his eyes, and he flings himself down upon the grave.  Disregarding
the dew, thinking nought of the night's dullness, he stretches his arms
over the cold turf, embracing it as though it were the warm body of one
beloved!

For several minutes he remains in this attitude.  Then, suddenly rising
erect, as if impelled by some strong purpose, there comes from his lips,
poured forth in wild passionate accent, the speeches:--

"Mother! dear mother!  I am still living!  I am here!  And you, dead!
No more to know--no more hear me!  O God!"

They are the words of one frantic with grief, scarce knowing what he
says.

Presently, sober reason seems to assert itself, and he again resumes
speech; but now with voice, expression of features, attitude, everything
so changed, that no one, seeing him the moment before, would believe it
the same man.

Upon his countenance sternness has replaced sorrow; the soft lines have
become rigid; the melancholy glance is gone, replaced by one that tells
of determination--of vengeance.

Once more he glances down at the grave; then up to the sky, till the
moon, coursing across high heaven, falls full upon his face.  With his
body slightly leaning backward, the arms along his sides, stiffly
extended, the hands closed in convulsive clutch, he cries out:--

"By the heavens above--by the shade of my murdered mother, who lies
beneath--I swear not to know rest, never more seek contentment, till
I've punished her murderer!  Night and day--through summer and winter--
shall I search for him.  Yes; search till I've found and chastised this
man, this monster, who has brought blight on me, death to my mother, and
desolation to our house!  Ah! think not you can escape me!  Texas,
whither I know you have gone, will not be large enough to hold, nor its
wilderness wide enough to screen you from my vengeance.  If not found
there, I shall follow you to the end of the earth--to the end of the
earth, Richard Darke!"

"Charley Clancy!"

He turns as if a shot had struck him.  He sees a man standing within six
paces of the spot.

"Sime Woodsy!"



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

"SHE IS TRUE--STILL TRUE!"

The men who thus mutually pronounce each other's names are they who bear
them.  For it is, in truth, Charles Clancy who stands by the grave, and
Simeon Woodley who has saluted him.

The surprise is all upon the side of Sime, and something more.  He
beholds a man all supposed to be dead, apparently returned from the
tomb!  Sees him in a place appropriate to resurrection, in the centre of
a burying-ground, by the side of a recently made grave!

The backwoodsman is not above believing in spiritual existences, and for
an instant he is under a spell of the supernatural.

It passes off on his perceiving that real flesh and blood is before
him--Charles Clancy himself, and not his wraith.

He reaches this conclusion the sooner from having all along entertained
a doubt about Clancy being dead.  Despite the many circumstances
pointing to, almost proving, his death, Woodley was never quite
convinced of it.  No one has taken so much trouble, or made so many
efforts, to clear up the mystery.  He has been foremost in the attempt
to get punishment for the guilty man, as in the search for the body of
his victim; both of which failed, to his great humiliation; his grief
too, for he sincerely lamented his lost friend.  Friends they were of no
common kind.  Not only had they oft hunted in company, but been together
in Texas during Clancy's visit to the Lone Star State; together at
Nacogdoches, where Borlasse received chastisement for stealing the
horse; together saw the thief tied to the stake, Woodley being one of
the stern jury who sentenced him to be whipped, and saw to the sentence
being carried into execution.

The hunter had been to Natchez for the disposal of some pelts and
deer-meat, a week's produce of his gun.  Returning at a late hour, he
must needs pass the cottage of the Clancys, his own humble domicile
lying beyond.  At sight of the deserted dwelling a painful throb passed
through his heart, as he recalled the sad fate of those who once
occupied it.

Making an effort to forget the gloomy record, he was riding on, when a
figure flitting across the road arrested his attention.  The clear
moonlight showed the figure to be that of a man, and one whose movements
betrayed absence of mind, if not actual aberration.

With the instinct habitual to the hunter Woodley at once tightened rein,
coming to a stop under the shadow of the roadside trees.  Sitting in his
saddle he watched the midnight wanderer, whose eccentric movements
continued to cause him surprise.  He saw the latter walk on to the
little woodland cemetery, take stand by the side of a grave, bending
forward as if to read the epitaph on its painted slab.  Soon after
kneeling down as in prayer, then throwing himself prostrate along the
earth.  Woodley well knew the grave thus venerated.  For he had himself
assisted in digging and smoothing down the turf that covered it.  He had
also been instrumental in erecting the frail tablet that stood over.
Who was this man, in the chill, silent hour of midnight, flinging
himself upon it in sorrow or adoration?

With a feeling far different from curiosity, the hunter slipped out of
his saddle, and leaving his horse behind, cautiously approached the
spot.  As the man upon the grave was too much absorbed with his own
thoughts, he got close up without being observed; so close as to hear
that strange adjuration, and see a face he never expected to look upon
again.  Despite the features, pale and marked with emaciation, the
hollow cheeks, and sunken but glaring eyeballs, he recognised the
countenance of Charles Clancy; soon as he did so, mechanically calling
out his name.

Hearing his own pronounced, in response, Sime again exclaims, "Charley
Clancy!" adding the interrogatory, "Is it yurself or yur shader?"

Then, becoming assured, he throws open his arms, and closes them around
his old hunting associate.

Joy, at seeing the latter still alive, expels every trace of
supernatural thought, and he gives way--to exuberant congratulation.

On Clancy's side the only return is a faint smile, with a few confused
words, that seem to speak more of sadness than satisfaction.  The
expression upon his face is rather or chagrin, as if sorry at the
encounter having occurred.  His words are proof of it.

"Simeon Woodley," he says, "I should have been happy to meet you at any
other time, but not now."

"Why, Clancy!" returns the hunter, supremely astonished at the coldness
with which his warm advances have been received.  "Surely you know I'm
yur friend?"

"Right well I know it."

"Wal, then, believin' you to be dead--tho' I for one never felt sure
o't--still thinking it might be--didn't I do all my possible to git
justice done for ye?"

"You did.  I've heard all--everything that has happened.  Too much I've
heard.  O God! look there!  Her grave--my murdered mother!"

"That's true.  It killed the poor lady, sure enough."

"Yes; _he_ killed her."

"I needn't axe who you refar to.  I heerd you mention the name as I got
up.  We all know that Dick Darke has done whatever hez been done.  We
hed him put in prison, but the skunk got away from us, by the bribin' o'
another skunk like hisself.  The two went off thegither, an' no word's
ever been since heerd 'bout eyther.  I guess they've put for Texas, whar
every scoundrel goes nowadays.  Wal, Lordy!  I'm so glad to see ye still
alive.  Won't ye tell me how it's all kim about?"

"In time I shall--not now."

"But why are ye displeezed at meetin' me--me that mayent be the
grandest, but saitinly one o' the truest an' fastest o' yur friends?"

"I believe you are, Woodley--am sure of it.  And, now that I think more
of the matter, I'm not sorry at having met you.  Rather am I glad of it;
for I feel that I can depend upon you.  Sime, will you go with me to
Texas?"

"To Texas, or anywhars.  In coorse I will.  An' I reck'n we'll hev a
good chance o' meetin' Dick Darke thar, an' then--"

"Meet him!" exclaimed Clancy, without waiting for the backwoodsman to
finish his speech, "I'm sure of meeting him.  I know the spot where.
Ah, Simeon Woodley! 'tis a wicked world!  Murderer as that man is, or
supposed to be, there's a woman gone to Texas who will welcome him--
receive him with open arms; lovingly entwine them around his neck.  O
God!"

"What woman air ye talkin' o', Clancy?"

"Her who has been the cause of all--Helen Armstrong."

"Wal; ye speak the truth partwise--but only partwise.  Thar' can be no
doubt o' Miss Armstrong's being the innercent cause of most o' what's
been did.  But as to her hevin' a likin' for Dick Darke, or puttin' them
soft white arms o' hern willingly or lovingly aroun' his neck, thar
you're clar off the trail--a million miles off o' it.  That ere gurl
hates the very sight o' the man, as Sime Woodley hev' good reason to
know.  An' I know, too, that she's nuts on another man--leastwise has
been afore all this happened, and I reck'n still continue to be.
Weemen--that air, weemen o' her kidney--ain't so changeable as people
supposes.  'Bout Miss Helen Armstrong hevin' once been inclined to'ardst
this other man, an' ready to freeze to him, I hev' the proof in my
pocket."

"The proof!  What are you speaking of?"

"A dookyment, Charley Clancy, that shed hev reached you long ago, seein'
that it's got your name on it.  Thar's both a letter and a pictur'.  To
examine 'em, we must have a clarer light than what's unner this tree, or
kin be got out o' that 'ere moon.  S'pose we adjern to my shanty.  Thar
we kin set the logs a-bleezin'.  When they throw thar glint on the bit
o' paper I've spoke about, I'll take long odds you won't be so down in
the mouth.  Come along, Charley Clancy!  Ye've had a durned dodrotted
deal both o' sufferin' an' sorrow.  Be cheered!  Sime Woodley's got
somethin' thet's likely to put ye straight upright on your pins.  It's
only a bit o' pasteboard an' a sheet o' paper--both inside what in
Natcheez they calls a enwelope.  Come wi' me to the ole cabin, an' thar
you kin take a squint at 'em."

Clancy's heart is too full to make rejoinder.  The words of Woodley have
inspired him with new hope.  Health, long doubtful, seems suddenly
restored to him.  The colour comes back to his cheeks; and, as he
follows the hunter to his hut, his stride exhibits all its old vigour
and elasticity.

When the burning logs are kicked into a blaze; when by its light he
reads Helen Armstrong's letter, and looks upon her photograph--on that
sweet inscript intended for himself--he cries out in ecstasy,--

"Thank heaven! she is true--still true!"

No longer looks he the sad despairing invalid, but the lover--strong,
proud, triumphant.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

THE HOME OF THE HUNTED SLAVE.

Throughout all these days where has Clancy been?  Dead, and come to life
again?  Or, but half killed and recovered?  Where the while hidden?  And
why?  Questions that in quick succession occur to Simeon Woodley meeting
him by his mother's grave.

Not all put then or there; but afterwards on the hunter's own hearth, as
the two sit before the blazing logs, by whose light Clancy has read the
letter so cheering him.

Then Woodley asks them, and impatiently awaits the answers.

The reader may be asking the same questions, and in like manner
expecting reply.

He shall have it, as Woodley, not in a word or at once, but in a series
of incidents, for the narration of which it is necessary to return upon
time; as also to introduce a personage hitherto known but by repute--the
fugitive slave, Jupiter.

"Jupe" is of the colour called "light mulatto," closely approximating to
that of newly tanned leather.  His features are naturally of a pleasing
expression; only now and then showing fierce, when he reflects on a
terrible flogging, and general ill treatment experienced, at the hands
of the cruel master from whom he has absconded.

He is still but a young fellow, with face beardless; only two darkish
streaks of down along the upper lip.  But the absence of virile sign
upon his cheeks has full compensation in a thick shock covering his
crown, where the hair of Shem struggles for supremacy with the wool of
Ham, and so successfully, as to result in a profusion of curls of which
Apollo might be proud.  The god of Beauty need not want a better form or
face; nor he of Strength a set of sinews tougher, or limbs more tersely
knit.  Young though he may be, Jupe has performed feats of Herculean
strength, requiring courage as well.  No wonder at his having won Jule!

A free fearless spirit he: somewhat wild, though not heart-wicked; a
good deal given to nocturnal excursions to neighbouring plantations;
hence the infliction of the lash, which has finally caused his
absconding from that of Ephraim Darke.

A merry jovial fellow he has been--would be still--but for the cloud of
danger that hangs over him; dark as the den in which he has found a
hiding-place.  This is in the very heart and centre of the cypress
swamp, as also in the heart and hollow of a cypress tree.  No dead log,
but a living growing trunk, which stands on a little eyot, not
immediately surrounded by water, but marsh and mud.  There is water
beyond, on every side, extending more than a mile, with trees standing
in and shadowing its stagnant surface.

On the little islet Nature has provided a home for the hunted fugitive--
an asylum where he is safe from pursuit--beyond the scent of savage
hounds, and the trailing of men almost as savage as they; for the place
cannot be approached by water-craft, and is equally unapproachable by
land.  Even a dog could not make way through the quagmire of mud,
stretching immediately around it to a distance of several hundred yards.
If one tried, it would soon be snapped up by the great saurian, master
of this darksome domain.  Still is there a way to traverse the
treacherous ground, for one knowing it, as does Darke's runaway slave.
Here, again, has Nature intervened, lending her beneficent aid to the
oppressed fleeing from oppression.  The elements in their anger, spoken
by tempest and tornado, have laid prostrate several trees, whose trunks,
lying along the ooze, lap one another, and form a continuous causeway.
Where there chances to be a break, human ingenuity has supplied the
connecting link, making it as much as possible to look like Nature's own
handiwork; though it is that of Jupiter himself.  The hollow tree has
given him a house ready built, with walls strong as any constructed by
human hands, and a roof to shelter him from the rain.  If no better than
the lair of a wild beast, still is it snug and safe.  The winds may blow
above, the thunder rattle, and the lightning flash; but below, under the
close canopy of leaves and thickly-woven parasites, he but hears the
first in soft sighings, the second in distant reverberation, and sees
the last only in faint phosphoric gleams.  Far brighter the sparkle of
insects that nightly play around the door of his dwelling.

A month has elapsed since the day when, incensed at the flogging
received--this cruel as causeless--he ran away, resolved to risk
everything, life itself, rather than longer endure the tyrannous
treatment of the Darkes.

Though suspected of having taken refuge in the swamp, and there
repeatedly sought for, throughout all this time he has contrived to
baffle search.  Nor has he either starved or suffered, except from
solitude.  Naturally of a social disposition, this has been irksome to
him.  Otherwise, he has comforts enough.  Though rude his domicile, and
remote from a market, it is sufficiently furnished and provided.  The
Spanish moss makes a soft couch, on which he can peacefully repose.  And
for food he need not be hard up, nor has he been for a single day.  If
it come to that, he can easily entrap an alligator, and make a meal off
the tenderest part of its tail; this yielding a steak which, if not
equal to best beef, is at all events eatable.

But Jupe has never been driven to diet on alligator meat too much of
musky flavour.  His usual fare is roast pork, with now and then broiled
ham and chicken; failing which, a _fricassee_ of 'coon or a _barbecue_
of 'possum.  No lack of bread besides--maize bread--in its various
bakings of "pone", "hoe cake," and "dodger."  Sometimes, too, he
indulges in "Virginia biscuit," of sweetest and whitest flour.

The question is called up, Whence gets he such good things?  The 'coon
and 'possum may be accounted for, these being wild game of the woods,
which he can procure by capture; but the other viands are domestic, and
could only be obtained from a plantation.

And from one they are obtained--that of Ephraim Darke!  How?  Does
Jupiter himself steal them?  Not likely.  The theft would be attended
with too much danger.  To attempt it would be to risk not only his
liberty, but his life.  He does not speculate on such rashness, feeling
sure his larder will be plentifully supplied, as it has hitherto been--
by a friend.

Who is he?

A question scarce requiring answer.  It almost responds to itself,
saying, "Blue Bill."  Yes; the man who has kept the fugitive in
provisions--the faithful friend and confederate--is no other than the
coon-hunter.

Something more than bread and meat has Blue Bill brought to the swamp's
edge, there storing them in a safe place of deposit, mutually agreed
upon.  Oft, as he starts forth "a-cooning," may he be observed with
something swelling out his coat-pockets, seemingly carried with
circumspection.  Were they at such times searched, they would be found
to contain a gourd of corn whisky, and beside it a plug of tobacco.  But
no one searches them; no one can guess at their contents--except Phoebe.
To her the little matter of commissariat has necessarily been made
known, by repeated drafts on her meat-safe, and calls upon her culinary
skill.  She has no jealous suspicion as to why her scanty store is thus
almost daily depleted--no thought of its being for Brown Bet.  She knows
it is for "poor Jupe," and approves, instead of making protest.



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

AN EXCURSION BY CANOE.

On that day when Dick Darke way-laid Charles Clancy, almost the same
hour in which the strife is taking place between them, the fugitive
slave is standing by the side of his hollow tree, on the bit of dry land
around its roots.

His air and bearing indicate intention not to stay there long.  Ever and
anon he casts a glance upward, as if endeavouring to make out the time
of day.  A thing not easily done in that sombre spot.  For he can see no
sun, and only knows there is such by a faint reflection of its light
scarce penetrating through the close canopy of foliage overhead.  Still,
this gradually growing fainter, tells him that evening is at hand.

Twilight is the hour he is waiting for, or rather some twenty minutes
preceding it.  For, to a minute he knows how long it will take him to
reach the edge of the swamp, at a certain point to which he contemplates
proceeding.  It is the place of deposit for the stores he receives from
the coon-hunter.

On this particular evening he expects something besides provender, and
is more than usually anxious about it.  Mental, not bodily food, is what
he is craving.  He hopes to get tidings of her, whose image is engraven
upon his heart--his yellow girl, Jule.  For under his coarse cotton
shirt, and saddle-coloured skin, Jupe's breast burns with a love pure
and passionate, as it could, be were the skin white, and the shirt
finest linen.

He knows of all that is taking place in the plantations; is aware of
what has been done by Ephraim Darke in the matter of the mortgage, and
what is about to be done by Colonel Armstrong.  The coon-hunter has kept
him posted up in everything--facts and fancies, rumours and realities.

One of the last, and latest, is the intention of the Armstrongs to
remove from the neighbourhood.  He has already heard of this, as also
their destination.  It might not so much concern him, but for the
implied supposition that his sweetheart will be going along with them.
In fact, he feels sure of it; an assurance that, so far from causing
regret, rather gives him gladness.  It promises a happier future for
all.  Jupe, too, has had thoughts about Texas.  Not that the Lone Star
State is at all a safe asylum for such as he; but upon its wild
borderland there may be a chance for him to escape the bondage of
civilisation, by alliance with the savage!  Even this idea of a freedom
far off, difficult of realisation, and if realised not so delectable,
has nevertheless been flitting before the mind of the mulatto.  Any life
but that of a slave!  His purpose, modified by late events and
occurrences, is likely to be altogether changed by them.  His Jule will
be going to Texas, along with her master and young mistresses.  In the
hope of rejoining her, he will go there too--as soon as he can escape to
the swamp.

On this evening he expects later news, with a more particular account of
what is about to be done.  Blue Bill is to bring them, and direct from
Jule, whom the coon-hunter has promised to see.  Moreover, Jupe has a
hope of being able to see her himself, previous to departure; and to
arrange an interview, through the intervention of his friend, is the
matter now most on his mind.  No wonder, then, his scanning the sky, or
its faint reflection, with glances that speak impatience.

At length, becoming satisfied it must be near night, he starts off from
the eyot, and makes way along the causeway furnished by the trunks of
the fallen trees.  This serves him only for some two hundred yards,
ending on the edge of deep water, beyond which the logs lie submerged.
The last of them showing above, is the wreck of a grand forest giant,
with branches undecayed, and still carrying the parasite of Spanish moss
in profusion.  This hanging down in streamers, scatters over the surface
and dips underneath, like the tails of white horses wading knee-deep.
In its midst appears something, which would escape the eye of one
passing carelessly by.  On close scrutiny it is seen to be a craft of
rude construction--a log with the heart wood removed--in short, a canoe
of the kind called "dug-out."

No surprise to the runaway slave seeing it there; no more at its seeming
to have been placed in concealment.  It is his own property, by himself
secreted.

Gliding down through the moss-bedecked branches, he steps into it; and,
after balancing himself aboard, dips his paddle into the water, and sets
the dug-out adrift.

A way for a while through thick standing trunks that require many
tortuous turnings to avoid them.

At length a creek is reached, a _bayou_ with scarce any current; along
which the canoe-man continues his course, propelling the craft
up-stream.  He has made way for something more than a mile, when a noise
reaches his ear, causing him to suspend stroke, with a suddenness that
shows alarm.

It is only the barking of a dog; but to him no sound could be more
significant--more indicative of danger.

On its repetition, which almost instantly occurs, he plucks his paddle
out of the water, leaving the dug-out to drift.

On his head is a wool hat of the cheap fabric supplied by the
Penitentiaries of the Southern States, chiefly for negro wear.  Tilting
it to one side, he bends low, and listens.

Certainly a dog giving tongue--but in tone strange, unintelligible.  It
is a hound's bay, but not as on slot, or chase.

It is a howl, or plaintive whine, as if the animal were tied up, or
being chastised!

After listening to it for some time--for it is nearly continuous--the
mulatto makes remark to himself.  "There's no danger in the growl of
that dog.  I know it nearly as well as my own voice.  It's the
deer-hound that belong to young Masser Clancy.  He's no slave-catcher."

Re-assured he again dips his blade, and pushes on as before.

But now on the alert, he rows with increased caution, and more
noiselessly than ever.  So slight is the plash of his paddle, it does
not hinder him from noting every sound--the slightest that stirs among
the cypresses.

The only one heard is the hound's voice, still in whining, wailing note.

"Lor!" he exclaims once more, staying his stroke, and giving way to
conjectures, "what can be the matter with the poor brute?  There must be
something amiss to make it cry; out in that strain.  Hope 'taint no
mischance happened its young masser, the best man about all these parts.
Come what will, I'll go to the ground, an' see."

A few more strokes carries the canoe on to the place, where its owner
has been accustomed to moor it, for meeting Blue Bill; and where on this
evening, as on others, he has arranged his interview with the
coon-hunter.  A huge sycamore, standing half on land, half in the water,
with long outstretching roots laid bare by the wash of the current,
affords him a safe point of debarkation.  For on these his footsteps
will leave no trace, and his craft can be stowed in concealment.

It chances to be near the spot where the dog is still giving tongue--
apparently not more than two hundred yards off.

Drawing the dug-out in between the roots of the sycamore, and there
roping it fast, the mulatto mounts upon the bank.  Then after standing
some seconds to listen, he goes gliding off through the trees.

If cautious while making approach by water, he is even more so on the
land; so long being away from it, he there feels less at home.

Guided by the yelps of the animal, that reach him in quick repetition,
he has no difficulty about the direction--no need for aught save
caution.  The knowledge that he may be endangering his liberty--his
life--stimulates him to observe this.  Treading as if on eggs, he glides
from trunk to trunk; for a time sheltering behind each, till assured he
can reach another without being seen.

He at length arrives at one, in rear of which he remains for a more
prolonged period.

For he now sees the dog--as conjectured, Clancy's deer-hound.  The
animal is standing, or rather crouching, beside a heap of moss, ever and
anon raising its head and howling, till the forest is filled with the
plaintive refrain.

For what is it lamenting?  What can the creature mean?  Interrogatives
which the mulatto puts to himself; for there is none else to whom he may
address them.  No man near--at least none in sight.  No living thing,
save the hound itself.

Is there anything dead?  Question of a different kind which now occurs,
causing him to stick closer than ever to his cover behind the tree.

Still there is nought to give him a clue to the strange behaviour of the
hound.  Had he been there half-an-hour sooner, he need not now be
racking his brain with conjectures.  For he would have witnessed the
strife, with all the incidents succeeding, and already known to the
reader--with others not yet related, in which the hound was itself sole
actor.  For the animal, after being struck by Darke's bullet, did not go
directly home.  There could be no home where its master was not; and it
knew he would not be there.  In the heart of the faithful creature,
while retreating, affection got the better of its fears; and once more
turning, it trotted back to the scene of the tragedy.

This time not hindered from approaching the spot; the assassin--as he
supposed himself--having wound up his cruel work, and hurriedly made
away.  Despite the shroud thrown over its master's body, the dog soon
discovered it--dead, no doubt the animal believed, while tearing aside
the moss with claws and teeth, and afterwards with warm tongue licking
the cold face.

Believing it still, as crouched beside the seeming corpse it continues
its plaintive lamentation, which yet perplexes the runaway, while
alarming him.

Not for long does he listen to it.  There is no one in sight, therefore
no one to be feared.  Certainly not Charles Clancy, nor his dog.  With
confidence thus restored, he forsakes his place of concealment, and
strides on to the spot where the hound has couched itself.  At his
approach the animal starts up with an angry growl, and advances to meet
him.  Then, as if in the mulatto recognising a friend of its master, it
suddenly changes tone, bounding towards and fawning upon him.

After answering its caresses, Jupe continues on till up to the side of
the moss pile.  Protruding from it he sees a human head, with face
turned towards him--the lips apart, livid, and bloodless; the teeth
clenched; the eyes fixed and filmy.

And beneath the half-scattered heap he knows there is a body; believes
it to be dead.

He has no other thought, than that he is standing beside a corpse.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

IS IT A CORPSE?

"Surely Charl Clancy!" exclaims the mulatto as soon as setting eyes on
the face.  "Dead--shot--murdered!"

For a time he stands aghast, with arms upraised, and eyes staring
wildly.

Then, as if struck by something in the appearance of the corpse, he
mutteringly interrogates: "Is he sure gone dead?"

To convince himself he kneels down beside the body, having cleared away
the loose coverlet still partially shrouding it.

He sees the blood, and the wound from which it is yet welling.  He
places his hand over the heart with a hope it may still be beating.

Surely it is!  Or is he mistaken?

The pulse should be a better test; and he proceeds to feel it, taking
the smooth white wrist between his rough brown fingers.

"It beats!  I do believe it does!" are his words, spoken hopefully.

For some time he retains his grasp of the wrist.  To make more sure, he
tries the artery at different points, with a touch as tender, as if
holding in his hand the life of an infant.

He becomes certain that the heart throbs; that there is yet breath in
the body.

What next?  What is he to do?

Hasten to the settlement, and summon a doctor?

He dares not do this; nor seek assistance of any kind.  To show himself
to a white man would be to go back into hated bondage--to the slavery
from which he has so lately, and at risk of life, escaped.  It would be
an act of grand generosity--a self-sacrifice--more than man, more than
human being is capable of.  Could a poor runaway slave be expected to
make it?

Some sacrifice he intends making, as may be gathered from his muttered
words:

"Breath in his body, or no breath, it won't do to leave it lyin' here.
Poor young gen'leman!  The best of them all about these parts.  What
would Miss Helen say if she see him now?  What will she say when she
hear o' it?  I wonder who's done it?  No, I don't--not a bit.  There's
only one likely.  From what Jule told me, I thought 't would come to
this, some day.  Wish I could a been about to warn him.  Well, it's too
late now.  The Devil has got the upper hand, as seem always the way.
Ah! what 'll become o' Miss Armstrong?  She loved him, sure as I love
Jule, or Jule me."

For a time he stands considering what he ought to do.  The dread
spectacle has driven out of his mind all thoughts of his appointment
with Blue Bell; just as what preceded hindered the coon-hunter from
keeping it with him.  For the latter, terrified, has taken departure
from the dangerous place, and is now hastening homeward.

Only for a short while does the mulatto remain hesitating.  His eyes are
upon the form at his feet.  He sees warm blood still oozing from the
wound, and knows, or hopes, Clancy is not dead.  Something must be done
immediately.

"Dead or alive," he mutters.  "I mustn't, shan't leave him here.  The
wolves would soon make bare bones of him, and the carrion crows peck
that handsome face of his.  They shan't either get at him.  No.  He's
did me a kindness more'n once, it's my turn now.  Slave, mulatto,
nigger, as they call me, I'll show them that under a coloured skin there
can be gratitude, as much as under a white one--may be more.  Show them!
What am I talkin' 'bout?  There's nobody to see.  Good thing for me
there isn't.  But there might be, if I stand shilly-shallying here.  I
mustn't a minute longer."

Bracing himself for an effort, he opens his arms, and stoops as to take
up the body.  Just then the hound, for some time silent, again gives out
its mournful monotone--continuing the dirge the runaway had interrupted.

Suddenly he rises erect, and glances around, a new fear showing upon his
face.  For he perceives a new danger in the presence of the dog.

"What's to be done with it?" he asks himself.  "I daren't take it along.
'Twould be sure some day make a noise, and guide the nigger-hunters to
my nest--I mustn't risk that.  To leave the dog here may be worse still.
It'll sure follow me toatin away its master, an' if it didn't take to
the water an' swim after 'twould know where the dug-out lay, an' might
show them the place.  I shan't make any tracks; for all that they'd
suspect somethin', down the creek, an' come that way sarchin'.  'Twont
do take the dog--'twont do to leave it--what _will_ do?"

The series of reflections, and questions, runs rapidly as thought
itself.  And to the last, quick as thought, comes an answer--a plan
which promises a solution of the difficulty.  He thinks of killing the
dog--cutting its throat with his knife.

Only for an instant is the murderous intent in his mind.  In the next he
changes it, saying:

"I can't do that--no; the poor brute so 'fectionate an' faithful!
'Twould be downright cruel.  A'most the same as murderin' a man.  I wont
do it."

Another pause spent in considering; another plan soon suggesting itself.

"Ah!" he exclaims, with air showing satisfied, "I have it now.  That'll
be just the thing."

The "thing" thus approved of, is to tie the hound to a tree, and so
leave it.

First to get hold of it.  For this he turns towards the animal, and
commences coaxing it nearer.  "Come up, ole fella.  You aint afeerd o'
me.  I'm Jupe, your master's friend, ye know.  There's a good dog!  Come
now; come!"

The deer-hound, not afraid, does not flee him; and soon he has his hands
upon it.

Pulling a piece of cord out of his pocket, he continues to apostrophise
it, saying:

"Stand still, good dog!  Steady, and let me slip this round your neck.
Don't be skeeart.  I'm not goin' to hang you--only to keep you quiet a
bit."

The animal makes no resistance; but yields to the manipulation,
believing it to be by a friendly hand, and for its good.

In a trice the cord is knotted around its neck; and the mulatto looks
out for a tree to which he may attach it.

A thought now strikes him, another step calling for caution.  It will
not do to let the dog see him go off, or know the direction he takes;
for some one will be sure to come in search of Clancy, and set the hound
loose.  Still, time will likely elapse; the scent will be cold, as far
as the creek's edge, and cannot be lifted.  With the water beyond there
will be no danger.

The runaway, glancing around, espies a palmetto brake; these forming a
sort of underwood in the cypress forest, their fan-shaped leaves growing
on stalks that rise directly out of the earth to a height of three or
four feet, covering the ground with a _chevaux de frise_ of deepest
green, but hirsute and spinous as hedgehogs.

The very place for his purpose.  So mutters he to himself, as he
conducts the dog towards it.  Still thinking the same, after he has tied
the animal to a palmetto shank near the middle of the brake, and there
left it.  He goes off, regardless of its convulsive struggles to set
itself free, with accompanying yelps, by which the betrayed quadruped
seems to protest against such unexpected as ill-deserved, captivity.

Not five minutes time has all this action occupied.  In less than five
more a second chapter is complete, by the carrying of Clancy's body--it
may be his corpse--to the creek, and laying it along the bottom of the
canoe.

Notwithstanding the weight of his burden, the mulatto, a man of uncommon
strength, takes care to make no footmarks along the forest path, or at
the point of embarkation.  The ground, thickly strewn with the leaves of
the deciduous _taxodium_, does not betray a trace, any more than if he
were treading on thrashed straw.

Undoing the slip-knot of his painter, he shoves the canoe clear of its
entanglement among the roots of the tree.  Then plying his paddle,
directs its course down stream, silently as he ascended, but with look
more troubled, and air intensely solemnal.  This continuing, while he
again shoulders the insensible form, and carries it along the causeway
of logs, until he has laid it upon soft moss within the cavity of the
cypress--his own couch.  Then, once more taking Clancy's wrist between
his fingers, and placing his ear opposite the heart, he feels the pulse
of the first, and listens for the beatings of the last.

A ray of joy illuminates his countenance, as both respond to his
examination.  It grows brighter, on perceiving a muscular movement of
the limbs, late rigid and seemingly inanimate, a light in the eyes
looking like life; above all, words from the lips so long mute.  Words
low-murmured, but still distinguishable; telling him a tale, at the same
time giving its interpretation.  That in this hour of his
unconsciousness Clancy should in his speech couple the names of Richard
Darke and Helen Armstrong is a fact strangely significant, he does the
same for many days, in his delirious ravings; amid which the mulatto,
tenderly nursing him, gets the clue to most of what has happened.

Clearer when his patient, at length restored to consciousness, confides
everything to the faithful fellow who has so befriended him.  Every
circumstance he ought to know, at the same time imparting secrecy.

This, so closely kept, that even Blue Bill, while himself disclosing
many an item, of news exciting the settlement, is not entrusted with one
the most interesting, and which would have answered the questions on
every tongue:--"What has become of Charles Clancy?" and "Where is his
body?"

Clancy still in it, living and breathing, has his reasons for keeping
the fact concealed.  He has succeeded in doing so till this night; till
encountering Simeon Woodley by the side of his mother's tomb.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

And now on Woodley's own hearth, after all has been explained, Clancy
once more returns to speak of the purpose he has but half communicated
to the hunter.

"You say, Sime, I can depend upon you to stand by me?"

"Ye may stake yur life on that.  Had you iver reezun to misdoubt me?"

"No--never."

"But, Charley, ye hain't tolt me why ye appeared a bit displeezed at
meetin' me the night.  That war a mystery to me."

"There was nothing in it, Sime.  Only that I didn't care to meet, or be
seen by, any one till I should be strong enough to carry out my purpose.
It would, in all probability, be defeated were the world to know I am
still alive.  That secret I shall expect you to keep."

"You kin trust to me for that; an' yur plans too.  Don't be afeerd to
confide them to Sime Woodley.  Maybe he may help ye to gettin' 'em
ship-shape."

Clancy is gratified at this offer of aid.  For he knows that in the
backwoodsman he will find his best ally; that besides his friendship
tested and proved, he is the very man to be with him in the work he has
cut out for himself--a purpose which has engrossed his thoughts ever
since consciousness came back after his long dream of delirium.  It is
that so solemnly proclaimed, as he stood in the cemetery, with no
thought of any one overhearing him.

He had then three distinct passions impelling him to the stern threat--
three reasons, any of them sufficient to ensure his keeping it.  First,
his own wrongs.  True the attempt at assassinating him had failed; still
the criminality remained the same.  But the second had succeeded.  His
mother's corpse was under the cold sod at his feet, her blood calling to
him for vengeance.  And still another passion prompted him to seek it--
perhaps the darkest of all, jealousy in its direst shape, the sting from
a love promised but unbestowed.  For the coon-hunter had never told Jupe
of Helen Armstrong's letter.  Perhaps, engrossed with other cares, he
had forgotten it; or, supposing the circumstance known to all, had not
thought it worth communicating.  Clancy, therefore, up to that hour,
believed his sweetheart not only false to himself, but having favoured
his rival.

The bitter delusion, now removed, does not in any way alter his
determination.  That is fixed beyond change, as he tells Simeon Woodley
while declaring it.  He will proceed to Texas in quest of the assassin--
there kill him.

"The poor old place!" he says, pointing to the cottage as he passes it
on return to the swamp.  "No more mine!  Empty--every stick sold out of
it, I've heard.  Well, let them go!  I go to Texas."

"An' I with ye.  To Texas, or anywhars, in a cause like your'n, Clancy.
Sime Woodley wouldn't desarve the name o' man, to hang back on a trail
like that.  But, say! don't ye think we'd be more likely o' findin' the
game by stayin' hyar?  Ef ye make it known that you're still alive, then
thar ain't been no murder done, an' Dick Darke 'll be sure to kum home
agin."

"If he came what could I do?  Shoot him down like a dog, as he thought
he had me?  That would make _me_ a murderer, with good chance of being
hanged for it.  In Texas it is different.  There, if I can meet him--.
But we only lose time in talking.  You say, Woodley, you'll go with me?"

"In course I've said it, and I'll do as I've sayed.  There's no backin'
out in this child.  Besides, I war jest thinkin' o' a return to Texas,
afore I seed you.  An' thar's another 'll go along wi' us; that's young
Ned Heywood, a friend o' your'n most as much as myself.  Ned's wantin'
bad to steer torst the Lone Star State.  So, thar'll be three o' us on
the trail o' Dick Darke."

"There will be _four_ of us."

"Four!  Who's the t'other, may I axe?"

"A man I've sworn to take to Texas along with me.  A brave, noble man,
though his skin be--.  But never mind now.  I'll tell you all about it
by-and-by.  Meanwhile we must get ready.  There's not a moment to lose.
A single day wasted, and I may be too late to settle scores with Richard
Darke.  There's some one else in danger from him--"

Here Clancy's utterance becomes indistinct, as if his voice were stifled
by strong emotion.

"Some one else!" echoes Sime, interrupting; "who mout ye mean, Clancy?"

"Her."

"That air's Helen Armstrong.  I don't see how she kin be in any danger
from Dick Darke.  Thet ere gurl hev courage enuf to take care o'
herself, an' the spirit too.  Besides, she'll hev about her purtectors a
plenty."

"There can be no safety against an assassin.  Who should know that
better than I?  Woodley, that man's wicked enough for anything."

"Then, let's straight to Texas!"



CHAPTER FORTY.

"ACROSS THE SABINE."

At the time when Texas was an independent Republic, and not, as now, a
State of the Federal Union, the phrase, "Across the Sabine" was one of
noted signification.

Its significance lay in the fact, that fugitives from States' justice,
once over the Sabine, felt themselves safe; extradition laws being
somewhat loose in the letter, and more so in the spirit, at any attempt
made to carry them into execution.

As a consequence, the fleeing malefactor could breathe freely--even the
murderer imagine the weight of guilt lifted from off his soul--the
moment his foot touched Texan soil.

On a morning of early spring--the season when settlers most affect
migration to the Lone Star State--a party of horsemen is seen crossing
the boundary river, with faces turned toward Texas.  The place where
they are making passage is not the usual emigrants' crossing--on the old
Spanish military road between Natchitoches and Nacogdoches,--but several
miles above, at a point where the stream is, at certain seasons,
fordable.  From the Louisiana side this ford is approached through a
tract of heavy timber, mostly pine forest, along a trail little used by
travellers, still less by those who enter Texas with honest intent, or
leave Louisiana with unblemished reputations.

That these horsemen belong not to either category can be told at a
glance.  They have no waggons, nor other wheeled vehicles, to give them
the semblance of emigrants; no baggage to embarrass them on their march.
Without it, they might be explorers, land speculators, surveyors, or
hunters.  But no.  They have not the look of persons who pursue any of
these callings; no semblance of aught honest or honourable.  In all
there are twelve of them; among them not a face but speaks of the
Penitentiary--not one which does not brighten up, and show more
cheerful, as the hooves of their horses strike the Texan bank of the
Sabine.

While on the _terrain_ of Louisiana, they have been riding fast and
hard--silent, and with pent-up thoughts, as though pursuers were after.
Once on the Texan side all seem relieved, as if conscious of having at
length reached a haven of safety.

Then he who appears leader of the party, reining up his horse, breaks
silence, saying--

"Boys!  I reckon we may take a spell o' rest here.  We're now in Texas,
whar freemen needn't feel afeard.  If thar's been any fools followin'
us, I guess they'll take care to keep on t'other side o' the river.
Tharfor, let's dismount and have a bit o' breakfast under the shadder o'
these trees.  After we've done that, we can talk about what shed be our
next move.  For my part, I feel sleepy as a 'possum.  That ar licker o'
Naketosh allers knocks me up for a day or two.  This time, our young
friend Quantrell here, has given us a double dose, the which I for one
won't get over in a week."

It is scarcely necessary to say the speaker is Jim Borlasse, and those
spoken to his drinking companions in the Choctaw Chief.

To a man, they all make affirmative response.  Like himself, they too
are fatigued--dead done up by being all night in the saddle,--to say
nought about the debilitating effects of their debauch, and riding
rapidly with beard upon the shoulder, under the apprehension that a
sheriff and posse may be coming on behind.  For, during the period of
their sojourn in Natchitoches, nearly every one of them has committed
some crime that renders him amenable to the laws.

It may be wondered how such roughs could carry on and escape
observation, much more, punishment.  But at the time Natchitoches was a
true frontier town, and almost every day witnessed the arrival and
departure of characters "queer" as to dress and discipline--the trappers
and prairie traders.  Like the sailor in port, when paid off and with
full pockets--making every effort to deplete them--so is the trapper
during his stay at a fort, or settlement.  He does things that seem odd,
are odd, to the extreme of eccentricity.  Among such the late guests of
the Choctaw Chief would not, and did not, attract particular attention.
Not much was said or thought of them, till after they were gone; and
then but by those who had been victimised, resignedly abandoning claims
and losses with the laconic remark, "The scoundrels have G.T.T."

It was supposed the assassin of Charles Clancy had gone with them; but
this, affecting the authorities more than the general public, was left
to the former to deal with; and in a land of many like affairs, soon
ceased to be spoken of.

Borlasse's visit to Natchitoches had not been for mere pleasure.  It was
business that took him thither--to concoct a scheme of villainy such as
might be supposed unknown among Anglo-Saxon people, and practised only
by those of Latinic descent, on the southern side of the Rio Grande.

But robbery is not confined to any race; and on the borderland of Texas
may be encountered brigandage as rife and ruthless as among the
mountains of the Sierra Morena, or the defiles of the Appenines.

That the Texan bandit has succeeded in arranging everything to his
satisfaction may be learnt from his hilarious demeanour, with the speech
now addressed to his associates:--

"Boys!" he says, calling them around after they have finished eating,
and are ready to ride on, "We've got a big thing before us--one that'll
beat horse-ropin' all to shucks.  Most o' ye, I reckin, know what I
mean; 'ceptin', perhaps, our friends here, who've just joined us."

The speaker looks towards Phil Quantrell _alias_ Dick Darke, and
another, named Walsh, whom he knows to be Joe Harkness, ex-jailer.

After glancing from one to the other, he continues--

"I'll take charge o' tellin' _them_ in good time; an', I think, can
answer for their standin' by us in the bizness.  Thar's fifty thousand
dollars, clar cash, at the bottom of it; besides sundries in the trinket
line.  The question then is, whether we'd best wait till this nice
assortment of property gets conveyed to the place intended for its
destination, or make a try to pick it up on the way.  What say ye,
fellers?  Let every man speak his opinion; then I'll give mine."

"You're sure o' whar they're goin', capting?" asks one of his following.
"You know the place?"

"Better'n I know the spot we're now camped on.  Ye needn't let that
trouble ye.  An' most all o' ye know it yourselves.  As good luck has
it, 'taint over twenty mile from our old stampin' groun' o' last year.
Thar, if we let em' alone, everythin' air sure to be lodged 'ithin
less'n a month from now.  Thar, we'll find the specie, trinkets, an'
other fixins not forgetting the petticoats--sure as eggs is eggs.  To
some o' ye it may appear only a question o' time and patience.  I'm
sorry to tell ye it may turn out somethin' more."

"Why d'ye say that, capting?  What's the use o' waitin' till they get
there?"



CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

A REPENTANT SINNER.

Nearly three weeks after Borlasse and his brigands crossed the Sabine, a
second party is seen travelling towards the same river through the
forests of Louisiana, with faces set for the same fording-place.

In number they are but a third of that composing the band of Borlasse;
as there are only four of them.  Three are on horseback, the fourth
bestriding a mule.

The three horsemen are white; the mule-rider a mulatto.

The last is a little behind; the distance, as also a certain air of
deference--to say nothing of his coloured skin--proclaiming him a
servant, or slave.

Still further rearward, and seemingly careful to keep beyond reach of
the hybrid's heels, is a large dog--a deer-hound.  The individuals of
this second cavalcade will be easily identified, as also the dog that
accompanies it.  The three whites are Charles Clancy, Simeon Woodley,
and Ned Heywood; he with the tawny complexion Jupiter; while the hound
is Clancy's--the same he had with him when shot down by Richard Darke.

Strange they too should be travelling, as if under an apprehension of
being pursued!  Yet seems it so, judging from the rapid pace at which
they ride, and there anxious glances occasionally cast behind.  It is
so; though for very different reasons from those that affected the
freebooters.

None of the white men has reason to fear for himself--only for the
fugitive slave whom they are assisting to escape from slavery.  Partly
on this account are they taking the route, described as rarely travelled
by honest men.  But not altogether.  Another reason has influenced their
selection of it while in Natchitoches they too have put up at the
Choctaw Chief; their plans requiring that privacy which an obscure
hostelry affords.  To have been seen with Jupiter at the Planter's House
might have been for some Mississippian planter to remember, and
identify, him as the absconded slave of Ephraim Darke.  A _contretemps_
less likely to occur at the Choctaw Chief, and there stayed they.  It
would have been Woodley's choice anyhow; the hunter having frequently
before made this house his home; there meeting many others of his kind
and calling.

On this occasion his sojourn in it has been short; only long enough for
him and his travelling companions to procure a mount for their journey
into Texas.  And while thus occupied they have learnt something, which
determined them as to the route they should take.  Not the direct road
for Nacogdoches by which Colonel Armstrong and his emigrants have gone,
some ten days before; but a trail taken by another party that had been
staying at the Choctaw Chief, and left Natchitoches at an earlier
period--that they are now on.

Of this party Woodley has received information, sufficiently minute for
him to identify more than one of the personages composing it.  Johnny
has given him the clue.  For the Hibernian innkeeper, with his national
habit of wagging a free tongue, has besides a sort of liking for Sime,
as an antipathy towards Sime's old enemy, Jim Borlasse.  The consequence
of which has been a tale told in confidence to the hunter, about the
twelve men late sojourning at the Choctaw Chief, that was kept back from
the Sheriff on the morning after their departure.  The result being,
that in choice of a route to Texas, Woodley has chosen that by which
they are now travelling.  For he knows--has told Clancy--that by it has
gone Jim Borlasse, and along with him Richard Darke.

The last is enough for Clancy.  He is making towards Texas with two
distinct aims, the motives diametrically opposite.  One is to comfort
the woman he loves, the other to kill the man he hates.

For both he is eagerly impatient; but he has vowed that the last shall
be first--sworn it upon the grave of his mother.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Having reached the river, and crossed it, Clancy and his travelling
companions, just as Borlasse and his, seek relaxation under the shade of
the trees.  Perhaps, not quite so easy in their minds.  For the
murderer, on entering Texas, may feel less anxiety than he who has with
him a runaway slave!

Still in that solitary place--on a path rarely trodden--there is no
great danger; and knowing this, they dismount and make their bivouac
_sans souci_.  The spot chosen is the same as was occupied by Borlasse
and his band.  Near the bank of the river is a spreading tree,
underneath which a log affords sitting accommodation for at least a
score of men.  Seated on this, smoking his pipe, after a refection of
corn-bread and bacon, Sime Woodley unburdens himself of some secrets he
obtained in the Choctaw Chief, which up to this time he has kept back
from the others.

"Boys!" he begins, addressing himself to Clancy and Heywood, the mulatto
still keeping respectfully apart.  "We're now on a spot, whar less'n two
weeks agone, sot or stud, two o' the darndest scoundrels as iver made
futmark on Texan soil.  _You_ know one o' 'em, Ned Heywood, but not the
tother.  Charley Clancy hev akwaintance wi' both, an' a ugly
reccoleckshun o' them inter the bargain."

The hunter pauses in his speech, takes a whiff or two from his pipe,
then resumes:--

"They've been hyar sure.  From what thet fox, Johnny, tolt me, they must
a tuk this trail.  An' as they hed to make quick tracks arter leavin'
Naketosh, they'd be tired on gettin' this fur, an' good as sartin to lay
up a bit.  Look! thar's the ashes o' thar fire, whar I 'spose they
cooked somethin'.  Thar hain't been a critter crossed the river since
the big rain, else we'd a seed tracks along the way.  For they started
jest the day afore the rain; and that ere fire hez been put out by it.
Ye kin tell by them chunks showin' only half consoomed.  Yis, by the
Eturnal!  Roun' the bleeze o' them sticks has sot seven, eight, nine, or
may be a dozen, o' the darndest cut-throats as ever crossed the Sabine;
an' that's sayin' a goodish deal.  Two o' them I kin swar to bein' so;
an' the rest may be counted the same from their kumpny--that kumpny
bein' Jim Borlasse an' Dick Darke."

After thus delivering himself, the hunter remains apparently reflecting,
not on what he has said, but what they ought to do.  Clancy has been all
the while silent, brooding with clouded brow--only now and then showing
a faint smile as the hound comes up, and licks his outstretched hand.
Heywood has nothing to say; while Jupiter is not expected to take any
part in the conversation.

For a time they all seem under a spell of lethargy--the lassitude of
fatigue.  They have ridden a long way, and need rest.  They might go to
sleep alongside the log, but none of them thinks of doing so, least of
all Clancy.  There is that in his breast forbidding sleep, and he is but
too glad when Woodley's next words arouse him from the torpid repose to
which he has been yielding.  These are:--

"Now we've struck thar trail, what, boys, d'ye think we'd best do?"

Neither of the two replying, the hunter continues:--

"To the best of my opeenyun, our plan will be to put straight on to whar
Planter Armstrong intends settin' up his sticks.  I know the place 'most
as well as the public squar o' Natchez.  This chile intends jeinin' the
ole kurnel, anyhow.  As for you, Charley Clancy, we know whar ye want to
go, an' the game ye intend trackin' up.  Wal; ef you'll put trust in
what Sime Woodley say, he sez this: ye'll find that game in the
neighbourhood o' Helen Armstrong;--nigh to her as it dar' ventur'."

The final words have an inflammatory effect upon Clancy.  He springs up
from the log, and strides over the ground, with a wild look and
strangely excited air.  He seems impatient to be back in his saddle.

"In coorse," resumes Woodley, "we'll foller the trail o' Borlasse an'
his lot.  It air sure to lead to the same place.  What they're arter
'tain't eezy to tell.  Some deviltry, for sartin.  They purtend to make
thar livin' by ropin' wild horses?  I guess he gits more by takin' them
as air tame;--as you, Clancy, hev reezun to know.  I hain't a doubt he'd
do wuss than that, ef opportunity offered.  Thar's been more'n one case
o' highway robbery out thar in West Texas, on emigrant people goin' that
way; an' I don't know a likelier than Borlasse to a had a hand in't.  Ef
Kurnel Armstrong's party wan't so strong as 'tis, an' the kurnel hisself
a old campayner, I mout hev my fears for 'em.  I reckin they're safe
enuf.  Borlasse an' his fellurs won't dar tech them.  Johnny sez thar
war but ten or twelve in all.  Still, tho' they moutn't openly attack
the waggon train, thar's jest a chance o' their hangin' on its skirts,
an' stealin' somethin' from it.  Ye heerd in Naketosh o' a young Creole
planter, by name Dupray, who's goed wi' Armstrong, an's tuk a big count
o' dollars along.  Jest the bait to temp Jim Borlasse; an' as for Dick
Darke, thar's somethin' else to temp him.  So--"

"Woodley!" exclaims Clancy, without waiting for the hunter to conclude;
"we must be off from here.  For God's sake let us go!"

His comrades, divining the cause of Clancy's impatience, make no attempt
to restrain him.  They have rested and sufficiently refreshed
themselves.  There is no reason for their remaining any longer on the
ground.

Rising simultaneously, each unhitches his horse, and stands by the
stirrup, taking in the slack of his reins.

Before they can spring into their saddles, the deer-hound darts off from
their midst--as he does so giving out a growl.

The stroke of a hoof tells them of some one approaching, and the next
moment a horseman is seen through the trees.

Apparently undaunted, he comes on towards their camp ground; but when
near enough to have fair view of their faces, he suddenly reins up, and
shows signs of a desire to retreat.

If this be his intention, it is too late.

Before he can wrench round his horse a rifle is levelled, its barrel
bearing upon his body; while a voice sounds threateningly in his ears,
in clear tone, pronouncing the words,--

"Keep yur ground, Joe Harkness!  Don't attempt retreetin'.  If ye do,
I'll send a bullet through ye sure as my name's Sime Woodley."

The threat is sufficient.  Harkness--for it is he--ceases tugging upon
his rein, and permits his horse to stand still.

Then, at a second command from Woodley, accompanied by; a similar
menace, he urges the animal into action, and moves on towards their
bivouac.

In less than sixty seconds after, he is in their midst, dismounted and
down upon his knees, piteously appealing to them to spare his life.

The ex-jailor's story is soon told, and that without any reservation.
The man who has connived at Richard Darke's escape, and made money by
the connivance, is now more than repentant for his dereliction of duty.
For he has not only been bullied by Borlasse's band, but stripped of his
ill-gotten gains.  Still more, beaten, and otherwise so roughly handled
that he has been long trying to get quit of their company.  Having
stolen away from their camp--while the robbers were asleep--he is now
returning along the trail they had taken into Texas, on his way back to
the States, with not much left him, except a very sorry horse and a
sorrowing heart.

His captors soon discover that, with his sorrow, there is an admixture
of spite against his late associates.  Against Darke in particular, who
has proved ungrateful for the great service done him.

All this does Harkness communicate to them, and something besides.

Something that sets Clancy well-nigh crazed, and makes almost as much
impression upon his fellow-travellers.

After hearing it they bound instantly to their saddles, and spur away
from the spot; Harkness, as commanded, following at their horses' heels.
This he does without daring to disobey; trotting after, in company with
the dog, seemingly less cur than himself.

They have no fear of his falling back.  Woodley's rifle, whose barrel
has been already borne upon him, can be again brought to the level in an
instant of time.

The thought holds him secure, as if a trail-rope attached him to the
tail of the hunter's horse.



CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

THE PRAIRIE CARAVAN.

Picture in imagination meadows, on which scythe of mower has never cut
sward, nor haymaker set foot; meadows loaded with such luxuriance of
vegetation--lush, tall grass--that tons of hay might be garnered off a
single acre; meadows of such extent, that in speaking of them you may
not use the word acres, but miles, even this but faintly conveying the
idea of their immensity; in fancy summon up such a scene, and you will
have before you what is a reality in Texas.

In seeming these plains have no boundary save the sky--no limit nearer
than the horizon.  And since to the eye of the traveller this keeps
continually changing, he may well believe them without limit at all, and
fancy himself moving in the midst of a green sea, boundless as ocean
itself, his horse the boat on which he has embarked.

In places this extended surface presents a somewhat monotonous aspect,
though it is not so everywhere.  Here and there it is pleasantly
interspersed with trees, some standing solitary, but mostly in groves,
copses, or belts; these looking, for all the world, like islands in the
ocean.  So perfect is the resemblance, that this very name has been
given them, by men of Norman and Saxon race; whose ancestors, after
crossing the Atlantic, carried into the colonies many ideas of the
mariner, with much of his nomenclature.  To them the isolated groves are
"islands;" larger tracts of timber, seen afar, "land;" narrow spaces
between, "straits;" and indentations along their edges "bays."

To carry the analogy further, the herds of buffalo, with bodies half
buried in the tall grass, may be likened to "schools" of whales; the
wild horses to porpoises at play; the deer to dolphins; and the fleet
antelopes to flying-fish.

Completing the figure, we have the vultures that soar above, performing
the part of predatory sea-gulls; the eagle representing the rarer
frigate-bird, or albatross.

In the midst of this verdant expanse, less than a quarter of a century
ago, man was rarely met; still more rarely civilised man; and rarer yet
his dwelling-place.  If at times a human being appeared among the
prairie groves, he was not there as a sojourner--only a traveller,
passing from place to place.  The herds of cattle, with shaggy frontlets
and humped shoulders--the droves of horses, long-tailed and with full
flowing manes--the proud antlered stags, and prong-horned antelopes,
were not his.  He had no control over them.  The turf he trod was free
to them for pasture, as to him for passage; and, as he made way through
their midst, his presence scarce affrighted them.  He and his might
boast of being "war's arbiter's," and lords of the great ocean.  They
were not lords of that emerald sea stretching between the Sabine River
and the Rio Grande.  Civilised man had as yet but shown himself upon its
shores.

Since then he has entered upon, and scratched a portion of its surface;
though not much, compared with its immensity.  There are still grand
expanses of the Texan prairie unfurrowed by the ploughshare of the
colonist--almost untrodden by the foot of the explorer.  Even at this
hour, the traveller may journey for days on grass-grown plains, amidst
groves of timber, without seeing tower, steeple, or so much as a chimney
rising above the tree-tops.  If he perceive a solitary smoke, curling
skyward, he knows that it is over the camp-fire of some one like
himself--a wayfarer.

And it may be above the bivouac of those he would do well to shun.  For
upon the green surface of the prairie, as upon the blue expanse of the
ocean, all men met with are not honest.  There be land-sharks as well as
water-sharks--prairie pirates as corsairs of the sea.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

No spectacle more picturesque, nor yet more pleasing, than that of an
emigrant caravan _en route_ over the plains.  The huge waggons--"prairie
ships," as oft, and not inaptly, named--with their white canvass tilts,
typifying spread sails, aligned and moving along one after the other,
like a _corps d'armee_ on march by columns; a group of horsemen ahead,
representing its vanguard; others on the flanks, and still another party
riding behind, to look after strays and stragglers, the rear-guard.
Usually a herd of cattle along--steers for the plough, young bullocks to
supply beef for consumption on the journey, milch kine to give comfort
to the children and colour to the tea and coffee--among them an old bull
or two, to propagate the species on reaching the projected settlement.
Not unfrequently a drove of pigs, or flock of sheep, with coops
containing ducks, geese, turkeys, Guinea-fowl--perhaps a screaming
peacock, but certainly Chanticleer and his harem.

A train of Texan settlers has its peculiarities, though now not so
marked as in the times of which we write.  Then a noted feature was the
negro--his _status_ a slave.  He would be seen afoot, toiling on at the
tails of the waggons, not in silence or despondingly, as if the march
were a forced one.  Footsore he might be, in his cheap "brogans" of
Penitentiary fabric, and sore aweary of the way, but never sad.  On the
contrary, ever hilarious, exchanging jests with his fellow-pedestrians,
or a word with Dinah in the wagon, jibing the teamsters, mocking the
mule-drivers, sending his cachinations in sonorous ring along the moving
line; himself far more mirthful than his master--more enjoying the
march.

Strange it is, but true, that a lifetime of bondage does not stifle
merriment in the heart of the Ethiopian.  Grace of God to the sons of
Ham--merciful compensation for mercies endured by them from the day
Canaan was cursed, as it were a doom from the dawning of creation!

Just such a train as described is that commanded by Colonel Armstrong,
_en route_ towards Western Texas.  Starting from Natchitoches some
twenty days ago, it has reached the Colorado river, crossed it, and is
now wending its way towards the San Saba, a tributary of the former
stream.

It is one of the largest caravans that has yet passed over the prairies
of Texas, counting between twenty and thirty "Conestoga" wagons, with
several "carrioles" and vehicles of varied kind.  Full fifty horsemen
ride in its front, on its flank, and rear; while five times the number
of pedestrians, men with black or yellow skins, keep pace with it.  A
proportionate number of women and children are carried in the wagons,
their dusky faces peeping out from under the tilts, in contrast with the
colour of the rain-bleached canvass; while other women and children of
white complexion ride in the vehicles with springs.

In one of the latter--a barouche of the American build--travel two young
ladies, distinguished by particular attentions.  Half a dozen horsemen
hover around their carriage, acting as its escort, each apparently
anxious to exchange words with them.  With one they can talk, jest,
laugh, chatter as much as they like; but the other repels them.  For the
soul of the former is full of joy; that of the latter steeped in
sadness.

Superfluous to say, they are Jessie and Helen Armstrong.  And needless
to tell why the one is gay, the other grave.  Since we last saw them in
the hotel of Natchitoches, no change has taken place in their hearts or
their hopes.  The younger of the two, Jessie, is still an expectant
bride, certain soon to be a wife; and with this certainty rejoices in
the future.  Helen, with no such expectation, no wish for it, feeling as
one widowed, grieves over the past.  The former sees her lover by her
side living and loving, constantly, caressingly; the latter can but
think of hers as something afar off--a dream--a dread vision--a cold
corpse--herself the cause of it!

Colonel Armstrong's eldest daughter is indeed sad--a prey to repining.
Her heart, after receiving so many shocks, has almost succumbed to that
the supremest, most painful suffering that can afflict humanity--the
malady of _melancholia_.  The word conveys but a faint idea of the
suffering itself.  Only they who have known it--fortunately but few--can
comprehend the terror, the wan, wasting misery, endured by those whose
nerves have given way under some terrible stroke of misfortune.  'Tis
the story of a broken heart.

Byron has told us "the heart may break and brokenly live on."  In this
her hour of unhappiness, Helen Armstrong would not and could not believe
him.  It may seem strange that Jessie is still only a bride to be.  But
no.  She remembers the promise made to her father--to share with him a
home in Texas, however humble it might be.  All the same, now that she
knows it will be splendid; knowing, too, it is to be shared by another--
her Louis.  He is still but her _fiancee_; but his troth is plighted,
his truthfulness beyond suspicion.  They are all but man and wife; which
they will be soon as the new home is reached.

The goal of their journey is to be the culminating point of Jessie's
joy--the climax of her life's happiness.



CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

THE HAND OF GOD.

Scarce any stream of South-Western Texas but runs between bluffs.  There
is a valley or "bottom-land," only a little elevated above the water's
surface, and often submerged during inundations,--beyond this the
bluffs.  The valley may be a mile or more in width, in some places ten,
at others contracted, till the opposing cliffs are scarce a pistol-shot
apart.  And of these there are frequently two or three tiers, or
terraces, receding backward from the river, the crest of the last and
outmost being but the edge of an upland plain, which is often sterile
and treeless.  Any timber upon it is stunted, and of those species to
which a dry soil is congenial.  Mezquite, juniper, and "black-jack" oaks
grow in groves or spinneys; while standing apart may be observed the
arborescent jucca--the "dragon-tree" of the Western world, towering
above an underwood unlike any other, composed of _cactaceae_ in all the
varieties of cereus, cactus, and echinocactus.  Altogether unlike is the
bottom-land bordering upon the river.  There the vegetation is lush and
luxuriant, showing a growth of large forest timber--the trees set
thickly, and matted with many parasites, that look like cables coiling
around and keeping them together.  These timbered tracts are not
continuous, but show stretches of open between,--here little glades
filled with flowers, there grand meadows overgrown with grass--so tall
that the horseman riding through it has his shoulders swept by the
spikes, which shed their pollen upon his coat.

Just such a bottom-land is that of the San Saba, near the river's mouth;
where, after meandering many a score of miles from its source in the
Llano Estacado, it espouses the Colorado--gliding softly, like a shy
bride, into the embrace of the larger and stronger-flowing stream.

For a moment departing from the field of romance, and treading upon the
domain of history--or it may be but legend--a word about this Colorado
river may interest the reader.

Possibly, probably, almost lor certain, there is no province in all
Spanish America without its "Rio Colorado."  The geographer could count
some scores of rivers so named--point them out on any map.  They are
seen in every latitude, trending in all directions, from the great
Colorado of _canon_ celebrity in the north to another far south, which
cuts a deep groove through the plains of Patagonia.  All these streams
have been so designated from the hue of their waters--muddy, with a
pronounced tinge of red: this from the ochreous earth through which they
have coursed, holding it in suspension.

In the Texan Colorado there is nothing of this; on the contrary, it is a
clear water stream.  A circumstance that may seem strange, till the
explanation be given--which is, that the name is a _misnomer_.  In other
words, the Texan river now bearing the designation Colorado is not that
so-called by the Spaniards, but their Rio Brazos; while the present
Brazos is their Rio Colorado--a true red-tinted stream.  The exchange of
names is due to an error of the American map-makers, unacquainted with
the Spanish tongue.  Giving the Colorado its true name of Brazos, or
more correctly "Brazos de Dios" ("The Arms of God"), the origin of this
singular title for a stream presents us with a history, or legend, alike
singular.  As all know, Texas was first colonised by Spaniards, or
Spanish Mexicans, on what might be termed the "militant missionary
system."  Monks were sent into the province, cross in hand, with
soldiers at their back, bearing the sword.  Establishments were formed
in different parts of the country; San Antonio de Bejar being the
ecclesiastical centre, as also the political capital.  Around these the
aborigines were collected, and after a fashion converted to
Christianity.  With the christianising process, however, there were
other motives mixed up, having very little to do either with morality or
religion.  Comfortable subsistence, with the accumulation of wealth by
the missionaries themselves, was in most instances the lure which
attracted them to Texas, tempting them to risk their lives in the
so-called conversion of the heathen.

The mission-houses were in the monasterial style, many of them on a
grand scale--mansions in fact, with roomy refectories, and kitchens to
correspond; snug sitting and sleeping-chambers; well-paved courts and
spacious gardens attached.  Outside the main building, sometimes forming
part of it, was a church, or _capilla_; near by the _presidio_, or
barrack for their military protectors; and beyond, the _rancheria_, or
village of huts, the homes of the new-made neophytes.

No great difficulty had the fathers in thus handsomely housing
themselves.  The converts did all the work, willingly, for the sake and
in the name of the "Holy Faith," into which they had been recently
inducted.  Nor did their toil end with the erection of the
mission-buildings.  It was only transferred to a more layical kind; to
the herding of cattle, and tillage of the surrounding land; this
continued throughout their whole lives--not for their own benefit, but
to enrich those idle and lazy friars, in many cases men of the most
profligate character.  It was, in fact, a system of slavery, based upon
and sustained by religious fanaticism.  The result as might be
expected--failure and far worse.  Instead of civilising the aborigines
of America, it has but brutalised them the more--by eradicating from
their hearts whatever of savage virtue they had, and implanting in its
place a debasing bigotry and superstition.

Most American writers, who speak of these missionary establishments,
have formed an erroneous estimate of them.  And, what is worse, have
given it to the world.  Many of these writers are, or were, officers in
the United States army, deputed to explore the wild territories in which
the missions existed.  Having received their education in Roman Catholic
seminaries, they have been inducted into taking a too lenient view of
the doings of the "old Spanish padres;" hence their testimony so
favourable to the system.

The facts are all against them; these showing it a scheme of
_villeinage_, more oppressive than the European serfdom of the Middle
Ages.  The issue is sufficient proof of this.  For it was falling to
pieces, long before the Anglo-Saxon race entered into possession of the
territory where it once flourished.  The missions are now in a state of
decadence, their buildings fast falling into decay; while the red man,
disgusted at the attempt to enslave, under the clock of christianising
him, has returned to his idolatry, as to his savage life.

Several of these _misiones_ were established on the San Saba river; one
of which for a considerable period enjoyed a prosperous existence, and
numbered among its neophytes many Indians of the Lipan and Comanche
tribes.

But the tyranny of their monkish teachers by exactions of tenths and
almost continuous toil--themselves living in luxurious ease, and without
much regard to that continence they inculcated--at length provoked the
suffering serfs to revolt.  In which they were aided by those Indians
who had remained unconverted, and still heretically roamed around the
environs.  The consequence was that, on a certain day when the hunters
of the _mision_ were abroad, and the soldiers of the _presidio_ alike
absent on some expedition, a band of the outside idolaters, in league
with the discontented converts, entered the mission-building, with arms
concealed under their ample cloaks of buffalo skin.  After prowling
about for a while in an insolent manner, they at length, at a given
signal from their chief, attacked the proselytising _padres_, with those
who adhered to them; tomahawked and scalped all who came in their way.

Only one monk escaped--a man of great repute in those early times of
Texas.  Stealing off at the commencement of the massacre, he succeeded
in making his way down the valley of the San Saba, to its confluence
with the Colorado.  But to reach an asylum of safety it was necessary
for him to cross the latter stream; in which unfortunately there was a
freshet, its current so swollen that neither man nor horse could ford
it.

The _padre_ stood upon its bank, looking covetously across, and
listening in terror to the sounds behind; these being the war-cries of
the pursuing Comanches.

For a moment the monk believed himself lost.  But just then the arm of
God was stretched forth to save him.  This done in a fashion somewhat
difficult to give credence to, though easy enough for believers in Holy
Faith.  It was a mere miracle; not stranger, or more apocryphal, than we
hear of at this day in France, Spain, or Italy.  The only singularity
about the Texan tale is the fact of its not being original; for it is a
pure piracy from Sacred Writ--that passage of it which relates to the
crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and his Israelites.

The Spanish monk stood on the river's bank, his eyes fixed despairingly
on its deep rapid-running current, which he knew he could not cross
without danger of being drowned.  Just at this crisis he saw the waters
separate; the current suddenly stayed, and the pebbly bed showing dry as
a shingle!

Tucking his gown under his girdle, he struck into the channel; and, no
doubt, making good time--though the legend does not speak of this--he
succeeded in planting his sandalled feet, dry shod, on the opposite
shore!  So far the Texan story closely corresponds with the Mosaic.
Beyond, the incidents as related, are slightly different.  Pharaoh's
following host was overwhelmed by the closing waters.  The pursuing
Comanches did not so much as enter the charmed stream; which, with
channel filled up, as before, was running rapidly on.  They were found
next morning upon the bank where they had arrived in pursuit, all dead,
all lying at full stretch along the sward, their heads turned in the
same direction, like trees struck down by a tornado!

Only the Omnipotent could have done this.  No mortal hand could make
such a _coup_.  Hence the name which the Spaniards bestowed upon the
present Colorado, _Brazos de Dios_--the "Hand of God."  Hence also the
history, or rather fable, intended to awe the minds of the rebellious
redskins, and restore them to Christanity, or serfdom.

Which it did not; since from that day the _misiones_ of San Saba
remained abandoned, running into ruin.

It is to one of these forsaken establishments Colonel Armstrong is
conducting his colony; his future son-in-law having purchased the large
tract of territory attached to it.

To that spot, where more than a century ago the monks made halt, with
cross borne conspicuously in one hand, and sword carried surreptitiously
in the other, there is now approaching a new invasion--that of axe and
rifle--neither ostentatiously paraded, but neither insidiously
concealed.



CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

A CLOUD ON THE CLIFFS.

After a long toilsome journey through Eastern Texas, the emigrant train
has reached the San Saba, and is working its way up-stream.  Slowly, for
the bottom-land is in some places heavily timbered, and the road
requires clearing for the waggons.

The caravan has entered the valley on the left, or northern, bank of the
river, while its point of destination is the southern; but a few miles
above its confluence with the Colorado is a ford, by which the right
side may be reached at low water.  Luckily it is now at its lowest, and
the waggons are got across without accident, or any great difficulty.

Once on the southern side, there is nothing to obstruct or further delay
them.  Some ten miles above is the abandoned mission-house, which they
expect to reach that day, before going down of the sun.

With perhaps one exception, the emigrants are all happy, most of them in
exuberant spirits.  They are nearing a new home, having long ago left
the old one behind; left also a thousand cankering cares,--many of them
more than half a life spent in struggles and disappointments.  In the
untried field before them there is hope; it may be success and
splendour; a prospect like the renewing of life's lease, the younger to
find fresh joys, the older to grow young again.

For weeks has the San Saba mission-house been the theme of their
thoughts, and topic of discourse.  They will re-people the deserted
dwelling, restore it to its pristine splendour; bring its long neglected
fields under tillage--out of them make fortunes by the cultivation of
cotton.

There is no cloud to darken the horizon of their hopes.  The toilsome
journey is nearly at an end, and rejoicingly they hail its termination.
Whether their train of white tilted wagons winds its way under shadowing
trees, or across sunlit glades, there is heard along its line only
joyous speech and loud hilarious laughter.

So go they on, regardless about the future, or only thinking of it as
full of bright promise.  Little do they dream how it may be affected by
something seen upon the cliffs above, though not seen by them.  At the
point they have now reached, the bottom-land is several miles wide, with
its bordering of grim bluffs rising on either flank, and running far as
eye can see.  On the left side, that they have just forsaken, not upon
the river's bank, but the cliff far back, is a cloud.  No darkness of
the sky, or concentration of unsubstantial vapour.  But a gathering on
the earth, and of men; who, but for their being on horseback, might be
mistaken for devils.  In Satan's history the horse has no part; though,
strange to say, Satan's sons are those who most affect friendship for
the noble animal.  Of the horsemen seen hovering above the San Saba
there are in all twenty; most of them mounted upon mustangs, the native
steed of Texas, though two or three bestride larger and better stock,
the breed of the States.

All appear Indians, or if there be white man among them, he must have
been sun-tanned beyond anything commonly seen.  In addition to their
tint of burnt umber, they are all garishly painted; their faces
escutcheoned with chalk-white, charcoal-black, and vermillion-red.  Of
their bodies not much can be seen.  Blankets of blue and scarlet, or
buffalo robes, shroud their shoulders; while buckskin breeches and
leggings wrap their lower limbs; mocassins encasing their feet.  In
addition to its dress, they wear the usual Indian adornments.  Stained
eagle-plumes stand tuft-like out of their raven-black hair, which, in
trailing tresses, sweeps back over the hips of their horses; while
strings of peccaries' teeth and claws of the grizzly bear fall over
their breasts in bountiful profusion.

It is true, they are not in correct fighting costume.  Nor would their
toilet betoken them on the "war-trail."  But the Texan Indian does not
always dress warrior-fashion, when he goes forth upon a predatory
excursion.  More rarely when on a mere pilfering maraud, directed
against some frontier settlement, or travelling party of whites.  On
such occasions he does not intend fighting, but rather shuns it.  And,
as thieving is more congenial to him, he can steal as cleverly and
adroitly in a buckskin hunting-shirt, as with bare arms.

The Indians in question number too few for a war party.  At the same
time, their being without women is evidence they are on no errand of
peace.  But for the arms carried, they might be mistaken for hunters.
They have spears and guns, some of them "bowie" knives and pistols;
while the Indian hunter still believes in the efficacy of the silent
arrow.

In their armour, and equipment there are other peculiarities the
ordinary traveller might not comprehend, but which to the eye of an old
prairie man would be regarded as suspicious.  Such an one would at once
pronounce them a band of _prairie pirates_, and of the most dangerous
kind to be encountered in all the territory of Texas.

Whoever they may be, and whatever their design, their behaviour is
certainly singular.  Both by their looks and gestures it can be told
they are watching the waggon train, and interested in its every
movement; as also taking care not to be themselves observed by those
belonging to it.  To avoid this they keep back from the crest of the
escarpment; so far, it would not be possible to see them from any part
of the bottom-land below.

One of their number, afoot, goes closer to the cliff's edge, evidently
sent there by the others as a sort of moving vidette.  Screened by the
cedars that form its _criniere_, he commands a view of the river valley
below, without danger of being himself seen from it.

At short intervals he passes back a pace or two, and gesticulates to the
others.  Then returning to the cliff's edge, he continues on as before.

These movements, apparently eccentric, are nevertheless of grave import.
The man who makes them, with those to whom they are made, must be
watching the travellers with the intention of waylaying them.

Afar off are the waggons, just distinguishable as such by their white
canvas tilts--the latter in contrast with the surface of vivid green
over which they are progressing.  Slowly crawling along, they bear
similitude to a string of gigantic _termites_ bent on some industrial
excursion.  Still the forms of mounted men--at least forty in number,
can be distinguished.  Some riding in front of the train, some in its
rear, and others alongside of it.  No wonder the twenty savage men, who
pursue the parallel line along the cliff, are taking care not to
approach it too nearly.  One would suppose that from such a strong
travelling party their chance of obtaining plunder would seem to them
but slight.  And yet they do not appear to think so.  For as the caravan
train tardily toils on up the bottom-land, they too move along the upper
plain at a like rate of speed, their scout keeping the waggons in sight,
at intervals, as before, admonishing them of every movement.

And they still continue watching the emigrant train until the sun sinks
low--almost to the horizon.  Then they halt upon a spot thickly beset
with cedar trees--a sort of promontory projecting over the river valley.

On its opposite side they can see the waggons still slowly creeping
along, though now not all in motion.  Those in the lead have stopped;
the others doing likewise, as, successively, they arrive at the same
place.

This in front of a large building, just discernible in the distance, its
outlines with difficulty traceable under the fast gathering gloom of the
twilight.

But the savages who survey it from the bluff have seen that building
before, and know all about it; know it to be one of the abandoned
_misiones_ of San Saba; as, also, why those vehicles are now coming to a
stop before its walls.

While watching these, but few words are exchanged between them, and only
in an under tone.  Much or loud talk would not be in keeping with their
Indian character.  Still enough passes in their muttered speeches--
observable also in the expression of their features--for any one hearing
the first, or seeing the last, to predict danger to the colony of
Colonel Armstrong.  If looks count for aught, or words can be relied on
the chances seem as if the old San Saba mission-house, long in ruins,
may remain so yet longer.



CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

A SUSPICIOUS SURVEILLANCE.

The ancient monastery, erst the abode of Spanish monks, now become the
dwelling-place of the ci-devant Mississippi planter, calls for a word of
description.

It stands on the right side of the river, several hundred yards from the
bank, on a platform slightly elevated above the general level of the
surrounding _terrain_.

The site has been chosen with an eye to the pleasant and picturesque--
that keen look-out towards temporal enjoyment, which at all times, and
in all countries, has characterised these spiritual teachers of the
heathen.

Its elevated position gives it command of a fine prospect, at the same
time securing it against the danger of inundation, when the river is in
flood.

In architectural style the mission-building itself does not much differ
from that of most Mexican country houses--called _haciendas_.

Usually a grand quadrangular structure, with an uncovered court in the
centre, the _patio_; around which runs a gallery or corridor,
communicating with the doors of the different apartments.

But few windows face outside; such as there are being casements,
unglazed, but protected by a _grille_ of iron bars set vertically--the
_reja_.  In the centre of its front _facade_ is a double door, of
gaol-like aspect, giving admittance to the passage-way, called _saguan_;
this of sufficient capacity to admit a waggon with its load, intended
for those grand old coaches that lumbered along our own highways in the
days of Dick Turpin, and in which Sir Charles Grandison used luxuriously
to ride.  Vehicles of the exact size, and pattern, may be seen to this
day crawling along the country roads of modern Mexico--relics of a
grandeur long since gone.

The _patio_ is paved with stone flags, or tesselated tiles; and, where a
head of water can be had, a fountain plays in the centre, surrounded by
orange-trees, or other evergreens, with flowering-plants in pots.  To
rearward of this inner court, a second passage-way gives entrance to
another, and larger, if not so sumptuously arrayed; this devoted to
stables, store-rooms, and other domestic offices.  Still farther back is
the _huerta_, or garden.

That attached to the ancient monastery is an enclosure of several acres
in extent, surrounded by a high wall of _adobes_; made to look still
higher from being crested with a palisade of the organ cactus.  Filled
with fruit trees and flowering shrubs, these once carefully cultivated,
but for long neglected, now cover the walks in wild luxuriance.  Under
their shade, silently treading with sandalled feet, or reclining on
rustic benches, the Texan friars used to spend their idle hours, quite
as pleasantly as their British brethren of Tintern and Tewkesbury.  Oft
have the walls of the San Saba mission-house echoed their "ha, ha!" as
they quaffed the choicest vintage of Xeres, and laughed at jests ribald
as any ever perpetrated in a pot-house.  Not heard, however, by the
converted heathen under their care; nor intended to be.  For them there
were dwellings apart; a collection of rude hovels, styled the
_rancheria_.  These were screened from view by a thick grove of
evergreen trees; the _padres_ not relishing a too close contact with
their half-naked neophytes, who were but their _peons_--in short their
slaves.  In point of fact, it was the feudal system of the Old World
transported to the New; with the exception that the manorial lords were
monks, and the _villeins_ savage men.  And the pretence at
proselytising, with its mongrel mixture of Christianity and
superstition, did not make this Transatlantic _villeinage_ a whit less
irksome to endure.  Proof, that the red-skinned serfs required the iron
hand of control is found in the _presidio_, or soldier's barrack--
standing close by--its ruin overlooking those of the _rancheria_.  They
who had been conquered by the Cross, still needed the sword to keep them
in subjection, which, as we have seen, it finally failed to do.

Several of the huts still standing, and in a tolerable state of repair,
have supplied shelter to the new settlers; most of whom have taken up
their abode in them.  They are only to serve as temporary residences,
until better homes can be built.  There is no time for this now.  The
spring is on, and the cotton-seed must be got into the ground, to the
neglect of everything else.

Colonel Armstrong himself, with his daughters and domestics, occupies
the old mission-building, which also gives lodgment to Luis Dupre and
his belongings.  For the young planter is now looked upon as a member of
the Armstrong family, and it wants but a word from one in holy orders to
make him really so.  And such an one has come out with the colonists.
The marriage ceremony is but deferred until the cotton-seed be safe
under the soil.  Then there will be a day of jubilee, such as has never
been seen upon the San Saba; a _fiesta_, which in splendour will eclipse
anything the Spanish monks, celebrated for such exhibitions, have ever
got up, or attempted.

But "business before pleasure" is the adage of the hour; and, after a
day or two given to rest, with the arrangement of household affairs, the
real work of colonising commences.  The little painted ploughs,
transported from the States, are set to soiling their paint, by turning
up the fertile clod of the San Saba valley, which has so long lain
fallow; while the seed of the cotton-plant is scattered far and wide
over hundreds--ay, thousands of acres.

Around the ancient mission is inaugurated a new life, with scenes of
industry, stirring as those presided over by the _padres_.

Is it sure of being as prosperous, or more likely to be permanent?

One confining his view to the valley--regarding only the vigorous
activity there displayed--would answer this question in the affirmative.

But he who looks farther off--raising his eyes to the bluff on the
opposite side of the river, fixing them on that spot where the Indians
made halt--would hesitate before thus prognosticating.  In the dusky
cohort he might suspect some danger threatening the new settlement.

True, the savages are no longer there.  After seeing the waggons one
after another becoming stationary, like vultures deprived of a carrion
repast, they moved away.  But not far.  Only about five miles, to a
grove of timber standing back upon the plain, where they have made a
more permanent camp.

Two alone are left upon the cliff's edge; evidently to act as videttes.
They keep watch night and day, one always remaining awake.  Especially
during the night hours do they appear on the alert--with eyes bent on
the far off mission-buildings--watching the window-lights that steadily
shine, and the torches that flit to and fro.  Watching for something not
yet seen.  What can it be?

And what is the design of these painted savages, who look more like
demons than men?  Is it to attack the new colony, plunder, and destroy
it?

Regarding their numbers, this would seem absurd.  They are in all only
twenty; while the colonists count at least fifty fighting men.  No
common men either; but most of them accustomed to the use of arms; many
backwoodsmen, born borderers, staunch as steel.  Against such, twenty
Indians--though the picked warriors of the warlike Comanche tribe--would
stand no chance in fair open fight.  But they may not mean this; and
their intent be only stealing?

Or they may be but a pioneer party--the vanguard of a greater force?

In any case, their behaviour is singularly suspicious.  Such manoeuvring
can mean no good, but may be fraught with evil to Colonel Armstrong and
his colonists.

For several successive days is this surveillance maintained, and still
nothing seems to come of it.  The party of savages remains encamped in
the timber at back; while the two sentinels keep their place upon the
promontory; though now and then going and coming, as before.

But on a certain night they forsake their post altogether, as if their
object has been attained, and there is no need to keep watch any more.

On this same night, a man might be seen issuing out of the
mission-building, and making away from its walls.  He is not seen,
nevertheless.  For it is the hour of midnight, and all have retired to
rest--the whole household seemingly wrapt in profoundest slumber.
Moreover, the man slips out stealthily, through the backdoor; thence
across the second courtyard, and along a narrow passage leading into the
garden.  Having reached this, he keeps on down the centre walk, and over
the wall at bottom, through which there chances to be a breach.  All
these mysterious movements are in keeping with the appearance of the
man.  For his countenance shows cunning of no ordinary kind.  At first
glance, and under the moonlight, he might be mistaken for a mulatto.
But, though coloured, he is not of this kind.  His tawny skin shows a
tinge of red, which tells of Indian, rather than African blood.  He is,
in truth, a _mestizo_--half Spaniard or Mexican, the other half being
the aboriginal race of America.

It is a breed not always evil-disposed, still less frequently
ill-featured; and, so far as looks go, the individual in question might
claim to be called handsome.  He has a plenteous profusion of dark curly
hair, framing a countenance by no means common.  A face of oval form,
regular features, the nose and chin markedly prominent, a pair of coal
black eyes, with a well-defined crescent over each.  Between his lips
are teeth, sound and of ivory whiteness, seeming whiter in contrast with
a pair of jet black moustaches.

Taking his features singly, any of them might be pronounced comely.  And
yet the _tout ensemble_ is not pleasing.  Despite physical beauty, there
is something in the man's face that appears repulsive, and causes
shrinking in the heart of the beholder.  Chiefly is it his eyes that
seem to produce this effect; their glance inspiring fear, such as one
feels while being gazed at by an adder.

Not always can this sinister look be observed.  For the _mestizo_, when
face to face with his superiors, has the habit of holding his eyes
averted--cast down, as if conscious of having committed crime, or an
intention to commit it.

Most with whom he comes in contact are impressed with the idea, that he
either has sinned, or intends sinning; so all are chary of giving him
confidence.

No--not all.  There is one exception: one man who has trusted, and still
continues to trust him--the young planter, Dupre.  So far, that he has
made him his man of confidence--head-servant over all the household.
For it need scarce be told, that the real master of the house is he who
rendered it habitable, by filling it with furniture and giving it a
staff of servants.  Colonel Armstrong is but its head through courtesy
due to age, and the respect shown to a future father-in-law.

Why the Creole puts such trust in Fernand--the _mestizo's_ name--no one
can clearly comprehend.  For he is not one of those domestics, whose
integrity has been tested by long years of service.  On the contrary,
Dupre has never set eyes on him, till just before leaving Nachitoches.

While organising the expedition, the half-blood had presented himself,
and offered to act as its guide--professing acquaintance with that
section of Texas whither the colony was to be conducted.  But long
before reaching their destination, Dupre had promoted him to a higher
and more lucrative post--in short, made him his "major-domo."

Colonel Armstrong does not object.  He has not the right.  Still less,
anybody else.  Outsiders only wonder and shake their heads; saying, in
whispers, that the thing is strange, and adding, "No good can come of
it."

Could any of them observe the _mestizo_ at this midnight hour, skulking
away from the house; could they follow and watch his further movements,
they might indulge in something more than a surmise about his fidelity;
indeed, be convinced he is a traitor.

After getting about half-a-mile from the mission walls, he makes stop on
the edge of attract of timber lying between--its outer edge, open
towards the river's bank, and the bluffs beyond.

There, crouching down by the side of a flat stone, he pours some
gunpowder upon it, from a horn taken out of his pocket.

This done, he draws forth a box of lucifer matches; scrapes one across
the stone, and sets the powder ablaze.

It flashes up in bright glare, illumining the darkness around.

A second, time he repeats this manoeuvre; a third, and a fourth; and on,
till, for the tenth time, powder has been burnt.

Then turning away from the spot, he makes back towards the
dwelling-house, entering it by the way he went out, and stealthily as
before.

No one within its walls has been witness to the pyrotechnic display.

For all, it has not been unobserved.  The Indian videttes, stationed on
the far-off bluff, see it.  See, and furthermore, seem to accept it as a
signal--a cue for action.  What but this could have caused them to
spring upon the backs of their horses, forsake their post of
observation, and gallop off to the bivouac of their comrades; which they
do, soon as noting that the tenth flash is not followed by another?

Surely must it be a signal, and preconcerted?

In the life of the prairie savage fire plays a conspicuous part.  It is
his telegraph, by which he can communicate with far off friends, telling
them where an enemy is, and how or when he should be "struck."  A single
spark, or smoke, has in it much of meaning.  A flash may mean more; but
ten following in succession were alphabet enough to tell a tale of no
common kind--one, it may be, predicting death.



CHAPTER FORTY SIX.

A SUSPECTED SERVANT.

Now fairly inaugurated, the new colony gives promise of a great success;
and the colonists are congratulating themselves.

None more than their chief, Colonel Armstrong.  His leaving Mississippi
has been a lucky move; so far all has gone well; and if the future but
respond to its promise, his star, long waning, will be once more in the
ascendant.  There is but one thought to darken this bright dream: the
condition of his eldest daughter.  Where all others are rejoicing, there
is no gladness for her.  Sombre melancholy seems to have taken
possession of her spirit, its shadow almost continuously seated on her
brow.  Her eyes tell of mental anguish, which, affecting her heart, is
also making inroad on her health.  Already the roses have gone out of
her cheeks, leaving only lilies; the pale flowers foretelling an early
tomb.

The distressing symptoms do not escape the fond father's observation.
Indeed he knows all about them, now knowing their cause.  Only through
the Natchez newspapers was he first made aware of that secret
correspondence between his daughter and Clancy.  But since she has
confessed all--how her heart went with her words; is still true to what
she then said.  The last an avowal not needed: her pallid cheeks
proclaiming it.  The frank confession, instead of enraging her father,
but gives him regret, and along with it self-reproach.  But for his
aristocratic pride, with some admixture of cupidity, he would have
permitted Clancy's addresses to his daughter.  With an open honourable
courtship, the end might have been different--perhaps less disastrous.
It could not have been more.

He can now only hope, that time, the great soother of suffering hearts,
may bring balm to hers.  New scenes in Texas, with thoughts arising
therefrom, may throw oblivion over the past.  And perchance a new lover
may cause the lost one to be less painfully remembered.  Several
aspirants have already presented themselves; more than one of the
younger members of the colony having accompanied it, with no view of
making fortunes by the cultivation of cotton, but solely to be beside
Helen Armstrong.

Her suitors one and all will be disappointed.  She to whom they sue is
not an ordinary woman; nor her affections of the fickle kind.  Like the
eagle's mate, deprived of her proud lord, she will live all her after
life in lone solitude--or die.  She has lost her lover, or thinks so,
believing Clancy dead; but the love still burns within her bosom, and
will, so long as her life may last.  Colonel Armstrong soon begins to
see this, and despairs of the roses ever again returning to the cheeks
of his elder daughter.

It would, no doubt, be different were the blighted heart that of his
younger.  With her the Spanish proverb, "_un clavo saca otro clavo_,"
might have meaning.  By good fortune, Jessie needs no nail to drive out
another.  Her natural exuberance of spirits grown to greater joy from
the hopes that now halo her young life, is flung over the future of all.
Some compensation for her sister's sadness--something to cheer their
common father.  There is also the excitement attendant on the industries
of the hour--the cares of the cotton-planting, with speculations about
the success of the crop--these, with a hundred like thoughts and things,
hinder him from so frequently recurring to, or so long dwelling on, that
which can but cruelly distress.

It is the night succeeding that in which the mestizo made his private
pyrotechnic display; and Colonel Armstrong with his future son-in-law is
seated in the former refectory of the mission, which they have converted
into a decent dining-room.

They are not alone, or, as in French phraseology better expressed, _chez
eux memes_.  Six or seven of their fellow-colonists of the better class
share the saloon with them--these being guests whom they have invited to
dinner.

The meal is over, the hour touching ten, the ladies have retired from
the table, only the gentlemen remain, drinking choice claret, which
Dupre, a sort of Transatlantic Lucullus, has brought with him from his
Louisiana wine bins.

Armstrong himself, being of Scotch ancestry, has the national preference
for whisky punch; and a tumbler of this beverage--the best in the
world--stands on the table before him.  His glass has been filled three
times, and is as often emptied.

It need not be said, at this moment he is not sad.  After three tumblers
of whisky toddy no man can help being hilarious; and so is it with
Colonel Armstrong.  Seated at the head of his dining-table, the steaming
punch before him, he converses with his guests, gay as the gayest.  For
a time their conversation is on general topics; but at length changes to
one more particular.  Something said has directed their attention to a
man, who waited upon them at table, now no longer in the room.

The individual thus honoured is Dupre's confidential servant Fernand;
who, as already said, is house-steward, butler, _factotum_ of affairs
generally.

As is usual with such grand dignitaries, he has withdrawn simultaneously
with the removal of the tablecloth, leaving a deputy to look to the
decanting of the wine.  Therefore, there is nothing remarkable in his
disappearance; nor would aught be observed about it, but for a remark
made by one of the guests during the course of conversation.  A young
surgeon, who has cast in his lot with the new colony, is he who starts
the topic, thus introducing it:--

"Friend Dupre, where did you get that fellow Fernand?  I don't remember
having seen him on your Louisiana plantation."

"I picked him up in Natchitoches while we were organising.  You know I
lost my old major-domo last fall by the yellow fever.  It took him off
while we were down in New Orleans.  Fernand, however, is his superior in
every sense; can keep plantation accounts, wait at table, drive a
carriage, or help in a hunt.  He's a fellow of wonderful versatility; in
short, a genius.  And what is rare in such a combination of talents, he
is devoted to his duties--a very slave to them."

"What breed may your admirable Crichton be?" asks another of the guests,
adding: "He looks a cross between Spaniard and Indian."

"Just what he is," answers the young planter; "at least says so.  By his
own account his father was a Spaniard, or rather a Mexican, and his
mother an Indian of the Seminole tribe.  His real name is Fernandez; but
for convenience I've dropped the final syllable."

"It's a bad sort of mixture, that between Spaniard and Seminole, and not
improved by the Spaniard being a Mexican," remarks he who made the
inquiry.

"I don't like his looks," observes a third speaker.

Then all around the table wait to hear what Wharton, the young surgeon,
has to say.  For it is evident, from his way of introducing the subject,
he either knows or suspects something prejudicial to the character of
the major-domo.  Instead of going on to explain, he puts a second
interrogatory--

"May I ask, M. Dupre, whether you had any character with him?"

"No, indeed," admits the master.  "He came to me just before we left
Natchitoches asking for an engagement.  He professed to know all about
Texas, and offered to act as a guide.  As I had engaged guides, I didn't
want him for that when he said any other place would do.  Seeing him to
be a smart sort of fellow, which he certainly has proved, I engaged him
to look after my baggage.  Since, I've found him useful in other ways,
and have given him full charge of everything--even to entrusting him
with the care of my modest money chest."

"In doing that," rejoins the surgeon, "I should say you've acted
somewhat imprudently.  Excuse me, M. Dupre, for making the observation."

"Oh, certainly," is the planter's frank reply.  "But why do you say so,
Mr Wharton?  Have you any reason to suspect his honesty?"

"I have; more than one."

"Indeed!  Let us hear them all."

"Well; in the first place I don't like the look of the man, nor ever did
since the day of our starting.  Since I never set eyes on him before, I
could have had no impression to prejudice me against him.  I admit that,
judging by physiognomy, any one may be mistaken; and I shouldn't have
allowed myself to be led by that.  In this case, however, a circumstance
has contributed to shaping my judgment; in fact, deciding me in the
opinion, that your fellow Fernand is not only dishonest, but something
worse than a thief."

"Worse than a thief!" is the simultaneous echo from all sides of the
table, succeeded by a universal demand for explanation.

"Your words have a weighty sound, doctor," is Colonel Armstrong's way of
putting it.  "We are anxious to hear what they mean."

"Well," responds Wharton, "you shall know why I've spoken them, and
what's led me to suspect this fellow Fernand.  You can draw your own
conclusions, from the premises I put before you.  Last night at a late
hour--near midnight--I took a fancy into my head to have a stroll
towards the river.  Lighting a weed, I started out.  I can't say exactly
how far I may have gone; but I know that the cigar--a long `Henry
Clay'--was burnt to the end before I thought of turning back.  As I was
about doing so, I heard a sound, easily made out to be the footsteps of
a man, treading the firm prairie turf.  As it chanced just then, I was
under a pecan-tree that screened me with its shadow; and I kept my
ground without making any noise.

"Shortly after, I saw the man whose footfall I had heard, and recognised
him as M. Dupre's head-servant.  He was coming up the valley, toward the
house here, as if returning from some excursion.  I mightn't have
thought much of that, but for noticing, as he passed me, that he didn't
walk erect or on the path, but crouchingly, among the trees skirting it.

"Throwing away the stump of my cigar, I set out after him, treading
stealthily as he.  Instead of entering by the front, he went round the
garden, all the way to its rear; where suddenly I lost sight of him.  On
arriving at the spot where he had disappeared, I saw there was a break
in the wall.  Through that, of course, he must have passed, and entered
the mission-building at the back.  Now, what are we to make of all
this?"

"What do you make of it, doctor?" asks Dupre.

"Give us your own deductions!"

"To say the truth, I don't know what deductions to draw, I confess
myself at fault; and cannot account for the fellow's movements; though I
take you'll all acknowledge they were odd.  As I've said, M. Dupre, I
didn't from the first like your man of versatile talents; and I'm now
more than ever distrustful of him.  Still I profess myself unable to
guess what he was after last night.  Can any of you, gentlemen?"

No one can.  The singular behaviour of Dupre's servant is a puzzle to
all present.  At the same time, under the circumstances, it has a
serious aspect.

Were there any neighbouring settlement, the man might be supposed
returning from a visit to it; entering stealthily, from being out late,
and under fear of rebuke from his master.  As there are no such
neighbours, this theory cannot be entertained.

On the other hand, there has been no report of Indians having been seen
in proximity to the place.  If there had, the mestizo's conduct might be
accounted for, upon an hypothesis that would certainly cause
apprehension to those discussing it.

But no savages have been seen, or heard of; and it is known that the
Southern Comanches--the only Indians likely to be there encountered--are
in treaty of peace with the Texan Government.  Therefore, the nocturnal
excursion of the half-blood could not be connected with anything of this
kind.

His singular, and seemingly eccentric, behaviour, remains an unsolved
problem to the guests around the table; and the subject is eventually
dropped their conversation changing to other and pleasanter themes.



CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.

OPPOSITE EMBLEMS.

Pleasure has not been the sole purpose for which Colonel Armstrong is
giving his little dinner party, else there would have been ladies
invited along with the gentlemen.  It is rather a re-union to talk over
the affairs of the colony; hence the only ladies present were the
daughters of the host.  And, for the same reason, these have retired
from the table at an early hour, betaking themselves to the _sala_ of
the old monastery, their sitting and drawing-room.  This, though an
ample apartment, is anything but a pleasant one; never much affected by
the monks, who in their post-prandial hours, preferred sticking to the
refectory.  A hasty attempt has been made to modernise it; but the light
furniture of French Creole fabric, brought along from Louisiana, ill
accords with its heavy style of architecture, while its decayed walls
and ceilings _lezardee_, give it a gloomy dismal look, all the more from
the large room being but dimly lit up.  As it is not a drawing-room
party, the ladies expect that for a long while, if not all evening, they
will be left alone in it.  For a time they scarce know how to employ
themselves.  With Helen, amusement is out of the question.  She has
flung herself into a _fauteuil_, and sits in pensive attitude; of late,
alas! become habitual to her.

Jessie, taking up her guitar, commences a song, the first that occurs to
her, which chances to be "Lucy Neal," a negro melody, at the time much
in vogue on the plantations of the South.  She has chosen the pathetic
strain without thought of the effect it may produce upon her sister.
Observing it to be painful she abruptly breaks off, and with a sweep of
her fingers across the guitar strings, changes to the merrier refrain of
"Old Dan Tucker."  Helen, touched by the delicate consideration, rewards
it with a faint smile.  Then, Jessie rattles on through a _melange_ of
negro ministrelsy, all of the light comical kind, her only thought being
to chase away her sister's despondency.

Still is she unsuccessful.  Her merry voice, her laughter, and the
cheerful tinkle of the guitar strings, are all exerted in vain.  The
sounds so little in consonance with Helen's thoughts seem sorely out of
place in that gloomy apartment; whose walls, though they once echoed the
laughter of roystering friars, have, no doubt, also heard the sighs of
many a poor _peon_ suffering chastisement for disobedience, or apostacy.

At length perceiving how idle are her efforts, the younger sister lays
aside her guitar, at the same time starting to her feet, and
saying:--"Come, Helen! suppose we go outside for a stroll?  That will be
more agreeable than moping in this gloomsome cavern.  There's a
beautiful moonlight, and we ought to enjoy it."

"If you wish, I have no objections.  Where do you intend strolling to?"

"Say the garden.  We can take a turn along its walks, though they are a
little weedy.  A queer weird place it is--looks as if it might be
haunted.  I shouldn't wonder if we met a ghost in it--some of the old
monks; or it might be one of their victims.  'Tis said they were very
cruel, and killed people--ay, tortured them.  Only think of the savage
monsters!  True, the ones that were here, as I've heard, got killed
themselves in the end--that's some satisfaction.  But it's all the more
reason for their ghosts being about.  If we should meet one, what would
you do?"

"That would depend on how he behaved himself."

"You're not afraid of ghosts, Helen!  I know you're not."

"I was when a child.  Now I fear neither the living nor the dead.  I can
dare both, having nought to make me care for life--"

"Come on!" cries Jessie, interrupting the melancholy train of
reflection, "Let us to the garden.  If we meet a monk in hood and cowl,
I shall certainly--"

"Do what?"

"Run back into the house fast as feet can carry me.  Come along!"

Keeping up the jocular bravado, the younger sister leads the way out.
Arm-in-arm the two cross the _patio_, then the outer courtyard, and on
through a narrow passage communicating with the walled enclosure at
back; once a grand garden under careful cultivation, still grand in its
neglect.

After entering it, the sisters make stop, and for a while stand
surveying the scene.  The moon at full, coursing through a cloudless
sky, flings her soft light upon gorgeous flowers with corollas but
half-closed, in the sultry southern night giving out their fragrance as
by day.  The senses of sight and smell are not the only ones gratified;
that of hearing is also charmed with the song of the _czentzontle_, the
Mexican nightingale.  One of these birds perched upon a branch, and
pouring forth its love-lay in loud passionate strain, breaks off at
sight of them.  Only for a short interval is it silent; then resuming
its lay, as if convinced it has nought to fear from such fair intruders.
Its song is not strange to their ears, though there are some notes they
have not hitherto heard.  It is their own mocking-bird of the States,
introducing into its mimic minstrelsy certain variations, the imitations
of sounds peculiar to Texas.

After having listened to it for a short while, the girls move on down
the centre walk, now under the shadow of trees, anon emerging into the
moonlight; which shimmering on their white evening robes, and reflecting
the sparkle of their jewellery, produces a pretty effect.

The garden ground slopes gently backward; and about half-way between the
house and the bottom wall is, or has been, a fountain.  The basin is
still there, and with water in it, trickling over its edge.  But the jet
no longer plays, and the mason-work shows greatly dilapidated.  So also
the seats and statues around, some of the latter yet standing, others
broken off, and lying alongside their pedestals.

Arriving at this spot, the sisters again stop, and for a time stand
contemplating the ruins; the younger making a remark, suggested by a
thought of their grandeur gone.

"Fountains, statues, seats under shade trees, every luxury to be got out
of a garden!  What Sybarites the Holy Fathers must have been!"

"Truly so," assents Helen.  "They seem to have made themselves quite
comfortable; and whatever their morals, it must be admitted they
displayed good taste in landscape gardening, with an eye on good living
as well.  They must have been very fond of fruit, and a variety of it--
judging by the many sorts of trees they've planted."

"So much the better for us," gleefully replies Jessie.  "We shall have
the benefit of their industry, when the fruit season comes round.  Won't
it be a grand thing when we get the walks gravelled, these statues
restored, and that fountain once more in full play.  Luis has promised
me it shall be done, soon as the cotton crop is in.  Oh! it will be a
Paradise of a place!"

"I like it better as it is."

"You do.  Why?"

"Ah! that _you_ cannot understand.  You do not know--I hope never will--
what it is to live only in the past.  This place has had a past, like
myself, once smiling; and now like me all desolation."

"O sister! do not speak so.  It pains me--indeed it does.  Besides your
words only go half-way.  As you say, it's had a smiling past, and's
going to have a smiling future.  And so will you sis.  I'm determined to
have it all laid out anew, in as good style as it ever was--better.
Luis shall do it--must, _when he marries, me_--if not before."

To the pretty bit of bantering Helen's only answer is a sigh, with a
sadder expression, as from some fresh pang shooting through her heart.
It is even this; for, once again, she cannot help contrasting her own
poor position with the proud one attained by her sister.  She knows that
Dupre is in reality master of all around, as Jessie will be mistress,
she herself little better than their dependant.  No wonder the thought
should cause her humiliation, or that, with a spirit imperious as her's,
she should feel it acutely.  Still, in her crushed heart there is no
envy at her sister's good fortune.  Could Charles Clancy come to life
again, now she knows him true--were he but there to share with her the
humblest hut in Texas, all the splendours, all the grandeurs of earth,
could not add to that happiness, nor give one emotion more.

After her enthusiastic outburst, to which there has been no rejoinder,
Jessie continues on toward the bottom of the garden, giving way to
pleasant fancies, dreams of future designs, with her fan playfully
striking at the flowers as she passes them.

In silence Helen follows; and no word is exchanged between them till
they reach the lower end; when Jessie, turning round, the two are face
to face.  The place, where they have stopped is another opening with
seats and statues, admitting the moonlight.  By its bright beam the
younger sister sees anguish depicted on the countenance of the older.

With a thought that her last words have caused or contributed to this,
she is about to add others that may remove it.  But before she can
speak, Helen makes a gesture that holds her silent.

Near the spot where they are standing two trees overshadow the walk,
their boughs meeting across it.  Both are emblematic--one symbolising
the most joyous hour of existence, the other its saddest.  They are an
orange, and a cypress.  The former is in bloom, as it always is; the
latter only in leaf, without a blossom on its branches.

Helen, stepping between them, and extending an arm to each, plucks from
the one a sprig, from the other a flower.  Raising the orange blossom
between her white fingers, more attenuated than of yore, she plants it
amid Jessie's golden tresses.  At the same time she sets the cypress
sprig behind the plaits of her own raven hair; as she does so, saying:--

"That for you, sister--this for me.  We are now decked as befits us--as
we shall both soon be--_you for the bridal, I for the tomb_!"

The words, seeming but too prophetic, pierce Jessie's heart as arrow
with poisoned barb.  In an instant, her joy is gone, sunk into the
sorrow of her sister.  Herself sinking upon that sister's bosom, with
arms around her neck, and tears falling thick and fast over her
swan-white shoulders.

Never more than now has her heart overflowed with compassion, for never
as now has Helen appeared to suffer so acutely.  As she stood, holding
in one hand the symbol of bright happy life, in the other the dark
emblem of death, she looked the very personification of sorrow.  With
her magnificent outline of form, and splendid features, all the more
marked in their melancholy, she might have passed for its divinity.  The
ancient sculptors would have given much for such a model, to mould the
statue of Despair.



CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT.

A BLANK DAY.

On the frontier every settlement has its professional hunter.  Often
several, seldom less than two or three; their _metier_ being to supply
the settlers with meat and game--venison, the standing dish--now and
then bear hams, much relished--and, when the place is upon prairie-land,
the flesh of the antelope and buffalo.  The wild turkey, too--grandest
of all game birds--is on the professional hunter's list for the larder;
the lynx and panther he will kill for their pelts; but squirrels,
racoons, rabbits, and other such "varmints," he disdains to meddle with,
leaving them to the amateur sportsman, and the darkey.

Usually the professional votary of Saint Hubert is of solitary habit,
and prefers stalking alone.  There are some, however, of more social
inclining, who hunt in couples; one of the pair being almost universal a
veteran, the other a young man--as in the case of Sime Woodley and Ned
Heywood.  By the inequality of age the danger of professional jealousy
is avoided; the younger looking up to his senior, and treating him with
the deference due to greater knowledge and experience.

Just such a brace of professionals has come out with the Armstrong
colony--their names, Alec Hawkins and Cris Tucker--the former an old
bear-hunter, who has slain his hundreds; the latter, though an excellent
marksman, in the art of _venerie_ but a tyro compared with his partner.

Since their arrival on the San Saba, they have kept the settlement
plentifully supplied in meat; chiefly venison of the black-tailed deer,
with which the bottom-land abounds.  Turkeys, too, in any quantity;
these noble birds thriving in the congenial climate of Texas, with its
nuts and berry-bearing trees.

But there is a yet nobler game, to the hunting of which Hawkins and his
younger associate aspire; both being eager to add it to the list of
their trophies.  It is that which has tempted many an English Nimrod to
take three thousand miles of sea voyage across the Atlantic, and by land
nearly as many more--the buffalo.  Hawkins and Tucker, though having
quartered the river bottom, for ten miles above and below the
mission-building, have as yet come across none of these grand
quadrupeds, nor seen "sign" of them.

This day, when Armstrong has his dinner party, the hunters bethink
themselves of ascending to the upper plain, in the hope of there finding
the game so much desired.

The place promising best is on the opposite side of the valley, to reach
which the river must be crossed.

There are two fords at nearly equal distances from the old
mission-house, one about ten miles above, the other as many below.  By
the latter the waggons came over, and it is the one chosen by the
hunters.

Crossing it, they continue on to the bluffs rising beyond, and ascend
these through a lateral ravine, the channel of a watercourse--which
affords a practicable pass to the plain.  On reaching its summit they
behold a steppe to all appearance; illimitable, almost as sterile as
Saara itself.  Treeless save a skirting of dwarf cedars along the
cliff's edge, with here and there a _motte_ of black-jack oaks, a
cluster of cactus plants, or a solitary yucca of the arborescent
species--the _palmilla_ of the Mexicans.

Withal, not an unlikely place to encounter the cattle with; hunched
backs, and shaggy shoulders.  None are in sight; but hoping they soon
will be the hunters launch out upon the plain.

Till near night they scout around, but without seeing any buffalo.

The descending sun warns them it is time to return home; and, facing for
the bluff, they ride back towards it.  Some three or four hundred yards
from the summit of the pass is a _motte_ of black-jacks, the trees
standing close, in full leaf, and looking shady.  As it is more than
fifteen miles to the mission, and they have not eaten since morning,
they resolve to make halt, and have a sneck.  The black-jack grove is
right in their way, its shade invites them, for the sun is still sultry.
Soon they are in it, their horses tied to trees, and their haversacks
summoned to disgorge.  Some corn-bread and bacon is all these contain;
but, no better refection needs a prairie hunter, nor cares for, so long
he has a little distilled corn-juice to wash it down, with a pipe of
tobacco to follow.  They have eaten, drunk, and are making ready to
smoke, when an object upon the plain attracts their attention.  Only a
cloud of dust, and far off--on the edge of the horizon.  For all that a
sign significant.  It may be a "gang" of buffaloes, the thing they have
been all day vainly searching for.

Thrusting the pipes back into their pouches, they grasp their guns, with
eyes eagerly scanning the dust-cloud.  At first dim, it gradually
becomes darker.  For a whiff of wind has blown the "stoor" aside,
disclosing not a drove of buffaloes, but instead a troop of horses, at
the same time showing them to have riders on their backs, as the hunters
can perceive Indians.

Also that the troop is coming towards them, and advancing at such rapid
pace, that in less than twenty minutes after being descried, it is close
to the clump of black-jacks.  Fortunately for Alec Hawkins and Oris
Tucker, the Indian horsemen have no intention to halt there, or rest
themselves under the shadow of the copse.  To all appearance they are
riding in hot haste, and with a purpose which carries them straight
towards the pass.  They do not even stop on arrival at its--summit; but
dash down the ravine, disappearing suddenly as though they had dropped
into a trap!

It is some time before the two hunters have recovered from their
surprise, and can compare notes about what they have seen, with
conjectures as to its bearing.  They have witnessed a spectacle
sufficiently alarming,--a band of fierce-looking savages, armed with
spear and tomahawk--some carrying guns--all plumed and painted, all
alike terrible in aspect.

Quick the apparition has passed before their eyes, as suddenly
disappearing.  The haste in which the Indians rode down the ravine tells
of their being bent on some fore-arranged purpose that calls for early
execution.  It may be murder, or only plunder; and the men may be
Comanches--as in every likelihood they are.

"They're a ugly-looking lot," says Hawkins, after seeing them file past.
"If there were a hundred, instead o' twenty, I'd predict some danger to
our new settlement.  They appear to be going that way--at all events
they are bound for the river bottom, and the lower crossing.  We must
follow them, Oris, an' see if we can make out what's their game.  The
red devils mayn't mean downright robbery, but like enough they intend
stealin'.  Hitch up, and let's after em'."

In a trice the two hunters are in their saddles; and proceeding to the
summit of the pass, look down at the valley below.  Not carelessly, but
cautiously.  Hawkins is an old campaigner, has fought Indians before,
and knows how to deal with them.

Keeping himself and horse under cover of the cedars, after instructing
his comrade to do the same, he reconnoitres the bottom-land, before
attempting to descend to it.

As expected, he sees the Indians making for the ford.  At the point
between the San Saba, and either of its bluffs is a breadth of some four
miles, part open meadow land, the other part, contiguous to the river
overgrown with heavy timber.  Into this the red horsemen are riding, as
the two hunters reach the summit of the pass, the latter arriving just
in time to see their last files disappear among the trees.  It is their
cue to descend also, which they do, without further delay.

Hastening down the ravine and on to the river ford, they discover that
the Indians have crossed it.  The tracks of their horses are on both
banks.  Beyond, the hunters cannot tell which way they have taken.  For
though still only twilight it is dark as night under the thick standing
trees; and he keenest eye could not discover a trail.

Thus thrown off, they have no choice but continue on to the settlement.

Beaching this at a rather late hour, they do not enter the
mission-building nor yet any of the huts of the _rancheria_.  Their own
residence is a tent, standing in the grove between; and to it they
betake themselves.  Once under canvass their first thought is supper,
and they set about cooking it.  Though they have brought back no buffalo
meat a twenty pound turkey "gobbler" has been all day dangling at the
horn of Hawkins' saddle--enough for a plentiful repast.

Oris, who acts as cook, sets to plucking the bird, while Hawkins
commences kindling a fire outside the tent.  But before the fagots are
ablaze, the old hunter, all along abstracted, becomes fidgetty, as if
troubled with the reflection of having neglected some duty he ought to
have done.

Abruptly breaking off, and pitching aside the sticks, he says:--"This
wont do, Cris, nohow.  I've got a notion in my head there's something
not right about them Indyens.  I must up to the house an' tell the
Colonel.  You go on, and get the gobbler roasted.  I'll be back by the
time its ready."

"All right," rejoins Tucker, continuing to make the feathers fly.
"Don't stay if you expect any share of this bird.  I'm hungry enough to
eat the whole of it myself."

"You needn't fear for my stayin'.  I'm just as sharp set as yourself."

So saying, Hawkins strides out of the tent, leaving his comrade to
continue the preparations for their repast.

From the hunter's tent, the house is approached by a narrow path, nearly
all the way running through timber.  While gliding silently along it,
Hawkins comes suddenly to a stop.

"Seems to me I heard a cry," he mutters to himself; "seems, too, as
'twar a woman's voice."

After listening awhile, without hearing it repeated, he adds:

"I reckon, 'twar only the skirl o' them tree-crickets.  The warm night
makes 'em chirp their loudest."

Listening a little longer, he becomes convinced it was but the crickets
he heard, and keeps on to the house.



CHAPTER FORTY NINE.

WAITING THE WORD.

To all appearance Fernand's fireworks are about to bear fruit, this
likely to be bitter.  As the sky, darker after the lightning's flash, a
cloud is collecting over the new settlement, which threatens to sweep
down upon it in a rain storm of ruin.  What but they could have caused
this cloud; or, at all events, given a cue for the time of its bursting.

It appears in the shape of a cohort of dusky horsemen, painted and
plumed.  No need to say, they are the same that were seen by Hawkins and
Tucker.

Having crossed the river at its lower ford, where so far the hunters saw
their tracks, there losing them, the savages continued on.  Not by the
main road leading to the mission, but along a path which deflects from
it soon after leaving the river's bank.  A narrower trace, indeed the
continuation of that they had been following all along--the transverse
route across the bottom-land from bluff to bluff, on both sides
ascending to the steppe.

But though they came down on one side, they went not up on the other.
Instead, having reached the nether bluff, they turned sharp along its
base, by another and still narrower trace, which they knew would take
them up to the mission-building.  A route tortuous, the path beset with
many obstacles; hence their having spent several hours in passing from
the ford to the mission-house, though the distance between is barely ten
miles.

No doubt they have good reason for submitting to the irksome delay
caused by the difficult track, as also for the cautious manner in which
they have been coming along it.  Otherwise, they would certainly have
chosen the direct road running nearer the river's bank.

While Colonel Armstrong, and his friends, are enjoying themselves in the
refectory of the ancient mission-house, in the midst of their laughing
hilarity, the painted cavaliers have been making approach, and are now
halted, within less than half-a-mile from its walls.  In such fashion as
shows, they do not intend a long stay in their stopping place.  Not a
saddle is removed, or girth untightened; while the bridles, remaining on
their horses' heads, are but used as halters to attach them to the
trees.

The men have dismounted, but not to form camp, or make bivouac.  They
kindle no fires, nor seem caring to cook, or eat.  They drink, however;
several of them taking flasks from their saddle pouches, and holding
them to their heads bottom upward.  Nothing strange in this.  The Texan
Indian, whether Comanche, Kiowa, or Lipan, likes his fire-water as much
as a white man, and as constantly carries it along with him.  The only
peculiarity about these is that, while quaffing, they do not talk in the
Indian tongue, but English of the Texan idiom, with all its wild
swearing!

The place where they have halted is a bit of glade-ground, nearly
circular in shape, only half-encompassed by timber, the other half being
an embayment of the bluffs, twin to those on the opposite side of the
river bottom.  It is shaded three-quarters across by the cliff, the moon
being behind this.  The other quarter, on the side of the trees, is
brilliantly lit up by her beams, showing the timber thick and close
along its edge, to all appearance impassable as the _facade_ of rugged
rock frowning from the opposite concave of the enclosed circle.
Communicating with this are but two paths possible for man or horse, and
for either only in single file.  One enters the glade coming up the
river bottom along the base of the bluff; the other debouches at the
opposite end, still following the cliff's foot.  By the former the
Indians have entered; but by the latter it is evident they intend going
out, as their eyes are from time to time turned towards it, and their
gestures directed that way.  Still they make no movement for resuming
their march, but stand in gathered groups, one central and larger than
the rest.  In its midst is a man by nearly the head taller than those
around him: their chief to a certainty.  His authority seems
acknowledged by all who address him, if not with deference, in tone and
speech telling they but wait for his commands, and are willing to obey
them.  He, himself, appears waiting for something, or somebody else,
before he can issue them, his glance continually turning towards the
point where the path leads out upwards.

Impatiently, too, as ever and anon he pulls out a watch and consults it
as, to the time.  Odd to see a savage so engaged; above all possessed of
a repeater!  Still the Indians of to-day are different from those of
days past, and have learnt many of the white man's ways--even to wearing
watches.  The man in question seems to know all about it; and has his
reasons for being particular as to the hour.  He is evidently acting
upon a preconcerted plan, with the time fixed and fore-arranged.  And
evident also that ten is the hour awaited; for, while in the act of
examining his dial, the old mission clock, restored to striking, tolls
just so many times; and, before the boom of its cracked bell has ceased
rolling in broken reverberation through the trees, he thrusts the watch
hurriedly into his fob.  Then stands in expectant attitude, with eyes
upon the embouchure of the upper path, scanning it more eagerly than
ever.  There is a strange coincidence between the strokes of the clock
and the flashes of Fernanda powder--both numbering the same.  Though not
strange to the leader of the savage troop.  He knows what it is--
comprehends the significance of the signal--for signal it has been.  A
dread one, too, foreboding danger to innocent people.  One who could
behold this savage band, scrutinise the faces of those composing it,
witness the fierce wicked flashes from their eyes, just as the clock is
striking, would send up a prayer for the safety of Colonel Armstrong and
his colonists.

If further informed as to who the savages are, the prayer would sure be
succeeded by the reflection--"Heaven help his daughters!  If God guard
not, a fearful fate will be theirs--a destiny worse than death!"



CHAPTER FIFTY.

AN UNCANNY SKULKER.

Still within the garden are the young girls--still standing under the
shadow of the two trees that furnished the contrasting symbols,--
unconscious of danger near.  Helen's speech, suggesting such painful
sequence, has touched her sister to the quick, soon as spoken,
afflicting also herself; and for a time they remain with entwined arms
and cheeks touching--their tears flowing together.  But Jessie's sobs
are the louder, her grief greater than that she has been endeavouring to
assuage.

Helen perceiving it, rises to the occasion; and, as oft before, in turn
becomes the comforter; their happiness and misery like scales vibrating
on the beam.

"Don't cry so, Jess.  Be a good girl, now.  You're a little simpleton,
and I a big one.  'Twas very wrong of me to say what I did.  Be it
forgotten, and let's hope we may yet both be happy."

"Oh, if I could but think that!"

"Think it, then.  You _are_ happy, and I--shall try to be.  Who knows
what time may do--that and Texas?  Now, my little Niobe, dry up your
tears.  Mine are all gone, and I feel in first rate spirits.  I do
indeed."

She is not sincere in what she says, and but counterfeits cheerfulness
to restore that of her sister.

She has well-nigh succeeded, when a third personage appears upon the
scene, causing a sudden change in their thoughts, turning these into a
new and very different channel.

He whose appearance produces such effect--for it is a man--seems wholly
unconscious of the influence he has exerted; indeed, is so.

When first observed, he is coming down the central walk; which, though
wide, is partially shadowed by trees.  And in their shadow he keeps,
clinging to it, as if desirous to shun observation.  His step declares
it; not bold this, nor regardless, but skulking, with tread catlike;
while every now and then he casts a backward glance, as if in fear of
some one being behind.  Just that which hinders him from seeing those
who are in front.

The girls are still standing together, with hands joined--luckily on one
of the side-walks, and like himself in shadow--though very near to
having separated, and one, at least, rushing out into the light at first
sound of his footstep.  For to Jessie it gave joy, supposing it that of
her Luis.  Naturally expecting him to join her, she was almost sure of
its being he.

Only for an instant.  The tread was too light for a man marching with
honest intent, and the step too shuffling to be that of the young
planter.  So whispered Helen.

Soon they see it is not he, but his major-domo.

Both are annoyed, some little irritated, at being thus intruded upon.
At such a time, in the midst of sacred emotions, all the more by a man
they both instinctively dislike.  For Fernand is not a favourite with
either.

Then the idea occurs, he may be coming to seek them, sent with some
message from the house, and if so, they can excuse him.  Concluding his
errand to be this, they await it, in silence.

They are quite mistaken, and soon perceive it.  An honest messenger
would not be moving as he.  While passing the open ground by the ruined
waterworks, the moon falls full upon his face, which wears an expression
anything but innocent, as they can both see.  Besides, his gestures also
betray guilt; for he is skulking, and casting glances back.

"What can it mean?" whispers Jessie into Helen's ear; who replies by
placing a finger on her lips, and drawing her sister into deeper shadow.

Silent both stand, not stirring, scarce breathing.  One seeing, might
easily mistake them for statues--a Juno and a Venus.  Fortunately
Fernand does not see, else he might scrutinise them more closely.  He is
too much absorbed about his own affair, whatever it be, to think of any
one loitering there at that time of the night.

Where the main garden-walk meets the one going along the bottom, is
another open space, smaller than that around the fountain, still
sufficient to let in the light of the moon.  Here also have been seats
and statues; the latter lying shattered, as if hashed to the earth by
the hand of some ruthless iconoclast.  Just opposite, is a breach in the
wall; the mud bricks, crumbled into clods forming a _talus_ on each face
of it.

Arriving at this, the _mestizo_ makes stop.  Only for an instant, long
enough to give a last glance up the garden.

Apparently satisfied, that he is not followed nor observed, he scrambles
up the slope and down on the opposite side, where he is lost to the view
of the sisters; who both stand wondering--the younger sensibly
trembling.

"What on earth is the fellow after?" asks Helen, whose speech comes
first.

"What, indeed?" echoes Jessie.

"A question, sister, you should be better able to answer than I.  He is
the trusted servant of M. Dupre; and he, I take it, has told you all
about him."

"Not a word has he.  He knows that I don't like the man, and never did
from the first.  I've intimated as much to him more than once."

"That ought to have got Master Fernand his discharge.  Your Luis will
surely not keep him, if he knows it's disagreeable to you?"

"Well, perhaps he wouldn't if I were to put it in that way.  I haven't
done so yet.  I only hinted that the man wasn't altogether to my liking;
especially made so much of as Luis makes of him.  You must know, dear
Helen, my future lord and master is of a very trusting nature; far too
much, I fear, for some of the people now around him.  He has been
brought up like all Creoles, without thought for the morrow.  A
sprinkling of Yankee cuteness wouldn't do him any harm.  As for this
fellow, he has insinuated himself into Luis's confidence in some way
that appears quite mysterious.  It even puzzles our father; though he's
said nothing much about it.  So far he appears satisfied, because the
man has proved capable, and, I believe, very useful to them in their
affairs.  For my part I've been mystified by him all along, and not less
now.  I wonder what he can be after.  Can you not give a guess?"

"Not the slightest; unless it be theft.  Do you think it's that?"

"I declare I don't know."

"Is there anything he could be carrying off from the house, with the
intention of secreting it outside?  Some of your Luis's gold for
instance, or the pretty jewels he has given you?"

"My jewels!  No; they are safe in their case; locked up in my room, of
which I've the key with me.  As for Luis's gold, he hasn't much of that.
All the money he possesses--quite fifty thousand dollars, I believe--is
in silver.  I wondered at his bringing it out here in that heavy shape,
for it made a whole waggon-load of itself.  He's told me the reason,
however; which is, that among Indians and others out here on the
frontier, gold is not thought so much of as silver."

"It can't be silver Fernand is stealing--if theft it be.  He would look
more loaded, and couldn't have gone so lightly over that wall."

"Indeed, as you say, he went skipping over it like a grasshopper."

"Rather say gliding like a snake.  I never saw a man whose movements
more resembled the Devil in serpent shape--except one."

The thought of this one, who is Richard Darke, causes Helen Armstrong to
suspend speech; at the same time evoking a sigh to the memory of another
one--Charles Clancy.

"Shall we return into the house?" asks Jessie, after a pause.

"For what purpose?"

"To tell Luis of what we've seen; to warn him about Fernand."

"If we did the warning would be unheeded.  I fear Monsieur Dupre will
remain unconvinced of any intended treachery in his trusted servant,
until something unpleasant occur; it may be something disastrous.  After
all, you and I, Jess, have only our suspicions, and may be wronging the
fellow.  Suppose we stay a little longer, and see what comes of it.  No
doubt, he'll soon return from his mysterious promenade, and by
remaining, we may find out what he's been after.  Shall we wait for him?
You're not afraid, are you?"

"A little, I confess.  Do you know, Helen, this Fernand gives me the
same sort of feeling I had at meeting that big fellow in the streets of
Natchitoches.  At times he glares at me just in the same way.  And yet
the two are so different."

"Well, since no harm came of your Nachitoches bogie, it's to be hoped
there won't any from this one.  If you have any fear to stay, let us go
in.  Only my curiosity is greatly excited by what we've seen, and I'd
like to know the end of it.  If we don't discover anything, it can do no
harm.  And if we do--say; shall we go, or try?"

"I'm not afraid now.  You make me brave, sister.  Besides, we may find
out something Luis ought to know."

"Then let us stay."

Having resolved to await the coming back of the half-blood, and watch
his further movements, the sisters bethink them of seeking a safer place
for observation; one where there will be less danger of being themselves
seen.

It is to Helen the idea occurs.

"On his return," she says, "he might stray along this way, and not go up
the centre walk.  Therefore we had better conceal ourselves more
effectually.  I wonder he didn't see us while passing out.  No doubt he
would have done so, but for looking so anxiously behind, and going at
such a rapid rate.  Coming back he may not be so hurried; and should he
sight us, then an end to our chance of finding out what he's up to.
Where's the best place to play spy on him?"

The two look in different directions, in search of an appropriate spot.

There can be no difficulty in finding such.  The shrubbery, long
unpruned, grows luxuriantly everywhere, screening the _facade_ of the
wall along its whole length.

Near by is an arbour of evergreens, thickly overgrown with a trellis of
trailing plants.

They know of this shady retreat; have been in it before that night.
Now, although the moon is shining brightly, its interior, arcaded over
by dense foliage, is in dark shadow--dark as a cavern.  Once inside it,
eye cannot see them from without.

"The very place," whispers Helen; and they commence moving towards it.

To reach the arbour it is necessary for them to return to the main walk,
and pass the place where the bottom wall is broken down; a ruin
evidently caused by rude intruders, doubtless the same savages who made
the mission desolate.  The talus extending to the path, with its fringe
of further scattered clods, requires them to step carefully so as to
avoid stumbling.

They go hand in hand, mutually supporting one another.

Their white gossamer dresses, floating lightly around them as they glide
silently along, give them a resemblance to sylphs, or wood-nymphs, all
the more as they emerge into the moonlight.

To complete the sylvan picture, it seems necessary there should be
satyrs, or wood-demons, as well.

And such in reality there are, not a great way off.  These, or something
closely resembling them.  No satyrs could show in more grotesque guise
than the forms at that moment moving up to the wall, on its opposite
side.

Gliding on, the sisters have arrived before the gap.  Some instinct,
perhaps curiosity, tempts them to take a look through it, into the
shadowy forest beyond; and for some time, as under a spell of
fascination, they stand gazing into its dark, mysterious depths.

They see nought save the sparkle of fire-flies; and hear nothing but the
usual noises of the Southern night, to which they have been from infancy
accustomed.

But as they are about moving on again, a sound salutes their ear--
distinguishable as a footstep.  Irregular and scrambling, as of one
stepping among the broken bricks.  Simultaneously a man is seen making
his way over the wall.

"Fernand!"

No use for them now to attempt concealment; no good can come of it.  He
has seen them.

Nor does he any longer seem desirous of shunning observation.  On the
contrary, leaping down from the rampart, he comes straight towards them;
in an instant presenting himself face to face, not with the nimble air
of a servant, but the demeanour of one who feels himself master, and
intend to play tyrant.  With the moon shining full upon his tawny face,
they can distinguish the play of its features.  No look of humility, nor
sign of subservience there.  Instead, a bold, bullying expression, eyes
emitting a lurid light, lips set in a satanic smile, between them teeth
gleaming like a tiger's!  He does not speak a word.  Indeed, he has not
time; for Helen Armstrong anticipates him.  The proud girl, indignant at
what she sees, too fearless to be frightened, at once commences chiding
him.

In words bold and brave, so much that, if alone, the scoundrel might
quail under their castigation.  But he is not alone, nor does he allow
her to continue.

Instead, he cries out, interrupting, his speech not addressed to her,
but some one behind:--

"Bring hither the serapes!  Quick, or--"

He himself is not permitted to finish what he intended saying; or, if
so, his last words are unheard; drowned by a confused noise of rushing
and rumbling, while the gap in the garden wall is suddenly closed, as if
by enchantment.  It is at first filled by a dark mass, seemingly
compact, but soon separating into distinct forms.

The sisters, startled, terrified, have but time to give out one wild
cry--a shriek.  Before either can utter a second, brawny arms embrace
them; blinds are thrown over their faces; and, half stifled, they feel
themselves lifted from their feet, and borne rudely and rapidly away!



CHAPTER FIFTY ONE.

LOCKED IN.

At that same moment, when the red Sabines are carrying off his
daughters, Colonel Armstrong is engaged, with his fellow-colonists, in
discussing a question of great interest to all.  The topic is sugar--the
point, whether it will be profitable to cultivate it in their new
colony.  That the cane can be grown there all know.  Both soil and
climate are suitable.  The only question is, will the produce pay, sugar
being a bulky article in proportion to its price, and costly in
transport through a territory without railroads, or steam communication.

While the discussion is at its height a new guest enters the room; who,
soon as inside, makes a speech, which not only terminates the talk about
sugar, but drives all thought of it out of their minds.

A speech of only four words, but these of startling significance:
"_There are Indians about_!"  'Tis Hawkins who speaks, having entered
without invitation, confident the nature of his news will hold him clear
of being deemed an intruder.

And it does.  At the word "Indians," all around the table spring up from
their seats, and stand breathlessly expectant of what the hunter has
further to communicate.  For, by his serious air, they are certain there
must be something more.

Colonel Armstrong alone asks, the old soldier showing the presence of
mind that befits an occasion of surprise.

"Indians about?  Why do you say that, Hawkins?  What reason have you to
think so?"

"The best o' reasons, colonel.  I've seed them myself, and so's Cris
Tucker along with me."

"Where?"

"Well, there's a longish story to tell.  If you'll have patience, I'll
make it short as possible."

"Go on!--tell it!"

The hunter responds to the demand; and without wasting words in detail,
gives an epitome of his day's doings, in company with Cris Tucker.
After describing the savage troop, as first seen on the upper plain, how
he and his comrade followed them across the river bottom, then over the
ford, and there lost their trail, he concludes his account, saying:

"Where they went afterward, or air now, 'taint possible for me to tell.
All I can say is, what I've sayed already: _there are Indians about_."

Of itself enough to cause anxiety in the minds of the assembled
planters; which it does, to a man making them keenly apprehensive of
danger.

All the more from its being their first alarm of the kind.  For, while
travelling through Eastern Texas, where the settlements are thick, and
of old standing, the savages had not evens been thought of.  There was
no chance of seeing any there.  Only, on drawing nigh to the Colorado,
were Indians likely to be encountered; though it did not necessarily
follow that the encounter should be hostile.  On the contrary, it ought
to be friendly; since a treaty of peace had for some time been existing
between the Comanches and Texans.

For all this, Colonel Armstrong, well acquainted with the character of
the red men, in war as in peace, had not relied altogether on their
pacific promises.  He knew that such contracts only bind the savage so
long as convenient to him, to be broken whenever they become irksome.
Moreover, a rumour had reached the emigrants that, although the great
Comanche nation was itself keeping the treaty, there were several
smaller independent tribes accustomed to make "maraud" upon the frontier
settlements, chiefly to steal horses, or whatever chanced in their way.

For this reason, after entering the territory where such pillagers might
be expected, the old soldier had conducted his expedition as if passing
through an enemy's country.  The waggons had been regularly _corralled_,
and night guards kept--both camp sentinels and outlying pickets.

These rules had been observed up to the hour of arrival at their
destination.  Then, as the people got settled down in their respective
domiciles, and nothing was heard of any Indians in that district, the
discipline had been relaxed--in fact, abandoned.  The colonists,
numbering over fifty white men--to say nothing of several hundred negro
slaves--deemed themselves strong enough to repel any ordinary assault
from savages.  They now considered themselves at home; and, with the
confidence thus inspired, had ceased to speculate, on being molested by
Indian enemies, or any others.

For this reason the suspicious movements of Dupre's half-breed servant,
as reported by the young surgeon, had failed to make more than a passing
impression on those around the dining-table; many of them treating it as
an eccentricity.

Now, after hearing Hawkins, they think differently.  It presents a
serious aspect, is, in truth, alarmingly suggestive of treason.

The half-blood inside the house may be in correspondence with
full-blooded Indians outside, for some scheme of thieving or burglary.

The thought of either is sufficient to excite Colonel Armstrong's
guests, and all are on foot ready to take action.

"Dupre, call in your half-breed!" says the Colonel, directing it.  "Let
us hear what the fellow has to say for himself."

"Tell Fernand to come hither," commands the Creole, addressing himself
to one of the negro lads waiting at table.  "Tell him to come
instantly!"

The boy hastens off to execute the order; and is several minutes before
making re-appearance.

During the interval, they continue to discuss the circumstances that
have so suddenly turned up; questioning Hawkins, and receiving from him
minuter details of what he and his comrade have seen.

The additional matter made known but excites them the more, further
intensifying their apprehensions.

They're at their keenest, as the darkey re-enters the room with the
announcement that Fernand is not to be found!

"What do you mean, boy?" thunders Dupre, in a voice that well-nigh takes
away the young negro's wits.  "Is he not in the house?"

"Dat's jess what he aint, Mass Looey.  De Spanish Indyin's no whar
inside dis buildin'.  We hab sarch all oba de place; call out his name
in de store-rooms, an' de coatyard, an' de cattle closure--ebbery wha we
tink of.  We shout loud nuf for him to hyeer, ef he war anywha 'bout.
He haint gib no answer.  Sartin shoo he no inside o' dis 'tablishment."

The young planter shows dismay.  So also the others, in greater or less
degree, according to the light in which each views the matter.

For now on the minds of all is an impression, a presentiment, that there
is danger at the bottom of Fernand's doings--how near they know not.

At any other time his absence would be a circumstance not worth noting.
He might be supposed on a visit to some of the huts appropriated to the
humbler families of the colonist fraternity.  Or engaged outside with a
mulatto "wench," of whom there are several, belonging to Dupre's
extensive slave-gang, far from ill-favoured.

Fernand is rather a handsome fellow, and given to gaiety; which, under
ordinary circumstances, would account for his absenting himself from the
house, and neglecting his duties as its head-servant.  But after what
the young surgeon has seen--above all the report just brought in by
Hawkins--his conduct will not convey this trivial interpretation.  All
in the room regard it in a more serious light--think the _mestizo_ is a
traitor.

Having come to this general conclusion, they turn towards the table, to
take a last drink, before initiating action.

Just as they get their glasses in hand, the refectory door is once more
opened; this time with a hurried violence that causes them to start, as
though a bombshell had rolled into the room.

Facing towards it, they see it is only the negro boy, who had gone out
again, re-entering.  But now with fear depicted on his face, and wild
terror gleaming from his eyes; the latter awry in their sockets, with
little beside the whites seen!

Their own alarm is not much less than his, on hearing what he has to
say.  His words are,--

"Oh, Mass Kurnel!  Mass Looey!  Gemmen all!  De place am full ob Indyin
sabbages!  Dar outside in de coatyard, more'n a thousan' ob um; an'
murderin' ebbery body!"

At the dread tidings, glasses drop from the hands holding them, flung
down in fear, or fury.  Then all, as one man, make for the door, still
standing open as in his scare the negro lad left it.

Before they can reach it, his words are too fully confirmed.  Outside
they see painted faces, heads covered with black hanging hair, and
plumes bristling above.  Only a glimpse they get of these, indistinct
through the obscurity.  But if transitory, not the less terrible--not
less like a tableau in some horrid dream--a glance into hell itself.

The sight brings them to a stand; though, but for an instant.  Then,
they rush on towards the doorway, regardless of what may await them
outside.

Outside they are not permitted to pass.  Before they can reach the door,
it is shut to with a loud clash; while another but slighter sound tells
of a key turning in the wards, shooting a bolt into its keeper.

"Locked in, by God!" exclaims Hawkins, the rest involuntarily echoing
his wild words; which are succeeded by a cry of rage as from one throat,
though all have voice in it.  Then silence, as if they were suddenly
struck dumb.

For several moments they remain paralysed, gazing in one another's faces
in mute despairing astonishment.  No one thinks of asking explanation,
or giving it.  As by instinct, all realise the situation--a surprise, an
Indian attack.  No longer the future danger they have been deeming
probable, but its dread present reality!

Short while do they stand irresolute.  Hawkins, a man of herculean
strength, dashes himself against the door, in hopes of heaving it from
its hinges.  Others add their efforts.

All idle.  The door is of stout timber--oaken--massive as that of a
jail; and, opening inward, can only be forced along with its posts and
lintels.--These are set in the thick wall, embedded, firm as the masonry
itself.

They rush to the windows, in hope of getting egress there.

Equally to be disappointed, baffled.  The strong, iron bar resist every
effort to break or dislodge them.  Though weakened with decaying rust,
they are yet strong enough to sustain the shock of shoulders, and the
tug of arms.

"Trapped, by the Eternal!" despairingly exclaims the hunter.  "Yes,
gentlemen, we're caged to a certainty."

They need not telling.  All are now aware of it--too well.  They see
themselves shut in--helplessly, hopelessly imprisoned.

Impossible to describe their thoughts, or depict their looks, in that
anguished hour.  No pen, or pencil, could do justice to either.  Outside
are their dear ones; near, but far away from any hope of help, as if
twenty miles lay between.  And what is being done to them?  No one
asks--none likes to tempt the answer; all guessing what it would be,
dreading to hear it spoken.  Never did men suffer emotions more
painfully intense, passions more heartfelt and harrowing; not even the
prisoners of Cawnpore, or the Black Hole of Calcutta.

They are in darkness now--have been from the moment of the door being
closed.  For, expecting to be fired at from the outside, they had
suddenly extinguished the lights.  They wonder there has been no
shooting, aware that the Comanches carry fire-arms.  But as yet there
has been no report, either of pistol, or gun!

They hear only voices--which they can distinguish as those of the
house-Servants--male and female--all negroes or mulattoes.  There are
shrieks, intermingled with speeches, the last in accent of piteous
appealing; there is moaning and groaning.  But where are the shouts of
the assailants?  Where the Indian yell--the dread slogan of the savage?
Not a stave of it is heard--nought that resembles a warwhoop of
Comanches!

And soon is nothing heard.  For the shrieks of the domestics have
ceased, their cries coming suddenly, abruptly to an end, as if stifled
by blows bringing death.

Inside the room is a death-like stillness; outside the same.



CHAPTER FIFTY TWO.

MASSACRE WITHOUT MERCY.

Pass to the scene outside, than which none more tragical in the history
of Texan colonisation.

_No_ need to tell who the Indians are that have shown their faces at the
dining-room door, shutting and locking it.  They are those seen by
Hawkins and Tucker--the same Dupre's traitorous servant has conducted
through the gap in the garden wall; whence, after making seizure of the
girls, they continued on to the house, the half-blood at their head.

Under his guidance they passed through the cattle corral, and into the
inner court.  Till entering this they were not observed.  Then the negro
lad, sent in search of Fernand, seeing them, rushed back for the
refectory.

With all his haste, as already known, too late in giving the alarm.
Half-a-dozen of the foremost, following, were at the dining-room door
almost soon as he, while others proceeding to the front entrance, closed
the great gate, to prevent any one escaping that way.

In the courtyard ensues a scene, horrible to behold.  The domestics
frightened, screaming, rushing to and fro, are struck down with
tomahawks, impaled upon spears, or hacked and stabbed with long-bladed
knives.  At least a half-score of these unhappy creatures fall in the
fearful slaughter.  Indiscriminate as to age or sex: for men, women, and
children are among its victims.

Their shrieks, and piteous appeals, are alike disregarded.  One after
another they are struck, or hewn down, like saplings by the _machete_.
A scene of red carnage, resembling a _saturnalia_ of demons, doing
murder!

Short as terrible; in less than ten minutes after its commencement it is
all over.  The victims have succumbed, their bleeding bodies lie along
the pavement.  Only those domestics have escaped, who preserved enough
presence of mind to get inside rooms, and barricade the doors behind
them.

They are not followed; for despite the red murder already done, the
action ensuing, tells of only robbery intended.

This evident from the way the savages now go to work.  Instead of
attempting to reach those they have imprisoned within the dining-room,
they place two of their number to stand guard by its door; another pair
going on to the gate entrance.  These steps taken, the rest, with
Fernand still conducting, hurry along the corridor, towards a room which
opens at one of its angles.  It is the chamber Dupre has chosen for his
sleeping apartment, and where he has deposited his treasure.  Inside it
his cash, at least fifty thousand dollars, most of it in silver, packed
in stout boxes.

Fernand carries the key, which he inserts into its lock.  The door flies
open, and the half-blood enters, closely followed by those who appear
all Indians.  They go in with the eagerness of tigers springing upon
prey, or more like the stealthiness of cats.

Soon they come out again, each bearing a box, of diminutive size, but
weight sufficient to test his strength.

Laying these down, they re-enter the room, and return from it similarly
loaded.

And so they go and come, carrying out the little boxes, until nearly a
score are deposited upon the pavement of the courtyard.

The abstraction of the specie completed, the sentries set by the
dining-room door, as also those sent to guard the entrance-gate, are
called off; and the band becomes reunited by the treasure, as vultures
around a carcass.

Some words are exchanged in undertone.  Then each, laying hold of a
box--there is one each for nearly all of them--and poising it upon his
shoulders, strides off out of the courtyard.

Silently, and in single file, they pass across the cattle corral, on
into the garden, down the central walk, and out through the gap by which
they came in.

Then on to the glade where they have left their horses.

These they remount, after balancing the boxes upon their saddle-bows,
and there securing them with trail-ropes.

Soon as in the saddle they move silently, but quickly away; the
half-blood going along with them.

He, too, has a horse, the best in the troop--taken from the stable of
the master he has so basely betrayed, so pitilessly plundered.

And that master at the moment nearly mad!  Raging frantically around the
room where they are left confined, nearly all the others frantic as he.
For scarce any of them who has not like reason.

In the darkness groping, confusedly straying over the floor, stunned and
stupified, they reel like drunken men; as they come in contact
tremblingly interrogating one another as to what can have occurred.

By the silence outside it would seem as if everybody were murdered,
massacred--coloured servants within the house, colonists without--all!

And what of Colonel Armstrong's own daughters?  To their father it is a
period of dread suspense--an agony indescribable.  Much longer continued
it would drive him mad.  Perhaps he is saved from insanity by anger--by
thoughts of vengeance, and the hope of living to accomplish it.

While mutually interrogating, one starts the suggestion that the whole
affair may be a _travestie_--a freak of the younger, and more
frolicksome members of the colonist fraternity.  Notwithstanding its
improbability, the idea takes, and is entertained, as drowning men catch
at straws.

Only for an instant.  The thing is too serious, affecting personages of
too much importance, to be so trifled with.  There are none in the
settlement who would dare attempt such practical joking with its chief--
the stern old soldier, Armstrong.  Besides, the sounds heard outside
were not those of mirth, mocking its opposite.  The shouts and shrieks
had the true ring of terror, and the accents of despair.

No.  It could not be anything of a merrymaking, but what they at first
supposed it--a tragedy.

Their rage returns, and they think only of revenge.  As before, but to
feel their impotence.  The door, again tried, with all their united
strength, refuses to stir from its hinges.  As easily might they move
the walls.  The window railings alike resist their efforts; and they at
length leave off, despairingly scattering through the room.

One alone remains, clinging to the window bars.  It is Hawkins.  He
stays not with any hope of being able to wrench them off.  He has
already tested the strength of his arms, and found it insufficient.  It
is that of his lungs he now is determined to exert, and does so,
shouting at the highest pitch of his voice.

Not that he thinks there is any chance of its being heard at the
_rancheria_, nearly a half-mile off, with a grove of thick timber
intervening.  Besides, at that late hour the settlers will be asleep.

But in the grove between, and nearer, he knows there is a tent; and
inside it a man who will be awake, if not dead--his comrade, Cris
Tucker.

In the hope Cris may still be in the land of the living, Hawkins leans
against the window bars and, projecting his face outward, as far as the
jawbones will allow, he gives utterance to a series of shouts,
interlarded with exclamations, that in the ears of a sober Puritan would
have sounded terribly profane.



CHAPTER FIFTY THREE.

A HORRID SPECTACLE.

On a log outside the tent sits Cris Tucker, with the fire before him,
kindled for cooking the turkey.  The bird is upon a spit suspended above
the blaze.  A fat young "gobbler," it runs grease at every pore, causing
the fire to flare up.  Literally is it being broiled by its own grease,
and is now well-nigh done brown.

Perceiving this, Tucker runs his eyes inquiringly along the path leading
towards the mission, at the same time setting his ears to listen.  What
can be keeping his comrade, who promised so soon to be back?

"Promises are like pie-crust," says Cris in soliloquy; "Old Hawk aint
keeping his, and I guess aint goin' to.  I heard they war to have a big
dine up there the night.  So I suppose the colonel's axed him in for a
glass o' his whiskey punch.  Hawk's jest the one to take it--a dozen, if
they insist.  Well, there's no reason I should wait supper any longer.
I'm 'most famished as it is.  Besides, that bird's gettin' burnt."

Rising up from the log, he takes the turkey off the spit, and carries it
inside the tent.  Then dishing, he sets it upon the table; the dish a
large platter of split wood rudely whittled into oblong oval shape, the
table a stump with top horizontally hewn, over which the tent has been
erected.

Placing a "pone" of corn-bread, and some salt alongside, he sits down;
though not yet to commence eating.  As certainly his comrade should now
soon be back, he will give him ten minutes' grace.

The position is agreeable, at the same time having its drawbacks.  The
odour pervading the tent is delicious; still there is the sense of taste
to be satisfied, and that of smell but provokes it.  The savoury aroma
of the roast turkey is keenly appetising, and Cris can't hold out much
longer.

Time passes, and no sign of Hawkins returning.  Tucker's position
becomes intolerable; the bird is getting cold, its juices drying up, the
repast will be spoilt.

Besides, his comrade has not kept faith with him.  In all probability he
has eaten supper at the house, and at that moment is enjoying a jorum of
whisky punch, quite forgetful of him.  Tucker.  Cris can stand it no
longer; and, drawing out his knife, he takes the turkey by the leg, and
cuts a large slice from its breast.

This eaten, another slice of breast is severed and swallowed.  Then a
wing is carved off, and lastly a leg, which he polishes to the
smoothness of a drumstick.--

The young hunter, now no longer ravenous, proceeds more leisurely, and
completes his repast by tranquilly chewing up the gizzard, and after it
the liver--the last a tit-bit upon the prairies, as in a Strasburg
_pate_.

Washing all down with a gourd of whisky and water, he lights his pipe;
and, seated by the mangled remains of the gobbler, commences smoking.

For a time the inhaled nicotine holds him tranquil; though not without
wondering why his comrade is so long in patting in an appearance.

When over two hours have elapsed, his wonder becomes changed to anxiety.
Not strange it should, recalling the reason why he has been left alone.

This increasing to keen apprehension, he can no longer stay within the
tent.  He will go up to the house, and find out what is detaining
Hawkins.

Donning his skin cap, and stepping out into the open air, he starts off
towards the mission-building.

Less than ten minutes' walking brings him to its walls, by their main
front entrance.

There he pauses, surprised at the stillness surrounding the place.  It
is profound, unnatural.

For some moments he remains in front of the massive pile, looking at it,
and listening.  Still no sound, within or without.

True, it is time for the inmates to be a-bed.

But if so, where is Hawkins?  He may be drinking, but surely not
sleeping within!

In any case, Cris deems it his duty to look him up; and with this intent
determines to enter.

He is not on terms of social equality with those who occupy the mission;
still, under the circumstances, he cannot be considered intruding.

He sees that the great door is closed, but the wicket is ajar;
presumptive proof of Hawkins being inside.  There are no lights in the
front windows, but, as Cris knows, those of the dining-room open
backward.

Hesitating no longer, he steps under the arched portal, passes on
through the _saguan_, and once more emerges into moonlight within the
_patio_.

There, suddenly stopping, he stands aghast.  For he beholds a sight that
almost causes his hair to crisp up, and raise the cap from his head.

Down into the hollow quadrangle--enclosed on every side, except that
towards heaven--the moonbeams are falling in full effulgence.  By their
light he sees forms lying along the pavement in every possible position.
They are human bodies--men and boys, among them some whose drapery
declares them to be women.  They are black, brown, or yellow; but all
spotted and spattered with red--with blood!  Fresh, but fast freezing in
the chill night air, it is already darkened, almost to the hue of ink.

The hunter turns faint, sick, as he contemplates this hecatomb of
corpses.  A spectacle far more fearful than any ever witnessed upon
battle-field.  There men lie in death from wounds given, as received
under the grand, if delusive, idea of glory.  Those Cris Tucker sees
must have been struck down by the hand of the assassin!

For a time he stands gazing upon them, scarce knowing what to do.

His first impulse is to turn back, rush out of the courtyard, and away
altogether from the place.

But a thought--a loyal thought or instinct, stays him.  Where is
Hawkins?  His body may be among the rest--Cris is almost sure it will be
found there--and affection for his friend prompts him to seek for it.
There may still be breath in it--a spark of departing life, capable of
being called back.

With this hope, however faint, he commences searching among the corpses.

The spectacle, that has sickened, makes his step feeble.  He staggers as
he passes among the prostrate forms, at times compelled to stride over
them.

He examines one after another, bending low down to each--lower where
they lie in shadow, and it is more difficult to distinguish their
features.

Going the round of the courtyard, he completes the scrutiny of all.
Living or dead, Hawkins is not among them.

Nor is there the body of any white man, or woman.  The stricken victims
are of every age, and both sexes.  But all, male as female, are negroes
or mulattoes--the slaves of the establishment.  Many of them he
recognises; knows them to be the house-servants.

Where are their masters?  Where everybody?  What terrible tragedy has
occurred to leave such traces behind?  The traces of murder--of
wholesale slaughter!

Who have been the murderers, and where are they now?  Where is Hawkins?

To the young hunter these self-asked interrogatories occur in quick
succession; along with the last a sound reaching his ears which causes
him to start, and stand listening acutely for its repetition.  It seemed
a human voice, as of a man in mortal agony shouting for succour.  Faint,
as if far off, away at the back of the building.

Continuing to listen, Tucker hears it again, this time recognising the
voice of Hawkins.

He does not stay to conjecture why his comrade should be calling in
accents of appeal.  That they are so is enough for him to hasten to his
aid.  Clearly the cry comes from outside; and, soon as assured of this,
Tucker turns that way, leaps lightly over the dead bodies, glides on
along the saguan, and through the open wicket.

Outside he stops, and again listens, waiting for the voice to direct
him, which it does.

As before he hears it, shouting for help, now sure it is Hawkins who
calls.  And sure, also, that the cries come from the eastern side of the
building.

Towards this Tucker rushes, around the angle of the wall, breaking
through the bushes like a chased bear.

Nor does he again stop till he is under a window, from which the shouts
appear to proceed.

Looking up he sees a face, with cheeks pressing distractedly against the
bars; at the same time hearing himself hailed in a familiar voice.

"Is't you, Cris Tucker?  Thank the Almighty it is!"

"Sartin it's me," Hawkins.  "What does it all mean?"

"Mean?  That's more'n I can tell; or any o' us inside here; though
there's big ends o' a dozen.  We're shut up, locked in, as ye see.
Who's done it you ought to know, bein' outside.  Han't you seen the
Indians?"

"I've seen no Indians; but their work I take it.  There's a ugly sight
round t'other side."

"What sight, Oris?  Never mind--don't stay to talk.  Go back, and get
something to break open the door of this room.  Quick, comrade, quick!"

Without stayin' for further exchange of speech, the young hunter hurries
back into the _patio_ as rapidly as he had quitted it; and laying hold
of a heavy beam, brings it like a battering-ram, against the dining-room
door.

Massive as this is, and strongly hung upon its hinges, it yields to his
strength.

When at length laid open, and those inside released, they look upon a
spectacle that sends a thrill of horror through their hearts.

In the courtyard lie ten corpses, all told.  True they are but the dead
bodies of slaves--to some beholding them scarce accounted as human
beings.  Though pitied, they are passed over without delay; the
thoughts, as the glances, of their masters going beyond, in keen
apprehension for the fate of those nearer and dearer.

Escaped from their imprisonment, they rush to and fro, like maniacs let
out of a madhouse.  Giving to the dead bodies only a passing glance,
then going on in fear of finding others by which they will surely stay;
all the time talking, interrogating, wildly gesticulating, now
questioning Oris Tucker, now one another; in the confusion of voices,
some heard inquiring for their wives, some their sisters or sweethearts,
all with like eagerness; hopefully believing their dear ones still
alive, or despairingly thinking them dead; fearing they may find them
with gashed throats and bleeding breasts, like those lying along the
flagstones at their feet.

The spectacle before their eyes, appalling though it be, is nought to
that conjured up in their apprehensions.  What they see may be but a
forecast, a faint symbol, of what ere long they may be compelled to look
upon.

And amid the many voices shouting for wife, sister, or sweetheart, none
so loud, or sad, as that of Colonel Armstrong calling for his daughters.



CHAPTER FIFTY FOUR.

RIDING DOUBLE.

With Colonel Armstrong's voice in tone of heartrending anguish, goes up
that of Dupre calling the names "Helen!  Jessie!"

Neither gets response.  They on whom they call cannot hear.  They are
too far off; though nearer, it would be all the same; for both are at
the moment hooded like hawks.  The serapes thrown over their heads are
still on them, corded around their necks, so closely as to hinder
hearing, almost stifle their breathing.

Since their seizure nearly an hour has elapsed, and they are scarce yet
recovered from the first shock of surprise, so terrible as to have
stupified them.  No wonder!  What they saw before being blinded, with
the rough treatment received, were enough to deprive them of their
senses.

From the chaos of thought, as from a dread dream, both are now gradually
recovering.  But, alas! only to reflect on new fears--on the dark future
before them.  Captive to such captors--red ruthless savages, whose naked
arms, already around, have held them in brawny embrace--carried away
from home, from all they hold dear, into a captivity seeming hopeless as
horrid--to the western woman especially repulsive, by songs sung over
her cradle, and tales told throughout her years of childhood--tales of
Indian atrocity.

The memory of these now recurring, with the reality itself, not strange
that for a time their thoughts, as their senses, are almost paralysed.

Slowly they awake to a consciousness of their situation.  They remember
what occurred at the moment of their being made captive; how in the
clear moonlight they stood face to face with Fernand, listened to his
impertinent speeches, saw the savages surrounding them; then, suddenly
blinded and seeing no more, felt themselves seized, lifted from their
feet, carried off, hoisted a little higher, set upon the backs of
horses, and there tied, each to a man already mounted.  All these
incidents they remember, as one recalls the fleeting phantasmagoria of a
dream.  But that they were real, and not fanciful, they now too surely
know; for the hoods are over their heads, the horses underneath; and the
savages to whom they were strapped still there, their bodies in
repulsive contact with their own!

That there are only two men, and as many horses, can be told by the
hoof-strokes rebounding from the turf; the same sounds proclaiming it a
forest path through thick timber, at intervals emerging into open
ground, and again entering among trees.

For over an hour this continues; during all the while not a word being
exchanged between the two horsemen, or if so, not heard by their
captives.

Possibly they may communicate with one another by signs or whispers; as
for most part the horses have been abreast, going in single file only
where the path is narrow.

At length a halt; of such continuance, as to make the captives suppose
they have arrived at some place where they are to pass the remainder of
the night.  Or it may be but an obstruction; this probable from their
hearing a sound, easily understood--the ripple of running water.  They
have arrived upon the bank of a river.

The San Saba, of course; it cannot be any other.  Whether or not, 'tis
the same to them.  On the banks of the San Saba they are now no safer,
than if it were the remotest stream in all the territory of Texas.

Whatever be the river whose waters they can hear coursing past, their
guards, now halted upon its bank, have drawn their horses' heads
together, and carry on a conversation.  It seems in a strange tongue;
but of this the captives cannot be sure, for it is in low tone--almost a
whisper--the words indistinguishable amid the rush of the river's
current.  If heard, it is not likely they would understand.  The two men
are Indians, and will talk in the Indian tongue.  For this same reason
they need have no fear of freely conversing with one another, since the
savages will be equally unable to comprehend what they say.

To Helen this thought first presents itself; soon as it does, leading
her to call, though timidly and in subdued tone, "Jess!"

She is answered in the same way, Jessie saying, "Helen, I hear you."

"I only wanted to say a word to cheer you.  Have courage.  Keep up your
heart.  It looks dark now; but something may may arise up to save us."



CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE.

TIRED TRAVELLERS.

The lower crossing of the San Saba, so frequently referred to, calls for
topographical description.

At this point the stream, several hundred yards wide, courses in smooth,
tranquil current, between banks wooded to the water's edge.  The trees
are chiefly cottonwoods, with oak, elm, tulip, wild China, and pecan
interspersed; also the _magnolia grandiflora_; in short, such a forest
as may be seen in many parts of the Southern States.  On both sides of
the river, and for some distance up and down, this timbered tract is
close and continuous, extending nearly a mile back from the banks; where
its selvedge of thinner growth becomes broken into glades, some of them
resembling flower gardens, others dense thickets of the _arundo
gigantea_, in the language of the country, "cane-brakes."  Beyond this,
the bottom-land is open meadow, a sea of green waving grass--the
_gramma_ of the Mexicans--which, without tree or bush, sweeps in to the
base of the bluffs.  On each side of the crossing the river is
approached by a path, or rather an avenue-like opening in the timber,
which shows signs of having been felled; doubtless, done by the former
proprietors of the mission, or more like, the soldiers who served its
garrison; a road made for military purposes, running between the
_presidio_ itself and the town of San Antonio de Bejar.  Though again
partially overgrown, it is sufficiently clear to permit the passage of
wheeled vehicles, having been kept open by roving wild horses, with
occasionally some that are tamed and ridden--by Indians on raid.

On its northern side the river is approached by two distinct trails,
which unite before entering the wooded tract--their point of union being
just at its edge.  One is the main road coming from the Colorado; the
other only an Indian trace, leading direct to the bluffs and the high
land above them.  It was by the former that Colonel Armstrong's train
came up the valley, while the latter was the route taken by Hawkins and
Tucker in their bootless excursion after buffalo.

On the same evening, when the hunters, returning from their unsuccessful
search, repassed the ford, only at a later hour, a party of horsemen is
seen approaching it--not by the transverse trace, but the main up-river
road.  In all there are five of them; four upon horseback, the fifth
riding a mule.  It is the same party we have seen crossing the Sabine--
Clancy and his comrades--the dog still attached to it, the ex-jailer
added.  They are travelling in haste--have been ever since entering the
territory of Texas.  Evidence of this in their steeds showing jaded,
themselves fatigued.  Further proof of it in the fact of their being now
close to the San Saba ford, within less than a week after Armstrong's
party passing over, while more than two behind it at starting from the
Sabine.

There has been nothing to delay them along the route--no difficulty in
finding it.  The wheels of the loaded waggons, denting deep in the turf,
have left a trail, which Woodley for one could take up on the darkest
hour of the darkest night that ever shadowed a Texan prairie.  It is
night now, about two hours after sundown, as coming up the river road
they enter the timber, and approach the crossing place.  When within
about fifty yards of the ford at a spot where the path widens, they pull
up, Woodley and Clancy riding a little apart from the others, as if to
hold consultation whether they shall proceed across the stream, or stay
where they are for the night.

Clancy wishes to go forward, but Woodley objects, urging fatigue, and
saying:--

"It can't make much diff'rence now, whether we git up thar the night, or
take it leezyurly in the cool o' the mornin'.  Since you say ye don't
intend showin' yourself 'bout the mission buildin', it'll be all the
better makin' halt hyar.  We kin steal nearer; an' seelect a campin'
place at the skreek o' day jest afore sun-up.  Arter thet me an' Ned 'll
enter the settlement, an' see how things stand."

"Perhaps you're right," responds Clancy, "If you think it better for us
to halt here, I shan't object; though I've an idea we ought to go on.
It may appear very absurd to you, Sime, but there's something on my
mind--a sort of foreboding."

"Forebodin' o' what?"

"In truth I can't tell what or why.  Yet I can't get it out of my head
that there's some danger hanging over--"

He interrupts himself, holding back the name--Helen Armstrong.  For it
is over her he fancies danger may be impending.  No new fancy either;
but one that has been afflicting him all along, and urging him so
impatiently onward.  Not that he has learnt anything new since leaving
the Sabine.  On its banks the ex-jailer discharged his conscience in
full, by confessing all he could.  At most not much; since his late
associates, seeing the foolish fellow he was, had never made him sharer
in their greatest secret.  Still he had heard and reported enough to
give Clancy good reason for uneasiness.

"I kin guess who you're alludin' to," rejoins Woodley, without waiting
for the other to finish, "an' ef so, yur forebodin', as ye call it, air
only a foolish notion, an' nothin' more.  Take Sime Woodley's word for
it, ye'll find things up the river all right."

"I hope so."

"Ye may be sure o't.  Kalklate, ye don't know Planter Armstrong 's
well's I do, tho' I admit ye may hev a better knowledge o' one that
bears the name.  As for the ole kurnel hisself, this chile's kampayned
wi' him in the Cherokee wars, an' kin say for sartin he aint a-goin' to
sleep 'ithout keepin' one o' his peepers skinned.  Beside, his party air
too strong, an' the men composin' it too exparienced, to be tuk by
surprise, or attacked by any enemy out on these purayras, whether red
Injuns or white pirates.  Ef thar air danger it'll come arter they've
settled down, an' growed unsurspishus.  Then thar mout be a chance o'
circumventin' them.  But then we'll be thar to purvent it.  No fear o'
our arrivin' too late.  We'll get up to the ole mission long afore noon
the morrow, whar ye'll find, what ye've been so long trackin' arter,
soun' an' safe.  Trust Sime Woodley for that."

The comforting words tranquillise Clancy's fears, at the same time
checking his impatience.  Still is he reluctant to stay, and shows it by
his answer.

"Sime, I'd rather we went on."

"Wal, ef ye so weesh it, on let's go.  Your the chief of this party an'
kin command.  For myself I'm only thinkin' or them poor, tired
critters."

The hunter points to the horses, that for the last hour have been
dragging their limbs along like bees honey-laden.

"To say nothin' o' ourselves," he adds, "though for my part I'm riddy to
keep on to the Rio Grand, if you insist on goin' thar."

Notwithstanding his professed willingness, there is something in the
tone of Sime's speech which contradicts it--just a _soupcon_ of
vexation.

Perceiving it, Clancy makes rejoinder with the delicacy becoming a
gentleman.  Though against his will and better judgment, his habitual
belief in, and reliance on Woodley's wisdom, puts an end to his
opposition; and in fine yielding, he says:--

"Very well; we shall stay.  After all, it can't make much difference.  A
truce to my presentiments.  I've often had such before, that came to
nothing.  Hoping it may be the same now, we'll spend our night this side
the river."

"All right," responds the backwoodsman.  "An' since it's decided we're
to stay, I see no reezun why we shedn't make ourselves as comfortable as
may be unner the circumstances.  As it so chances, I know this hyar San
Saba bottom 'most as well as that o' our ole Massissip.  An' ef my
mem'ry don't mistake, thar's a spot not far from hyar that'll jest suit
for us to camp in.  Foller me; I'll find it."

Saying this, he kicks his heels against the ribs of his horse, and
compels the tired steed once more into reluctant motion, the rest riding
after in silence.



CHAPTER FIFTY SIX.

SPECTRAL EQUESTRIANS.

But a short distance from where the travellers made stop, a side trace
leads to the left, parallel to the direction of the river.  Into this
Woodley strikes, conducting the others.

It is so narrow they cannot go abreast, but in single file.

After proceeding thus for some fifty yards, they reach a spot where the
path widens, debouching upon an open space--a sort of terrace that
overhangs the channel of the stream, separated from it by a fringe of
low trees and bushes.

Pointing to it, Sime says:--

"This chile hev slep on that spread o' grass, some'at like six yeern
ago, wi' nothin' to disturb his rest 'ceptin the skeeters.  Them same
seems nasty bad now.  Let's hope we'll git through the night 'ithout
bein' clar eat up by 'em.  An', talkin' o' eatin', I reckin we'll all be
the better o' a bit supper.  Arter thet we kin squat down an' surrender
to Morpheus."

The meal suggested is speedily prepared, and, soon as despatched, the
"squatting" follows.

In less than twenty minutes after forsaking the saddle, all are astretch
along the ground, their horses "hitched" to trees, themselves seemingly
buried in slumber--bound in its oblivious embrace.

There is one, however, still awake--Clancy.

He has slept but little any night since entering the territory of!
Texas.  On this he sleeps not at all--never closes eye--cannot.  On the
contrary, he turns restlessly on his grassy couch, fairly writhing with
the presentiment he has spoken of, still upon him, and not to be cast
off.

There are those who believe in dreams, in the reality of visions that
appear to the slumbering senses.  To Clancy's, awake, on this night,
there seems a horrid realism, almost a certainty, of some dread danger.
And too certain it is.  If endowed with the faculty of clairvoyance, he
would know it to be so--would witness a series of incidents at that
moment occurring up the river--scarce ten miles from the spot where he
is lying--scenes that would cause him to start suddenly to his feet,
rush for his horse, and ride off, calling upon his companions to follow.
Then, plunging into the river without fear of the ford, he would gallop
on towards the San Saba mission, as if the house were in names, and he
only had the power to extinguish them.

Not gifted with second-sight, he does not perceive the tragedy there
being enacted.  He is only impressed with a prescience of some evil,
which keeps him wide awake, while the others around are asleep; soundly,
as he can tell by their snoring.

Woodley alone sleeps lightly; the hunter habituated, as he himself
phrases it, "allers to do the possum bizness, wi' one eye open."

He has heard Clancy's repeated shiftings and turnings, coupled with
involuntary exclamations, as of a man murmuring in his dreams.  One of
these, louder than the rest, at length startling, causes Woodley to
enquire what his comrade wants; and what is the matter with him.

"Oh, nothing," replies Clancy; "only that I can't sleep--that's all."

"Can't sleep!  Wharfore can't ye?  Sure ye oughter be able by this time.
Ye've had furteeg enuf to put you in the way o' slumberin' soun' as a
hummin' top."

"I can't to-night, Sime."

"Preehaps ye've swallered somethin', as don't sit well on your stummuk!
Or, it may be, the klimat o' this hyar destrict.  Sartin it do feel a
leetle dampish, 'count o' the river fog; tho', as a general thing, the
San Sabre bottom air 'counted one o' the healthiest spots in Texas.
S'pose ye take a pull out o' this ole gourd o' myen.  It's the best
Monongaheely, an' for a seedimentary o' the narves thar ain't it's
eequal to be foun' in any drug-shop.  I'll bet my bottom dollar on thet.
Take a suck, Charley, and see what it'll do for ye."

"It would have no effect.  I know it wouldn't.  It isn't nervousness
that keeps me awake--something quite different."

"Oh!" grunts the old hunter, in a tone that tells of comprehension.
"Something quite diff'rent?  I reck'n I kin guess what thet somethin'
air--the same as keeps other young fellurs awake--thinkin' o' thar
sweethearts.  Once't in the arms o' Morpheous, ye'll forgit all about
your gurl.  Foller my deevice; put some o' this physic inside yur skin,
an' you'll be asleep in the shakin' o' a goat's tail."

The dialogue comes to a close by Clancy taking the prescribed physic.

After which he wraps his blanket around him, and once more essays to
sleep.

As before, he is unsuccessful.  Although for a while tranquil and
courting slumber, it will not come.  He again tosses about; and at
length rises to his feet, his hound starting up at the same time.

Woodley, once more awakened, perceives that the potion has failed of
effect, and counsels his trying it again.

"No," objects Clancy; "'tis no use.  The strongest soporific in the
world wouldn't give me sleep this night.  I tell you, Sime, I have a
fear upon me."

"Fear o' what?"

"_That we'll be too late_."

The last words, spoken solemnly, tell of apprehension keenly felt--
whether false, or prophetic.

"That air's all nonsense," rejoins Woodley, wishing to reason his
comrade out of what he deems an idle fancy.  "The height o' nonsense.
Wheesh!"

The final exclamation, uttered in an altered tone, is accompanied by a
start--the hunter suddenly raising his head from the saddle on which it
rests.  Nor has the act any relation to his previous speeches.  It comes
from his hearing a sound, or fancying he hears one.  At the same
instant, the hound pricks up its ears, giving utterance to a low growl.

"What is't, I wonder?" interrogates Woodley, in a whisper, placing
himself in a kneeling posture, his eyes sharply set upon the dog.

Again the animal jerks its ears, growling as before.

"Take clutch on the critter, Charley!  Don't let it gie tongue."

Clancy lays hold of the hound, and draws it against his knees, by speech
and gesture admonishing it to remain silent.

The well-trained animal sees what is wanted; and, crouching down by its
master's feet, ceases making demonstration.

Meanwhile Woodley has laid himself flat along the earth, with ear close
to the turf.

There is a sound, sure enough; though not what he supposed he had heard
just before.  That was like a human voice--some one laughing a long way
off.  It might be the "too-who-ha" of the owl, or the bark of a prairie
wolf.  The noise now reaching his ears is less ambiguous, and he has no
difficulty in determining its character.  It is that of water violently
agitated--churned, as by the hooves of horses.

Clancy, standing erect, hears it, too.

The backwoodsman does not remain much longer prostrate; only a second to
assure himself whence the sound proceeds.  It is from the ford.  The dog
looked that way, on first starting up; and still keeps sniffing in the
same direction.

Woodley is now on his feet, and the two men standing close together,
intently listen.

They have no need to listen long; for their eyes are above the tops of
the bushes that border the river's bank, and they see what is disturbing
the water.

Two horses are crossing the stream.  They have just got clear of the
timber's shadow on the opposite side, and are making towards mid-water.

Clancy and Woodley, viewing them from higher ground, can perceive their
forms, in _silhouette_, against the shining surface.

Nor have they any difficulty in making out that they are mounted.  What
puzzles them is the manner.  Their riders do not appear to be anything
human!

The horses have the true equine outline; but they upon their backs seem
monsters, not men; their bodies of unnatural breadth, each with two
heads rising above it!

There is a haze overhanging the river, as gauze thrown over a piece of
silver plate.  It is that white filmy mist which enlarges objects beyond
their natural size, producing the mystery of _mirage_.  By its
magnifying effect the horses, as their riders, appear of gigantic
dimensions; the former seeming Mastodons, the latter Titans bestriding
them!

Both appear beings not of Earth, but creatures of some weird
wonder-world--existences not known to our planet, or only in ages past!



CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN.

PLANNING A CAPTURE.

Speechless with surprise, the two men stand gazing at the odd
apparition; with something more than surprise, a supernatural feeling,
not unmingled with fear.  Such strange unearthly sight were enough to
beget this in the stoutest hearts; and, though none stouter than theirs,
for a time both are awed by it.

Only so long as the spectral equestrians were within the shadow of the
trees on the opposite side.  But soon as arriving at mid-stream the
mystery is at an end; like most others, simple when understood.  Their
forms, outlined against the moonlit surface of the water, show a very
natural phenomenon--two horses carrying double.

Woodley is the first to announce it, though Clancy has made the
discovery at the same instant of time.

"Injuns!" says the backwoodsman, speaking in a whisper.  "Two astride o'
each critter.  Injuns, for sure.  See the feathers stickin' up out o'
their skulls!  Them on the krupper look like squaws; though that's
kewrous too.  Out on these Texas parayras the Injun weemen hez generally
a hoss to theirselves, an' kin ride 'most as well as the men.  What seem
queerier still is thar bein' only two kupple; but maybe there's more
comin' on ahint.  An' yet thar don't appear to be.  I don't see stime o'
anythin' on tother side the river.  Kin you?"

"No.  I think there's but the two.  They'd be looking back if there were
others behind.  What ought we to do with them?"

"What every white man oughter do meetin' Injuns out hyar--gie 'em a wide
berth: that's the best way."

"It may not in this case; I don't think it is."

"Why?"

"On my word, I scarce know.  And yet I have an idea we ought to have a
word with them.  Likely they've been up to the settlement and will be
able to tell us something of things there.  As you know, Sime, I'm
anxious to hear about--"

"I know all that.  Wal, ef you're so inclined, let it be as ye say.  We
kin eezy stop 'em, an' hear what they've got to say for theirselves.  By
good luck, we've the devantage o' 'em.  They're bound to kum 'long the
big trail.  Tharfor, ef we throw ourselves on it, we'll intercep' an'
take 'em as in a trap.  Jess afore we turned in hyar, I noticed a spot
whar we kin ambuskade."

"Let us do so; but what about these?"  Clancy points to the other three,
still seemingly asleep.  "Hadn't we better awake them?  At all events,
Heywood: we may need him."

"For that matter, no.  Thar's but two buck Injuns.  The does wont count
for much in a skrimmage.  Ef they show thar teeth I reckin we two air
good for uglier odds than that.  Howsomever, it'll be no harm to hev
Ned.  We kin roust him up, lettin' Harkness an' the mulattar lie.
Ye'es; on second thinkin' it'll be as well to hev him along.  Ned!
Ned!"

The summons is not spoken aloud, but in a whisper, Woodley stooping down
till his lips touch Heywood's ear.  The young hunter hearing him,
starts, then sits up, and finally gets upon his feet, rubbing his eyes
while erecting himself.  He sees at once why he has been awakened.  A
glance cast upon the river shows him the strangely ridden horses; still
visible though just entering the tree-shadow on its nether bank.

In a few hurried words Woodley makes known their intention; and for some
seconds the three stand in consultation, all having hold of their
rifles.

They do not deem it necessary to rouse either the ex-jailer or Jupiter.
It is not advisable, in view of the time that would be wasted.  Besides,
any noise, now, might reach the ears of the Indians, who, if alarmed,
could still retreat to the opposite side, and so escape.  Woodley, at
first indifferent about their capture, has now entered into the spirit
of it.  It is just possible some information may be thus obtained, of
service to their future designs.  At all events, there can be no harm in
knowing why the redskins are travelling at such an untimely hour.

"As a gen'ral rule," he says, "Tair best let Injuns go thar own way when
thar's a big crowd thegitter.  When thar aint, as it chances hyar, it
may be wisest to hev a leetle palaver wi' them.  They're putty sure to a
been arter some diviltry anyhow.  'S like 's not this lot's been a
pilferin' somethin' from the new settlement, and air in the act o'
toatin' off thar plunder.  Ef arter gruppin' 'em, we find it aint so, we
kin let go again, an' no dammidge done.  But first, let's examine 'em,
an' see."

"Our horses?" suggests Heywood, "oughtn't we to take them along?"

"No need," answers Woodley.  "Contrarywise, they'd only hamper us.  If
the redskins make to rush past, we kin eezy shoot down thar animals, an'
so stop 'em.  Wi' thar squaws along, they ain't like to make any
resistance.  Besides, arter all, they may be some sort that's friendly
to the whites.  Ef so, 'twould be a pity to kill the critters.  We kin
capter 'em without sheddin' thar blood."

"Not a drop of it," enjoins Clancy, in a tone of authority.  "No,
comrades.  I've entered Texas to spill blood, but not that of the
innocent--not that of Indians.  When it comes to killing I shall see
before me--.  No matter; you know whom I mean."

"I guess we do," answers Woodley.  "We both o' us understand your
feelins, Charley Clancy; ay, an' respect 'em.  But let's look sharp.
Whilst we stan' palaverin the Injuns may slip past.  They've arready
reech'd the bank, an'--Quick, kum along!"

The three are about starting off, when a fourth figure appears standing
erect.  It is Jupiter.  A life of long suffering has made the mulatto a
light sleeper, and he has been awake all the time they were talking.
Though they spoke only in whispers, he has heard enough to suspect
something about to be done, in which there may be danger to Clancy.  The
slave, now free, would lay down his life for the man who has manumitted
him.

Coming up, he requests to be taken along, and permitted to share their
exploit, however perilous.

As there can be no great objection, his request is granted, and he is
joined to the party.

But this necessitates a pause, for something to be considered.  What is
to be done with the ex-jailer?  Though not strictly treated as a
prisoner, still all along they have been keeping him under surveillance.
Certainly, there was something strange in his making back for the
States, in view of what he might there expect to meet for his
misdemeanour; and, considering this, they have never been sure whether
he may not still be in league with the outlaws, and prove twice traitor.

Now that they are approaching the spot where events may be expected,
more than ever is it thought necessary to keep an eye on him.

It will not do to leave him alone, with their horses.  What then?

While thus hesitating, Woodley cuts the Gordian knot by stepping
straight to where Harkness lies, grasping the collar of his coat, and
rudely arousing him out of his slumber, by a jerk that brings him erect
upon his feet.  Then, without waiting word of remonstrance from the
astonished man, Sime hisses into his ear:--

"Kum along, Joe Harkness!  Keep close arter us, an' don't ask any
questyuns.  Thar, Jupe; you take charge o' him!"

At this, he gives Harkness a shove which sends him staggering into the
arms of the mulatto.

The latter, drawing a long stiletto-like knife, brandishes it before the
ex-jailer's eyes, as he does so, saying:

"Mass Harkness; keep on afore me; I foller.  If you try leave the track
look-out.  This blade sure go 'tween your back ribs."

The shining steel, with the sheen of Jupiter's teeth set in stern
determination, is enough to hold Harkness honest, whatever his intent.
He makes no resistance, but, trembling, turns along the path.

Once out of the glade, they fall into single file, the narrow trace
making this necessary; Woodley in the lead; Clancy second, holding his
hound in leash; Heywood third; Harkness fourth; Jupiter with bared
knife-blade bringing up the rear.

Never marched troop having behind it a more inexorable file-closer, or
one more determined on doing his duty.



CHAPTER FIFTY EIGHT.

ACROSS THE FORD.

No need to tell who are the strange equestrians seen coming across the
river; nor to say, that those on the croup are not Indian women, but
white ones--captives.  The reader already knows they are Helen and
Jessie Armstrong.

Had Charles Clancy or Sime Woodley but suspected this at the time, they
would not have waited for Heywood, or stood dallying about the duplicity
of Harkness.  Instead, they would have rushed right on to the river,
caring little what chances might be against them.  Having no suspicion
of its being ought save two travelling redskins, accompanied by their
squaws, they acted otherwise.

The captives themselves know they are not in charge of Indians.  After
hearing that horrid laughter they are no longer in doubt.  It came from
the throats of white men: for only such could have understood the
speeches that called it forth.

This discovery affords them no gratification, but the opposite.  Instead
of feeling safer in the custody of civilised men, the thought of it but
intensifies their fears.  From the red savage, _pur sang_, they might
look for some compassion; from the white one they need not expect a
spark of it.

And neither does; both have alike lost heart and sunk into deepest
dejection.  Never crossed Acheron two spirits more despairing--less
hopeful of happiness beyond.

They are silent now.  To exchange speech would only be to tempt a fresh
peal of that diabolical laughter yet ringing in their ears.  Therefore,
they do not speak a word--have not since, nor have their captors.  They,
too, remain mute, for to converse, and be heard, would necessitate
shouting.  The horses are now wading knee-deep, and the water, in
continuous agitation, makes a tumultuous noise; its cold drops dashed
back, clouting against the blankets in which the forms of the captives
are enfolded.

Though silent, these are busy with conjectures.  Each has her own about
the man who is beside her.  Jessie thinks she is sharing the saddle with
the traitor, Fernand.  She trembles at recalling his glances from time
to time cast upon her--ill-understood then, too well now.  And now in
his power, soon to be in his arms!  Oh, heavens--it is horror.--
Something like this she exclaims, the wild words wrung from her in her
anguish.  They are drowned by the surging noise.

Almost at the same instant, Helen gives out an ejaculation.  She, too,
is tortured with a terrible suspicion about him whose body touches her
own.  She suspects him to be one worse than traitor; is almost sure he
is an assassin!

If so, what will be her fate?  Reflecting on it, no wonder she cries out
in agony, appealing to heaven--to God!

Suddenly there is silence, the commotion in the water having ceased.
The hoofs strike upon soft sand, and soon after with firmer rebound from
the bank.

For a length or two the horses strain upward; and again on level ground
are halted, side by side and close together.  The man who has charge of
Helen, speaking to the other, says:--

"You'd better go ahead, Bill.  I aint sure about the bye-path to the big
tree.  I've forgotten where it strikes off.  You know, don't you?"

"Yes, lootenant; I guess I kin find where it forks."

No thought of Indians now--nor with Jessie any longer a fear of Fernand.
By his speech, the man addressed as Bill cannot be the half-blood.  It
is something almost to reassure her.  But for Helen--the other voice!
Though speaking in undertone, and as if with some attempt at disguise,
she is sure of having heard it before; then with distrust, as now with
loathing.  She hears it again, commanding:--"Lead on!"

Bill does not instantly obey, but says in rejoinder:--

"Skuse me, lootenant, but it seems a useless thing our goin' up to the
oak.  I know the Cap' sayed we were to wait for them under it.  Why cant
we just as well stay heer?  'Taint like they'll be long now.  They wont
dally a minute, I know, after they've clutched the shiners, an' I guess
they got 'em most as soon as we'd secured these pair o' petticoats.
Besides they'll come quicker than we've done, seeing as they're more
like to be pursooed.  It's a ugly bit o' track 'tween here an' the big
tree, both sides thorny bramble that'll tear the duds off our backs, to
say nothin' o' the skin from our faces.  In my opinion we oughter stay
where we air till the rest jeins us."

"No," responds the lieutenant, in tone more authoritative, "We mustn't
remain here.  Besides, we cant tell what may have happened to them.
Suppose they have to fight for it, and get forced to take the upper
crossing.  In that case--"

The speaker makes pause, as if perceiving a dilemma.

"In that case," interpolates the unwilling Bill, "we'd best not stop
heer at all, but put straight for head-quarters on the creek.  How d'ye
incline to that way of it?"

"Something in what you say," answers the lieutenant.  Then adding, after
a pause, "It isn't likely they'll meet any obstruction.  The half-breed
Indian said he had arranged everything clear as clock-work.  They're
safe sure to come this way, and 'twont do for us to go on without them.
Besides, there's a reason you appear not to think of.  Neither you nor I
know the trail across the upper plain.  We might get strayed there, and
if so, we'd better be in hell?"

After the profane utterance succeeds a short interval of silence, both
men apparently cogitating.  The lieutenant is the first to resume.

"Bosley," he says, speaking in a sage tone, and for the first time
addressing the subordinate by his family name.  "On the prairies, as
elsewhere, one should always be true to a trust, and keep it when one
can.  If there were time, I could tell you a curious story of one who
tried but couldn't.  It's generally the wisest way, and I think it's
that for us now.  We might make a mess of it by changing from the
programme understood--which was for us to wait under the oak.  Besides
I've got a reason of my own for being there a bit--something you can't
understand, and don't need telling about.  And time's precious too; so
spin ahead, and find the path."

"All right," rejoins the other, in a tone of assumed resignation.
"Stayin' or goin's jest the same to me.  For that matter I might like
the first way best.  I kin tell ye I'm precious tired toatin this burden
at my back, beauty though she be; an' by remainin' heer I'll get the
sooner relieved.  When Cap' comes he'll be wantin' to take her off my
hands; to the which I'll make him welcome as the flowers o' May."

With his poetical wind-up, the reluctant robber sets his horse in
motion, and leads on.  Not far along the main road.  When a few yards
from the ford, he faces towards a trail on his left, which under the
shadow is with difficulty discernible.  For all this, he strikes into it
with the confidence of one well acquainted with the way.

Along it they advance between thick standing trees, the path arcaded
over by leafy branches appearing as dark as a tunnel.  As the horses
move on, the boughs, bent forward by their breasts, swish back in
rebound, striking against the legs of their riders; while higher up the
hanging _llianas_, many of them beset with spines, threaten to tear the
skin from their faces.

Fortunately for the captives, theirs are protected by the close-woven
serapes.  Though little care they now: thorns lacerating their cheeks
were but trivial pain, compared to the torture in their souls.  They
utter no complaint, neither speaking a word.  Despair has stricken them
dumb; for, moving along that darksome path, they feel as martyrs being
conducted to stake or scaffold.



CHAPTER FIFTY NINE.

A FOILED AMBUSCADE.

Almost at the same instant the double-mounted steeds are turning off the
main road, Woodley and those with him enter upon it; only at a point
further away from the ford.

Delayed, first in considering what should be done with Harkness, and
afterwards by the necessity of going slowly, as well as noiselessly
along the narrow trace, they have arrived upon the road's edge just in
time to be too late.

As yet they are not aware of this, though Woodley has his apprehensions;
these becoming convictions, after he has stood for a time listening, and
hears no sound, save that of the water, which comes in hoarse hiss
between the trees, almost deafening the ear.  For at this point the
stream, shallowing, runs in rapid current over a pebbly bed, here and
there breaking into crests.

Woodley's fear has been, that before he and his companions reach the
road, the Indians might get past.  If so, the chances of taking them
will be diminished perhaps gone altogether.  For, on horseback, they
would have an advantage over those following afoot; and their capture
could only be effected by the most skilful stalking, as such travellers
have the habit of looking behind.

The question is--Have they passed the place, where it was intended to
waylay them?

"I don't think they hev," says Woodley, answering it.  "They have hardly
hed time.  Besides 'tain't nat'ral they'd ride strait on, jest arter
kimmin' acrosst the river.  It's a longish wade, wi' a good deal o' work
for the horses.  More like they've pulled up on reachin' the bank, an'
air thar breathin' the critters a bit."

None of the others offering an opinion, he adds--

"Thur's a eezy way to make sure, an' the safest, too.  Ef they've good
by hyar, they can't yet be very far off.  Ridin' as they air they won't
think o' proceedin' at a fast pace.  Therefore, let's take a scout 'long
the road outwards.  Ef they're on it, we'll soon sight 'em, or we may
konklude they're behind on the bank o' the river.  They're bound to pass
this way, ef they hain't arready.  So we'll eyther overtake, or meet 'em
when returnin', or what mout be better'n both, ketch 'em a campin' by
the water's edge.  In any case our surest way air first to follow up the
road.  Ef that prove a failure, we kin 'bout face, an' back to the
river."

"Why need we all go?" asks Heywood.  "Supposing the rest of you stay
here, while I scout up the road, and see whether they've gone along it."

"What ud be the use o' that?" demands Sime.  "S'posin' ye did, an'
sighted 'em, ye ain't goin' to make thar capture all o' yourself.  Look
at the time lost whiles ye air trottin' back hyar to tell us.  By then,
they'd get out into the clear moonlight, whar ther'd be no chance o' our
comin' up to them without thar spyin' us.  No, Ned: your idee won't do.
What do you think, Charley?"

"That your plan seems best.  You're sure there's no other way for them
to pass out from the river?"

"This chile don't know o' any, ceptin' this trace we've ourselves kum
off o'."

"Then, clearly, our best plan is first to try along the road--all
together."

"Let's on, then!" urges Woodley.  "Thar's no time to waste.  While we
stan' talkin' hyar, them redskins may ride to the jumpin'-off place o'
creashun."

So saying, the hunter turns face to the right, and goes off at a run,
the others moving in like manner behind him.

After proceeding some two or three hundred yards, they arrive at a place
where the trees, standing apart, leave an open space between.  There a
saddle-like hollow intersects the road, traversing it from side to side.
It is the channel of a rivulet when raining; but now nearly dry, its
bed a mortar of soft mud.  They had crossed it coming in towards the
river, but without taking any notice of it, further than the necessity
of guiding their tired steeds to guard against their stumbling.  It was
then in darkness, the twilight just past, and the moon not risen.  Now
that she is up in mid heaven, it is flooded by her light, so that the
slightest mark in the mud can be clearly distinguished.

Running their eyes over its surface, they observe tracks they have not
been looking for, and more than they have reason to expect.  Signs to
cause them surprise, if not actual alarm.  Conspicuous are two deep
parallel ruts, which they know have been made by the wheels of the
emigrant wagons.  A shower of rain, since fallen, has not obliterated
them; only washed off their sharp angles, having done the same with the
tracks of the mule teams between, and those of the half hundred horses
ridden alongside, as also the hoof-marks of the horned cattle driven
after.

It is not any of these that gives them concern.  But other tracks more
recent, made since the ram--in fact, since the sun lose that same
morning--made by horses going towards the river, and with riders on
their backs.  Over twenty in all, without counting their own; some of
them shod, but most without iron on the hoof.  To the eyes of Sime
Woodley--to Clancy's as well--these facts declare themselves at a single
glance; and they only dwell upon further deductions.  But not yet.  For
while scanning the slough they see two sets of horse tracks going in the
opposite direction--outward from the river.  Shod horses, too; their
hoof-prints stamped deep in the mud, as if both had been heavily
mounted.

This is a matter more immediate.  The redskins, riding double, have gone
past.  If they are to be overtaken, nor a moment must be spent thinking
of aught else.

Clancy has risen erect, ready to rush on after them.  So Heywood and the
rest.  But not Woodley, who, still stooping over the slough, seems
unsatisfied.  And soon he makes a remark, which not only restrains the
others, but causes an entire change in their intention.

"They aint fresh," he says, speaking of the tracks last looked at.
"Thet is, they hain't been made 'ithin the hour.  Tharfor, it can't be
them as hev jest crossed the stream.  Take a squint at 'em, Charley."

Clancy, thus called upon, lowering his eyes, again looks at the tracks.
Not for long.  A glance gives him evidence that Woodley is right.  The
horses which made these outgoing tracks cannot be the same seen coming
across.

And now, the others being more carefully scrutinised, these same two are
discovered among them, with the convexity of the hoof turned towards the
river!

In all this there is strangeness, though it is not the time to inquire
into it.  That must be left till later.  Their only thought now is,
where are the Indians; for they have certainly not come on along the
road.

"Boys!" says Woodley, "we've been makin' a big roundabout 'ithout
gainin' a great deal by it.  Sartin them redskins hev stopped at the
river, an' thar mean squatting for the remainder o' this night.  That'll
suit our purpiss to a teetotum.  We kin capter 'em in thar camp eezier
than on the backs o' thar critters.  So, let's go right on an' grup
'em!"

With this he turns, and runs back along the road, the others keeping
close after.

In ten minutes more they are on the river's bank, where it declined to
the crossing.  They see no Indians there--no human creatures of any
kind--nor yet any horses!



CHAPTER SIXTY.

"THE LIVE-OAK."

At a pace necessarily slow, from the narrowness of the path and its
numerous obstructions, the painted robbers, with their captives, have
continued on; reaching their destination about the time Clancy and his
comrades turned back along the ford road.

From this they are now not more than three hundred yards distant, halted
in the place spoken of as a rendezvous.

A singular spot it is--one of those wild forest scenes by which nature
oft surprises and delights her straying worshipper.

It is a glade of circular shape, with a colossal tree standing in its
centre,--a live-oak with trunk full forty feet in girth, and branches
spreading like a banyan.  Though an evergreen, but little of its own
foliage can be seen, only here and there a parcel of leaves at the
extremity of a protruding twig; all the rest, great limbs and lesser
branches, shrouded under Spanish moss, this in the moonlight showing
white as flax.

Its depending garlands, stirred by the night breeze, sway to and fro,
like ghosts moving in a minuet; when still, appearing as the water of a
cataract suddenly frozen in its fall, its spray converted into hoar
frost, the jets to gigantic icicles.

In their midst towers the supporting stem, thick and black, its bark
gnarled and corrugated as the skin of an alligator.

This grim Titan of the forest, o'ertopping the other trees like a giant
among men, stands alone, as though it had commanded them to keep their
distance.  And they seem to obey.  Nearer than thirty yards to it none
grow, nor so much as an underwood.  It were easy to fancy it their
monarch, and them not daring to intrude upon the domain it has set apart
for itself.

With the moon now in the zenith, its shadow extends equally on all sides
of its huge trunk, darkening half the surface of the glade--the other
half in light, forming an illuminated ring around it.  There could be no
mistaking it for other than the "big tree," referred to in the dialogue
between the two robbers; and that they recognise it as such is evident
by their action.  Soon as sighting it, they head straight towards its
stem, and halting, slip down out of their saddles, having undone the
cords by which the captives were attached to them.

When dismounted, the lieutenant, drawing Bosley a step or two apart,
says:--

"You stay here, Bill, and keep your prisoner company.  I want a word
with mine before our fellows come up, and as it's of a private nature,
I'm going to take her to the other side of the tree."

The direction is given in tone so low the captives cannot hear it; at
the same time authoritatively, to secure Bill's obedience.  He has no
intention of refusing it.  On the contrary, he responds with
alacrity:--"All right.  I understand."  This spoken as if implying
consent to some sinister purpose on the part of his superior.  Without
further words, the lieutenant lays hold of his horse's rein, and leads
the animal round to the other side of the live-oak, his captive still in
the saddle.  Thus separated, the two men are not only out of each
other's sight, but beyond the chance of exchanging speech.  Between them
is the buttressed trunk many yards in breadth, dark and frowning as the
battlements of a fortress.  Besides, the air is filled with noises, the
skirling of tree-crickets, and other sounds of animated nature that
disturb the tranquillity of the southern night.  They could only
communicate with one another by shouting at the highest pitch of their
voices.  Just now they have no need, and each proceeds to act for
himself.

Bosley, soon as left alone with his captive, bethinks him what he had
best do with her.  He knows he must treat her tenderly, even
respectfully.  He has had commands to this effect from one he dare not
disobey.  Before starting, his chief gave him instructions, to be
carried out or disregarded at peril of his life.  He has no intention to
disobey them--indeed, no inclination.  A stern old sinner, his weakness
is not woman--perhaps for this very reason selected for the delicate
duty now intrusted to him.  Instead of paying court to his fair captive,
or presuming to hold speech with her, he only thinks how he can best
discharge it to the satisfaction of his superior.  No need to keep her
any longer on the horse.  She must be fatigued; the attitude is irksome,
and he may get blamed; for not releasing her from it.  Thus reflecting,
he flings his arms around her, draws her down, and lays her gently along
the earth.

Having so disposed of her, he pulls out his pipe, lights it, and
commences smoking, apparently without, further thought of the form at
his feet.  That spoil is not for him.

But there is another, upon which he has set his mind.  One altogether
different from woman.  It is Dupre's treasure, of which he is to have
his share; and he speculates how much it will come to on partition.  He
longs to feast his eyes with a sight of the shining silver of which
there has been so much talk among the robbers; and grand expectations
excited; its value as I usual exaggerated.

Pondering upon it, he neither looks at his captive, nor thinks of her.
His glances are toward the river ford, which he sees not, but I hears;
listening amid the water's monotone for the plunging of horses hoofs.
Impatiently, too, as between the puffs from his pipe, he ever and anon
utters a grunt of discontent at the special duty imposed upon him, which
may hinder him from getting his full share of the spoils.

Unlike is the behaviour of him on the other side of the oak.  He, too,
has dismounted his captive, and laid her along the ground.  But not to
stand idly over.  Instead, he leaves her, and walks away from the spot,
having attached his horse to the trunk of the tree, by hooking the
bridle-rein over a piece of projecting bark.  He has no fear that she
will make her escape, or attempt it.  Before parting he has taken
precautions against that, by lashing her limbs together.

All this without saying a word--not even giving utterance to an
exclamation!

In like silence he leaves her, turning his face toward the river, and
striking along a trace that conducts to it.

Though several hundred yards from the ford, the bank is close by; for
the path by which they approached the glade has been parallel to the
trend of the stream.  The live-oak overlooks it, with only a bordering
of bushes between.

Through this runs a narrow trace made by wild animals, the forest
denizens that frequent the adjacent timber, going down to their drinking
place.

Parting the branches, that would sweep the plumed tiara from his head,
the lieutenant glides along it, not stealthily, but with confidence, and
as if familiar with the way.  Once through the thicket, he sees the
river broad and bright before him: its clear tranquil current in
contrast with the dark and stormy passions agitating his own heart.  He
is not thinking of this, nor is there any sentiment in his soul, as he
pauses by the side of the stream.  He has sought it for a most prosaic
purpose--to wash his face.  For this he has brought with him a piece of
soap and a rag of cotton cloth, taken out of a haversack carried on the
pommel of his saddle.

Stepping down the slope, he stoops to perform his ablutions.  In that
water-mirror many a fierce ugly face has been reflected but never one
fiercer or uglier than his, under its garish panoply of paint.  Nor is
it improved, when this, sponged off shows the skin to be white; on the
contrary, the sinister passions that play upon his features would better
become the complexion of the savage.

Having completed his lavatory task, he throws soap and rag into the
river; then, turning, strides back up the bank.  At its summit he stops
to readjust his plumed head-dress, as he does so, saying in soliloquy:--

"I'll give her a surprise, such as she hasn't had since leaving the
States.  I'd bet odds she'll be more frightened at my face now, than
when she saw it in the old garden.  She didn't recognise it then; she
will now.  And now for her torture, and my triumph: for the revenge I've
determined to take.  Won't it be sweet!"

At the close of his exultant speech, he dives into the dark path, and
gliding along it, soon re-enters the glade.

He perceives no change, for there has been none.

Going on to her from whom he had separated, he again places himself by
her recumbent form, and stands gazing upon, gloating over it, like a
panther whose prey lies disabled at its feet, to be devoured at leisure.

Only an instant stays he in this attitude; then stooping till his head
almost touches hers, he hisses into her ear:--

"So, Helen, at length and at last, I have you in my power, at my mercy,
sure, safe, as ever cat had mouse!  Oh! it is sweet--sweet--sweet!"

She has no uncertainty now.  The man exclaiming sweet, is he who has
caused all her life's bitterness.  The voice, no longer disguised, is
that of Richard Darke!



CHAPTER SIXTY ONE.

A RUFFIAN TRIUMPHANT.

Wild thoughts has Helen Armstrong, thus apostrophised, with not a word
to say in return.  She knows it would be idle; but without this, her
very indignation holds her dumb--that and despair.

For a time he, too, is silent, as if surrendering his soul to delightful
exultation.

Soon he resumes speech in changed tone, and interrogatively:--"Do you
know who's talking to you?  Or must I tell you, Nell?  You'll excuse
familiarity in an old friend, won't you?"  Receiving no response, he
continues, in the same sneering style: "Yes, an old friend, I say it;
one you should well remember, though it's some time since we met, and a
good way from here.  To assist your recollection, let me recall an
incident occurring at our last interview.  Perhaps 'twill be enough to
name the place and time?  Wall, it was under a magnolia, in the State of
Mississippi; time ten o'clock of night, moonlight, if I rightly
remember, as now.  It matters not the day of the month being different,
or any other trivial circumstance, so long as the serious ones are so.
And they are, thank God for it!  Beneath the magnolia I knelt at your
feet, under this tree, which is a live-oak, you lie at mine."

He pauses, but not expecting reply.  The woman, so tortured speaks not;
neither stirs she.  The only _motion_ visible throughout her frame is
the swell and fall of her bosom--tumultuously beating.

He who stands, over well knows it is throbbing in pain.  But no
compassion has he for that; on the contrary, it gives gratification;
again drawing from him the exultant exclamation--"Sweet--sweet!"

After another interval of silence, he continues, banteringly as before:

"So, fair Helen, you perceive how circumstances have changed between us,
and I hope you'll have the sense to suit yourself to the change.
Beneath the Mississippian tree you denied me: here under the Texan,
you'll not be so inexorable--will you?"

Still no response.

"Well; if you won't vouchsafe an answer, I must be content to go without
it; remembering the old saw--`Silence consents.'  Perhaps, ere long your
tongue will untie itself; when you've got over grieving for him who's
gone--your great favourite, Charley Clancy.  I take it, you've heard of
his death; and possibly a report, that some one killed him.  Both
stories are true; and, telling you so, I may add, no one knows better
than myself; since 'twas I sent the gentleman to kingdom come--Richard
Darke."

On making the fearful confession, and in boastful emphasis, he bends
lower to observe its effect.  Not in her face, still covered with the
serape, but her form, in which he can perceive a tremor from head to
foot.  She shudders, and not strange, as she thinks:--

"He murdered _him_.  He may intend the same with _me_.  I care not now."

Again the voice of the self-accused assassin:

"You know me now?"

She is silent as ever, and once more motionless; the convulsive spasm
having passed.  Even the beating of her heart seems stilled.

Is she dead?  Has his fell speech slain her?  In reality it would appear
so.

"Ah, well;" he says, "you won't recognise me?  Perhaps you will after
seeing my face.  Sight is the sharpest of the senses, and the most
reliable.  You shall no longer be deprived of it.  Let me take you to
the light."

Lifting, he carries her out to where the moonbeams meet the tree's
shadow, and there lays her along.  Then dropping to his knees, he draws
out something that glistens.  Two months before he stooped over the
prostrate form of her lover, holding a photograph before his eyes--her
own portrait.  In her's he is about to brandish a knife!

One seeing him in this attitude would suppose he intended burying its
blade in her breast.  Instead, he slits open the serape in front of her
face, tossing the severed edges back beyond her cheeks.

Her features exposed to the light, show wan and woeful; withal, lovely
as ever; piquant in their pale beauty, like those of some rebellious nun
hating the hood, discontented with cloister and convent.

As she sees him stooping beside, with blade uplifted, she feels sure he
designs killing her.  But she neither shrinks, nor shudders now.  She
even wishes him to end her agony with a blow.  Were the knife in her own
hand, she would herself give it.

It is not his intention to harm her that way.  Words are the weapons by
which he intends torturing her.  With these he will lacerate her heart
to its core.

For he is thinking of the time when he threw himself at her feet, and
poured forth his soul in passionate entreaty, only to have his passion
spurned, and his pride humiliated.  It is her turn to suffer
humiliation, and he has determined she shall.  Recalling his own, every
spark of pity, every pulsation of manhood, is extinguished within him.
The cup of his scorned love has become a chalice filled with the passion
of vengeance.

Sheathing the knife, he says:

"I've been longing for a good look at you.  Now that I've got it, I
should say you're pretty as ever, only paler.  That will come right, and
the roses return to your cheeks, in this recuperative climate of Texas;
especially in the place where I intend taking you.  But you hav'nt yet
looked at my face.  It's just had a washing for your sake.  Come give it
a glance!  I want you to admire it, though it may not be quite so
handsome as that of Charley Clancy."

She averts her eyes, instinctively closing them.

"Oh, well, you won't?  Never mind, now.  There's a time coming when
you'll not be so coy, and when I shan't any longer kneel supplicating
you.  For know, Nell, you're completely in my power, and I can command,
do with you what I will.  I don't intend any harm, nor mean to be at all
unkind.  It'll be your own fault if you force me to harshness.  And
knowing that, why shouldn't there be truce between us?  What's the use
of fretting about Clancy?  He's dead as a door nail, and your lamenting
won't bring him to life again.  Better take things as they are, and
cheer up.  If you've lost one sweetheart, there's another left, who
loves you more than ever did he.  I do, Helen Armstrong; by God, I do!"

The ruffian gives emphasis to his profane assertion, by bending before
her, and laying his hand upon his heart.

Neither his speech nor attitude moves her.  She lies as ever, still,
silent.  Wrapped in the Mexican blanket--whose pattern of Aztec design
bears striking resemblance to the hieroglyphs of Egypt--this closed and
corded round her figure, she might easily be mistaken for a mummy, one
of Pharaoh's daughters taken out of the sarcophagus in which for
centuries she has slept.  Alone, the face with its soft white skin,
negatives the comparison: though it appears bloodless, too.  The eyes
tell nought; their lids are closed, the long dark lashes alone showing
in crescent curves.  With difficulty could one tell whether she be
asleep, or dead.

Richard Darke does not suppose she is either; and, incensed at receiving
no reply, again apostrophises her in tone more spiteful than ever.  He
has lost control of his temper, and now talks unfeelingly, brutally,
profanely.

"Damn you!" he cries.  "Keep your tongue in your teeth, if you like.
Ere long I'll find a way to make it wag; when we're man and wife, as we
shall soon be--after a fashion.  A good one, too, practised here upon
the prairies of Texas.  Just the place for a bridal, such as ours is to
be.  The nuptial knot tied, according to canons of our own choice,
needing no sanction of church, or palaver of priests, to make it
binding."

The ruffian pauses in his ribald speech.  Not that he has yet sated his
vengeance, for he intends continuing the torture of his victim unable to
resist.  He has driven the arrow deep into her heart, and leaves it to
rankle there.

For a time he is silent, as if enjoying his triumph--the expression on
his countenance truly satanic.  It is seen suddenly to change,
apprehension taking its place, succeeded by fear.

The cause: sounds coming from the other side of the tree; human voices!

Not those of Bosley, or his captive; but of strange men speaking
excitedly!

Quick parting from his captive, and gliding up to the trunk, he looks
cautiously around it.

In the shadow he sees several figures clustering around Bosley and his
horse; then hears names pronounced, one which chills the blood within
his veins--almost freezing it.

He stands transfixed; cowering as one detected in an act of crime, and
by a strong hand held in the attitude in which caught!  Only for a short
while thus; then, starting up, he rushes to regain his horse, jerks the
bridle from the back, and drags the animal in the direction of his
captive.  Tossing her upon the pommel of the saddle, he springs into it.
But she too has heard names, and now makes herself heard, shouting,
"Help--help!"



CHAPTER SIXTY TWO.

"HELP!  HELP!"

Baulked in their attempt to ambuscade the supposed Indians, Clancy and
his companions thought not of abandoning the search for them.  On the
contrary, they continued it with renewed eagerness, their interest
excited by the unexplained disappearance of the party.

And they have succeeded in finding it, for it is they who surround
Bosley, having surprised him unsuspectingly puffing away at his pipe.
How they made approach, remains to be told.

On reaching the river's bank, and there seeing nought of the strange
equestrians, their first feeling was profound astonishment.  On
Woodley's part, also, some relapse to a belief in the supernatural;
Heywood, to a certain degree, sharing it.

"Odd it air!" mutters Sime, with an ominous shake of the head.
"Tarnashun odd!  Whar kin they hev been, an' whar hev they goed?"

"Maybe back, across the river?" suggests Heywood.

"Unpossible.  Thar ain't time.  They'd be wadin' now, an' we'd see 'em.
No.  They're on this side yit, if anywhar on airth; the last bein' the
doubtful."

"Supposin' they've taken the trace we came by?  They might while we were
up the road."

"By the jumpin' Jeehosofat!" exclaims Woodley, startled by this second
suggestion, "I never thought o' that.  If they hev, thar's our horses,
an' things.  Let's back to camp quick as legs kin take us."

"Stay!" interposes Clancy, whose senses are not confused by any
unearthly fancies.  "I don't think they could have gone that way.  There
may be a trail up the bank, and they've taken it.  There must be, Sime.
I never knew a stream without one."

"Ef there be, it's beyont this child's knowledge.  I hain't noticed
neery one.  Still, as you say, sech is usooal, ef only a way for the
wild beasts.  We kin try for it."

"Let us first make sure whether they came out here at all.  We didn't
watch them quite in to the shore."

Saying this, Clancy steps down to the water's edge, the others with him.

They have no occasion to stoop.  Standing erect they can see hoof-marks,
conspicuous, freshly made, filled with water that has fallen from the
fetlocks.

Turning, they easily trace them up the shelving bank; but not so easily
along the road, though certain they continue that way.  It is black as
pitch beneath the shadowing trees.  Withal, Woodley is not to be thus
baffled.  His skill as a tracker is proverbial among men of his calling;
moreover, he is chagrined at their ill success so far; and, but for
there being no time, the ex-jailer, its cause, would catch it.  He does
in an occasional curse, which might be accompanied by a cuff, did he not
keep well out of the backwoodsman's way.

Dropping on all fours, Sime feels for hoof-prints of the horses that
have just crossed, groping in darkness.  He can distinguish them from
all others by their being wet.  And so does, gaining ground, bit by bit,
surely if slowly.

But Clancy has conceived a more expeditious plan, which he makes known,
saying:

"No need taking all that trouble, Sime.  You may be the best trailer in
Texas; and no doubt you are, for a biped: still here's one can beat
you."

"Who?" asks the backwoodsman, rising erect, "show me the man."

"No man," interrupts the other with a smile.  "For our purpose something
better.  There stands your competitor."

"You're right; I didn't think o' the dog.  He'll do it like a breeze.
Put him on, Charley!"

"Come, Brasfort!" says Clancy, apostrophising the hound, while
lengthening the leash, and setting the animal on the slot.  "You tell us
where the redskin riders have gone."

The intelligent creature well understands what is wanted, and with nose
to the ground goes instantly off.  But for the check string it would
soon outstrip them for its eager action tells it has caught scent of a
trail.

At first lifting it along the ford road, but only for a few yards.  Then
abruptly turning left, the dog is about to strike into the timber, when
the hand of the master restrains it.

The instinct of the animal is no longer needed.  They perceive the
embouchure of a path, that looks like the entrance to a cave, dark and
forbidding as the back door of a jail.  But surely a trace leading in
among the trees, which the plumed horsemen have taken.

After a second or two spent in arranging the order of march, they also
take it, Clancy now assuming command.

They proceed with caution greater than ever; more slowly too, because
along a path, dark, narrow, unknown, shaggy with thorns.  They have to
grope every inch of their way; all the while in surprise at the Indians
having chosen it.  There must be a reason, though none of them can think
what it is.

They are not long left to conjectures.  A light before their eyes throws
light upon the enigma that has been baffling their brains.  There is a
break in the timber, where the moonbeams fall free to the earth.

Gliding on, silently, with undiminished caution, they arrive on the edge
of an opening, and there make stop, but inside the underwood that skirts
it.

Clancy and Woodley stand side by side, crouchingly; and in this attitude
interrogate the ground before them.

They see the great tree, with its white shroud above, and deep obscurity
beneath--the moonlit ring around it.  But at first nothing more, save
the fire-flies scintillating in its shadow.

After a time, their eyes becoming accustomed to the cross light, they
see something besides; a group of figures close in to the tree's trunk,
apparently composed of horses and men.  They can make out but one of
each, but they take it there are two, with two women as well.  While
scanning the group, they observe a light larger and redder than that
emitted by the winged insects.  Steadier too; for it moves not from its
place.  They might not know it to be the coal upon a tobacco pipe, but
for the smell of the burning "weed" wafted their way.

Sniffing it, Sime says:

"That's the lot, sure; tho' thar appears but the half o't.  I kin only
make out one hoss, an' one man, wi' suthin' astreetch long the groun--
one o' the squaws in coorse.  The skunk on his feet air smokin'.
Strange they hain't lit a fire!  True 'tain't needed 'ceptin' for the
cookin' o' thar supper.  Maybe they've hed it, an' only kim hyar to get
a spell o' sleep.  But ef thet's thar idee why shed yon 'un be stannin'
up.  Wal; I guess, he's doin' sentry bizness, the which air allers
needcessary out hyar.  How shell we act, Charley?  Rush right up an'
tackle 'em?  That's your way, I take it."

"It is--why not?"

"Because thar's a better--leastwise a surer to prevent spillin' thar
blood.  Ye say, you don't want that?"

"On no account.  If I thought there was a likelihood of it, I'd go
straight back to our camp, and leave them alone.  They may be harmless
creatures, on some innocent errand.  If it prove so, we musn't molest
them."

"Wal; I'm willin', for thet," rejoins Woodley, adding a reservation, "Ef
they resist, how are we to help it?  We must eyther kill, or be kilt."

There is reason in this, and Clancy perceives it.  While he is
cogitating what course to take, Woodley, resuming speech, points it out.

"'Thar's no use for us to harm a hair on thar beads, supposin' them to
be innercent.  For all thet, we shed make sure, an' take preecaushin in
case o' them cuttin' up ugly.  It air allers the best way wi redskins."

"How do you propose, Sime?"

"To surround 'em.  Injuns, whether it be bucks or squaws, air slickery
as eels.  It's good sixty yurds to whar they're squatted yonner.  Ef we
push strait torst 'em, they'll see us crossin' that bit o' moonshine,
an' be inter the timmer like greased lightnin' through the branches o' a
gooseberry bush.  Tho' out o' thar seddles now, an' some o' 'em
streetched 'long the airth, apparently sleepin', they'd be up an' off in
the shakin' o' a goat's tail.  Tharefor, say I, let's surround 'em."

"If you think that the better way," rejoins Clancy, "let us.  But it
will take time, and call for the greatest caution.  To get around the
glade, without their seeing us, we must keep well within the timber.
Through that underwood it won't be easy.  On second thoughts, Sime, I'm
inclined to chance it the other way.  They can't possibly escape us.  If
they do take to their horses, they couldn't gallop off beyond reach of
our rifles.  We can easily shoot their animals down.  Besides, remember
there's two to get mounted on each.  We may as well run right up, and
determine the thing at once.  I see no difficulty."

"Wheesht!" exclaims Woodley, just as Clancy ceases speaking.

"What is it?  Do you hear anything, Sime?"

"Don't you, Charley?"

Clancy sets himself to listen, but at first hears nothing, save the
usual sounds of the forest, of which it is now full.  A spring night, a
sultry one, the tree-crickets are in shrillest cry, the owls and
goatsuckers joining in the chorus.

But in the midst of its continuous strain there is surely a sound, not
animal, but human?  Surely the voice of a man?

After a time, Clancy can distinguish it.

One is talking, in tone not loud, but with an accent which appears to be
that of boasting or triumph.  And the voice is not like an Indian's,
while exclamations, at intervals uttered, are certainly such as could
only proceed from the lips of a white man.

All this is strange, and causes astonishment to the travellers--to
Clancy something more.  But before he has time to reflect upon, or form
conjectures about it, he hears that which compels him to cast aside
every restraint of prudence; and springing forward, he signals the
others to follow him.

They do, without a word; and in less than twenty seconds' time, they
have entered the shadowed circle, and surrounded the group at which they
have been so long gazing.

Only three figures after all!  A man, a horse, with what may be woman,
but looks less like one living than dead!

The man, Indian to all appearance, thus taken by surprise, plucks the
pipe from between his teeth.  It is struck out of his hand, the sparks
flying from it, as Woodley on one side and Heywood the other, clutching,
drag him toward the light.

When the moon shines on it, they behold a face which both have seen
before.

Under its coating of charcoal and chalk they might not recognise it, but
for the man making himself known by speech, which secures his
identification.  For he, too, sees a familiar face, that of Simeon
Woodley; and under the impression he is himself recognised, mechanically
pronounces the backwoodsman's name.

"Bill Bosley!" shouts the astonished Sime, "Good Lord!  Painted Injun!
What's this for?  Some devil's doings ye're arter as ye allers war.
Explain it, Bill!  Tell the truth 'ithout preevaricashun.  Ef ye lie,
I'll split your thrapple like I wud a water-millyun."

"Sime Woodley!  Ned Heywood!  Joe Harkness!" gaspingly ejaculates the
man, as in turn the three faces appear before him.  "God Almighty!
what's it mean?"

"We'll answer that when we've heern _your_ story.  Quick, tell it."

"I can't; your chokin' me.  For God's sake, Heywood, take your hand off
my throat.  O Sime! sure you don't intend killin' me?--ye won't, ye
won't."

"That depends--"

"But I aint to blame.  Afore heaven, I swear I aint.  You know that,
Harkness?  You heard me protest against their ugly doin's more than
once.  In this business, now, I'm only actin' under the captin's order.
He sent me 'long with the lootenant to take care of--"

"The lieutenant!" interrupts Clancy.  "What name?"

"Phil Quantrell, we call him; though I guess he's got another--"

"Where is he?" inquires Clancy, tortured with a terrible suspicion.

"He went t'other side the tree, takin' the young lady along."

At that moment comes a cry from behind the oak--a woman's voice calling
"Help! help!"

Clancy stays not to hear more, but rushes off with the air of a man
struck with sudden phrenzy!

On turning the trunk, he sees other forms, a horse with man mounted, a
woman before him he endeavours to restrain, who, struggling, thirsts for
succour.

It is nigh, though near being too late.  But for a fortunate
circumstance, it would be.  The horse, headed towards the forest, is
urged in that direction.  But, frayed by the conflict on his back, he
refuses to advance; instead, jibbing and rearing, he returns under the
tree.

Clancy, with rifle raised, is about to shoot the animal down.  But at
thought of danger to her calling "help!" he lowers his piece; and
rushing in, lays hold of the bridle-rein.  This instantly let go, to
receive in his arms the woman, released from the ruffian's grasp, who
would otherwise fall heavily to the earth.

The horse, disembarrassed, now obeying the rein, shoots out from under
the oak, and headed across the moonlit belt makes straight for the
timber beyond.

In the struggle Clancy has let go his gun, and now vainly gropes for it
in the darkness.  But two others are behind, with barrels that bear upon
the retreating horseman.  In an instant all would be over with him, but
for Clancy himself; who, rushing between, strikes up the muzzles,
crying:--

"Don't shoot, Sime!  Hold your fire, Heywood!  His life belongs to me!"

Strange forbearance; to the backwoodsmen, incomprehensible!  But they
obey; and again Richard Darke escapes chastisement for two great crimes
he intended, but by good fortune failed to accomplish.



CHAPTER SIXTY THREE.

AN OATH TO BE KEPT.

No pen could portray the feelings of Helen Armstrong, on recognising her
rescuer.  Charles Clancy alive!  Is she dreaming?  Or is it indeed he
whose arms are around, folding her in firm but tender embrace?  Under
the moonbeams, that seem to have suddenly become brighter, she beholds
the manly form and noble features of him she believed dead, his cheeks
showing the hue of health, his eyes late glaring in angry excitement,
now glowing with the softer light of love.  Yes: it is indeed her lover
long mourned, living, breathing, beautiful as ever!

She asks not if he be still true, that doubt has been long since
dissipated.  It needs not his presence there, nor what he has just done,
to reassure her.

For a time she asks no questions; neither he.  Both are too absorbed
with sweet thoughts to care for words.  Speech could not heighten their
happiness, in the midst of caresses and kisses.

On his side there is no backwardness now; on hers no coyness, no mock
modesty.  They come together not as at their last interview, timid
sweethearts, but lovers emboldened by betrothal.  For she knows, that he
proposed to her; as he, that her acceptance was sent, and miscarried.
It has reached him nevertheless; he has it upon his person now--both the
letter and portrait.  About the last are his first words.  Drawing it
out, and holding it up to the light, he asks playfully:

"Helen; was it meant fo' me?"

"No," she evasively answers, "it was meant for me."

"Oh! the likeness, yes; but the inscript--these pleasant words written
underneath?"

"Put it back into; our pocket, Charles.  And now tell me all.  Am I
dreaming?  Or is it indeed reality?"

No wonder she should so exclaim.  Never was transformation quicker, or
more complete.  But a few seconds before she was, as it were, in the
clutches of the devil; now an angel is by her side, a seraph with soft
wings to shelter, and strong arms to protect her.  She feels as one,
who, long lingering at the door of death, has health suddenly and
miraculously restored, with the prospect of a prolonged and happy life.

Clancy replies, by again flinging his arms around, and rapturously
kissing her: perhaps thinking it the best answer he can give.  If that
be not reality, what is?

Jessie has now joined them, and after exchanged congratulations, there
succeed mutual inquiries and explanations.  Clancy has commenced giving
a brief account of what has occurred to himself, when he is interrupted
by a rough, but kindly voice; that of Sime, saying:--

"Ye kin tell them all that at some other time, Charley; thar aint a
minnit to be throwed away now."  Then drawing Clancy aside, speaking so
as not to be heard by the others.  "Thar's danger in dallyin' hyar.
I've jest been puttin' thet jail bird, Bosley, through a bit o'
catechism; an' from what he's told me the sooner we git out o' hyar the
better.  Who d'ye spose is at the bottom o' all this?  I needn't ask ye;
ye're boun to guess.  I kin see the ugly brute's name bulgin' out yur
cheeks."

"Borlasse!"

"In course it's he.  Bosley's confessed all.  Ked'nt well help it, wi'
my bowie threetenin' to make a red stream run out o' him.  The gang--
thar's twenty o' 'em all counted--goed up to the Mission to plunder it--
a sort o' burglarious expedishun; Borlasse hevin' a understandin' wi' a
treetur that's inside--a sort o' sarvint to the Creole, Dupray, who only
late engaged him.  Wal; it seems they grupped the gurls, as they war
makin' for the house--chanced on 'em outside in the garden.  Bosley an'
the other hev toated 'em this far, an' war wait in for the rest to come
on wi' the stolen goods.  They may be hyar at any minnit; an', wi' Jim
Borlasse at thar head, I needn't tell ye what that means.  Four o' us
agin twenty--for we can't count on Harkness--it's ugly odds.  We'd hev
no show, howsomever.  It 'ud end in their again grabbin' these pretty
critters, an' 's like 's not end our own lives."

Clancy needs no further speech to convince him of the danger.  After
what has occurred, an encounter with the robbers would, indeed, be
disastrous.  Richard Darke, leagued with Jim Borlasse, a noted pirate of
the prairies; their diabolical plans disclosed, and only defeated by the
merest accident of circumstances.

"You're right, Sime.  We mustn't be caught by the scoundrels.  As you
say, that would be the end of everything.  How are we to avoid them?"

"By streakin' out o' hyar quick as possible."

"Do you propose our taking to the timber, and lying hid till they go
past?"

"No.  Our better plan 'll be to go on to the Mission, an' get thar
soon's we kin."

"But we may meet them in the teeth?"

"We must, ef we take the main road up tother side--pretty sure to meet
'em.  We shan't be sech fools.  I've thought o' all that, an' a way to
get clear of the scrape."

"What way?"

"That road we kim in by, ye see, leads on'ard up the bank this side.  I
reckin' it goes to the upper crossin', the which air several miles above
the buildin's.  We kin take it, an' foller it without any fear o'
encounterin' them beauties.  I've sent Jupe and Harkness to bring up the
hosses.  Ned's tother side the tree in charge o' Bosley."

"You've arranged it right.  Nothing could be better.  Take the trail up
this side.  I can trust you for seeing them safe into their father's
arms--if he still live."

Woodley wonders at this speech.  He is about to ask explanation, when
Clancy adds, pointing to the elder sister--

"I want a word with her before parting.  While you are getting ready the
horses--"

"Before partin'!" interrupts Sime with increased surprise, "Surely you
mean goin' along wi' us?"

"No, I don't."

"But why, Charley?"

"Well, I've something to detain me here."

"What somethin'?"

"You ought to know without my telling you."

"Dog-goned ef I do."

"Richard Darke, then."

"But he's goed off; ye don't intend follerin' him?"

"I do--to the death.  If ever I had a fixed determination in my life,
'tis that."

"Wal, but you won't go all by yerself!  Ye'll want some o' us wi' ye?"

"No."

"Not me, nor Ned?"

"Neither.  You'll both be needed to take care of them."

Clancy nods towards the sisters, adding:--

"You'll have your hands full enough with Bosley and Harkness.  Both will
need looking after--and carefully.  Jupe I'll take with me."

Woodley remonstrates, pointing out the danger of the course his comrade
intends pursuing.  He only yields as Clancy rejoins, in a tone of
determination, almost command:--

"You must do as I tell you, Sime; go on to the Mission, and take them
with you.  As for me, I've a strong reason for remaining behind by
myself; a silly sentiment some might call it, though I don't think you
would."

"What is't?  Let's hear it, an' I'll gie ye my opeenyun strait an'
square."

"Simply, that in this whole matter from first to last, I've een making
mistakes.  So many, it's just possible my courage may be called in
question; or; if not that, my ability.  Now, do you understand me?"

"Darned ef I do."

"Well; a man must do something to prove himself worthy of the name; at
least one deed during his lifetime.  There's one I've got to do--must do
it, before I can think of anything else."

"That is?"

"_Kill Richard Darke_, As you know, I've sworn it, and nothing shall
come between me and my oath.  No, Sime, not even she who stands yonder;
though I can't tell how it pains me to separate from her, now."

"Good Lord! that will be a painful partin'!  Poor gurl!  I reckin her
heart's been nigh broke arready.  She hasn't the peach colour she used
to hev.  It's clean faded out o' her cheeks, an' what your goin' to do
now aint the way to bring it back agin."

"I cannot help it, Sime.  I hear my mother calling me.  Go, now!  I wish
it; I insist upon it!"

Saying this, he turns towards Helen Armstrong to speak a word, which he
knows will be sad as was ever breathed into the ear of woman.



CHAPTER SIXTY FOUR.

A WILD FAREWELL.

On Clancy and the hunter becoming engaged in their serious deliberation,
the sisters also exchange thoughts that are troubled.  The first bright
flash of joy at their release from captivity, with Helen's added
gratification, is once more clouded over, as they think of what may have
befallen their father.  Now, knowing who the miscreants are, their
hearts are heavy with apprehension.  Jessie may, perhaps, feel it the
more, having most cause--for her dread is of a double nature.  There is
her affianced, as well as her father!

But for Helen there is also another agony in store, soon to be suffered.
Little thinks she, as Clancy coming up takes her hand, that the light
of gladness, which so suddenly shone into her heart, is to be with like
suddenness extinguished; and that he who gave is about to take it away.
Gently leading her apart, and leaving Jessie to be comforted by Sime, he
says--

"Dearest! we've arranged everything for your being taken back to the
Mission.  The brave backwoodsmen, Woodley and Heywood, will be your
escort.  Under their protection you'll have nothing to fear.  Either
would lay down his life for you or your sister.  Nor need you be uneasy
about your father.  From what this fellow, Bosley, says, the ruffians
only meant robbery, and if they have not been resisted it will end in
that only.  Have courage, and be cheered; you'll find your father as you
left him."

"And you?" she asks in surprise.  "Do you not go with us?"

He hesitates to make answer, fearing the effect.  But it must be made;
and he at length rejoins, appealingly:

"Helen!  I hope you won't be aggrieved, or blame me for hat I am going
to do."

"What?"

"Leave you."

"Leave me!" she exclaims, her eyes interrogating his in wild
bewilderment.

"Only for a time, love; a very short while."

"But why any time?  Charles; you are surely jesting with me?"

"No, indeed.  I am in earnest.  Never more in my life, and never more
wishing I were not.  Alas! it is inevitable!"

"Inevitable!  I do not understand.  What do you mean?"

With her eyes fixed oh his, in earnest gaze, she anxiously awaits his
answer.

"Helen Armstrong!" he says, speaking in a tone of solemnity that sounds
strange, almost harsh despite its gentleness; "you are to me the dearest
thing on earth.  I need not tell you that, for surely you know it.
Without you I should not value life, nor care to live one hour longer.
To say I love you, with all my heart and soul, were but to repeat the
assurance I've already given you.  Ah! now more than ever, if that were
possible; now that I know how true you've been, and what you've suffered
for my sake.  But there's another--one far away from here, who claims a
share of my affections--"

She makes a movement interrupting him, her eyes kindling up with an
indescribable light, her bosom rising and falling as though stirred by
some terrible emotion.

Perceiving her agitation, though without suspecting its cause, he
continues:

"If this night more than ever I love you, this night greater than ever
is my affection for her.  The sight of that man, with the thought I've
again permitted him to escape, is fresh cause of reproach--a new cry
from the ground, commanding me to avenge my murdered mother."

Helen Armstrong, relieved, again breathes freely.  Strange, but natural;
in consonance with human passions.  For it was jealousy that for the
moment held sway in her thoughts.  Ashamed of the suspicion, now known
to be unworthy, she makes an effort to conceal it, saying in calm tone--

"We have heard of your mother's death."

"Of her murder," says Clancy, sternly, and through set teeth.  "Yes; my
poor mother was murdered by the man who has just gone off.  He won't go
far, before I overtake him.  I've sworn over her grave, she shall be
avenged; his blood will atone for her's.  I've tracked him here, shall
track him on; never stop, till I stand over him, as he once stood over
me, thinking--.  But I won't tell you more.  Enough, for you to know why
I'm now leaving you.  I must--I must!"

Half distracted, she rejoins:--

"You love your mother's memory more than you love me!"

Without thought the reproach escapes--wrung from her in her agony.  Soon
as made, she regrets, and would recall it.  For she sees the painful
effect it has produced.

He anticipates her, saying:--

"You wrong me, Helen, in word, as in thought.  Such could not be.  The
two are different.  You should know that.  As I tell you, I've sworn to
avenge my mother's death--sworn it over her grave.  Is that not an oath
to be kept?  I ask--I appeal to you!"

Her hand, that has still been keeping hold of his, closes upon it with
firmer grasp, while her eyes become fixed upon him in look more relying
than ever.

The selfishness of her own passion shrinks before the sacredness of that
inspiring him, and quick passes away.  With her love is now mingled
admiration.  Yielding to it, she exclaims:

"Go--go!  Get the retribution you seek.  Perhaps 'tis right.  God
shielding you, you'll succeed, and come back to me, true as you've been
to your mother.  If not, I shall soon be dead."

"If not, you may know I am.  Only death can hinder my return.  And now,
for a while, farewell!"

Farewell!  And so soon.  Oh! it is afflicting!  So far she has borne
herself with the firmness derived from a strong, self-sustaining nature.
But hearing this word--wildest of all--she can hold out no longer.  Her
strength gives way, and flinging herself on his breast, she pours forth
a torrent of tears.

"Come, Helen!" he says, kissing them from her cheeks, "be brave, and
don't fear for me.  I know my man, and the work cut out for me.  By
sheer carelessness I've twice let him have his triumph over me.  But he
won't the third time.  When we next meet 'twill be the last hour of his
life.  Something whispers this--perhaps the spirit of my mother?  Keep
up your courage, sweet!  Go back with Sime, who'll see you safe into
your father's arms.  When there, you can offer up a prayer for my
safety, and if you like, one for the salvation of Dick Darke's soul.
For sure as I stand here, ere another sun has set it will go to its
God."

With these solemn words the scene ends, only one other exchanged between
them--the wild "Farewell!"

This in haste, for at the moment Woodley comes forward, exclaiming:--

"Be quick, Charley!  We must git away from hyar instanter.  A minuit
more in this gleed, an' some o' us may niver leave it alive."

Jupiter and Harkness have brought up the horses, and are holding them in
readiness.  Soon they are mounted, Heywood taking Jessie on his croup,
Helen having a horse to herself--that late belonging to Bosley--while
the latter is compelled to share the saddle with Harkness.

Heywood leads off; the suspected men ordered to keep close after; while
Woodley reserves the rear-guard to himself and his rifle.  Before
parting, he spurs alongside Clancy, and holds out his hand, saying:--

"Gi'e me a squeeze o' yur claws, Charley.  May the Almighty stan' your
frien' and keep you out o' Ole Nick's clutches.  Don't hev' any
dubiousness 'bout us.  Tho' we shed kum across Satan hisself wi' all his
hellniferous host, Sime Woodley 'll take care o' them sweet gurls, or go
to grass trying."  With this characteristic wind-up, he puts the spur to
his horse, and closes upon the rest already parted from the spot.

Alone remain under the live-oak, Clancy and the mulatto, with horse,
hound, and mule.

Varied the emotions in Clancy's mind, as he stands looking after; but
all dark as clouds coursing across a winter's sky.  For they are all
doubts and fears; that most felt finding expression in the desponding
soliloquy.

"I may never see her again!"

As the departing cavalcade is about to enter among the trees, and the
floating drapery of her dress is soon to pass out of sight, he half
repents his determination, and is almost inclined to forego it.

But the white skirt disappears, and the dark thought returning, becomes
fixed as before.  Then, facing towards Jupiter, he directs:--

"Mount your mule, Jupe.  We've only one more journey to make; I hope a
short one.  At its end we'll meet your old master, and you'll see him
get what he deserves--his _death shot_!"



CHAPTER SIXTY FIVE.

FOR THE RENDEZVOUS.

Stillness is again restored around the crossing of the San Saba, so far
as it has been disturbed by the sound of human voices.  Nature has
resumed her reign, and only the wild creatures of her kingdom can be
heard calling, in tones that tell not of strife.

But for a short while does this tranquillity continue.  Soon once more
upon the river's bank resound rough voices, and rude boisterous
laughter, as a band of mounted men coming from the Mission side, spur
their horses down into its channel, and head to go straight across.
While under the shadow of the fringing timber, no one could tell who
these merry riders are; and, even after they have advanced into the open
moonlight, it would be difficult to identify them.  Seeing their plumed
heads with their parti-coloured complexions, a stranger would set them
down as Indians; while a Texan might particularise their tribe, calling
them Comanches.  But one who is no stranger to them--the reader--knows
they are not Indians of any kind, but savages who would show skins of a
tripe colour, were the pigment sponged off.  For it is the band of
Borlasse.

They have brought their booty thus far, _en route_ for their rendezvous.

Gleeful they are, one and all.  Before them on their saddle-bows, or
behind on the croups, are the boxes of silver coin; enough, as they
know, to give them a grand spree in the town of San Antonio, whither
they intend proceeding in due time.

But first for their lair, where the spoil is to be partitioned, and a
change made in their toilet; there to cast off the costume of the
savage, and resume the garb of civilisation.

Riding in twos across the river, on reaching its bank they make halt.
There is barely room for all on the bit of open ground by the embouchure
of the ford road; and they get clumped into a dense crowd--in its midst
their chief, Borlasse, conspicuous from his great bulk of body.

"Boys!" he says, soon as all have gained the summit of the slope, and
gathered around him, "it ain't no use for all o' us going to where I
told Quantrell an' Bosley to wait.  The approach to the oak air a bit
awkward; therefore, me an' Luke Chisholm 'll slip up thar, whiles the
rest o' ye stay hyar till we come back.  You needn't get out of your
saddles.  We won't be many minutes, for we mustn't.  They'll be a
stirrin' at the Mission, though not like to come after us so quick,
seeing the traces we've left behind.  That'll be a caution to them, I
take it.  And from what our friend here says," Borlasse nods to the
half-blood, Fernand, who is seen seated on horseback beside him, "the
settlers can't muster over forty fightin' men.  Calculatin' there's a
whole tribe o' us Comanches, they'll be too scared to start out all of a
suddint.  Besides, they'll not find that back trail by the bluff so
easy.  I don't think they can before mornin'.  Still 'twont do to hang
about hyar long.  Once we get across the upper plain we're safe.
They'll never set eyes on these Indyins after.  Come, Luke! let you an'
me go on to the oak, and pick up the stragglers.  An' boys! see ye
behave yourselves till we come back.  Don't start nail, or raise lid,
from any o' them boxes.  If there's a dollar missin', I'll know it; an'
by the Eternal--well, I guess, you understan' Jim Borlasse's way wi'
treeturs."

Leaving this to be surmised, the robber chief spurs out from their
midst, with the man he has selected to accompany him; the rest, as
enjoined, remaining.

Soon he turns into the up-river trace, which none of those who have
already travelled it, knew as well as he.  Despite his greater size,
neither its thorns, nor narrowness, hinders him from riding rapidly
along it.  He is familiar with its every turn and obstruction, as is
also Chisholm.  Both have been to the big oak before, time after time;
have bivouacked, slept under it, and beside booty.  Approaching it now
for a different purpose, they are doomed to disappointment.  There is no
sign of creature beneath its shade--horse, man, or woman!

Where is Quantrell?  Where Bosley?  What has become of them, and their
captives?

They are not under the oak, or anywhere around it.  They are nowhere!

The surprise of the robber chief instantly changes to anger.  For a
suspicion flashes across his mind, that his late appointed lieutenant
has played false to him.

He knows that Richard Darke has only been one of his band by the
exigency of sinister circumstances; knows, also, of the other, and
stronger lien that has kept Clancy's assassin attached to their
confederacy--his love for Helen Armstrong.  Now that he has her--the
sister too--why may he not have taken both off, intending henceforth to
cut all connection with the prairie pirates?  Bosley would be no bar.
The subordinate might remain faithful, and to the death; still Quantrell
could kill him.

It is all possible, probable; and Borlasse, now better acquainted with
the character of Richard Darke, can believe it so.  Convinced of his
lieutenant's treachery, he rages around the tree like a tiger deprived
of its prey.

Little cares he what has become of Darke himself, or Helen Armstrong.
It is Jessie he misses; madly loving her in his course carnal fashion.
He had hoped to have her in his arms, to carry her on to the rendezvous,
to make her his wife in the same way as Darke threatened to do with her
sister.

Fortunately for both, the sky has become clouded, and the moon is
invisible; otherwise he might see that the ground has been trodden by a
half-dozen horses, and discover the direction these have taken.  Though
Simeon Woodley, with his party, is now a good distance off, it would
still be possible to overtake them, the robbers being well mounted and
better knowing the way.  Woe to Helen and Jessie Armstrong were the moon
shining, as when they parted from that spot!

Neither Borlasse nor his confederate have a thought that any one has
been under the oak, save Quantrell, Bosley, and the captives.  How could
they?  And now they think not that these have been there; for, calling
their names aloud, they get no response.  Little do the two freebooters
dream of the series of exciting incidents that in quick succession, and
so recently, have occurred in that now silent spot.  They have no
suspicion of aught, save that Bosley has betrayed his trust, Phil
Quantrell instigating him, and that both have forsaken the band, taking
the captives along.

At thought of their treachery Borlasse's fury goes beyond bounds, and he
stamps and storms.

To restrain him, Chisholm says, suggestingly, "Like as not, Cap',
they're gone on to head-quarters.  I guess, when we get there we'll find
the whole four."

"You think so?"

"I'm good as sure of it.  What else could they do, or would they?
Quantrell darn't go back to the States, with that thing you spoke of
hangin' over him.  Nor is he like to show himself in any o' the
settlements of Texas.  And what could the two do by themselves out on
the wild prairie?"

"True; I reckon you're about right, Luke.  In any case we musn't waste
more time here.  It's getting well on to morning and by the earliest
glint of day the settlers 'll take trail after us.  We must on to the
upper plain."

At this he heads his horse back into the narrow trail; and, hurrying
along it, rejoins his followers by the ford.

Soon as reaching them, he gives the command for immediate march;
promptly obeyed, since every robber in the ruck has pleasant
anticipation of what is before, with ugly recollection of what is, and
fears of what may be, behind him.



CHAPTER SIXTY SIX.

A SCOUTING PARTY.

Throughout all this time, the scene of wild terror, and frenzied
excitement, continues to rage around the Mission.  Its walls, while
echoing voices of lamentation, reverberate also the shouts of revenge.

It is some time ere the colonists can realise the full extent of the
catastrophe, or be sure it is at an end.  The gentlemen, who dined with
Colonel Armstrong, rushing back to their own homes in fearful
anticipation, there find everything, as they left it; except that their
families and fellow settlers are asleep.  For all this, the fear does
not leave their hearts.  If their houses are not aflame, as they
expected to see them--if their wives and children are not butchered in
cold blood--they know not how soon this may be.  The Indians--for
Indians they still believe them--would not have attacked so strong a
settlement, unless in force sufficient to destroy it.  The ruin,
incomplete, may still be impending.  True, the interlude of inaction is
difficult to understand; only intelligible, on the supposition that the
savages are awaiting an accession to their strength, before they assault
the _rancheria_.  They may at the moment be surrounding it?

Under this apprehension, the settlers are hastily, and by loud shouts,
summoned from their beds.  Responding to the rude arousal, they are soon
out of them, and abroad; the women and children frantically screaming;
the men more calm; some of them accustomed to such surprises, issuing
forth armed, and ready for action.

Soon all are similarly prepared, each with gun, pistol, and knife borne
upon his person.

After hearing the tale of horror brought from the Mission-building, they
hold hasty council as to what they should do.

Fear for their own firesides restrains them from starting off; and some
time elapse before they feel assured that the _rancheria_ will not be
attacked, and need defending.

Meanwhile, they despatch messengers to the Mission; who, approaching it
cautiously, find no change there.

Colonel Armstrong is still roaming distractedly around, searching for
his daughters, Dupre by his side, Hawkins and Tucker assisting in the
search.

The girls not found, and the frantic father settling down to the
conviction that they are gone--lost to him forever!

Oh! the cruel torture of the truth thus forced upon him!  His children
carried off captive, that were enough.  But to such captivity!  To be
the associates of savages, their slaves, their worse than slaves--ah! a
destiny compared with which death were desirable.

So reasons the paternal heart in this supreme moment of its affliction.

Alike, distressed is he, bereaved of his all but bride.  The young
Creole is well-nigh beside himself.  Never has he known such bitter
thoughts; the bitterest of all--a remembrance of something said to him
by his betrothed that very day.  A word slight but significant, relating
to the half-blood, Fernand; a hint of some familiarity in the man's
behaviour towards her, not absolute boldness, but presumption: for
Jessie did not tell all.  Still enough to be now vividly recalled to
Dupre's memory, with all that exaggeration the circumstances are
calculated to suggest to his fancy and fears.  Yes; his trusted servant
has betrayed him, and never did master more repent a trust, or suffer
greater pain by its betrayal.

The serpent he warmed has turned and stung him, with sting so venomous
as to leave little of life.

Within and around the Mission-building are other wailing voices, besides
those of its owners.  Many of the domestics have like cause for
lamentation, some even more.  Among the massacred, still stretched in
their gore, one stoops over a sister; another sees his child; a wife
weeps by the side of her husband, her hot tears mingling with his yet
warm blood; while brother bends down to gaze into the eyes of brother,
which, glassy and sightless, cannot reciprocate the sorrowing glance!

It is not the time to give way to wild grief.  The occasion calls for
action, quick, immediate.  Colonel Armstrong commands it; Dupre urges
it.  Soon as their first throes of surprise and terror have subsided,
despair is replaced by anger, and their thoughts turn upon retaliation.

All is clear now.  Those living at the _rancheria_ have not been
molested.  The savages have carried off Dupre's silver.  Despoiled of
his far more precious treasure, what recks he of that?  Only as telling
that the object of the attacking party was robbery more than murder;
though they have done both.  Still it is certain, that, having achieved
their end, they are gone off with no intention to renew the carnage of
which all can see such sanguinary traces.  Thus reasoning, the next
thought is pursuit.

As yet the other settlers are at the _rancheria_, clinging to their own
hearths, in fear of a fresh attack, only a few having come up to the
Mission, to be shocked at what they see there.

But enough for Dupre's purpose; which receives the sanction of Colonel
Armstrong, as also that of the hunters, Hawkins and Tucker.

It is decided not to wait till all can be ready; but for a select party
to start off at once, in the capacity of scouts; these to take up the
trail of the savages, and send back their report to those coming after.

To this Colonel Armstrong not only gives consent, but deems it the most
prudent course, and likeliest to secure success.  Despite his anxious
impatience, the strategy of the old soldier tells him, that careless
haste may defeat its chances.

In fine, a scouting party is dispatched, Hawkins at its head as guide,
the Creole commanding.

Armstrong himself remains behind, to organise the main body of settlers
getting ready for pursuit.



CHAPTER SIXTY SEVEN.

A STRAYING TRAVELLER.

A man on horseback making his way through a wood.  Not on road, or
trodden path, or trace of any kind.  For it is a tract of virgin forest,
in which settler's axe has never sounded, rarely traversed by ridden
horse; still more rarely by pedestrian.

He, now passing through it, rides as fast as the thick standing trunks,
and tangle of undergrowth will allow.  The darkness also obstructs him;
for it is night.  Withal he advances rapidly, though cautiously; at
intervals glancing back, at longer ones, delaying to listen, with chin
upon his shoulder.

His behaviour shows fear; so, too, his face.  Here and there the
moonbeams shining through breaks in the foliage, reveal upon his
features bewilderment, as well as terror.  By their light he is guiding
his course, though he does not seem sure of it.  The only thing
appearing certain is, that he fears something behind, and is fleeing
from it.

Once he pauses, longer than usual; and, holding his horse in check, sits
listening attentively.  While thus halted, he hears a noise, which he
knows to be the ripple of a river.  It seems oddly to affect him,
calling forth an exclamation, which shows he is dissatisfied with the
sound.

"Am I never to get away from it?  I've been over an hour straying about
here, and there's the thing still--not a quarter of a mile off, and
timber thick as ever.  I thought that last shoot would have taken me out
of it.  I must have turned somewhere.  No help for it, but try again."

Making a half-face round, he heads his horse in a direction opposite to
that from which comes the sound of the water.  He has done so
repeatedly, as oft straying back towards the stream.  It is evident he
has no wish to go any nearer; but a strong desire to get away from it.

This time he is successful.  The new direction followed a half-mile
further shows him clear sky ahead, and in a few minutes more he is at
the forest's outmost edge.  Before him stretches an expanse of plain
altogether treeless, but clothed with tall grass, whose culms stirred by
the night breeze, and silvered by the moonbeams, sway to and fro, like
the soft tremulous wavelets of a tropic sea; myriads of fire-flies
prinkling among the spikes, and emitting a gleam, as phosphorescent
_medusae_, make the resemblance complete.

The retreating horseman has no such comparison in his thoughts, nor any
time to contemplate Nature.  The troubled expression in his eyes, tells
he is in no mood for it.  His glance is not given to the grass, nor the
brilliant "lightning bugs," but to a dark belt discernible beyond,
apparently a tract of timber, similar to that he has just traversed.
More carefully scrutinised, it is seen to be rocks, not trees; in short
a continuous line of cliff, forming the boundary of the bottom-land.

He viewing it, well knows what it is, and intends proceeding on to it.
He only stays to take bearings for a particular place, at which he
evidently aims.  His muttered words specify the point.

"The gulch must be to the right.  I've gone up-river all the while.
Confound the crooked luck!  It may throw me behind them going back; and
how am I to find my way over the big plain!  If I get strayed there--Ha!
I see the pass now; yon sharp shoulder of rock--its there."

Once more setting his horse in motion, he makes for the point thus
identified.  Not now in zig-zags, or slowly--as when working his way
through the timber--but in a straight tail-on-end gallop, fast as the
animal can go.

And now under the bright moonbeams it may be time to take a closer
survey of the hastening horseman.  In garb he is Indian, from the
mocassins on his feet to the fillet of stained feathers surmounting his
head.  But the colour of his skin contradicts the idea of his being an
aboriginal.  His face shows white, but with some smut upon it, like that
of a chimney-sweep negligently cleansed.  And his features are
Caucasian, not ill-favoured, except in their sinister expression; for
they are the features of Richard Darke.

Knowing it is he, it will be equally understood that the San Saba is the
stream whose sough is so dissonant in his ears, as also, why he is so
anxious to put a wide space between himself and its waters.  On its bank
he has heard a name, and caught sight of him bearing it--the man of all
others he has most fear.  The backwoodsman who tracked him in the
forests of Mississippi, now trailing him upon the prairies of Texas,
Simeon Woodley ever pursuing him!  If in terror he has been retreating
through the trees, not less does he glide over the open ground.  Though
going in a gallop, every now and then, as before, he keeps slewing round
in the saddle and gazing back with apprehensiveness, in fear he may see
forms issuing from the timber's edge, and coming on after.

None appear, however; and, at length, arriving by the bluffs base, he
draws up under its shadow, darker now, for clouds are beginning to
dapple the sky, making the moon's light intermittent.  Again, he appears
uncertain about the direction he should take; and seated in his saddle,
looks inquiringly along the facade of the cliff, scrutinising its
outline.

Not long before his scrutiny is rewarded.  A dark disc of triangular
shape, the apex inverted, proclaims a break in the escarpment.  It is
the embouchure of a ravine, in short the pass he has been searching for,
the same already known to the reader.  Straight towards it he rides,
with the confidence of one who has climbed it before.  In like manner he
enters between its grim jaws, and spurs his horse up the slope under the
shadow of rocks overhanging right and left.  He is some twenty minutes
in reaching its summit, on the edge of the upland plain.  There he
emerges into moonlight; for Luna has again looked out.

Seated in his saddle he takes a survey of the bottom-land below.  Afar
off, he can distinguish the dark belt of timber, fringing the river on
both sides, with here and there a reach of water between, glistening in
the moon's soft light like molten silver.  His eyes rest not on this,
but stray over the open meadow, land in quest of something there.

There is nothing to fix his glance, and he now feels safe, for the first
time since starting on that prolonged retreat.

Drawing a free breath he says, soliloquising:--

"No good my going farther now.  Besides I don't know the trail, not a
foot farther.  No help for it but stay here till Borlasse and the boys
come up.  They can't be much longer, unless they've had a fight to
detain them; which I don't think at all likely, after what the
half-blood told us.  In any case some of them will be this way.  Great
God!  To think of Sime Woodley being here!  And after me, sure, for the
killing of Clancy!  Heywood, too, and Harkness along with them!  How is
that, I wonder?  Can they have met my old jailer on the way, and brought
him back to help in tracing me?  What the devil does it all mean?  It
looks as if the very Fates were conspiring for my destruction.

"And who the fellow that laid hold of my horse?  So like Clancy!  I
could swear 'twas he, if I wasn't sure of having settled him.  If ever
gun-bullet gave a man his quietus, mine did him.  The breath was out of
his body before I left him.

"Sime Woodley's after me, sure!  Damn the ugly brute of a backwoodsman!
He seems to have been created for the special purpose of pursuing me?

"And she in my power, to let her so slackly go again!  I may never have
another such chance.  She'll get safe back to the settlements, there to
make mock of me!  What a simpleton I've been to let her go alive!  I
should have driven my knife into her.  Why didn't I do it?  Ach!"

As he utters the harsh exclamation there is blackness on his brow, and
chagrin in his glance; a look, such as Satan may have cast back at
Paradise on being expelled from it.

With assumed resignation, he continues:--

"No good my grieving over it now.  Regrets won't get her back.  There
may be another opportunity yet.  If I live there shall be, though it
cost me all my life to bring it about."

Another pause spent reflecting what he ought to do next.  He has still
some fear of being followed by Sime Woodley.  Endeavouring to dismiss
it, he mutters:--

"'Tisn't at all likely they'd find the way up here.  They appeared to be
afoot.  I saw no horses.  They might have them for all that.  But they
can't tell which way I took through the timber, and anyhow couldn't
track me till after daylight.  Before then Borlasse will certainly be
along.  Just possible he may come across Woodley and his lot.  They'll
be sure to make for the Mission, and take the road up t'other side.  A
good chance of our fellows encountering them, unless that begging fool,
Bosley, has let all out.  Maybe they killed him on the spot?  I didn't
hear the end of it, and hope they have."

With this barbarous reflection he discontinues his soliloquy, bethinking
himself, how he may best pass the time till his comrades come on.  At
first he designs alighting, and lying down: for he has been many hours
in the saddle, and feels fatigued.  But just as he is about to dismount,
it occurs to him the place is not a proper one.  Around the summit of
the pass, the plain is without a stick of timber, not even a bush to
give shade or concealment, and of this last he now begins to recognise
the need.  For, all at once, he recalls a conversation with Borlasse, in
which mention was made of Sime Woodley; the robber telling of his having
been in Texas before, and out upon the San Saba--the very place where
now seen!  Therefore, the backwoodsman will be acquainted with the
locality, and may strike for the trail he has himself taken.  He
remembers Sime's reputation as a tracker; he no longer feels safe.  In
the confusion of his senses, his fancy exaggerates his fears, and he
almost dreads to look back across the bottom-land.

Thus apprehensive, he turns his eyes towards the plain, in search of a
better place for his temporary bivouac, or at all events a safer one.
He sees it.  To the right, and some two or three hundred yards off is a
_motte_ of timber, standing solitary on the otherwise treeless expanse.
It is the grove of black-jacks, where Hawkins and Tucker halted that
same afternoon.

"The very place!" says Richard Darke to himself, after scrutinising it.
"There I'll be safe every way; can see without being seen.  It commands
a view of the pass, and, if the moon keep clear, I'll be able to tell
who comes up, whether friends or foes."

Saying this, he makes for the _motte_.

Reaching it, he dismounts, and, drawing the rein over his horse's head,
leads the animal in among the trees.

At a short distance from the grove's edge is a glade.  In this he makes
stop, and secures the horse, by looping the bridle around a branch.

He has a tin canteen hanging over the horn of his saddle, which he lifts
off.  It is a large one,--capable of holding a half-gallon.  It is three
parts full, not of water, but of whisky.  The fourth part he has drunk
during the day, and earlier hours of the night, to give him courage for
the part he had to play.  He now drinks to drown his chagrin at having
played it so badly.  Cursing his crooked luck, as he calls it, he takes
a swig of the whisky, and then steps back to the place where he entered
among the black-jacks.  There taking stand, he awaits the coming of his
confederates.

He keeps his eyes upon the summit of the pass.  They cannot come up
without his seeing them, much less go on over the plain.

They must arrive soon, else he will not be able to see them.  For he has
brought the canteen along, and, raising it repeatedly to his lips, his
sight is becoming obscured, the equilibrium of his body endangered.

As the vessel grows lighter, so does his head; while his limbs refuse to
support the weight of his body, which oscillates from side to side.

At length, with an indistinct perception of inability to sustain himself
erect, and a belief he would feel better in a recumbent attitude, he
gropes his way back to the glade, where, staggering about for a while,
he at length settles down, dead drunk.  In ten seconds he is asleep, in
slumber so profound, that a cannon shot--even the voice of Simeon
Woodley--would scarce awake him.



CHAPTER SIXTY EIGHT.

"BRASFORT."

"Brasfort has caught scent!"

The speech comes from one of two men making their way through a wood,
the same across which Richard Darke has just retreated.  But they are
not retreating as he; on the contrary pursuing, himself the object of
their pursuit.  For they two men are Charles Clancy, and Jupiter.

They are mounted, Clancy on his horse--a splendid animal--the mulatto
astride the mule.

The hound is with them, not now trotting idly after, but in front, with
nose to the earth.  They are on Darke's trail.  The animal has just
struck, and is following it, though not fast.  For a strap around its
neck, with a cord attached, and held in Clancy's hand, keeps it in
check, while another buckled about its jaws hinders it from giving
tongue.  Both precautions show Clancy's determination to take pains with
the game he is pursuing, and not again give it a chance to get away.
Twice has his mother's murderer escaped him.  It will not be so a third
time.

They are trailing in darkness, else he would not need assistance from
the dog.  For it is only a short while since his separation from the
party that went on to the Mission.  Soon as getting into their saddles,
Clancy and his faithful follower struck into the timber, at the point
where Darke was seen to enter, and they are now fairly on his tracks.
In the obscurity they cannot see them; but the behaviour of the hound
tells they are there.

"Yes; Brasfort's on it now," says Clancy, calling the animal by a name
long ago bestowed upon it.

"He's on it strong, Jupe.  I can tell by the way he tugs upon the
string."

"All right, Masser Charle.  Give him plenty head.  Let him well out.
Guess we can keep up with him.  An' the sooner we overtake the nigger
whipper, the better it be for us, an' the worser for him.  Pity you let
him go.  If you'd 'lowed Mass Woodley to shoot down his hoss--"

"Never mind about that.  You'll see himself shot down ere long, or--"

"Or what, masser?"

"Me!"

"Lor forbid!  If I ever see that, there's another goes down long side
you; either the slave-catcher or the slave."

"Thanks, my brave fellow!  I know you mean it.  But now to our work; and
let us be silent.  He may not have gone far, and's still skulking in
this tract of timber.  If so, he stands a chance to hear us.  Speak only
in a whisper."

Thus instructed, Jupe makes a gesture to signify compliance; Clancy
turning his attention to the hound.

By this, Brasfort is all eagerness, as can be told by the quick
vibration of his tail, and spasmodic action of the body.  A sound also
proceeds from his lips, an attempt at baying; which, but for the
confining muzzle would make the forest echoes ring around.  Stopped by
this his note can be heard only a short distance off, not far enough for
them to have any fear.  If they but get so near the man they are in
chase of, they will surely overtake him.

In confidence the trackers keep on; but obstructed by the close standing
trunks, with thick underwood between, they make but slow progress.  They
are more than an hour in getting across the timbered tract; a distance
that should not have taken quarter the time.

At length, arriving on its edge, they make stop; Clancy drawing back the
dog.  Looking across the plain he sees that, which tells him the
instinct of the animal will be no longer needed--at least for a time.

The moon, shining upon the meadow grass, shows a list differently
shaded; where the tall culms have been bent down and crushed by the hoof
of some heavy quadruped, that has made its way amidst them.  And
recently too, as Clancy, skilled in tracking, can tell; knowing, also,
it is the track of Dick Darke's horse.

"You see it?" he says, pointing to the lighter shaded line.  "That's the
assassin's trail.  He's gone out here, and straight across the bottom.
He's made for the bluff yonder.  From this he's been putting his animal
to speed; gone in a gallop, as the stretch between the tracks show.  He
may go that way, or any other, 'twill make no difference in the end.  He
fancies himself clever, but for all his cleverness he'll not escape me
now."

"I hope not, Masser Charle; an' don't think he will; don't see how he
can."

"He can't."

For some time Clancy is silent, apparently absorbed in serious
reflection.  At length, he says to his follower:--

"Jupe, my boy, in your time you have suffered much yourself, and should
know something of what it is to feel vengeful.  But not a vengeance like
mine.  That you can't understand, and perhaps may think me cruel."

"You, Masser Charle!"

"I don't remember ever having done a harsh thing in my life, or hurt to
anyone not deserving it."

"I am sure you never did, masser."

"My dealing with this man may seem an exception.  For sure as I live,
I'll kill him, or he shall kill me."

"There'd be no cruelty in that.  He deserve die, if ever man did."

"He shall.  I've sworn it--you know when and where.  My poor mother sent
to an untimely grave!  Her spirit seems now speaking to me--urging me to
keep my oath.  Let us on!"

They spur out into the moonlight, and off over the open plain, the hound
no longer in the lead.  His nose is not needed now.  The slot of Darke's
galloping horse is so conspicuous they can clearly see it, though going
fast as did he.

Half an hour at this rapid pace, and they are again under shadow.  It is
that of the bluff, so dark they can no longer make out the hoof-marks of
the retreating horseman.

For a time they are stayed, while once more leashing the hound, and
setting it upon the scent.

Brasfort lifts it with renewed spirit; and, keeping in advance, conducts
them to an opening in the wall of rock.  It is the entrance to a gorge
going upward.  They can perceive a trodden path, upon which are the
hoof-prints of many horses, apparently an hundred of them.

Clancy dismounts to examine them.  He takes note, that they are of
horses unshod; though there are some with the iron on.  Most of them are
fresh, among others of older date.  Those recently made have the
convexity of the hoof turned towards the river.  Whoever rode these
horses came down the gorge, and kept on for the crossing.  He has no
doubt, but that they are the same, whose tracks were observed in the
slough, and at the ford--now known to have been made by the freebooters.
As these have come down the glen, in all likelihood they will go up it
in return.

The thought should deter him from proceeding farther in that direction.

But it does not.  He is urged on by his oath--by a determination to keep
it at all cost.  He fancies Darke cannot be far ahead, and trusts to
overtaking, and settling the affair, before his confederates come up.

Reflecting thus, he enters the ravine, and commences ascending its
slope, Jupiter and Brasfort following.

On reaching the upland plain, they have a different light around, from
that below on the bottom-land.  The moon is clouded over, but her
silvery sheen is replaced by a gloaming of grey.  There are streaks of
bluish colour, rose tinted, along the horizon's edge.  It is the dawn,
for day is just breaking.

At first Clancy is gratified by a sight, so oft gladdening hearts.
Daylight will assist him in his search.

Soon, he thinks otherwise.  Sweeping his eyes over the upland plain, he
sees it is sterile and treeless.  A thin skirting of timber runs along
the bluff edge; but elsewhere all is open, except a solitary grove at no
great distance off.

The rendezvous of the robbers would not be there, but more likely on the
other side of the arid expanse.  Noting a trail which leads outwards, he
suspects the pursued man to have taken it.  But to follow in full
daylight may not only defeat all chance of overtaking him, but expose
them to the danger of capture by the freebooters coming in behind.

Clancy casts his eye across the plain, then back towards the
bottom-land.  He begins to repent his imprudence in having ventured up
the pass.  But now to descend might be more dangerous than to stay.
There is danger either way, and in every direction.  So thinking, he
says:

"I fear, Jupe, we've been going too fast, and it may be too far.  If we
encounter these desperadoes, I needn't tell you we'll be in trouble.
What ought we to do, think you?"

"Well Masser Charle, I don't jest know.  I'se a stranger on these Texas
prairies.  If 'twar in a Massissip swamp, I might be better able to
advise.  Hyar I'se all in a quandairy."

"If we go back we may meet them in the teeth.  Besides, I shan't--can't
now.  I must keep on, till I've set eyes on Dick Darke."

"Well, Masser Charle, s'pose we lie hid durin' the day, an' track him
after night?  The ole dog sure take up the scent for good twenty-four
hours to come.  There's a bunch of trees out yonner, that'll give us a
hidin' place; an' if the thieves go past this way, we sure see 'em.
They no see us there."

"But if they go past, it will be all over.  I could have little hope of
finding him alone.  Along with them he would--"

Clancy speaks as if in soliloquy.

Abruptly changing tone, he continues:--

"No, Jupe; we must go on, now.  I'll take the risk, if you're not afraid
to follow me."

"Masser Charle, I ain't afraid.  I'se told you I follow you anywhere--to
death if you need me die.  I'se tell you that over again."

"And again thanks, my faithful friend!  We won't talk of death, till
we've come up with Dick Darke.  Then you shall see it one way or other.
He, or I, hasn't many hours to live.  Come, Brasfort! you're wanted once
more."

Saying this, he lets the hound ahead, still keeping hold of the cord.

Before long, Brasfort shows signs that he has again caught scent.  His
ears crisp up, while his whole body quivers along the spinal column from
neck to tail.  There is a streak of the bloodhound in the animal; and
never did dog of this kind make after a man, who more deserved hunting
by a hound.



CHAPTER SIXTY NINE.

SHADOWS BEHIND.

When once more upon the trail of the man he intends killing, Clancy
keeps on after his hound, with eager eyes watching every movement of the
animal.  That Brasfort is dead upon the scent can be told by his excited
action, and earnest whimpering.

All at once he is checked up, his master drawing him back with sudden
abruptness.

The dog appears surprised at first, so does Jupiter.  The latter,
looking round, discovers the cause: something which moves upon the
plain, already observed by Clancy.  Not clearly seen, for it is still
dark.

"What goes yonder?" he asks, eagerly scanning it, with hands over his
eyes.

"It don't go, Masser Charle, whatever it is.  Dat thing 'pears comin'."

"You're right.  It is moving in this direction.  A dust-cloud; something
made it.  Ah! horses!  Are there men on their backs?  No.  Bah! it's but
a drove of mustangs.  I came near taking them for Comanches; not that we
need care.  Just now the red gentry chance to be tied by a treaty, and
are not likely to harm us.  We've more to fear from fellows with white
skins.  Yes, the wild horses are heading our way; scouring along as if
all the Indians in Texas were after them.  What does that signify?
Something, I take it."

Jupiter cannot say.  He is, as he has confessed, inexperienced upon the
prairies, ill understanding their "sign."  However well acquainted with
the craft of the forest, up in everything pertaining to timber, upon the
treeless plains of Texas, an old prairie man would sneeringly pronounce
him a "greenhorn."

Clancy, knowing this, scarce expects reply; or, if so, with little hope
of explanation.

He does not wait for it, having himself discovered why the wild horses
are going at such a rate.  Besides the dust stirred up by their hooves,
is another cloud rising in the sky beyond.  The black belt just looming
along the horizon proclaims the approach of a "norther."  The scared
horses are heading southward, in the hope to escape it.

They come in full career towards the spot where the two have pulled up--
along a line parallel to the trend of the cliff, at some distance from
its edge.  Neighing, snorting, with tossed manes, and streaming tails,
they tear past, and are soon wide away on the other side.

Clancy keeping horse and hound in check, waits till they are out of
sight.  Then sets Brasfort back upon the scent, from which he so
unceremoniously jerked him.

Though without dent of hoof on the dry parched grass, the hound easily
retakes it, straining on as before.

But he is soon at fault, losing it.  They have come upon the tracks of
the mustangs, these having spoiled the scent--killed it.

Clancy, halting, sits dissatisfied in the saddle; Jupiter sharing his
dissatisfaction.

What are they to do now?  The mulatto suggests crossing the ground
trodden by the mustangs, and trying on the other side.

To this Clancy consents.  It is the only course that seems rational.

Again moving forward, they pass over the beaten turf; and, letting
Brasfort alone, look to him.  The hound strikes ahead, quartering.

Not long till the vibration of his tail tells he is once more on the
scent.

Now stiffer than ever, and leading in a straight line.  He goes direct
for the copse of timber, which is now only a very short distance off.

Again Clancy draws the dog in, at the same time reining up his horse.

Jupe has done the same with his mule; and both bend their eyes upon the
copse--the grove of black-jack oaks--scanning it with glances of
inquiry.  If Clancy but knew what is within, how in a glade near its
centre, is the man they are seeking, he would no longer tarry for
Brasfort's trailing, but letting go the leash altogether, and leaping
from his horse, rush in among the trees, and bring to a speedy reckoning
him, to whom he owes so much misery.

Richard Darke dreams not of the danger so near him.  He is in a deep
sleep--the dreamless, helpless slumber of intoxication.

But a like near danger threatens Clancy himself, of which he is
unconscious.  With face towards the copse, and eyes eagerly scrutinising
it, he thinks not of looking behind.

By the way his hound still behaves, there must be something within the
grove.  What can it be?  He does not ask the question.  He suspects--is,
indeed, almost certain--his enemy is that something.  Muttering to the
mulatto, who has come close alongside, he says:--

"I shouldn't wonder, Jupe, if we've reached our journey's end.  Look at
Brasfort!  See how he strains!  There's man or beast among those
black-jacks--both I take it."

"Looks like, masser."

"Yes; I think we'll there find what we're searching for.  Strange, too,
his making no show.  I can't see sign of a movement."

"No more I."

"Asleep, perhaps?  It won't do for us to go any nearer, till sure.  He's
had the advantage of me too often before.  I can't afford giving it
again.  Ha! what's that?"

The dog has suddenly slewed round, and sniffs in the opposite direction.
Clancy and Jupe, turning at the same time, see that which draws their
thoughts from Richard Darke, driving him altogether out of their minds.

Their faces are turned towards the east, where the Aurora reddens the
sky, and against its bright background several horsemen are seen _en
silhouette_, their number each instant increasing.  Some are already
visible from crown to hoof; others show only to the shoulders; while the
heads of others can just be distinguished surmounting the crest of the
cliff.  In the spectacle there is no mystery, nor anything that needs
explanation.  Too well does Charles Clancy comprehend.  A troop of
mounted men approaching up the pass, to all appearance Indians,
returning spoil-laden from a raid on some frontier settlement.  But in
reality white men, outlawed desperadoes, the band of Jim Borlasse, long
notorious throughout South-Western Texas.

One by one, they ascend _en echelon_, as fiends through a stage-trap in
some theatric scene, showing faces quite as satanic.  Each, on arriving
at the summit, rides into line alongside their leader, already up and
halted.  And on they come, till nineteen can be counted upon the plain.

Clancy does not care to count them.  There could be nothing gained by
that.  He sees there are enough to make resistance idle.  To attempt it
were madness.

And must he submit?  There seems no alternative.

There is for all that; one he is aware of--flight.  His horse is strong
and swift.  For both these qualities originally chosen, and later
designed to be used for a special purpose--pursuit.  Is the noble animal
now to be tried in a way never intended--retreat?

Although that dark frowning phalanx, at the summit of the pass, would
seem to answer "yes," Clancy determines "no."  Of himself he could still
escape--and easily.  In a stretch over that smooth plain, not a horse in
their troop would stand the slightest chance to come up with him, and he
could soon leave all out of sight.  But then, he must needs also leave
behind the faithful retainer, from whose lips has just issued a
declaration of readiness to follow him to the death.

He cannot, will not; and if he thinks of flight, it is instinctively,
and but for an instant; the thought abandoned as he turns towards the
mulatto, and gives a glance at the mule.  On his horse he could yet ride
away from the robbers, but the slow-footed hybrid bars all hope for
Jupiter.  The absconding slave were certain to be caught, now; and slave
or free, the colour of his skin would ensure him cruel treatment from
the lawless crew.

But what better himself taken?  How can he protect poor Jupe, his own
freedom--his life--equally imperilled?  For he has no doubt but that
Borlasse will remember, and recognise, him.  It is barely twelve months
since he stood beside that whipping-post in the town of Nacogdoches, and
saw the ruffian receive chastisement for the stealing of his horse--the
same he is now sitting upon.  No fear of the horse-thief having
forgotten that episode of his life.

He can have no doubt but that Borlasse will retaliate; that this will be
his first thought, soon as seeing him.  It needs not for the robber
chief to know what has occurred by the big oak; that Bosley is a
prisoner, Quantrell a fugitive, their prisoners released, and on their
way back to the Mission.  It is not likely he does know, as yet.  But
too likely he will soon learn.  For Darke will be turning up ere long,
and everything will be made clear.  Then to the old anger of Borlasse
for the affair of the scourging, will be added new rage, while that of
Darke himself will be desperate.

In truth, the prospect is appalling; and Charles Clancy, almost as much
as ever in his life, feels that life in peril.

Could he look into the courtyard of the San Saba Mission, and see what
is there, he might think it even more so.  Without that, there is
sufficient to shake his resolution about standing his ground; enough to
make him spur away from the spot, and leave Jupiter to his fate.

"No--never!" he mentally exclaims, closing all reflection.  "As a coward
I could not live.  If I must die, it shall be bravely.  Fear not, Jupe!
We stand or fall together!"



CHAPTER SEVENTY.

SURROUNDED AND DISARMED.

Borlasse, riding at the head of his band, has been the first to arrive
at the upper end of the gorge.

Perceiving some figures upon the plain, he supposes them to be Quantrell
and Bosley with the captives.  For his face is toward the west, where
the sky is still night-shadowed, and he can but indistinctly trace the
outlines of horses and men.  As their number corresponds to that of his
missing comrades, he has no thought of its being other than they.  How
could he, as none other are likely to be encountered there?

Congratulating himself on his suspicions of the lieutenant's defection
proving unfounded, and that he will now clutch the prize long coveted,
he gives his horse the spur, and rides gaily out of the gorge.

Not till then does he perceive that the men before him are in civilised
costume, and that but one is on horseback, the other bestriding a mule.
And they have no captives, the only other thing seen beside them being a
dog!

They are not Quantrell and Bosley!

"Who can they be?" he asks of Chisholm, who has closed up behind him.

"Hanged if I know, cap.  Judgin' by their toggery, they must be whites;
though 'gainst that dark sky one can't make sure about the colour of
their hides.  A big dog with them.  A couple of trappers I take it; or,
more likely, Mexican mustangers."

"Not at all likely, Luke.  There's none o' them 'bout here--at least
I've not heard of any since we came this side the Colorado.  Cannot be
that.  I wonder who--"

"No use wonderin', cap.  We can soon settle the point by questioning
them.  As there's but the two, they'll have to tell who they are, or
take the consequences."

By this, the other robbers have come up out of the ravine.  Halted in a
row, abreast, they also scan the two figures in front, interrogating one
another as to who and what they are.  All are alike surprised at men
there, mounted or afoot; more especially white men, as by their garb
they must be.  But they have no apprehension at the encounter, seeing
there are so few.

The chief, acting on Chisholm's suggestion, moves confidently forward,
the others, in like confidence, following.

In less than sixty seconds they are up to the spot occupied by Clancy
and Jupiter.

Borlasse can scarce believe his eyes; and rubs them to make sure they
are not deceiving him.  If not they, something else has been--a
newspaper report, and a tale told by one confessing himself a murderer,
boastfully proclaiming it.  And now, before him is the murdered man, on
horseback, firmly seated in the saddle, apparently in perfect health!

The desperado is speechless with astonishment--only muttering to
himself:--"What the devil's this?"

Were the question addressed to his, comrades, they could not answer it;
though none of them share his astonishment, or can tell what is causing
it.  All they know is that two men are in their midst, one white, the
other a mulatto, but who either is they have not the slightest idea.
They see that the white man is a handsome young fellow--evidently a
gentleman--bestriding a steed which some of them already regard with
covetous glances; while he on the mule has the bearing of a
body-servant.

None of them has ever met or seen Clancy before, nor yet the fugitive
slave.  Their leader alone knows the first, too much of him, though
nothing of the last.  But no matter about the man of yellow skin.  He
with the white one is his chief concern.

Recovering from his first surprise, he turns his thoughts towards
solving the enigma.  He is not long before reaching its solution.  He
remembers that the newspaper report said: "the body of the murdered man
has not been found."  Ergo, Charles Clancy hasn't been killed after all;
for there he is, alive, and life-like as any man among them; mounted
upon a steed which Jim Borlasse remembers well--as well as he does his
master.  To forget the animal would be a lapse of memory altogether
unnatural.  There are weals on the robber's back,--a souvenir of
chastisement received for stealing that horse,--scars cicatrised, but
never to be effaced.

Deeper still than the brand on his body has sunk the record into his
soul.  He was more than disappointed--enraged--on hearing that Richard
Darke had robbed him of a premeditated vengeance.  For he knew Clancy
was again returning to Texas, and intended taking it on his return.
Now, discovering he has not been forestalled, seeing his prosecutor
there, unexpectedly in his power, the glance he gives to him is less
like that of man than demon.

His followers take note that there is a strangeness in his manner, but
refrain from questioning him about it.  He seems in one of his moods,
when they know it is not safe to intrude upon, or trifle with him.  In
his belt he carries a "Colt," which more than once has silenced a too
free-speaking subordinate.

Having surrounded the two strangers, in obedience to his gesture, they
await further instructions how to deal with them.

His first impulse is to make himself known to Clancy; then indulge in an
ebullition of triumph over his prisoner.  Put a thought restraining him,
he resolves to preserve his incognito a little longer.  Under his Indian
travestie he fancies Clancy cannot, and has not, recognised him.  Nor is
it likely he would have done so, but for the foreknowledge obtained
through Bosley.  Even now only by his greater bulk is the robber chief
distinguishable among his subordinates, all their faces being alike
fantastically disfigured.

Drawing back behind his followers, he whispers some words to Chisholm,
instructing him what is to be done, as also to take direction of it.

"Give up yer guns!" commands the latter, addressing himself to the
strangers.

"Why should we?" asks Clancy.

"We want no cross-questionin', Mister.  'Tain't the place for sech, nor
the time, as you'll soon larn.  Give up yer guns!  Right quick, or
you'll have them taken from ye, in a way you won't like."

Clancy still hesitates, glancing hastily around the ring of mounted men.
He is mad at having permitted himself to be taken prisoner, for he
knows he is this.  He regrets not having galloped off while there was
yet time.  It is too late now.  There is not a break in the enfilading
circle through which he might make a dash.  Even if there were, what
chance ultimately to escape?  None whatever.  A score of guns and
pistols are around him, ready to be discharged should he attempt to stir
from the spot.  Some of them are levelled, their barrels bearing upon
him.  It would be instant death, and madness in him to seek it so.  He
but says:--

"What have we done, that you should disarm us?  You appear to be
Indians, yet talk the white man's tongue.  In any case, and whoever you
are, we have no quarrel with you.  Why should you wish to make us
prisoners?"

"We don't do anything of the sort.  That would be wastin' wishes.
You're our pris'ners already."

It is Chisholm who thus facetiously speaks, adding in sterner tone:--

"Let go yer guns, or, by God! we'll shoot you out of your saddles.
Boys! in upon 'em, and take their weepuns away!"

At the command several of the robbers spring their horses forward, and,
closing upon Clancy, seize him from all sides; others serving Jupiter
the same.  Both see that resistance were worse than folly--sheer
insanity--and that there is no alternative but submit.

Their arms are wrested from them, though they are allowed to retain
possession of their animals.  That is, they are left in their saddles--
compelled to stay in them by ropes rove around their ankles, attaching
them to the stirrup-leathers.

Whatever punishment awaits them, that is not the place where they are to
suffer it.  For, soon as getting their prisoners secured, the band is
again formed into files, its leader ordering it to continue the march,
so unexpectedly, and to him satisfactorily, interrupted.



CHAPTER SEVENTY ONE.

A PATHLESS PLAIN.

The plain across which the freebooters are now journeying, on return to
what they call their "rendyvoo," is one of a kind common in
South-western Texas.  An arid steppe, or table-land, by the Mexicans
termed _mesa_; for the most part treeless, or only with such
arborescence as characterises the American desert.  "Mezquite," a name
bestowed on several trees of the acacia kind, "black-jack," a dwarfed
species of oak, with _Prosopis_, _Fouquiera_, and other spinous shrubs,
are here and there found in thickets called "chapparals," interspersed
with the more succulent vegetation of _cactus_ and _agave_, as also the
_yucca_, or dragon-tree of the Western Hemisphere.

In this particular section of it almost every tree and plant carries
thorns.  Even certain grasses are armed with prickly spurs, and sting
the hand that touches them; while the reptiles crawling among them are
of the most venomous species; scorpions and centipedes, with snakes
having ossified tails, and a frog furnished with horns!  The last,
however, though vulgarly believed to be a batrachian, is in reality a
lizard--the _Agama cornuta_.

This plain, extending over thirty miles from east to west, and twice the
distance in a longitudinal direction, has on one side the valley of the
San Saba, on the other certain creeks tributary to the Colorado.  On one
of these the prairie pirates have a home, or haunt, to which they retire
only on particular occasions, and for special purposes.  Under
circumstances of this kind they are now _en route_ for it.

Its locality has been selected with an eye to safety, which it serves to
perfection.  A marauding party pursued from the lower settlements of the
Colorado, by turning up the valley of the San Saba, and then taking
across the intermediate plain, would be sure to throw the pursuers off
their tracks, since on the table-land none are left throughout long
stretches where even the iron heel of a horse makes no dent in the dry
turf, nor leaves the slightest imprint.  At one place in particular,
just after striking this plain from the San Saba side, there is a broad
belt, altogether without vegetation or soil upon its surface, the ground
being covered with what the trappers call "cut-rock," presenting the
appearance of a freshly macadamised road.  Extending for more than a
mile in width, and ten times as much lengthways, it is a tract no
traveller would care to enter on who has any solicitude about the hooves
of his horse.  But just for this reason is it in every respect suitable
to the prairie pirates.  They may cross it empty-handed, and recross
laden with spoil, without the pursuers being able to discover whence
they came, or whither they have gone.

Several times has this happened; settlers having come up the Colorado in
pursuit of a marauding party--supposed to be Comanche Indians--tracked
them into the San Saba bottom-land, and on over the bluff--there to lose
their trail, and retire disheartened from the pursuit.

Across this stony stretch proceed the freebooters, leaving no more trace
behind, than one would walking on a shingled sea-beach.

On its opposite edge they make stop to take bearings.  For although they
have more than once passed that way before, it is a route which always
requires to be traversed with caution.  To get strayed on the
inhospitable steppe would be attended with danger, and might result in
death.

In clear weather, to those acquainted with the trail, there is little
chance of losing it.  For midway between the water courses runs a ridge,
bisecting the steppe in a longitudinal direction; and on the crest of
this is a tree, which can be seen from afar off on either side.  The
ridge is of no great elevation, and would scarce be observable but for
the general level from which it rises, a mere comb upon the plain, such
as is known northward by the term _coteau de prairie_--a title bestowed
by trappers of French descent.

The tree stands solitary, beside a tiny spring, which bubbles out
between its roots.  This, trickling off, soon sinks into the desert
sand, disappearing within a few yards of the spot where it has burst
forth.

In such situation both tree and fountain are strange; though the one
will account for the other, the former being due to the latter.  But
still another agency is needed to explain the existence of the tree.
For it is a "cottonwood"--a species not found elsewhere upon the same
plain; its seed no doubt transported thither by some straying bird.
Dropped by the side of the spring in soil congenial, it has sprouted up,
nourished, and become a tall tree.  Conspicuous for long leagues around,
it serves the prairie pirates as a finger-post to direct them across the
steppe; for by chance it stands right on their route.  It is visible
from the edge of the pebble-strewn tract, but only when there is a
cloudless sky and shining sun.  Now, the one is clouded, the other
unseen, and the tree cannot be distinguished.

For some minutes the robbers remain halted, but without dismounting.
Seated in the saddle, they strain their eyes along the horizon to the
west.

The Fates favour them; as in this world is too often the case with
wicked men, notwithstanding many saws to the contrary.  The sun shoots
from behind a cloud, scattering his golden gleams broad and bright over
the surface of the plain.  Only for an instant, but enough to show the
cottonwood standing solitary on the crest of the ridge.

"Thank the Lord for that glimp o' light!" exclaims Borlasse, catching
sight of the tree, "Now, boys; we see our beacon, an' let's straight to
it.  When we've got thar I'll show ye a bit of sport as 'll make ye
laugh till there wont be a whole rib left in your bodies, nor a button
on your coats--if ye had coats on."

With this absurd premonition he presses on--his scattered troop
reforming, and following.



CHAPTER SEVENTY TWO.

THE PRAIRIE STOCKS.

Silent is Clancy, sullen as a tiger just captured and encaged.  As the
moments pass, and he listens to the lawless speech of his captors, more
than ever is he vexed with himself for having so tamely submitted to be
taken.

Though as yet no special inhumanity has been shown him, he knows there
will ere long.  Coarse jests bandied between the robbers, whispered
innuendoes, forewarn him of some fearful punishment about to be put upon
him.  Only its nature remains unknown.

He does not think they intend killing him outright.  He has overheard
one of his guards muttering to the other, that such is not the chiefs
intention, adding some words which make the assurance little
consolatory.  "Worse than death" is the fragment of a sentence borne
ominously to his ears.

Worse than death!  Is it to be torture?

During all this time Borlasse has not declared himself, or given token
of having recognised his prisoner.  But Clancy can tell he has done so.
He saw it in the Satanic glance of his eye as they first came face to
face.  Since, the robber has studiously kept away from him, riding at
the head of the line, the prisoners having place in its centre.

On arrival at the underwood, all dismount; but only to slake their
thirst, as that of their horses.  The spring is unapproachable by the
animals; and leathern buckets are called into requisition.  With these,
and other marching apparatus, the freebooters are provided.  While one
by one the horses are being watered, Borlasse draws off to some
distance, beckoning Chisholm to follow him; and for a time the two seem
engaged in earnest dialogue, as if in discussion.  The chief promised
his followers a spectacle,--a "bit of sport," as he facetiously termed
it.  Clancy has been forecasting torture, but in his worst fear of it
could not conceive any so terrible as that in store for him.  It is in
truth a cruelty inconceivable, worthy a savage, or Satan himself.  Made
known to Chisholm, though hardened this outlaw's heart, he at first
shrinks from assisting in its execution--even venturing to remonstrate.

But Borlasse is inexorable.  He has no feelings of compassion for the
man who was once the cause of his being made to wince under the whip.
His vengeance is implacable; and will only be satisfied by seeing Clancy
suffer all that flesh can.  By devilish ingenuity he has contrived a
scheme to this intent, and will carry it out regardless of consequences.

So says he, in answer to the somewhat mild remonstrance of his
subordinate.

"Well, cap," rejoins the latter, yielding, "if you're determined to have
it that way, why, have it.  But let it be a leetle privater than you've
spoke o'.  By makin' it a public spectacle, an' lettin' all our fellars
into your feelins, some o' 'em mightn't be so much amused.  An some
might get to blabbin' about it afterwards, in such a way as to breed
trouble.  The originality an' curiousness o' the thing would be sure to
'tract attention, an' the report o't would run through all Texas, like a
prairie on fire.  'Twould never sleep as long's there's a soger left in
the land; and sure as shootin' we'd have the Rangers and Regulators hot
after us.  Tharfore, if you insist on the bit o' interment, take my
advice, and let the ceremony be confined to a few friends as can be
trusted wi' a secret."

For some seconds Borlasse is silent, pondering upon what Chisholm has
said.  Then responds:--

"Guess you're about right, Luke.  I'll do as you suggest.  Best way will
be to send the boys on ahead.  There's three can stay with us we can
trust--Watts, Stocker, and Driscoll.  They'll be enough to do the
grave-digging.  The rest can go on to the rendezvous.  Comrades!" he
adds, moving back towards his men, who have just finished watering their
horses, "I spoke o' some sport I intended givin' you here.  On second
thinkin' it'll be better defarred till we get to head-quarters.  So into
your saddles and ride on thar--takin' the yeller fellow along wi' ye.
The other I'll look after myself.  You, Luke Chisholm, stay; with Watts,
Stocker, and Driscoll.  I've got a reason for remaining here a little
longer.  We'll soon be after, like enough overtake ye 'fore you can
reach the creek.  If not, keep on to camp without us.  An', boys; once
more I warn ye about openin' them boxes.  I know what's in them to a
dollar.  Fernand! you'll see to that."

The half-blood, of taciturn habit, nods assent, Borlasse adding:--

"Now, you damned rascals! jump into your saddles and be off.  Take the
nigger along.  Leave the white gentleman in better company, as befits
him."

With a yell of laughter at the coarse sally, the freebooters spring upon
their horses.  Then, separating Clancy from Jupe, they ride off, taking
the latter.  On the ground are left only the chief, Chisholm, and the
trio chosen to assist at some ceremony, mysteriously spoken of as an
"interment."

After all it is not to be there.  On reflection, Borlasse deems the
place not befitting.  The grave he is about to dig must not be
disturbed, nor the body he intends burying disinterred.

Though white traveller never passes that solitary tree, red ones
sometimes seek relaxation under its shade.  Just possible a party of
Comanches may come along; and though savages, their hearts might still
be humane enough to frustrate the nefarious scheme of a white man more
savage than they.  To guard against such contingency Borlasse has
bethought him of some change in his programme, which he makes known to
Chisholm, saying:--

"I won't bury him here, Luke.  Some strayin' redskin might come along,
and help him to resurrection.  By God! he shan't have that, till he
hears Gabriel's trumpet.  To make sure we must plant him in a safer
place."

"Can we find safer, cap?"

"Certainly we can."

"But whar?"

"Anywhare out o' sight of here.  We shall take him to some distance off,
so's they can't see him from the spring.  Up yonder'll do."

He points to a part of the plain northward, adding:--

"It's all alike which way, so long's we go far enough."

"All right!" rejoins Chisholm, who has surrendered his scruples about
the cruelty of what they intend doing, and only thinks of its being done
without danger.

"Boys!" shouts Borlasse to the men in charge of Clancy, "bring on your
prisoner!  We're going to make a leetle deflection from the course--a
bit o' a pleasure trip--only a short un."

So saying, he starts off in a northerly direction, nearly at right
angles to that they have been hitherto travelling.

After proceeding about a mile, the brigand chief, still riding with
Chisholm in the advance, comes to a halt, calling back to the others to
do the same--also directing them to dismount their prisoner.

Clancy is unceremoniously jerked out of his saddle; and, after having
his arms pinioned, and limbs lashed together, laid prostrate along the
earth.  This leaves them free for the infernal task, they are now
instructed to perform.  One only, Watts, stays with the prisoner; the
other two, at the chiefs command, coming on to where he and Chisholm
have halted.  Then all four cluster around a spot he points out, giving
directions what they are to do.

With the point of his spear Borlasse traces a circle upon the turf, some
twenty inches in diameter; then tells them to dig inside it.

Stocker and Driscoll draw their tomahawks, and commence hacking at the
ground; which, though hard, yields to the harder steel of hatchets
manufactured for the cutting of skulls.  As they make mould, it is
removed by Chisholm with the broad blade of his Comanche spear.

As all prairie men are accustomed to making _caches_, they are expert at
this; and soon sink a shaft that would do credit to the "crowing" of a
South African Bosjesman.  It is a cylinder full five feet in depth, with
a diameter of less than two.  Up to this time its purpose has not been
declared to either Stocker, or Driscoll, though both have their
conjectures.  They guess it to be the grave of him who is lying along
the earth--his living tomb!

At length, deeming it deep enough, Borlasse commands them to leave off
work, adding, as he points to the prisoner: "Now, plant your saplin'!
If it don't grow there it ought to."

The cold-blooded jest extorts a smile from the others, as they proceed
to execute the diabolical order.

And they do it without show of hesitation--rather with alacrity.  Not
one of the five has a spark of compassion in his breast--not one whose
soul is unstained with blood.

Clancy is dragged forward, and plunged feet foremost into the cavity.
Standing upright, his chin is only an inch or two above the surface of
the ground.  A portion of the loose earth is pushed in, and packed
around him, the ruffians trampling it firm.  What remains they kick and
scatter aside; the monster, with horrible mockery, telling them to make
a "neat job of it."

During all this time Brasfort has been making wild demonstrations,
struggling to free himself, as if to rescue his master.  For he is also
bound, tied to the stirrup of one of the robber's horses.  But the
behaviour of the faithful animal, instead of stirring them to
compassion, only adds to their fiendish mirth.

The interment complete, Borlasse makes a sign to the rest to retire;
then, placing himself in front, with arms akimbo, stands looking Clancy
straight in the face.  No pen could paint that glance.  It can only be
likened to that of Lucifer.

For a while he speaks not, but in silence exults over his victim.  Then,
bending down and tossing back his plumed bonnet, he asks, "D'ye know me,
Charley Clancy?"

Receiving no reply, he continues, "I'll lay a hundred dollars to one, ye
will, after I've told ye a bit o' a story, the which relates to a
circumstance as happened jest twelve months ago.  The scene o' that
affair was in the public square o' Nacodosh, whar a man was tied to a
post an--"

"Whipped at it, as he deserved."

"Ha!" exclaims Borlasse, surprised, partly at being recognised, but as
much by the daring avowal.  "You do remember that little matter?  And me
too?"

"Perfectly; so you may spare yourself the narration.  You are Jim
Borlasse, the biggest brute and most thorough scoundrel in Texas."

"Curse you!" cries the ruffian enraged, poising his spear till its point
almost touches Clancy's head, "I feel like driving this through your
skull."

"Do so!" is the defiant and desperate rejoinder.  It is what Clancy
desires.  He has no hope of life now.  He wishes death to come at once,
and relieve him from the long agony he will otherwise have to endure.

Quick catching this to be his reason, Borlasse restrains himself, and
tosses up the spear, saying:--

"No, Mister; ye don't die that eesy way--not if I know it.  You and
yours kept me two days tied like a martyr to the stake, to say nothin'
of what came after.  So to make up for't I'll give you a spell o'
confinement that'll last a leetle longer.  You shall stay as ye are,
till the buzzarts peck out your eyes, an' the wolves peel the skin from
your skull--ay, till the worms go crawlin' through your flesh.  How'll
ye like that, Charley Clancy?"

"There's no wolf or vulture on the prairies of Texas ugly as yourself.
Dastardly dog!"

"Ah! you'd like to get me angry?  But you can't.  I'm cool as a
cowkumber--aint I?  Your dander's up, I can see.  Keep it down.  No good
your gettin' excited.  I s'pose you'd like me to spit in your face.
Well, here goes to obleege ye."

At this he stoops down, and does as said.  After perpetrating the
outrage, he adds:--

"Why don't ye take out your handkercher an' wipe it off.  It's a pity to
see such a handsome fellow wi' his face in that fashion.  Ha! ha! ha!"

His four confederates, standing apart, spectators of the scene, echo his
fiendish laughter.

"Well, well, my proud gentleman;" he resumes, "to let a man spit in your
face without resentin' it!  I never expected to see you sunk so low.
Humiliated up to the neck--to the chin!  Ha! ha! ha!"

Again rings out the brutal cachinnation, chorused by his four followers.

In like manner the monster continues to taunt his helpless victim; so
long, one might fancy his spite would be spent, his vengeance sated.

But no--not yet.  There is still another arrow in his quiver--a last
shaft to be shot--which he knows will carry a sting keener than any yet
sent.

When his men have remounted, and are ready to ride off, he returns to
Clancy, and, stooping, hisses into his ear:--

"Like enough you'll be a goodish while alone here, an' tharfore left to
your reflections.  Afore partin' company, let me say somethin' that may
comfort you.  _Dick Darke's got your girl; 'bout this time has her in
his arms_!"



CHAPTER SEVENTY THREE.

HELPLESS AND HOPELESS.

"O God!"

Charles Clancy thus calls upon his Maker.  Hitherto sustained by
indignation, now that the tormentor has left him, the horror of his
situation, striking into his soul in all its dread reality, wrings from
him the prayerful apostrophe.

A groan follows, as his glance goes searching over the plain.  For there
is nothing to gladden it.  His view commands the half of a circle--a
great circle such as surrounds you upon the sea; though not as seen from
the deck of a ship, but by one lying along the thwarts of a boat, or
afloat upon a raft.

The robbers have ridden out of sight, and he knows they will not return.
They have left him to die a lingering death, almost as if entombed
alive.  Perhaps better he were enclosed in a coffin; for then his
sufferings would sooner end.

He has not the slightest hope of being succoured.  There is no
likelihood of human creature coming that way.  It is a sterile waste,
without game to tempt the hunter, and though a trail runs across it,
Borlasse, with fiendish forethought, has placed him so far from this,
that no one travelling along it could possibly see him.  He can just
descry the lone cottonwood afar off, outlined against the horizon like a
ship at sea.  It is the only tree in sight; elsewhere not even a bush to
break the drear monotony of the desert.

He thinks of Simeon Woodley, Ned Heywood, and those who may pursue the
plunderers of the settlement.  But with hopes too faint to be worth
entertaining.  For he has been witness to the precautions taken by the
robbers to blind their trail, and knows that the most skilled tracker
cannot discover it.  Chance alone could guide the pursuit in that
direction, if pursuit there is to be.  But even this is doubtful.  For
Colonel Armstrong having recovered his daughters, and only some silver
stolen, the settlers may be loath to take after the thieves, or postpone
following them to some future time.  Clancy has no knowledge of the
sanguinary drama that has been enacted at the Mission, else he would not
reason thus.  Ignorant of it, he can only be sure, that Sime Woodley and
Ned Heywood will come in quest of, but without much likelihood of their
finding them.  No doubt they will search for days, weeks, months, if
need be; and in time, but too late, discover--what?  His head--

"Ha!"

His painful reflections are interrupted by that which but intensifies
their painfulness: a shadow he sees flitting across the plain.

His eyes do not follow it, but, directed upward, go in search of the
thing which is causing it.  "A vulture!"

The foul bird is soaring aloft, its black body and broad expanded wings
outlined against the azure sky.  For this is again clear, the clouds and
threatening storm having drifted off without bursting.  And now, while
with woe in his look he watches the swooping bird, well knowing the
sinister significance of its flight, he sees another, and another, and
yet another, till the firmament seems filled with them.

Again he groans out, "O God!"

A new agony threatens, a new horror is upon him.  Vain the attempt to
depict his feelings, as he regards the movements of the vultures.  They
are as those of one swimming in the sea amidst sharks.  For, although
the birds do not yet fly towards him, he knows they will soon be there.
He sees them sailing in spiral curves, descending at each gyration,
slowly but surely stooping lower, and coming nearer.  He can hear the
swish of their wings, like the sough of an approaching storm, with now
and then a raucous utterance from their throats--the signal of some
leader directing the preliminaries of the attack, soon to take place.

At length they are so close, he can see the ruff around their naked
necks, bristled up; the skin reddened as with rage, and their beaks,
stained with bloody flesh of some other banquet, getting ready to feast
upon his.  Soon he will feel them striking against his skull, pecking
out his eyes.  O, heavens! can horror be felt further?

Not by him.  It adds not to his, when he perceives that the birds
threatening to assail him will be assisted by beasts.  For he now sees
this.  Mingling with the shadows flitting over the earth, are things
more substantial--the bodies of wolves.  As with the vultures, at first
only one; then two or three; their number at each instant increasing,
till a whole pack of the predatory brutes have gathered upon the ground.

Less silent than their winged allies--their competitors, if it come to a
repast.  For the coyote is a noisy creature, and those now assembling
around Clancy's head--a sight strange to them--give out their triple
bark, with its prolonged whine, in sound so lugubrious, that, instead of
preparing for attack, one might fancy them wailing a defeat.

Clancy has often heard that cry, and well comprehends its meaning.  It
seems his death-dirge.  While listening to it no wonder he again calls
upon God--invokes Heaven to help him!



CHAPTER SEVENTY FOUR.

COYOTE CREEK.

A stream coursing through a canoned channel whose banks rise three
hundred feet above its bed.  They are twin cliffs that front one
another, their _facades_ not half so far apart.  Rough with projecting
points of rock, and scarred by water erosion, they look like angry
giants with grim visages frowning mutual defiance.  In places they
approach, almost to touching; then, diverging, sweep round the opposite
sides of an ellipse; again closing like the curved handles of callipers.
Through the spaces thus opened the water makes its way, now rushing in
hoarse torrent, anon gently meandering through meadows, whose vivid
verdure, contrasting with the sombre colour of the enclosing cliffs,
gives the semblance of landscape pictures set in rustic frame.

The traveller who attempts to follow the course of the stream in
question will have to keep upon the cliffs above: for no nearer can he
approach its deeply-indented channel.  And here he will see only the
sterile treeless plain; or, if trees meet his eye, they will be such as
but strengthen the impression of sterility--some scrambling mezquite
bushes, clumps of cactaceae, perhaps the spheroidal form of a
melocactus, or yucca, with its tufts of rigid leaves--the latter
resembling bunches of bayonets rising above the musket "stacks" on a
military parade ground.

He will have no view of the lush vegetation that enlivens the valley a
hundred yards below the hoofs of his horse.  He will not even get a
glimpse of the stream itself; unless by going close to the edge of the
precipice, and craning his neck over.  And to do this, he must needs
diverge from his route to avoid the transverse rivulets, each trickling
down the bed of its own deep-cut channel.

There are many such streams in South-Western Texas; but the one here
described is that called _Arroyo de Coyote_--Anglice, "Coyote Creek"--a
tributary of the Colorado.

In part it forms the western boundary of the table-land, already known
to the reader, in part intersecting it.  Approaching it from the San
Saba side, there is a stretch of twenty miles, where its channel cannot
be reached, except by a single lateral ravine leading down to it at
right angles, the entrance to which is concealed by a thick chapparal of
thorny mezquite trees.  Elsewhere, the traveller may arrive on the
bluff's brow, but cannot go down to the stream's edge.  He may see it
far below, coursing among trees of every shade of green, from clearest
emerald to darkest olive, here in straight reaches, there sinuous as a
gliding snake.  Birds of brilliant plumage flit about through the
foliage upon its banks, some disporting themselves in its pellucid wave;
some making the valley vocal with their melodious warblings, and others
filling it with harsh, stridulous cries.  Burning with thirst, and faint
from fatigue, he will fix his gaze on the glistening water, to be
tortured as Tantalus, and descry the cool shade, without being able to
rest his weary limbs beneath it.

But rare the traveller, who ever strays to the bluffs bounding Coyote
Creek: rarer still, those who have occasion to descend to the
bottom-land through which it meanders.

Some have, nevertheless, as evinced by human sign observable upon the
stream's bank, just below where the lateral ravine leads down.  There
the cliffs diverging, and again coming near, enclose a valley of ovoidal
shape, for the most part overgrown with pecan-trees.  On one side of it
is a thick umbrageous grove, within which several tents are seen
standing.  They are of rude description, partly covered by the skins of
animals, partly scraps of old canvas, here and there eked out with a bit
of blanket, or a cast coat.  No one would mistake them for the tents of
ordinary travellers, while they are equally unlike the wigwams of the
nomadic aboriginal.  To whom, then, do they appertain?

Were their owners present, there need be no difficulty in answering the
question.  But they are not.  Neither outside, nor within, is soul to be
seen.  Nor anywhere near.  No human form appears about the place; no
voice of man, woman, or child, reverberates through the valley.  Yet is
there every evidence of recent occupation.  In an open central space,
are the ashes of a huge fire still hot, with fagots half-burnt, and
scarce ceased smoking; while within the tents are implements, utensils,
and provisions--bottles and jars of liquor left uncorked, with stores of
tobacco unconsumed.  What better proof that they are only temporarily
deserted, and not abandoned?  Certainly their owners, whether white men
or Indians, intend returning to them.

It need scarce be told who these are.  Enough to say, that Coyote Creek
is the head-quarters of the prairie pirates, who assaulted the San Saba
settlement.

Just as the sun is beginning to decline towards the western horizon,
those of them sent on ahead arrive at their rendezvous; the chief, with
Chisholm and the other three, not yet having come up.

On entering the encampment, they relieve their horses of the precious
loads.  Then unsaddling, turn them into a "corral" rudely constructed
among the trees.  A set of bars, serving as a gate, secures the animals
against straying.

This simple stable duty done, the men betake themselves to the tents,
re-kindle the fire, and commence culinary operations.  By this, all are
hungry enough, and they have the wherewithal to satisfy their appetites.
There are skilful hunters among them, and the proceeds of a chase, that
came off before starting out on their less innocent errand, are seen
hanging from the trees, in the shape of bear's hams and haunches of
venison.  These taken down, are spitted, and soon frizzling in the
fire's blaze; while the robbers gather around, knives in hand, each
intending to carve for himself.

As they are about to commence their Homeric repast, Borlasse and the
others ride up.  Dismounting and striding in among the tents, the chief
glances inquiringly around, his glance soon changing to disappointment.
What he looks for is not there!  "Quantrell and Bosley," he asks, "ain't
they got here?"

"No, capting," answers one.  "They hain't showed yet."

"And you've seen nothin' of them?"

"Nary thing."

His eyes light up with angry suspicion.  Again doubts he the fidelity of
Darke, or rather is he now certain that the lieutenant is a traitor.

Uttering a fearful oath, he steps inside his tent, taking Chisholm along
with him.

"What can it mean, Luke?" he asks, pouring out a glass of brandy, and
gulping it down.

"Hanged if I can tell, cap.  It looks like you was right in supposin'
they're gin us the slip.  Still it's queery too, whar they could a goed,
and wharf ore they should."

"There's nothing so strange about the wherefore; that's clear enough to
me.  I suspected Richard Darke, _alias_ Phil Quantrell, would play me
false some day, though I didn't expect it so soon.  He don't want his
beauty brought here, lest some of the boys might be takin' a fancy to
her.  That's one reason, but not all.  There's another--to a man like
him 'most as strong.  He's rich, leastaways his dad is, an' he can get
as much out o' the old 'un as he wants,--will have it all in time.  He
guesses I intended squeezin' him; an' thar he was about right, for I
did.  I'd lay odds that's the main thing has moved him to cut clear o'
us."

"A darned mean trick if it is.  You gied him protection when he was
chased by the sheriffs, an' now--"

"Now, he won't need it; though he don't know that; can't, I think.  If
he but knew he ain't after all a murderer!  See here, Luke; he may turn
up yet.  An' if so, for the life o' ye, ye mustn't tell him who it was
we dibbled into the ground up thar.  I took care not to let any of them
hear his name.  You're the only one as knows it."

"Ye can trust me, cap.  The word Clancy won't pass through my teeth,
till you gie me leave to speak it."

"Ha!" exclaims Borlasse, suddenly struck with an apprehension.  "I never
thought of the mulatto.  He may have let it out?"

"He mayn't, however!"

"If not, he shan't now.  I'll take care he don't have the chance."

"How are ye to help it?  You don't intend killin' him?"

"Not yet; thar's a golden _egg_ in that goose.  His silence can be
secured without resortin' to that.  He must be kep' separate from the
others."

"But some o' them 'll have to look after him, or he may cut away from
us."

"Fernandez will do that.  I can trust him with Clancy's name,--with
anything.  Slip out, Luke, and see if they've got it among them.  If
they have, it's all up, so far as that game goes.  If not, I'll fix
things safe, so that when we've spent Monsheer Dupre's silver, we may
still draw cheques on the bank of San Antonio, signed Ephraim Darke."

Chisholm obeying, brings back a satisfactory report.

"The boys know nothin' o' Clancy's name, nor how we disposed o' him.  In
coorse, Watts, Stocker, an' Driscoll, haint sayed anything 'bout that.
They've told the rest we let him go, not carin' to keep him; and that
you only wanted the yellow fellow to wait on ye."

"Good!  Go again, and fetch Fernandez here."

Chisholm once more turns out of the tent, soon after re-entering it, the
half-blood behind him.

"Nandy," says Borlasse; calling the latter by a name mutually
understood.  "I want you to take charge of that mulatto, and keep him
under your eye.  You musn't let any of the boys come nigh enough to hold
speech wi' him.  You go, Luke, and give them orders they're not to."
Chisholm retires.

"And, Nandy, if the nigger mentions any name--it may be that of his
master--mind you it's not to be repeated to any one.  You understand
me?"

"I do, _capitan_."

"All serene.  I know I can depend on ye.  Now, to your duty."

Without another word, the taciturn mestizo glides out of the tent,
leaving Borlasse alone.  Speaking to himself, he says:--

"If Quantrell's turned traitor, thar's not a corner in Texas whar he'll
be safe from my vengeance.  I'll sarve the whelp as I've done 'tother,--
a hound nobler than he.  An' for sweet Jessie Armstrong, he'll have
strong arms that can keep her out o' mine.  By heavens!  I'll hug her
yet.  If not, hell may take me!"

Thus blasphemously delivering himself, he clutches at the bottle of
brandy, pours out a fresh glass, and drinking it at a gulp, sits down to
reflect on the next step to be taken.



CHAPTER SEVENTY FIVE.

A TRANSFORMATION.

Night has spread its sable pall over the desert plain, darker in the
deep chasm through which runs Coyote Creek.  There is light enough in
the encampment of the prairie pirates; for the great fire kindled for
cooking their dinners still burns, a constant supply of resinous
pine-knots keeping up the blaze, which illuminates a large circle
around.  By its side nearly a score of men are seated in groups, some
playing cards, others idly carousing.  No one would suppose them the
same seen there but a few hours before; since there is not the semblance
of Indian among them.  Instead, they are all white men, and wearing the
garb of civilisation; though scarce two are costumed alike.  There are
coats of Kentucky jeans, of home-wove copperas stripe, of blanket-cloth
in the three colours, red, blue, and green; there are blouses of brown
linen, and buckskin dyed with dogwood ooze; there are Creole jackets of
Attakapas "cottonade," and Mexican ones of cotton velveteen.  Alike
varied is the head, leg, and foot-wear.  There are hats of every shape
and pattern; pantaloons of many a cut and material, most of them tucked
into boots with legs of different lengths, from ankle to mid-thigh.
Only in the under garment is there anything like uniformity; nine out of
ten wearing shirts of scarlet flannel--the fashion of the frontier.

A stranger entering the camp now, would suppose its occupants to be a
party of hunters; one acquainted with the customs of South-Western
Texas, might pronounce them _mustangers_--men who make their living by
the taking and taming of wild horses.  And if those around the fire were
questioned about their calling, such would be the answer.--In their
tents are all the paraphernalia used in this pursuit; lassoes for
catching the horses; halters and hobbles for confining them; bits for
breaking, and the like; while close by is a "corral" in which to keep
the animals when caught.

All counterfeit!  There is not a real mustanger among these men, nor one
who is not a robber; scarce one who could lay his hand upon his heart,
and say he has not, some time or other in his life, committed murder!
For though changed in appearance, since last seen, they are the same who
entered the camp laden with Luis Dupre's money--fresh from the massacre
of his slaves.  The transformation took place soon as they snatched a
hasty meal.  Then all hurried down to the creek, provided with pieces of
soap; and plunging in, washed the paint from their hands, arms, and
faces.

The Indian costume has not only been cast aside, but secreted, with all
its equipments.

If the encampment were searched now, no stained feathers would be found;
no beads or belts of wampum; no breech-clouts, bows, or quivers; no
tomahawks or spears.  All have been "cached" in a cave among the rocks;
there to remain till needed for some future maraud, or massacre.

Around their camp-fire the freebooters are in full tide of enjoyment.
The dollars have been divided, and each has his thousands.  Those at the
cards are not contented, but are craving more.  They will be richer, or
poorer.  And soon; playing "poker" at fifty dollars an "ante."

Gamesters and lookers on alike smoke, drink, and make merry.  They have
no fear now, not the slightest apprehension.  If pursued, the pursuers
cannot find the way to Coyote creek.  If they did, what would they see
there?  Certainly not the red-skinned savages, who plundered the San
Saba mission, but a party of innocent horse hunters, all Texans.  The
only one resembling an Indian among them is the half-breed--Fernand.
But he is also so metamorphosed, that his late master could not
recognise him.  The others have changed from red men to white; in
reverse, he has become to all appearance a pure-blooded aboriginal.

Confident in their security, because ignorant of what has taken place
under the live-oak, they little dream that one of their confederates is
in a situation, where he will be forced to tell a tale sure to thwart
their well-constructed scheme, casting it down as a house of cards.
Equally are they unaware of the revelation which their own prisoner, the
mulatto, could make.  They suppose him and his master to be but two
travellers encountered by accident, having no connection with the San
Saba settlers.  Borlasse is better informed about this, though not
knowing all.  He believes Clancy to have been _en route_ for the new
settlement, but without having reached it.  He will never reach it now.

In hope of getting a clearer insight into many things still clouded,
while his followers are engaged at their games, he seeks the tent to
which Jupiter has been consigned, and where he is now under the
surveillance of the half-blood, Fernand.

Ordering the mestizo to retire, he puts the prisoner through a course of
cross-questioning.

The mulatto is a man of no ordinary intelligence.  He had the misfortune
to be born a slave, with the blood of a freeman in his veins; which,
stirring him to discontent with his ignoble lot, at length forced him to
become a fugitive.  With a subtlety partly instinctive, but strengthened
by many an act of injustice, he divines the object of the robber
captain's visit.

Not much does the latter make of him, question as he may.  Jupe knows
nothing of any Phil Quantrell, or any Richard Darke.  He is the slave of
the young gentleman who has been separated from him.  He makes no
attempt to conceal his master's name, knowing that Borlasse is already
acquainted with Clancy, and must have recognised him.  They were on
their way to join the colony of Colonel Armstrong, with a party from the
States.  They came up from the Colorado the night before, camping in the
San Saba bottom, where he believes them to be still.  Early in the
morning, his master left the camp for a hunt, and the hound had tracked
a bear up the gully.  That was why they were on the upper plain; they
were trying for the track of the bear, when taken.

The mulatto has no great liking for his master, from whom he has had
many a severe flogging.  In proof he tells the robber chief to turn up
his shirt, and see how his back has been scored by the cowhide.
Borlasse--does so; and sure enough there are the scars, somewhat similar
to those he carries himself.

If not pity, the sight begets a sort of coarse sympathy, such as the
convict feels for his fellow; an emotion due to the freemasonry of
crime.  Jupiter takes care to strengthen it, by harping on the cruelty
of his master--more than hinting that he would like to leave him, if any
other would but buy him.  Indeed he'd be willing to run away, if he saw
the chance.

"Don't trouble yerself 'bout that," says the bandit, 'as the interview
comes near its end, "maybe, I'll buy ye myself.  At all events, Mister
Clancy ain't likely to flog you any more.  How'd ye like _me_ for yer
master?"

"I'd be right glad, boss."

"Are ye up to takin' care of horses?"

"That's just what Masser Clancy kept me for."

"Well; he's gone on to the settlement without you.  As he's left you
behind that careless way, ye can stay with us, an' look after my horse.
It's the same ye've been accustomed to.  I swopped with your master
'fore we parted company."

Jupe is aware that Clancy's splendid steed is in the camp.  Through a
chink in the tent he saw the horse ridden in, Borlasse on his back;
wondering why his master was not along, and what they had done with him.
He has no faith in the tale told him, but a fear it is far otherwise.
It will not do to show this, and concealing his anxiety, he rejoins:--

"All right, masser.  I try do my best.  Only hope you not a gwine where
we come cross Masser Clancy.  If he see me, he sure have me back, and
then I'se get the cowhide right smart.  He flog me dreadful."

"You're in no danger.  I'll take care he never sets eye on you again.

"Here, Nandy!" he says to the mestizo, summoned back.  "You can remove
them ropes from your prisoner.  Give him somethin' to eat and drink.
Treat him as ye would one o' ourselves.  He's to be that from this time
forrard.  Spread a buffler skin, an' get him a bit o' blanket for his
bed.  Same time, for safety's sake, keep an eye on him."

The caution is spoken _sotto voce_, so that the prisoner may not hear
it.  After which, Borlasse leaves the two together, congratulating
himself on the good speculation he will make, not by keeping Jupe to
groom his horse, but selling him as a slave to the first man met willing
to purchase him.

In the fine able-bodied mulatto, he sees a thousand dollars cash--soon
as he can come across a cotton-planter.



CHAPTER SEVENTY SIX.

MESTIZO AND MULATTO.

While their chief has been interrogating his prisoner, the robbers
around the fire have gone on with their poker-playing, and whisky
drinking.

Borlasse joining in the debauch, orders brandy to be brought out of his
tent, and distributed freely around.  He drinks deeply himself; in part
to celebrate the occasion of such a grand stroke of business done, but
as much to drown his disappointment at the captives not yet having come
in.--The alcohol has its effect; and ere long rekindles a hope, which
Chisholm strengthens, saying, all will yet be well, and the missing ones
turn up, if not that night, on the morrow.

Somewhat relieved by this expectation, Borlasse enters into the spirit
of the hour, and becomes jovial and boisterous as any of his
subordinates.  The cards are tossed aside, the play abandoned; instead,
coarse stories are told, and songs sung, fit only for the ears of such a
God-forsaken crew.

The saturnalia is brought to a close, when all become so intoxicated
they can neither tell story nor sing song.  Then some stagger to their
tents, others dropping over where they sit, and falling fast asleep.

By midnight there is not a man of them awake, and the camp is silent,
save here and there a drunken snore disturbing its stillness.

The great central fire, around which some remain lying astretch, burns
on, but no longer blazes.  There is no one to tend it with the pitchy
pine-knots.  Inside the tents also, the lights are extinguished--all
except one.  This, the rude skin sheiling which shelters the mestizo and
mulatto.  The two half-bloods, of different strain, are yet awake, and
sitting up.  They are also drinking, hobnobbing with one another.

Fernand has supplied the liquor freely and without stint.  Pretending to
fraternise with the new confederate, he has filled the latter's glass at
least a half-score of times, doing the same with his own.  Both have
emptied them with like rapidity, and yet neither seems at all overcome.
Each thinks the other the hardest case at a drinking bout he has ever
come across; wondering he is not dead drunk, though knowing why he is
himself sober.  The Spanish moss plucked from the adjacent trees, and
littering the tent floor, could tell--if it had the power of speech.

Jupiter has had many a whiskey spree in the woods of Mississippi, but
never has he encountered a _convive_ who could stand so much of it, and
still keep his tongue and seat.  What can it mean?  Is the mestizo's
stomach made of steel?

While perplexed, and despairing of being able to get Fernand
intoxicated, an explanation suggests itself.  His fellow tippler may be
shamming, as himself?

Pretending to look out of the tent, he twists his eyes away so far,
that, from the front, little else than their whites can be seen.  But
enough of the retina is uncovered to receive an impression from behind;
this showing the mestizo tilting his cup, and spilling its contents
among the moss!

He now knows he is being watched, as well as guarded.  And of his
vigilant sentinel there seems but one way to disembarrass himself.

As the thought of it flits across his brain, his eyes flash with a
feverish light, such as when one intends attacking by stealth, and with
the determination to kill.  For he must either kill the man by his side,
or give up what is to himself worth more than such a life--his own
liberty.

It may be his beloved master yet lives, and there is a chance to succour
him.  If dead, he will find his body, and give it burial.  He remembers
the promise that morning mutually declared between them--to stand and
fall together--he will keep his part of it.  If Clancy has fallen,
others will go down too; in the end, if need be, himself.  But not till
he has taken, or tried to take, a terrible and bloody vengeance.  To
this he has bound himself, by an oath sworn in the secret recesses of
his heart.

Its prelude is nigh, and the death of the Indian half-breed is to
initiate it.  For the fugitive slave knows the part this vile caitiff
has played, and will not scruple to kill him; the less that it is now an
inexorable necessity.  He but waits for the opportunity--has been
seeking it for some time.

It offers at length.  Turning suddenly, and detecting the mestizo in his
act of deception, he asks laughingly why he should practice such a
trick.  Then stooping forward, as if to verify it, his right arm is seen
to lunge out with something that glitters in his hand.  It is the blade
of a bowie-knife.

In an instant the arm is drawn back, the glittering gone off the blade,
obliterated by blood!  For it has been between the ribs, and through the
heart of the mestizo; who, slipping from his seat, falls to the floor,
without even a groan!

Grasping Clancy's gun, which chances to be in the tent, and then blowing
out the light, the mulatto moves off, leaving but a dead body behind
him.

Once outside, he looks cautiously around the encampment, scanning the
tents and the ground adjacent to them.  He sees the big fire still red,
but not flaming.  He can make out the forms of men lying around it--all
of them, for him fortunately, asleep.

Stepping, as if on eggs, and keeping as much as possible in shadow, he
threads his way through the tents until he is quite clear of the
encampment.  But he does not go directly off.  Instead, he makes a
circuit to the other side, where Brasfort is tied to a tree.  A cut of
his red blade releases the hound, that follows him in silence, as if
knowing it necessary.

Then on to the corral where the horses are penned up.

Arriving at the fence he finds the bars, and there stopping, speaks some
words in undertone, but loud enough to be heard by the animals inside.
As if it were a cabalistic speech, one separates from the rest, and
comes towards him.  It is the steed of Clancy.  Protruding its soft
muzzle over the rail, it is stroked by the mulatto's hand, which soon
after has hold of the forelock.  Fortunately the saddles are close by,
astride the fence, with the bridles hanging to the branches of a tree.
Jupiter easily recognises those he is in search of, and soon has the
horse caparisoned.

At length he leads the animal not mounting till he is well away from the
camp.  Then, climbing cautiously into the saddle, he continues on,
Brasfort after; man, horse, and hound, making no more noise, than if all
three were but shadows.



CHAPTER SEVENTY SEVEN.

A STRAYED TRAVELLER.

Pale, trembling, with teeth chattering, Richard Darke awakes from his
drunken slumber.

He sees his horse tied to the tree, as he left him, but making violent
efforts to get loose.  For coyotes have come skulking around the copse,
and their cry agitates the animal.  It is this that has awakened the
sleeper.

He starts to his feet in fear, though not of the wolves.  Their
proximity has nought to do with the shudder which passes through his
frame.  It comes from an apprehension he has overslept himself, and
that, meanwhile, his confederates have passed the place.

It is broad daylight, with a bright sun in the sky; though this he
cannot see through the thick foliage intervening.  But his watch will
tell him the time.  He takes it out and glances at the dial.  The hands
appear not to move!

He holds it to his ear, but hears no ticking.  Now, he remembers having
neglected to wind it up the night before.  It has run down!

Hastily returning it to his pocket, he makes for open ground, where he
may get a view of the sun.  By its height above the horizon, as far as
he can judge it should be about nine of the morning.  This point, as he
supposes, settled, does not remove his apprehension, on the contrary but
increases it.  The returning marauders would not likely be delayed so
late?  In all probability they have passed.

How is he to be assured?  A thought strikes him: he will step out upon
the plain, and see if he can discern their tracks.  He does so, keeping
on to the summit of the pass.  There he finds evidence to confirm his
fears.  The loose turf around the head of the gorge is torn and trampled
by the hoofs of many horses, all going off over the plain.  The robbers
have returned to their rendezvous!

Hastening back to his horse, he prepares to start after.

Leading the animal to the edge of the copse, he is confronted by what
sends a fresh thrill of fear through his heart.  The sun is before his
face, but not as when he last looked at it.  Instead of having risen
higher, it is now nearer the horizon!

"Great God!" he exclaims, as the truth breaks upon him.  "It's setting,
not rising; evening 'stead of morning!"

Shading his eye with spread palm, he gazes at the golden orb, in look
bewildered.  Not long, till assured, the sun is sinking, and night nigh.

The deduction drawn is full of sinister sequence.  More than one starts
up in his mind to dismay him.  He is little acquainted with the trail to
Coyote Creek, and may be unable to find it.  Moreover, the robbers are
certain of being pursued, and Sime Woodley will be one of the pursuers;
Bosley forced to conduct them, far as he can.  The outraged settlers may
at any moment appear coming up the pass!

He glances apprehensively towards it, then across the plain.

His face is now towards the sun, whose lower limb just touches the
horizon, the red round orb appearing across the smooth surface, as over
that of a tranquil sea.

He regards it, to direct his course.  He knows that the camping place on
Coyote Creek is due west from where he is.

And at length, having resolved, he sets his foot in the stirrup, vaults
into the saddle, and spurs off, leaving the black-jack grove behind him.

He does not proceed far, before becoming uncertain as to his course.
The sun goes down, leaving heaven's firmament in darkness, with only
some last lingering rays along its western edge.  These grow fainter and
fainter, till scarce any difference can be noted around the horizon's
ring.

He now rides in doubt, guessing the direction.  Scanning the stars he
searches for the Polar constellation.  But a mist has meanwhile sprung
up over the plain, and, creeping across the northern sky, concealed it.

In the midst of his perplexity, the moon appears; and taking bearings by
this, he once more makes westward.

But there are cumulus clouds in the sky; and these, ever and anon
drifting over the moon's disc, compel him to pull up till they pass.

At length he is favoured with a prolonged interval of light, during
which he puts his animal to its best speed, and advances many miles in
what he supposes to be the right direction.  As yet he has encountered
no living creature, nor object of any kind.  He is in hopes to get sight
of the solitary tree; for beyond it the trail to Coyote Creek is easily
taken.

While scanning the moonlit expanse he descries a group of figures;
apparently quadrupeds, though of what species he cannot tell.  They
appear too large for wolves, and yet are not like wild horses, deer, or
buffaloes.

On drawing nearer, he discovers them to be but coyotes; the film,
refracting the moon's light, having deceived him as to their size.

What can they be doing out there?  Perhaps collected around some animal
they have hunted down, and killed--possibly a prong-horn antelope?  It
is not with any purpose he approaches them.  He only does so because
they are in the line of his route.  But before reaching the spot where
they are assembled, he sees something to excite his curiosity, at the
same time, baffling all conjecture what it can be.  On his coming
closer, the jackals scatter apart, exposing it to view; then, loping
off, leave it behind them.  Whatever it be, it is evidently the lure
that has brought the predatory beasts together.  It is not the dead body
of deer, antelope, or animal of any kind; but a thing of rounded shape,
set upon a short shank, or stem.

"What the devil is it?" he asks himself, first pausing, and then
spurring on towards it.  "Looks lor all the world like a man's head!"

At that moment, the moon emitting one of her brightest beams, shows the
object still clearer, causing him to add in exclamation, "By heavens, it
is a head!"

Another instant and he sees a face, which sends the blood back to his
heart, almost freezing it in his veins.

Horror stricken he reins up, dragging his horse upon the haunches; and
in this attitude remains, his eyes rolling as though they would start
from their sockets.  Then, shouting the words, "Great God, Clancy!"
followed by a wild shriek, he wrenches the horse around, and
mechanically spurs into desperate speed.

In his headlong flight he hears a cry, which comes as from out the
earth--his own name pronounced, and after it, the word "murderer!"



CHAPTER SEVENTY EIGHT.

HOURS OF AGONY.

Out of the earth literally arose that cry, so affrighting Richard Darke;
since it came from Charles Clancy.  Throughout the live-long day, on to
the mid hours of night, has he been enduring agony unspeakable.

Alone with but the companionship of hostile creatures--wolves that
threaten to gnaw the skin from his skull, and vultures ready to tear his
eyes out of their sockets.

Why has he not gone mad?

There are moments when it comes too near this, when his reason is
well-nigh unseated.  But manfully he struggles against it; thoughtfully,
with reliance on Him, whose name he has repeated and prayerfully
invoked.  And God, in His mercy, sends something to sustain him--a
remembrance.  In his most despairing hour he recalls one circumstance
seeming favourable, and which in the confusion of thought, consequent on
such a succession of scenes, had escaped him.  He now remembers the
other man found along with Darke under the live-oak.  Bosley will be
able to guide a pursuing party, and with Woodley controlling, will be
forced to do it.  He can lead them direct to the rendezvous of the
robbers; where Clancy can have no fear but that they will settle things
satisfactorily.  There learning what has been done to himself, they
would lose no time in coming after him.

This train of conjecture, rational enough, restores his hopes, and again
he believes there is a chance of his receiving succour.  About time is
he chiefly apprehensive.  They may come too late?

He will do all he can to keep up; hold out as long as life itself may
last.

So resolved, he makes renewed efforts to fight off the wolves, and
frighten the vultures.

Fortunately for him the former are but coyotes, the latter turkey
buzzards both cowardly creatures, timid as hares, except when the quarry
is helpless.  They must not know he is this; and to deceive them he
shakes his head, rolls his eyes, and shouts at the highest pitch of his
voice.  But only at intervals, when they appear too threateningly near.
He knows the necessity of economising his cries and gestures.  By too
frequent repetition they might cease to avail him.

Throughout the day he has the double enemy to deal with.  But night
disembarrasses him of the birds, leaving only the beasts.

He derives little benefit from the change; for the coyotes, but jackals
in daylight, at night become wolves, emboldened by the darkness.
Besides, they have been too long gazing at the strange thing, and
listening to the shouts which have proceeded from it, without receiving
hurt or harm, to fear it as before.  The time has come for attack.

Blending their unearthly notes into one grand chorus they close around,
finally resolved to assault it.

And, again, Clancy calls upon God--upon Heaven, to help him.

His prayer is heard; for what he sees seems an answer to it.  The moon
is low down, her disc directly before his face, and upon the plain
between a shadow is projected, reaching to his chin.  At the same time,
he sees what is making it--a man upon horseback!  Simultaneously, he
hears a sound--the trampling of hoofs upon the hard turf.

The coyotes catching it, too, are scared, changing from their attitude
of attack, and dropping tails to the ground.  As the shadow darkening
over them tells that the horseman is drawing nigh, they scatter off in
retreat.

Clancy utters an ejaculation of joy.  He is about to hail the
approaching Norseman, when a doubt restrains him.

"Who can it be?" he asks himself with mingled hope and apprehension.
"Woodley would not be coming in that way, alone?  If not some of the
settlers, at least Heywood would be along with him?  Besides, there is
scarce time for them to have reached the Mission and returned.  It
cannot be either.  Jupiter?  Has he escaped from the custody of the
outlawed crew?"

Clancy is accustomed to seeing the mulatto upon a mule.  This man rides
a horse, and otherwise looks not like Jupiter.  It is not he.  Who,
then?

During all this time the horseman is drawing nearer, though slowly.
When first heard, the tramp told him to be going at a gallop; but he has
slackened speed, and now makes approach, apparently with caution, as if
reconnoitring.  He has descried the jackals, and comes to see what they
are gathered about.  These having retreated, Clancy can perceive that
the eyes of the stranger are fixed upon his own head, and that he is
evidently puzzled to make out what it is.

For a moment the man makes stop, then moves on, coming closer and
closer.  With the moon behind his back, his face is in shadow, and
cannot be seen by Clancy.  But it is not needed for his identification.
The dress and figure are sufficient.  Cut sharply against the sky is the
figure of a plumed savage; a sham one Clancy knows, with a thrill of
fresh despair, recognising Richard Darke.

It will soon be all over with him now; in another instant his hopes,
doubts, fears, will be alike ended, with his life.  He has no thought
but that Darke, since last seen, has been in communication with
Borlasse; and from him learning all, has, returned for the life he
failed to take before.

Meanwhile the plumed horseman continues to approach, till within less
than a length of his horse.  Then drawing bridle with a jerk, suddenly
comes to a stop.  Clancy can see, that he is struck with astonishment--
his features, now near enough to be distinguished, wearing a bewildered
look.  Then hears his own name called out, a shriek succeeding; the
horse wheeled round, and away, as if Satan had hold of his tail!

For a long time is heard the tramp of the retreating horse going in full
fast gallop--gradually less distinct--at length dying away in the
distance.



CHAPTER SEVENTY NINE.

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR.

To Clancy there is nothing strange in Darke's sudden and terrified
departure.  With the quickness of thought itself, he comprehends its
cause.  In their encounter under the live-oak, in shadow and silence,
his old rival has not recognised him.  Nor can he since have seen
Borlasse, or any of the band.  Why he is behind them, Clancy cannot
surmise; though he has a suspicion of the truth.  Certainly Darke came
not there by any design, but only chance-conducted.  Had it been
otherwise, he would not have gone off in such wild affright.

All this Clancy intuitively perceives, on the instant of his turning to
retreat.  And partly to make this more sure, though also stirred by
indignation he cannot restrain, he eends forth that shout, causing the
scared wretch to flee faster and farther.

Now that he is gone, Clancy is again left to his reflections, but little
less gloomy than before.  From only one does he derive satisfaction.
The robber chief must have lied.  Helen Armstrong has not been in the
arms of Richard Darke.--He may hope she has reached her home in safety.

All else is as ever, and soon likely to be worse.  For he feels as one
who has only had a respite, believing it will be but short.  Darke will
soon recover from his scare.  For he will now go to the rendezvous, and
there, getting an explanation of what has caused it, come back to glut
his delayed vengeance, more terrible from long accumulation.

Will the wolves wait for him?

"Ha! there they are again!"

So exclaims the wretched man, as he sees them once more making approach.

And now they draw nigh with increased audacity, their ravenous instincts
but strengthened by the check.  The enemy late dreaded has not molested
them, but gone off, leaving their prey unprotected.  They are again free
to assail, and this time will surely devour it.

Once more their melancholy whine breaks the stillness of the night, as
they come loping up one after another.  Soon all are re-assembled round
the strange thing, which through their fears has long defied them.  More
familiar, they fear it less now.

Renewing their hostile demonstration, they circle about it, gliding from
side to side in _chassez-croissez_, as through the mazes of a cotillon.
With forms magnified under the moonlight, they look like werewolves
dancing around a "Death's Head,"--their long-drawn lugubrious wails
making appropriate music to the measure!

Horror for him who hears, hearing it without hope.  Of this not a ray
left now, its last lingering spark extinguished, and before him but the
darkness of death in all its dread certainty--a death horrible,
appalling!

Putting forth all his moral strength, exerting it to the utmost, he
tries to resign himself to the inevitable.

In vain.  Life is too sweet to be so surrendered.  He cannot calmly
resign it, and again instinctively makes an effort to fright off his
hideous assailants.  His eyes rolling, scintillating in their sockets--
his lips moving--his cries sent from between them--are all to no purpose
now.  The coyotes come nearer and nearer.  They are within three feet of
his face.  He can see their wolfish eyes, the white serrature of their
teeth, the red panting tongues; can feel their fetid breath blown
against his brow.  Their jaws are agape.  Each instant he expects them
to close around his skull!

Why did he shout, sending Darke away?  He regrets having done it.
Better his head to have been crushed or cleft by a tomahawk, killing him
at once, than torn while still alive, gnawed, mumbled over, by those
frightful fangs threatening so near!  The thought stifles reflection.
It is of itself excruciating torture.  He cannot bear it much longer.
No man could, however strong, however firm his faith in the Almighty.
Even yet he has not lost this.  The teachings of early life, the
precepts inculcated by a pious mother, stand him in stead now.  And
though sure he must die, and wants death to come quickly, he
nevertheless tries to meet it resignedly, mentally exclaiming:--

"Mother!  Father!  I come.  Soon shall I join you.  Helen, my love!  Oh,
how I have wronged you in thus throwing my life away!  God forgive--"

His regrets are interrupted, as if by God Himself.  He has been heard by
the All-Merciful, the Omnipotent; for seemingly no other hand could now
succour him.  While the prayerful thoughts are still passing through his
mind, the wolves suddenly cease their attack, and he sees them retiring
with closed jaws and fallen tails!  Not hastily, but slow and
skulkingly; ceding the ground inch by inch, as though reluctant to leave
it.

What can it mean?

Casting his eyes outward, he sees nothing to explain the behaviour of
the brutes, nor account for their changed demeanour.

He listens, all ears, expecting to hear the hoof-stroke of a horse--the
same he late saw reined up in front of him, with Richard Darke upon his
back.  The ruffian is returning sooner than anticipated.

There is no such sound.  Instead, one softer, which, but for the hollow
cretaceous rock underlying the plain and acting as a conductor, would
not be conveyed to his ears.  It is a pattering as of some animal's
paws, going in rapid gait.  He cannot imagine what sort of creature it
may be; in truth he has no time to think, before hearing the sound close
behind his head, the animal approaching from that direction.  Soon after
he feels a hot breath strike against his brow, with something still
warmer touching his cheek.  It is the tongue of a dog!

"Brasfort!"

Brasfort it is, cowering before his face, filling his ears with a soft
whimpering, sweet as any speech ever heard.  For he has seen the jackals
retreat, and knows they will not return.  His strong stag-hound is more
than a match for the whole pack of cowardly creatures.  As easily as it
has scattered, can it destroy them.

Clancy's first feeling is one of mingled pleasure and surprise.  For he
fancies himself succoured, released from his earth-bound prison, so near
to have been his grave.

The glad emotion is alas! short-lived; departing as he perceives it to
be only a fancy, and his perilous situation, but little changed or
improved.  For what can the dog do for him?  True he may keep off the
coyotes, but that will not save his life.  Death must come all the same.
A little later, and in less horrid shape, but it must come.  Hunger,
thirst, one or both will bring it, surely if slowly.

"My brave Brasfort! faithful fellow!" he says apostrophising the hound;
"You cannot protect me from them.  But how have you got here?"

The question is succeeded by a train of conjecture, as follows:--

"They took the dog with them.  I saw one lead him away.  They've let him
loose, and he has scented back on the trail?  That's it.  Oh! if Jupiter
were but with him!  No fear of their letting him off--no."

During all this time Brasfort has continued his caresses, fondling his
master's head, affectionately as a mother her child.

Again Clancy speaks, apostrophising the animal.

"Dear old dog! you're but come to see me die.  Well; it's something to
have you here--like a friend beside the death-bed.  And you'll stay with
me long as life holds out, and protect me from those skulking creatures?
I know you will.  Ah!  You won't need to stand sentry long.  I feel
growing fainter.  When all's over you can go.  I shall never see her
more; but some one may find, and take you there.  She'll care for, and
reward you for this fidelity."

The soliloquy is brought to a close, by the hound suddenly changing
attitude.  All at once it has ceased its fond demonstrations, and stands
as if about to make an attack upon its master's head!  Very different
the intent.  Yielding to a simple canine instinct, from the strain of
terrier in its blood, it commences scratching up the earth around his
neck!

For Clancy a fresh surprise, as before mingled with pleasure.  For the
hound's instinctive action shows him a chance of getting relieved, by
means he had never himself thought of.

He continues talking to the animal, encouraging it by speeches it can
comprehend.  On it scrapes, tearing up the clods, and casting them in
showers behind.

Despite the firmness with which the earth is packed, the hound soon
makes a hollow around its master's neck, exposing his shoulder--the
right one--above the surface.  A little more mould removed, and his arm
will be free.  With that his whole body can be extricated by himself.

Stirred by the pleasant anticipation, he continues speaking
encouragement to the dog.  But Brasfort needs it not, working away in
silence and with determined earnestness, as if knowing that time was an
element of success.

Clancy begins to congratulate himself on escape, is almost sure of it,
when a sound breaks upon his ear, bringing back all his apprehensions.
Again the hoof-stroke of a horse!

Richard Darke is returning!

"Too late, Brasfort!" says his master, apostrophising him in speech
almost mechanical, "Too late your help.  Soon you'll see me die."



CHAPTER EIGHTY.

A RESURRECTIONIST.

"Surely the end has come!"

So reflects Clancy, as with keen apprehension he listens to the tread of
the approaching horseman.  For to a certainty he approaches, the dull
distant thud of hooves gradually growing more distinct.  Nor has he any
doubt of its being the same steed late reined up in front of him, the
fresh score of whose calkers are there within a few feet of his face.

The direction whence comes the sound, is of itself significant; that in
which Darke went off.  It is he returning--can be no other.

Yes; surely his end has come--the last hour of his life.  And so near
being saved!  Ten minutes more, and Brasfort would have disinterred him.

Turning his eyes downward, he can see the cavity enlarged, and getting
larger.  For the dog continues to drag out the earth, as if not hearing,
or disregarding the hoof-stroke.  Already its paws are within a few
inches of his elbow.

Is it possible for him to wrench out his arm!  With it free he might do
something to defend himself.  And the great stag-hound will help him.

With hope half resuscitated, he makes an effort to extricate the arm,
heaving his shoulder upward.  In vain.--It is held as in a vice, or the
clasp of a giant.  There is _no_ alternative--he must submit to his
fate.  And such a fate!  Once more he will see the sole enemy of his
life, his mother's murderer, standing triumphant over him; will hear his
taunting speeches--almost a repetition of the scene under the cypress!
And to think that in all his encounters with this man, he has been
unsuccessful; too late--ever too late!  The thought is of itself a
torture.

Strange the slowness with which Darke draws nigh!  Can he still be in
dread of the unearthly?  No, or he would not be there.  It may be that
sure of his victim, he but delays the last blow, scheming some new
horror before he strike it?

The tramp of the horse tells him to be going at a walk; unsteady too, as
if his rider were not certain about the way, but seeking it.  Can this
be so?  Has he not yet seen the head and hound?  The moon must be on his
back, since it is behind Clancy's own.  It may be that Brasfort--a new
figure in the oft changing tableau--stays his advance.  Possibly the
unexplained presence of the animal has given him a surprise, and hence
he approaches with caution?

All at once, the hoof-stroke ceases to be heard, and stillness reigns
around.  _No_ sound save that made by the claws of the dog, that
continues its task with unabated assiduity--not yet having taken any
notice of the footsteps it can scarce fail to hear.

Its master cannot help thinking this strange.  Brasfort is not wont to
be thus unwatchful.  And of all men Richard Darke should be the last to
approach him unawares.  What may it mean?

While thus interrogating himself, Clancy again hears the "tramp-tramp,"
the horse no longer in a walk, but with pace quickened to a trot.  And
still Brasfort keeps on scraping!  Only when a shadow darkens over, does
he desist; the horseman being now close behind Clancy's head, with his
image reflected in front.  But instead of rushing at him with savage
growl, as he certainly would were it Richard Darke Brasfort but raises
his snout, and wags his tail, giving utterance to a note of friendly
salutation!

Clancy's astonishment is extreme, changing to joy, when the horseman
after making the circuit of his head, comes to a halt before his face.
In the broad bright moonlight he beholds, not his direst foe, but his
faithful servitor.  There upon his own horse, with his own gun in hand,
sits one who causes him mechanically to exclaim--

"Jupiter!" adding, "Heaven has heard my prayer!"

"An' myen," says Jupiter, soon as somewhat recovered from his
astonishment at what he sees; "Yes, Masser Charle; I'se been prayin' for
you ever since they part us, though never 'spected see you 'live 'gain.
But Lor' o' mercy, masser! what dis mean?  I'se see nothin' but you
head!  Wharever is you body?  What have dem rascally ruffins been an'
done to ye?"

"As you see--buried me alive."

"Better that than bury you dead.  You sure, masser," he asks, slipping
down from the saddle, and placing himself _vis-a-vis_ with the face so
strangely situated.  "You sure you ain't wounded, nor otherways hurt?"

"Not that I know of.  I only feel a little bruised and faint-like; but I
think I've received no serious injury.  I'm now suffering from thirst,
more than aught else."

"That won't be for long.  Lucky I'se foun' you ole canteen on the
saddle, an' filled it 'fore I left the creek.  I'se got somethin'
besides 'll take the faintness 'way from you; a drop o' corn-juice, I
had from that Spanish Indyin they call the half-blood.  Not much blood
in him now.  Here 'tis, Masser Charle."

While speaking, he has produced a gourd, in which something gurgles.
Its smell, when the stopper is taken out, tells it to be whiskey.

Inserting the neck between his master's lips, he pours some of the
spirit down his throat; and then, turning to the horse near by, he lifts
from off the saddle-horn a larger gourd--the canteen, containing water.

In a few seconds, not only is Clancy's thirst satisfied, but he feels
his strength restored, and all faintness passed away.

"Up to de chin I declar'!" says Jupiter, now more particularly taking
note of his situation, "Sure enough, all but buried 'live.  An' Brasfort
been a tryin' to dig ye out!  Geehorum!  Aint that cunnin' o' the ole
dog?  He have prove himself a faithful critter."

"Like yourself, Jupe.  But say!  How have you escaped from the robbers?
Brought my horse and gun too!  Tell me all!"

"Not so fass, Masser Charle.  It's something o' a longish story, an' a
bit strangeish too.  You'll be better out o' that fix afore hearin' it.
Though your ears aint stopped, yez not in a position to lissen patient
or comfortable.  First let me finish what Brasfort's begun, and get out
the balance o' your body."

Saying this, the mulatto sets himself to the task proposed.

Upon his knees with knife in hand, he loosens the earth around Clancy's
breast and shoulders, cutting it carefully, then clawing it out.

The hound helps him, dashing in whenever it sees a chance, with its paws
scattering the clods to rear.  The animal seems jealous of Jupiter's
interference, half angry at not having all the credit to itself.

Between them the work progresses, and the body of their common master
will soon be disinterred.  All the while, Clancy and the mulatto
continue to talk, mutually communicating their experiences since
parting.  Those of the former, though fearful, are neither many nor
varied, and require but few words.  What Jupiter now sees gives him a
clue to nearly all.

His own narrative covers a greater variety of events, and needs more
time for telling than can now be conveniently spared.  Instead of
details, therefore, he but recounts the leading incidents in brief
epitome--to be more particularly dwelt upon afterwards, as opportunity
will allow.  He relates, how, after leaving the lone cottonwood, he was
taken on across the plain to a creek called Coyote, where the robbers
have a camping place.  This slightly touched upon, he tells of his own
treatment; of his being carried into a tent at first, but little looked
after, because thought secure, from their having him tightly tied.
Through a slit in the skin cover he saw them kindle a fire and commence
cooking.  Soon after came the chief, riding Clancy's horse, with
Chisholm and the other three.  Seeing the horse, he supposed it all over
with his master.

Then the feast, _al fresco_, succeeded by the transformation scene--the
red robbers becoming white ones--to all of which he was witness.  After
that the card-playing by the camp fire, during which the chief came to
his tent, and did what he could to draw him.  In this part of his
narration, the mulatto with modest naivete, hints of his own adroitness;
how he threw his inquisitor off the scent, and became at length
disembarrassed of him.  He is even more reticent about an incident, soon
after succeeding, but referred to it at an early part of his
explanation.

On the blade of his knife, before beginning to dig, Clancy observing
some blotches of crimson, asks what it is.

"Only a little blood, Masser Charle," is the answer.

"Whose?"

"You'll hear afore I get to the end.  Nuf now to say it's the blood of a
bad man."

Clancy does not press him further, knowing he will be told all in due
time.  Still, is he impatient, wondering whether it be the blood of Jim
Borlasse, or Richard Darke; for he supposes it either one or the other.
He hopes it may be the former, and fears its being the latter.  Even
yet, in his hour of uncertainty, late helpless, and still with only a
half hope of being able to keep his oath, he would not for all the world
Dick Darke's blood should be shed by other hand than his own!

He is mentally relieved, long before Jupiter reaches the end of his
narration.  The blood upon the blade, now clean scoured off, was not
that of Richard Darke.

For the mulatto tells him of that tragical scene within the tent,
speaking of it without the slightest remorse.  The incidents succeeding
he leaves for a future occasion; how he stole out the horse, and with
Brasfort's help, was enabled to return upon the trail as far as the
cottonwood; thence on, the hound hurriedly leading, at length leaving
him behind.

But before coming to this, he has completed his task, and laying hold of
his master's shoulders, he draws him out of the ground, as a gardener
would a gigantic carrot.

Once more on the earth's surface stands Clancy, free of body, unfettered
in limb, strong in his sworn resolve, determined as ever to keep it.



CHAPTER EIGHTY ONE.

THE VOICE OF VENGEANCE.

Never did man believe himself nigher death, or experience greater
satisfaction at being saved from it, than Charles Clancy.  For upon his
life so near lost, and as if miraculously preserved, depend issues dear
to him as that life itself.

And these, too, may reach a successful termination; some thing whispers
him they will.

But though grateful to God for the timely succour just received, and on
Him still reliant, he does not ask God for guidance in what he intends
now.  Rather, shuns he the thought, as though fearing the All-Merciful
might not be with him.  For he is still determined on vengeance, which
alone belongs to the Lord.

Of himself, he is strong enough to take it; and feels so, after being
refreshed by another drink of the whiskey.  The spirit of the alcohol,
acting on his own, reinvigorates, and makes him ready for immediate
action.  He but stays to think what may be his safest course, as the
surest and swiftest.  His repeated repulses, while making more cautious,
have done nought to daunt, or drive him from his original purpose.
Recalling his latest interview with Helen Armstrong, and what he then
said, he dares not swerve from it.  To go back leaving it undone, were a
humiliation no lover would like to confess to his sweetheart.

But he has no thought of going back, and only hesitates, reflecting on
the steps necessary to ensure success.

He now knows why Darke retreated in such wild affright.  Some speeches
passing between the robbers, overheard by Jupiter, and by him reported,
enable Clancy to grasp the situation.  As he had conjectured, Darke was
straying, and by chance came that way.  No wonder at the way he went.

It is not an hour since he fled from the spot, and in all likelihood he
is still straying.  If so, he cannot be a great way off; but, far or
near, Brasfort can find him.

It is but a question of whether he can be overtaken before reaching the
rendezvous.  For the only danger of which Clancy has dread, or allows
himself to dwell upon, is from the other robbers.  Even of these he
feels not much fear.  But for the mulatto and his mule, he would never
have allowed them to lay hand on him.  And now with his splendid horse
once more by his side, the saddle awaiting him, he knows he will be safe
from any pursuit by mounted men, as a bird upon the wing.

For the safety of his faithful follower he has already conceived
measures.  Jupiter is to make his way back to the San Saba, and wait for
him at their old camp, near the crossing.  Failing to come, he is to
proceed on to the settlement, and there take his chances of a reception.
Though the fugitive slave may be recognised, under Sime Woodley's
protection he will be safe, and with Helen Armstrong's patronage, sure
of hospitable entertainment.

With all this mentally arranged, though not yet communicated to Jupe,
Clancy gives a look to his gun to assure himself it is in good order;
another to the caparison of his horse; and, satisfied with both, he at
length leaps into the saddle.

The mulatto has been regarding his movements with uneasiness.  There is
that in them which forewarns him of still another separation.

He is soon made aware of it, by the instructions given him, in
accordance with the plan sketched cat.  On Clancy telling him, he is to
return to the San Saba alone, with the reasons why he should do so, he
listens in pained surprise.

"Sure you don't intend leavin' me, Masser Charle?"

"I do--I must."

"But whar you goin' youself?"

"Where God guides--it may be His avenging angel.  Yes, Jupe; I'm off
again, on that scoundrel's track.  This shall be my last trial.  If it
turn out as hitherto, you may never see me more--you, nor any one else.
Failing, I shan't care to face human kind, much less her I love.  Ah!
I'll more dread meeting my mother--her death unavenged.  Bah!  There's
no fear, one way or the other.  So don't you have any uneasiness about
the result; but do as I've directed.  Make back to the river, and wait
there at the crossing.  Brasfort goes with me; and when you see us
again, I'll have a spare horse to carry you on to our journey's end;
that whose shoes made those scratches--just now, I take it, between the
legs of Dick Darke."

"Dear masser," rejoins Jupiter, in earnest protest.  "Why need ye go
worryin' after that man now?  You'll have plenty opportunities any day.
He aint likely to leave Texas, long's that young lady stays in it.
Besides, them cut-throats at the creek, sure come after me.  They'll be
this way soon's they find me gone, an' set their eyes on that streak o'
red colour I left ahind me in the tent.  Take my advice, Masser Charle,
an' let's both slip out o' thar way, by pushin' straight for the
settlement."

"No settlement, till I've settled with him!  He can't have got far away
yet.  Good, Brasfort! you'll do your best to help me find him?"

The hound gives a low growl, and rollicks around the legs of the horse,
seeming to say:--

"Set me on the scent; I'll show you."

Something more than instinct appears to inspire the Molossian.  Though
weeks have elapsed since in the cypress swamp it made savage
demonstrations against Darke, when taking up his trail through the San
Saba bottom it behaved as if actuated by the old malice, remembering the
smell of the man!  And now conducted beyond the place trodden by
Borlasse and the others, soon as outside the confusion of scents, and
catching his fresher one, it sends forth a cry strangely intoned,
altogether unlike its ordinary bay while trailing a stag.  It is the
deep sonorous note of the sleuth-hound on slot of human game; such as
oft, in the times of Spanish American colonisation, struck terror to the
heart of the hunted aboriginal.

As already said, Brasfort has a strain of the bloodhound in him; enough
to make danger for Richard Darke.  Under the live-oak the hound would
have pulled him from his saddle, torn him to pieces on the spot, but for
Jupiter, to whom it was consigned, holding it hard back.

Clancy neither intends, nor desires, it to do so now.  All he wants with
it, is to bring him face to face with his hated foeman.  That done, the
rest he will do himself.

Everything decided and settled, he hastily takes leave of Jupiter, and
starts off along the trail, Brasfort leading.

Both are soon far away.

On the wide waste the mulatto stands alone, looking after--half
reproachfully for being left behind--regretting his master's rashness--
painfully apprehensive he may never see him more.



CHAPTER EIGHTY TWO.

A MAN NEARLY MAD.

"Am I still drunk?  Am I dreaming?"

So Richard Darke interrogates himself, retreating from the strangest
apparition human eyes ever saw.  A head without any body, not lying as
after careless decapitation, but as though still upon shoulders, the
eyes glancing and rolling, the lips moving, speaking--the whole thing
alive!  The head, too, of one he supposes himself to have assassinated,
and for which he is a felon and fugitive.  No wonder he doubts the
evidence of his senses, and at first deems it fancy--an illusion from
dream or drink.  But a suspicion also sweeps through his soul, which,
more painfully impressing, causes him to add still another
interrogatory:

"Am I mad?"

He shakes his head and rubs his eyes, to assure himself he is awake,
sober, and sane.  He is all three; though he might well wish himself
drunk or dreaming--for, so scared is he, there is in reality a danger of
his senses forsaking him.  He tries to account for the queer thing, but
cannot.  Who could, circumstanced as he?  From that day when he stooped
over Clancy, holding Helen Armstrong's photograph before his face, and
saw his eyes film over in sightless gaze, the sure forerunner of death,
he has ever believed him dead.  No rumour has reached him to the
contrary--no newspaper paragraph, from which he might draw his
deductions, as Borlasse has done.  True, he observed some resemblance to
Clancy in the man who surprised him under the live-oak; but, recalling
that scene under the cypress, how could he have a thought of its being
he?  He could not, cannot, does not yet.

But what about the head?  How is he to account for that?  And the cries
sent after him--still ringing in his ears--his own name, with the added
accusation he himself believes true, the brand, "murderer!"

"Am I indeed mad?" he again asks himself, riding on recklessly, without
giving guidance to his horse.  His trembling hand can scarce retain hold
of the rein; and the animal, uncontrolled, is left to take its course--
only, it must not stop or stay.  Every time it shows sign of lagging, he
kicks mechanically against its ribs, urging it on, on, anywhere away
from that dread damnable apparition.

It is some time before he recovers sufficient coolness to reflect--then
only with vague comprehensiveness; nothing clear save the fact that he
has completely lost himself, and his way.  To go on were mere guesswork.
True, the moon tells him the west, the direction of Coyote creek.  But
westward he will not go, dreading to again encounter that ghostly thing;
for he thinks it was there he saw it.

Better pull up, and await the surer guidance of the sun, with its light,
less mystical.

So deciding, he slips out of the saddle; and letting his horse out on
the trail-rope, lays himself down.  Regardless of the animal's needs, he
leaves all its caparison on, even to the bitt between its teeth.  What
cares he for its comforts, or for aught else, thinking of that horrible
head?

He makes no endeavour to snatch a wink of sleep, of which he has had
enough; but lies cogitating on the series of strange incidents and
sights which have late occurred to him, but chiefly the last, so
painfully perplexing.  He can think of nothing to account for a
phenomenon so abnormal, so outside all laws of nature.

While vainly endeavouring to solve the dread enigma, a sound strikes
upon his ear, abruptly bringing his conjectures to a close.  It is a
dull thumping, still faint and far off; but distinguishable as the tramp
of a horse.

Starting to his feet, he looks in the direction whence it proceeds.  As
expected, he sees a horse; and something more, a man upon its back, both
coming towards him.

Could it, perchance, be Bosley?  Impossible!  He was their prisoner
under the live-oak.  They would never let him go.  Far more like it is
Woodley--the terrible backwoodsman, as ever after him?  Whoever it be,
his guilty soul tells him the person approaching can be no friend of
his, but an enemy, a pursuer.  And it may be another phantom!

Earthly fears, with unearthly fancies, alike urging him to flight, he
stays not to make sure whether it be ghost or human; but, hastily taking
up his trail-rope, springs to the back of his horse, and again goes off
in wild terrified retreat.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

It scarce needs telling, that the horseman who has disturbed Richard
Darke's uncomfortable reflections is Charles Clancy.  Less than an hour
has elapsed since his starting on the trail, which he has followed fast;
the fresh scent enabling Brasfort to take it up in a run.  From the way
it zigzagged, and circled about, Clancy could tell the tracked steed had
been going without guidance, as also guess the reason.  The rider,
fleeing in affright, has given no heed to direction.  All this the
pursuer knows to be in his favour; showing that the pursued man has not
gone to Coyote creek, but will still be on the steppe, possibly astray,
and perhaps not far off.

Though himself making quick time, he is not carelessly pursuing; on the
contrary taking every precaution to ensure success.  He knows that on
the hard turf his horse's tread can be heard to a great distance; and to
hinder this he has put the animal to a "pace"--a gait peculiar to Texas
and the South-Western States.  This, combining speed with silence, has
carried him on quickly as in a canter.  The hound he has once more
muzzled, though not holding it in leash; and the two have gone gliding
along silent as spectres.

At each turn of the trail, he directs looks of inquiry ahead.

One is at length rewarded.  He is facing the moon, whose disc almost
touches the horizon, when alongside it he perceives something dark upon
the plain, distinguishable as the figure of a horse.  It is stationary
with head to the ground, as if grazing, though by the uneven outline of
its back it bears something like a saddle.  Continuing to scrutinise, he
sees it is this; and, moreover, makes out the form of a man, or what
resembles one, lying along the earth near by.

These observations take only an instant of time; and, while making them
he has halted, and by a word, spoken low, called his hound off the
trail.  The well-trained animal obeying, turns back, and stands by his
side waiting.

The riderless horse, with the dismounted rider, are still a good way
off, more than half a mile.  At that distance he could not distinguish
them, but for the position of the moon, favouring his view.  Around her
rim the luminous sky makes more conspicuous the dark forms interposed
between.

He can have no doubt as to what they are.  If he had, it is soon solved.
For while yet gazing upon them--not in conjecture, but as to how he may
best make approach--he perceives the tableau suddenly change.  The horse
tosses up its head, while the man starts upon his feet.  In an instant
they are together, and the rider in his saddle.

And now Clancy is quite sure: for the figure of the horseman, outlined
against the background of moonlit sky, clear-edged as a medallion, shows
the feathered circlet surmounting his head.  To all appearance a red
savage, in reality a white one--Richard Darke.

Clancy stays not to think further.  If he did he would lose distance.
For soon as in the saddle, Darke goes off in full headlong gallop.  In
like gait follows the avenger, forsaking the cautious pace, and no
longer caring for silence.

Still there is no noise, save that of the hammering hooves, now and then
a clink, as their iron shoeing strikes a stone.  Otherwise silent,
pursuer and pursued.  But with very different reflections; the former
terrified, half-frenzied, seeking to escape from whom he knows not; the
latter, cool, courageous, trying to overtake one he knows too well.

Clancy pursues but with one thought, to punish the murderer of his
mother.  And sure he will succeed now.  Already is the space shortened
between them, growing less with every leap of his horse.  A few strides
more and Richard Darke will be within range of his rifle.

Letting drop the reins, he takes firmer grasp on his gun.  His horse
needs no guidance, but goes on as before, still gaining.

He is now within a hundred lengths of the retreating foe, but still too
far off for a sure shot.  Besides, the moon is in front, her light
dazzling his eyes, the man he intends to take aim at going direct for
her disc, as if with the design to ride into it.

While he delays, calculating the distance, suddenly the moon becomes
obscured, the chased horseman simultaneously disappearing from his
sight!



CHAPTER EIGHTY THREE.

AT LENGTH THE "DEATH SHOT."

Scarce for an instant is Clancy puzzled by the sudden disappearance of
him pursued.  That is accounted for by the simplest of causes; a large
rock rising above the level of the plain, a loose boulder, whose breadth
interposing, covers the disc of the moon.  A slight change of direction
has brought it between; Darke having deflected from his course, and
struck towards it.

Never did hunted fox, close pressed by hounds, make more eagerly for
cover, or seek it so despairingly as he.  He has long ago been aware
that the pursuer is gaining upon him.  At each anxious glance cast over
his shoulder, he sees the distance decreased, while the tramp of the
horse behind sounds clearer and closer.

He is in doubt what to do.  Every moment he may hear the report of a
gun, and have a bullet into his back.  He knows not the instant he may
be shot out of his saddle.

Shall he turn upon the pursuer, make stand, and meet him face to face?
He dares not.  The dread of the unearthly is still upon him.  It may be
the Devil!

The silence, too, awes him.  The pursuing horseman has not yet hailed--
has not spoken word, or uttered exclamation.  Were it not for the heavy
tread of the hoof he might well believe him a spectre.

If Darke only knew who it is, he would fear him as much, or more.
Knowing not, he continues his flight, doubting, distracted.  He has but
one clear thought, the instinct common to all chased creatures--to make
for some shelter.

A copse, a tree, even were it but a bush, anything to conceal him from
the pursuer's sight--from the shot he expects soon to be sent after him.

Ha! what is that upon the plain?  A rock!  And large enough to screen
both him and his horse.  The very thing!

Instinctively he perceives his advantage.  Behind the rock he can make
stand, and without hesitation he heads his horse for it.

It is a slight change from his former direction, and he loses a little
ground; but recovers it by increased speed.  For encouraged by the hope
of getting under shelter, he makes a last spurt, urging his animal to
the utmost.

He is soon within the shadow of the rock, still riding towards it.

It is just then that Clancy loses sight of him, as of the moon.  But he
is now also near enough to distinguish the huge stone; and, while
scanning its outlines, he sees the chased horseman turn around it, so
rapidly, and at such distance, he withholds his shot, fearing it may
fail.

Between pursued and pursuer the chances have changed; and as the latter
reins up to consider what he should do, he sees something glisten above
the boulder, clearly distinguishable as the barrel of a gun.  At the
same instant a voice salutes him, saying:--

"I don't know who, or what you are.  But I warn you to come no nearer.
If you do, I'll send a bullet--Great God!"

With the profane exclamation, the speaker suddenly interrupts himself,
his voice having changed from its tone of menace to trembling.  For the
moonlight is full upon the face of him threatened; he can trace every
feature distinctly.  It is the same he late saw on the sun ice of the
plain!

It can be no dream, nor freak of fancy.  Clancy is still alive; or if
dead he, Darke, is looking upon his wraith!

To his unfinished speech he receives instant rejoinder:--

"You don't know who I am?  Learn then!  I'm the man you tried to
assassinate in a Mississippian forest--Charles Clancy--who means to kill
you, fairer fashion, here on this Texan plain.  Dick Darke! if you have
a prayer to say, say it soon; for sure as you stand behind that rock, I
intend taking your life."

The threat is spoken in a calm, determined tone, as if surely to be
kept.  All the more terrible to Richard Darke, who cannot yet realise
the fact of Clancy's being alive.  But that stern summons must have come
from mortal lips, and the form before him is no spirit, but living flesh
and blood.

Terror-stricken, appalled, shaking as with an ague, the gun almost drops
from his grasp.  But with a last desperate resolve, and effort
mechanical, scarce knowing what he does, he raises the piece to his
shoulder, and fires.

Clancy sees the flash, the jet, the white smoke puffing skyward; then
hears the crack.  He has no fear, knowing himself at a safe distance.
For at this has he halted.

He does not attempt to return the fire, nor rashly rush on.  Darke
carries a double-barrelled gun, and has still a bullet left.  Besides,
he has the advantage of position, the protecting rampart, the moon
behind his back, and in the eyes of his assailant, everything in favour
of the assailed.

Though chafing in angry impatience, with the thirst of vengeance
unappeased, Clancy restrains himself, measuring the ground with his
eyes, and planning how he may dislodge his skulking antagonist.  Must he
lay siege to him, and stay there till--

A low yelp interrupts his cogitations.  Looking down he sees Brasfort by
his side.  In the long trial of speed between the two horses, the hound
had dropped behind.  The halt has enabled it to get up, just in time to
be of service to its master, who has suddenly conceived a plan for
employing it.

Leaping from his saddle, he lays holds of the muzzle strap, quickly
unbuckling it.  As though divining the reason, the dog dashes on for the
rock; soon as its jaws are released, giving out a fierce angry growl.

Darke sees it approaching in the clear moonlight, can distinguish its
markings, remembers them.  Clancy's stag-hound!  Surely Nemesis, with
all hell's hosts, are let loose on him!

He recalls how the animal once set upon him.

Its hostility then is nought to that now.  For it has reached the rock,
turned it, and open-mouthed, springs at him like a panther.

In vain he endeavours to avoid it, and still keep under cover.  While
shunning its teeth, he has also to think of Clancy's gun.

He cannot guard against both, if either.  For the dog has caught hold of
his right leg, and fixed its fangs in the flesh.  He tries to beat it
off, striking with the butt of his gun.  To no purpose now.  For his
horse, excited by the attack, and madly prancing, has parted from the
rock, exposing him to the aim of the pursuer, who has, meanwhile, rushed
up within rifle range.

Clancy sees his advantage, and raises his gun, quick as for the shooting
of a snipe.  The crack comes; and, simultaneous with it, Richard Darke
is seen to drop out of his saddle, and fall face foremost on the plain--
his horse, with a wild neigh, bolting away from him.

The fallen man makes no attempt to rise, nor movement of any kind, save
a convulsive tremor through his frame; the last throe of parting life,
which precedes the settled stillness of death.  For surely is he dead.

Clancy, dismounting, advances towards the spot; hastily, to hinder the
dog from tearing him, which the enraged animal seems determined to do.
Chiding it off, he bends over the prostrate body, which he perceives has
ceased to breathe.  A sort of curiosity, some impulse irresistible,
prompts him to look for the place where his bullet struck.  In the
heart, as he can see by the red stream still flowing forth!

"Just where he hit me!  After all, not strange--no coincidence; I aimed
at him there."

For a time he stands gazing down at the dead man's face.  Silently,
without taunt or recrimination.  On his own there is no sign of savage
triumph, no fiendish exultation.  Far from his thoughts to insult, or
outrage the dead.  Justice has had requital, and vengeance been
appeased.  It is neither his rival in love, nor his mortal enemy, who
now lies at his feet; but a breathless body, a lump of senseless clay,
all the passions late inspiring it, good and bad, gone to be balanced
elsewhere.

As he stands regarding Darke's features, in their death pallor showing
livid by the moon's mystic light, a cast of sadness comes over his own,
and he says in subdued soliloquy:--

"Painful to think I have taken a man's life--even his!  I wish it could
have been otherwise.  It could not--I was compelled to it.  And surely
God will forgive me, for ridding the world of such a wretch?"

Then raising himself to an erect attitude, with eyes upturned to
heaven--as when in the cemetery over his mother's grave, he made that
solemn vow--remembering it, he now adds in like solemnal tone--

"_I've kept my oath.  Mother; thou art avenged_!"



CHAPTER EIGHTY FOUR.

THE SCOUT'S REPORT.

While these tragic incidents are occurring on Coyote Creek and the plain
between, others almost as exciting but of less sanguinary character,
take place in the valley of the San Saba.

As the morning sun lights up the ancient Mission-house, its walls still
reverberate wailing cries, mingled with notes of preparation for the
pursuit.  Then follows a forenoon of painful suspense, _no_ word yet
from the scouters sent out.

Colonel Armstrong, and the principal men of the settlement, have
ascended to the _azotea_ to obtain a better view; and there remain
gazing down the valley in feverish impatience.  Just as the sun reaches
meridian their wistful glances are rewarded; but by a sight which little
relieves their anxiety; on the contrary, increasing it.

A horseman emerging from the timber, which skirts the river's bank,
comes on towards the Mission-building.  He is alone, and riding at top
speed--both circumstances having sinister significance.  Has the
scouting party been cut off, and he only escaped to tell the tale?  Is
it Dupre, Hawkins, or who?  He is yet too far off to be identified.

As he draws nearer, Colonel Armstrong through a telescope makes him out
to be Cris Tucker.

Why should the young hunter be coming back alone?

After a mutual interchange of questions and conjectures, they leave off
talking, and silently stand, breathlessly, awaiting his arrival.

Soon as he is within hailing distance, several unable to restrain
themselves, call out, inquiring the news.

"Not bad, gentlemen!  Rayther good than otherways," shouts back Oris.

His response lifts a load from their hearts, and in calmer mood they
await further information.  In a short time the scout presents himself
before Colonel Armstrong, around whom the others cluster, all alike
eager to hear the report.  For they are still under anxiety about the
character of the despoilers, having as yet no reason to think them other
than Indians.  Nor does Tucker's account contradict this idea; though
one thing he has to tell begets a suspicion to the contrary.

Rapidly and briefly as possible the young hunter gives details of what
has happened to Dupre's party, up to the time of his separating from it;
first making their minds easy by assuring them it was then safe.

They were delayed a long time in getting upon the trail of the robbers,
from these having taken a bye-path leading along the base of the bluff.
At length having found the route of their retreat, they followed it over
the lower ford, and there saw sign to convince them that the Indians--
still supposing them such--had gone on across the bottom, and in all
probability up the bluff beyond--thus identifying them with the band
which the hunters had seen and tracked down.  Indeed no one doubted
this, nor could.  But, while the scouters were examining the return
tracks, they came upon others less intelligible--in short, perplexing.
There were the hoof-marks of four horses and a mule--all shod; first
seen upon a side trace leading from the main ford road.  Striking into
and following it for a few hundred yards, they came upon a place where
men had encamped and stayed for some time--perhaps slept.  The grass
bent down showed where their bodies had been astretch.  And these men
must have been white.  Fragments of biscuit, with other debris of
eatables, not known to Indians, were evidence of this.

Returning from the abandoned bivouac, with the intention to ride
straight back to the Mission, the scouters came upon another side trace
leading out on the opposite side of the ford road, and up the river.  On
this they again saw the tracks of the shod horses and mule; among them
the foot-prints of a large dog.

Taking this second trace it conducted them to a glade, with a grand
tree, a live-oak, standing in its centre.  The sign told of the party
having stopped there also.  While occupied in examining their traces,
and much mystified by them, they picked up an article, which, instead of
making matters clearer, tended to mystify them more--a wig!  Of all
things in the world this in such a place!

Still, not so strange either, seeing it was the counterfeit of an Indian
_chevelure_--the hair long and black, taken from the tail of a horse.

For all, it had never belonged to, or covered, a red man's skull--since
it was that worn by Bosley, and torn from his head when Woodley and
Heywood were stripping him for examination.

The scouters, of course, could not know of this; and, while inspecting
the queer waif, wondering what it could mean, two others were taken up:
one a sprig of cypress, the other an orange blossom; both showing as if
but lately plucked, and alike out of place there.

Dupre, with some slight botanic knowledge, knew that no orange-tree grew
near, nor yet any cypress.  But he remembered having observed both in
the Mission-garden, into which the girls had been last seen going.
Without being able to guess why they should have brought sprig or flower
along, he was sure they had themselves been under the live-oak.  Where
were they now?

In answer, Hawkins had cried: "Gone this way!  Here's the tracks of the
shod horses leading up-stream, this side.  Let's follow them!"

So they had done, after despatching Tucker with the report.

It is so far satisfactory, better than any one expected; and inspires
Colonel Armstrong with a feeling akin to hope.  Something seems to
whisper him his lost children will be recovered.

Long ere the sun has set over the valley of the San Saba his heart is
filled, and thrilled, with joy indescribable.  For his daughters are by
his side, their arms around his neck, tenderly, lovingly entwining it,
as on that day when told they must forsake their stately Mississippian
home for a hovel in Texas.  All have reached the Mission; for the
scouting party having overtaken that of Woodley, came in along with it.

No, not all, two are still missing--Clancy and Jupiter.  About the
latter Woodley has made no one the wiser; though he tells Clancy's
strange experience, which, while astounding his auditory, fills them
with keen apprehension for the young man's fate.

Keenest is that in the breast of Helen Armstrong.  Herself saved, she is
now all the more solicitous about the safety of her lover.  Her looks
bespeak more than anxiety--anguish.

But there is that being done to hinder her from despairing.  The
pursuers are rapidly getting ready to start out, and with zeal unabated.
For, although circumstances have changed by the recovery of the
captives, there is sufficient motive for pursuit--the lost treasure to
be re-taken--the outlaws chastised--Clancy's life to be saved, or his
death avenged.

Woodley's words have fired them afresh, and they are impatient to set
forth.

Their impatience reaches its climax, when Colonel Armstrong, with head
uncovered, his white hair blown up by the evening breeze, addresses
them, saying:--

"Fellow citizens!  We have to thank the Almighty that our dear ones have
escaped a great danger.  But while grateful to God, let us remember
there is a man also deserving gratitude.  A brave young man, we all
believed dead--murdered.  He is still alive, let us hope so.  Simeon
Woodley has told us of the danger he is now in--death if he fall into
the hands of these desperate outlaws.  Friends, and fellow citizens!  I
need not appeal to you on behalf of this noble youth.  I know you are
all of one mind with myself, that come what will, cost what it may,
Charles Clancy must be saved."

The enthusiastic shout, sent up in response to the old soldier's speech,
tells that the pursuit will be at least energetic and earnest.

Helen Armstrong, standing retired, looks more hopeful now.  And with her
hope is mingled pride, at the popularity of him to whom she has given
heart, and promised hand.  Something more to make her happy; she now
knows that, in the bestowing of both, she will have the approval of her
father.



CHAPTER EIGHTY FIVE.

A CHANGE OF PROGRAMME.

On the far frontier of Texas, still unsettled by civilised man, no
chanticleer gives note of the dawn.  Instead, the _meleagris_ salutes
the sunrise with a cry equally high-toned, and quite as home-like.  For
the gobbling of the wild turkey-cock is scarcely distinguishable from
that of his domesticated brother of the farm-yard.

A gang of these great birds has roosted in the pecan grove, close to
where the prairie pirates are encamped.  At daylight's approach, they
fly up to the tops of the trees; the males, as is their wont in the
spring months of the year, mutually sounding their sonorous challenge.

It awakes the robbers from the slumber succeeding their drunken debauch;
their chief first of any.

Coming forth from his tent, he calls upon the others to get up--ordering
several horses to be saddled.  He designs despatching a party to the
upper plain, in search of Quantrell and Bosley, not yet come to camp.

He wants another word with the mulatto; and steps towards the tent,
where he supposes the man to be.

At its entrance he sees blood--inside a dead body!

His cry, less of sorrow than anger, brings his followers around.  One
after another peering into the tent, they see what is there.  There is
no question about how the thing occurred.  It is clear to all.  Their
prisoner has killed his guard; as they say, assassinated him.  Has the
assassin escaped?

They scatter in search of him, by twos and threes, rushing from tent to
tent.  Some proceed to the corral, there to see that the bars are down,
and the horses out.

These are discovered in a strip of meadow near by, one only missing.  It
is that the chief had seized from their white prisoner, and
appropriated.  The yellow one has replevined it!

The ghastly spectacle in the tent gives them no horror.  They are too
hardened for that.  But it makes them feel, notwithstanding; first
anger, soon succeeded by apprehension.  The dullest brute in the band
has some perception of danger as its consequence.  Hitherto their
security has depended on keeping up their incognito by disguises, and
the secrecy of their camping place.  Here is a prisoner escaped, who
knows all; can tell about their travesties; guide a pursuing party to
the spot!  They must remain no longer there.

Borlasse recognising the necessity for a change of programme, summons
his following around him.

"Boys!" he says, "I needn't point out to ye that this ugly business puts
us in a bit o' a fix.  We've got to clear out o' hyar right quick.  I
reckon our best way 'll be to make tracks for San Antone, an' thar
scatter.  Even then, we won't be too safe, if yellow skin turns up to
tell his story about us.  Lucky a nigger's testymony don't count for
much in a Texan court; an' thar's still a chance to make it count for
nothin' by our knocking him on the head."

All look surprised, their glances interrogating "How?"

"I see you don't understan' me," pursues Borlasse in explanation.  "It's
easy enough; but we must mount at once, an' make after him.  He won't so
readily find his way acrosst the cut-rock plain.  An' I tell yez, boys,
it's our only chance."

There are dissenting voices.  Some urge the danger of going back that
way.  They may meet the outraged settlers.

"No fear of them yet," argues the chief, "but there will be if the
nigger meets them.  We needn't go on to the San Saba.  If we don't
overtake him 'fore reachin' the cottonwood, we'll hev' to let him slide.
Then we can hurry back hyar, an' go down the creek to the Colorado."

The course counselled, seeming best, is decided on.

Hastily saddling their horses, and stowing the plunder in a place where
it will be safe till their return, they mount, and start off for the
upper plain.

Silence again reigns around the deserted camp; no human voice there--no
sound, save the calling of the wild turkeys, that cannot awake that
ghastly sleeper.

At the same hour, almost the very moment, when Borlasse and his
freebooters, ascending from Coyote Creek, set foot on the table plain, a
party of mounted men, coming up from the San Saba bottom, strikes it on
the opposite edge.  It is scarce necessary to say that these are the
pursuing settlers.  Dupre at their head.  Hardly have they struck out
into the sterile waste, before getting bewildered, with neither trace
nor track to give them a clue to the direction.  But they have with them
a surer guide than the foot-prints of men, or the hoof-marks of horses--
their prisoner Bill Bosley.

To save his life, the wretch told all about his late associates and is
now conducting the pursuers to Coyote Creek.

Withal, he is not sure of the way; and halts hesitatingly.

Woodley mistaking his uncertainty for reluctance, puts a pistol to his
head, saying:--

"Bill Bosley! altho' I don't make estimate o' yur life as more account
than that o' a cat, it may be, I spose, precious to yurself.  An' ye kin
only save it by takin' us strait to whar ye say Jim Borlasse an' his
beauties air.  Show sign o' preevarication, or go a yurd's length out o'
the right track, an'--wal, I won't shoot ye, as I'm threetenin'.  That
'ud be a death too good for sech as you.  But I promise ye'll get yer
neck streetched on the nearest tree; an' if no tree turn up, I'll tie ye
to the tail o' my horse, an' hang ye that way.  So, take yur choice.  If
ye want to chaw any more corn, don't 'tempt playin' possum."

"I hain't no thought of it," protests Bosley, "indeed I hain't, Sime.
I'm only puzzled 'bout the trail from here.  Tho' I've been accrost this
plain several times, I never took much notice, bein' with the others, I
only know there's a tree stands by itself.  If we can reach that, the
road's easier beyont.  I think it's out yonnerways."

He points in particular direction.

"Wal, we'll try that way," says Sime, adding: "Ef yer story don't prove
strait, there'll come a crik in yur neck, soon's it's diskivered to be
crooked.  So waste no more words, but strike for the timmer ye speak
o'."

The alacrity with which Bosley obeys tells he is sincere.

Proof of his sincerity is soon after obtained in the tree itself being
observed.  Far off they descry it outlined against the clear sky,
solitary as a ship at sea.

"Yonner it air, sure enuf!" says Woodley first sighting it.  "I reck'n
the skunk's tellin' us the truth, 'bout that stick o' timber being a
finger-post.  Tharfor, no more dilly-dallying but on to't quick as our
critters can take us.  Thar's a man's life in danger; one that's dear to
me, as I reckon he'd be to all o' ye, ef ye knowed him, same's I do.  Ye
heerd what the old kurnel sayed, as we war startin' out: _cost what it
mout, Charley Clancy air to be saved_.  So put the prod to your
critters, an' let's on!"

Saying this, the hunter spurs his horse to its best speed; and soon all
are going at full gallop in straight course for the cottonwood.



CHAPTER EIGHTY SIX.

ALONE WITH THE DEAD.

Beside the body of his fallen foe stands Charles Clancy, but with no
intention there to tarry long.  The companionship of the dead is ever
painful, whether it be friend or enemy.  With the latter, alone, it may
appal.  Something of this creeps over his spirit while standing there;
for he has now no strong passion to sustain him, not even anger.

After a few moments, he turns his back on the corpse, calling Brasfort
away from it.  The dog yet shows hostility; and, if permitted, would
mutilate the lifeless remains.  Its fierce canine instinct has no
generous impulse, and is only restrained by scolding and threats.

The sun is beginning to show above the horizon, and Clancy perceives
Darke's horse tearing about over the plain.  He is reminded of his
promise made to Jupiter.

The animal does not go clear off, but keeps circling round, as if it
desired to come back again; the presence of the other horse attracting,
and giving it confidence.  Clancy calls to it, gesticulating in a
friendly manner, and uttering exclamations of encouragement.  By little
and little, it draws nearer, till at length its muzzle is in contact
with that of his own steed; and, seizing the bridle, he secures it.

Casting a last look at the corpse, he turns to the horses, intending to
take departure from the spot.  So little time has been spent in the
pursuit, and the short conflict succeeding, it occurs to him he may
overtake Jupiter, before the latter has reached the San Saba.

Scanning around to get bearings, his eye is attracted to an object, now
familiar--the lone cottonwood.  It is not much over two miles off.  On
Darke's trail he must have ridden at least leagues.  Its crooked course,
however, explains the tree's proximity.  The circles and zig-zags have
brought both pursued and pursuer nigh back to the starting point.

Since the cottonwood is there, he cannot be so far from the other place,
he has such reason to remember; and, again running his eye around, he
looks for it.

He sees it not, as there is nothing now to be seen, except some
scattered mould undistinguishable at a distance.  Instead, the rising
sun lights up the figure of a man, afoot, and more than a mile off.  Not
standing still, but in motion; as he can see, moving towards himself.
It is Jupiter!

Thus concluding, he is about to mount and meet him, when stayed by a
strange reflection.

"I'll let Jupe have a look at his old master," he mutters to himself.
"He too had old scores to settle with him--many a one recorded upon his
skin.  It may give him satisfaction to know how the thing has ended."

Meanwhile the mulatto--for it is he--comes on; at first slowly, and with
evident caution in his approach.

Soon he is seen to quicken his step, changing it to a run; at length
arriving at the rock, breathless as one who reaches the end of a race.
The sight which meets him there gives him but slight surprise.  He has
been prepared for it.

In answer to Clancy's inquiry, he briefly explains his presence upon the
spot.  Disobedient to the instructions given him, instead of proceeding
towards the San Saba bottom, he had remained upon the steppe.  Not
stationary, but following his master as fast as he could, and keeping
him in view so long as the distance allowed.  Two things were in his
favour--the clear moonlight and Darke's trail doubling back upon itself.
For all, he had at length lost sight of the tracking horseman, but not
till he had caught a glimpse of him tracked, fleeing before.  It was the
straight tail-on-end chase that took both beyond reach of his vision.
Noting the direction, he still went hastening after, soon to hear a
sound which told him the chase had come to a termination, and strife
commenced.  This was the report of a gun, its full, round boom
proclaiming it a smooth-bore fowling-piece.  Remembering that his old
master always carried this--his new one never--it must be the former who
fired the shot.  And, as for a long while no other answered it, he was
in despair, believing the latter killed.  Then reached his ear the angry
bay of the bloodhound, with mens' voices intermingled; ending all the
dear, sharp crack of a rifle; which, from the stillness that succeeded
continuing, he knew to be the last shot.

"An' it war the last, as I can see," he says, winding up his account,
and turning towards the corpse.  "Ah! you've gi'n him what he thought
he'd guv you--his _death shot_!"

"Yes, Jupe.  He's got it at last; and strange enough in the very place
where he hit me.  You see where my bullet has struck him?"

The mulatto, stooping down over Darke's body, examines the wound, still
dripping blood.

"You're right, Masser Charle; it's in de adzack spot.  Well, that is
curious.  Seems like your gun war guided by de hand of that avengin'
angel you spoke o'."

Having thus delivered himself, the fugitive slave becomes silent and
thoughtful, for a time, bending over the body of his once cruel master,
now no more caring for his cruelty, or in fear of being chastised by
him.

With what strange reflections must that spectacle inspire him!  The
outstretched arms lying helpless along the earth--the claw-like fingers
now stiff and nerveless--he may be thinking how they once clutched a
cowhide, vigorously laying it on his own back, leaving those terrible
scars.

"Come, Jupe!" says Clancy, rousing him from his reverie; "we must mount,
and be off."

Soon they are in their saddles, ready to start; but stay yet a little
longer.  For something has to be considered.  It is necessary for them
to make sure about their route.  They must take precautions against
getting strayed, as also another and still greater danger.  Jupiter's
escape from the robbers' den, with the deed that facilitated it, will by
this have been discovered.  It is more than probable he will be pursued;
indeed almost certain.  And the pursuers will come that way; at any
moment they may appear.

This is the dark side of the picture presented to Clancy's imagination,
as he turns his eyes towards the west.  Facing in the opposite direction
his fancy summons up one brighter.  For there lies the San Saba
Mission-house, within whose walls he will find Helen Armstrong.  He has
now no doubt that she has reached home in safety; knows, too, that her
father still lives.  For the mulatto has learnt as much from the
outlaws.  While _en route_ to Coyote Creek, and during his sojourn
there, he overheard them speak about the massacre of the slaves, as also
the immunity extended to their masters, with the reason for it.  It is
glad tidings to Clancy, His betrothed, restored to her father's arms,
will not the less affectionately open her own to receive him.  The long
night of their sorrowing has passed; the morn of their joy comes; its
daylight is already dawning.  He will have a welcome, sweet as ever met
man.

"What's that out yonner?" exclaims Jupiter, pointing west.

Clancy's rapture is interrupted--his bright dream dissipated--suddenly,
as when a cloud drifts over the disc of the sun.

And it is the sun which causes the change, or rather the reflection of
its rays from something seen afar off, over the plain.  Several points
sparkle, appearing and disappearing through a semi-opaque mass, whose
dun colour shows it to be dust.

Experienced in prairie-sign he can interpret this; and does easily, but
with a heaviness at his heart.  The things that sparkle are guns,
pistols, knives, belt-buckles, bitts, and stirrups; while that through
which they intermittingly shine is the stoor tossed up by the hooves of
horses.  It is a body of mounted men in march across the steppe.

Continuing to scan the dust-cloud, he perceives inside it a darker
nucleus, evidently horses and men, though he is unable to trace the
individual forms, or make out their number.  No mattes for that; there
is enough to identify them without.  They are coming from the side of
the Colorado--from Coyote Creek.  Beyond doubt the desperadoes!



CHAPTER EIGHTY SEVEN.

HOSTILE COHORTS.

Perfectly sure that the band is that of Borlasse, which he almost
instantly is, Clancy draws his horse behind the rock, directing Jupiter
to do likewise.  Thus screened, they can command a view of the horsemen,
without danger of being themselves seen.

For greater security both dismount; the mulatto holding the horses,
while his master sets himself to observe the movements of the
approaching troop.  Is it approaching?

Yes; but not direct for the rock.  Its head is towards the tree, and the
robbers are evidently making to reach this.  As already said, the
topography of the place is peculiar; the lone cottonwood standing on the
crest of a _couteau de prairie_, whose sides slope east and west.  It
resembles the roof of a house, but with gentler declination.  Similarly
situated on the summit of the ridge, is the boulder, but with nearly a
league's length between it and the tree.

Soon as assured that the horsemen are heading for the latter, Clancy
breathes freer breath.  But without being satisfied he is safe.  He
knows they will not stay there; and where next?  He reflects what might
have been his fate were he still in the _prairie stocks_.  Borlasse will
be sure to pay that place a visit.  Not finding the victim of his
cruelty, he will seek elsewhere.  Will it occur to him to come on to the
rock?

Clancy so interrogates, with more coolness, and less fear, than may be
imagined.  His horse is beside him, and Jupiter has another.  The
mulatto is no longer encumbered by a mule.  Darke's steed is known to be
a swift one, and not likely to be outrun by any of the robber troop.  If
chased, some of them might overtake it, but not all, or not at the same
time.  There will be less danger from their following in detail, and
thus Clancy less fears them.  For he knows that his yellow-skinned
comrade is strong as courageous; a match for any three ordinary men.
And both are now well armed--Darke's double-barrel, as his horse, having
reverted to Jupiter.  Besides, as good luck has it, there are pistols
found in the holsters, to say nothing of that long-bladed, and late
blood-stained, knife.  In a chase they will have a fair chance to
escape; and, if it come to a fight, can make a good one.

While he is thus speculating upon the probabilities of the outlaws
coming on to the rock, and what may be the upshot afterwards, Clancy's
ear is again saluted by a cry from his companion.  But this time in tone
very different: for it is jubilant, joyous.

Turning, he sees Jupiter standing with face to the east, and pointing in
that direction.  To what?  Another cloud of dust, that prinkles with
sparkling points; another mounted troop moving across the plain!  And
also making for the tree, which, equi-distant between the two, seems to
be the beacon of both.

Quick as he reached the conclusion about the first band being that of
Borlasse, does he decide as to that of the second.  It is surely the
pursuing colonists, and as sure with Sime Woodley at their head.

Both cohorts are advancing at a like rate of speed, neither riding
rapidly.  They have been so, but now, climbing the acclivity, they have
quieted their horses to a walk.  The pace though slow, continued, will
in time bring them together.  A collision seems inevitable.  His glance
gladdens as he measures the strength of the two parties.  The former not
only in greater number, but with God on their side; while the latter
will be doing battle under the banner of the Devil.

About the issue of such encounter he has no anxiety.  He is only
apprehensive it may not come off.  Something may arise to warn the
outlaws, and give them a chance to shun it.

As yet neither party has a thought of the other's proximity or approach.
They cannot, with the ridge between.  Still is there that, which should
make them suspicious of something.  Above each band are buzzards--a
large flock.  They flout the air in sportive flight, their instinct
admonishing them that the two parties are hostile, and likely to spill
each other's blood.

About the two sets of birds what will both sides be saying?  For, high
in heaven, both must long since have observed them.  From their presence
what conjectures will they draw?

So Clancy questions, answering himself:

"Borlasse will suppose the flock afar to be hovering over my head; while
Woodley may believe the other one above my dead body!"

Strange as it may appear, just thus, and at the same instant, are the
two leaders interpreting the sign!  And well for the result Clancy
desires; since it causes neither to command halt or make delay.  On the
contrary impels them forward more impetuously.  Perceiving this, he
mechanically mutters:

Thank the Lord!  They must meet now!  Curbing his impatience, as he best
can, he continues to watch the mutually approaching parties.  At the
head of the colonists he now sees Sime Woodley, recognises him by his
horse--a brindled "clay-bank," with stripes like a zebra.  Would that he
could communicate with his old comrade, and give him word, or sign of
warning.  He dares not do either.  To stir an inch from behind the rock,
would expose him to the view of the robbers, who might still turn and
retreat.

With heart beating audibly, blood, coursing quick through his veins, he
watches and waits, timing the crisis.  It must come soon.  The two
flocks of vultures have met in mid-air, and mingle their sweeping
gyrations.  They croak in mutual congratulation, anticipating a splendid
repast.

Clancy counts the moments.  They cannot be many.  The heads of the
horsemen already align with the tufts of grass growing topmost on the
ridge.  Their brows are above it; their eyes.  They have sighted each
other!

A halt on both sides; horses hurriedly reined in; no shouts; only a word
of caution from the respective leaders of the troops, each calling back
to his own.  Then an interval of silence, disturbed by the shrill
screams of the horses, challenging from troop to troop, seemingly
hostile as their riders.

In another instant both have broken halt, and are going in gallop over
the plain; not towards each other, but one pursuing, the other pursued.
The robbers are in retreat!

Clancy had not waited for this; his cue came before, soon as they caught
sight of one another.  Then, vaulting into his saddle, and calling
Jupiter to follow, he was off.

Riding at top speed, cleaving the air, till it whistles past his ears,
with eyes strained forward, he sees the changed attitude of the troops.

He reflects not on it; all his thoughts becoming engrossed, all his
energies bent, upon taking part in the pursuit, and still more in the
fight he hopes will follow.  He presses on in a diagonal line between
pursued and pursuers.  His splendid steed now shows its good qualities,
and gladly he sees he is gaining upon both.  With like gladness that
they are nearing one another, the short-striding mustangs being no match
for the long legged American horses.  As yet not a shot has been fired.
The distance is still too great for the range of rifles, and
backwoodsmen do not idly waste ammunition.  The only sounds heard are
the trampling of the hooves, and the occasional neigh of a horse.  The
riders are all silent, in both troops alike--one in the mute eagerness
of flight, the other with the stern earnestness of pursuit.

And now puffs of smoke arise over each, with jets of flame projected
outward.  Shots, at first dropping and single, then in thick rattling
fusillade.  Along with them cries of encouragement, mingled with shouts
of defiance.  Then a wild "hurrah," the charging cheers the colonists
close upon the outlaws.

Clancy rides straight for the fray.  In front he sees the plain shrouded
in dense sulphureous mist, at intervals illumined by yellow flashes.
Another spurt, and, passing through the thin outer strata of smoke, he
is in the thick of the conflict--among men on horseback grappling other
mounted men, endeavouring to drag them out of the saddle--some afoot,
fighting in pairs, firing pistols, or with naked knives, hewing away at
one another!

He sees that the fight is nigh finished, and the robbers routed.  Some
are dismounted, on their knees crying "quarter," and piteously appealing
for mercy.

Where is Sime Woodley?  Has his old comrade been killed?

Half frantic with this fear, he rashes distractedly over the ground,
calling out the backwoodsman's name.  He is answered by another--by Ned
Heywood, who staggers to his side, bleeding, his face blackened with
powder.

"You are wounded, Heywood?"

"Yes; or I wouldn't be here."

"Why?"

"Because Sime--"

"Where is he?"

"Went that way in chase o' a big brute of a fellow.  I've jest spied
them passin' through the smoke.  For God's sake, after!  Sime may stand
in need o' ye."

Clancy stays not to hear more, but again urges his horse to speed, with
head in the direction indicated.

Darting on, he is soon out into the clear atmosphere; there to see two
horsemen going off over the plain, pursued and pursuer.  In the former
he recognises Borlasse, while the latter is Woodley.  Both are upon
strong, swift, horses; but better mounted than either, he soon gains
upon them.

The backwoodsman is nearing the brigand.  Clancy sees this with
satisfaction, though not without anxiety.  He knows Jim Borlasse is an
antagonist not to be despised.  Driven to desperation, he will fight
like a grizzly bear.  Woodley will need all his strength, courage, and
strategy.

Eager to assist his old comrade, he presses onward; but, before he can
come up, they have closed, and are at it.

Not in combat, paces apart, with rifles or pistols.  Not a shot is being
exchanged between them.  Instead, they are close together, have clutched
one another, and are fighting, hand to hand, with _bowies_!

It commenced on horseback, but at the first grip both came to the
ground, dragging each other down.  Now the fight continues on foot, each
with his bared blade hacking and hewing at the other.

A dread spectacle these two gigantic gladiators engaged in mortal
strife!  All the more in its silence.  Neither utters shout, or speaks
word.  They are too intent upon killing.  The only sound heard is their
hoarse breathing as they pant to recover it--each holding the other's
arm to hinder the fatal stroke.

Clancy's heart beats apprehensively for the issue; and with rifle
cocked, he rides on to send a bullet through Borlasse.

It is not needed.  No gun is to give the _coup de grace_ to the chief of
the prairie pirates.  For, the blade of a bowie-knife has passed between
his ribs, laying him lifeless along the earth.

"You, Charley Clancy!" says Sime, in joyful surprise at seeing his
friend still safe.  "Thank the Lord for it!  But who'd a thought o'
meeting ye in the middle of the skrimmage!  And in time to stan' by me
hed that been needful.  But whar hev ye come from?  Dropt out o' the
clouds?  An' what o' Dick Darke?  I'd most forgot that leetle matter.
Have ye seed him?"

"I have."

"Wal; what's happened?  Hev ye did anythin' to him?"

"The same as you have done to _him_," answers Clancy, pointing to the
body of Borlasse.

"Good for you!  I know'd it 'ud end that way.  I say'd so to that sweet
critter, when I war leevin' her at the Mission."

"You left her there--safe?"

"Wal, I left her in her father's arums, whar I reckon she'll be safe
enough.  But whar's Jupe?"

"He's here--somewhere behind."

"All right!  That accounts for the hul party.  Now let's back, and see
what's chanced to the rest o' this ruffin crew.  So, Jim Borlasse, good
bye!"

With this odd leave taking, he turns away, wipes the blood from his
bowie, returns it to its sheath, and once more climbing into his saddle,
rides off to rejoin the victorious colonists.

On the ground where the engagement took place, a sad spectacle is
presented.  The smoke has drifted away, disclosing the corpses of the
slain--horses as well as men.  All the freebooters have fallen, and now
lie astretch as they fell to stab or shot; some on their backs, others
with face downward, or doubled sideways, but all dead, gashed, and
gory--not a wounded man among them!  For the colonists, recalling that
parallel spectacle in the Mission courtyard, have given loose rein to
the _lex talionis_, and exacted a terrible retribution.

Nor have they themselves got off unscathed.  The desperadoes being
refused quarter, fought it out to the bitter end; killing several of the
settlers, and wounding many more; among the latter two known to us--
Heywood and Dupre.  By good fortune, neither badly, and both to recover
from their wounds; the young Creole also recovering his stolen treasure,
found secreted at the camp on Coyote creek.

Our tale might here close; for it is scarce necessary to record what
came afterwards.  The reader will guess, and correctly, that Dupre
became the husband of Jessie, and Helen the wife of Clancy; both
marriages being celebrated at the same time, and both with full consent
and approval of the only living parent--Colonel Armstrong.

And on the same day, though at a different hour, a third couple was made
man and wife; Jupe getting spliced to his Jule, from whom he had been so
long cruelly kept apart.

It is some years since then, and changes have taken place in the colony.
As yet none to be regretted, but the reverse.  A Court-House town has
sprung up on the site of the ancient Mission, the centre of a district
of plantations--the largest of them belonging to Luis Dupre; while one
almost as extensive, and equally as flourishing, has Charles Clancy for
owner.

On the latter live Jupe and Jule; Jupe overseer, Jule at the head of the
domestic department; while on the former reside two other personages
presented in this tale, it is hoped with interest attached to them.
They are Blue Bill, and his Phoebe; not living alone, but in the midst
of a numerous progeny of piccaninnies.

How the coon-hunter comes to be there requires explanation.  A word will
be sufficient.  Ephraim Darke stricken down by the disgrace brought upon
him, has gone to his grave; and at the breaking up of his slave
establishment, Blue Bill, with all his belongings, was purchased by
Dupre, and transported to his present home.  This not by any accident,
but designedly; as a reward for his truthfulness, with the courage he
displayed in declaring it.

Between the two plantations, lying contiguous, Colonel Armstrong comes
and goes, scarce knowing which is his proper place of residence.  In
both he has a bedroom, and a table profusely spread, with the warmest of
welcomes.

In the town itself is a market, plentifully supplied with provisions,
especially big game--bear-meat, and venison.  Not strange, considering
that it is catered for by four of the most skilful hunters in Texas;
their names, Woodley, Heywood, Hawkins, and Tucker.  When off duty these
worthies may be seen sauntering through the streets, and relating the
experiences of their latest hunting expedition.

But there is one tale, which Sime, the oldest of the quartette, has told
over and over--yet never tires telling.  Need I say, it is the "Death
Shot?"

THE END.





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