The Headless Horseman

Mayne Reid

 

 
PROLOGUE
    
    The stag of Texas, reclining in midnight lair, is startled from his slumbers by the hoof stroke of a horse.
    He does not forsake his covert, nor yet rise to his feet. His domain is shared by the wild steeds of the savannah, given to nocturnal straying. He only up rears his head and, with antlers overtopping the tall grass, listens for a repetition of the sound.
    Again is the hoof stroke heard, but with altered intonation. There is a ring of metal the clinking of steel against stone.
    The sound, significant to the ear of the stag, causes a quick change in his air and attitude. Springing clear of his couch, and bounding a score of yards across the prairie, he pauses to look back upon the disturber of his dreams.
    In the clear moonlight of a southern sky, he recognizes the most ruthless of his enemies: man. One is approaching upon horseback.
    Yielding to instinctive dread, he is about to resume his flight when something in the appearance of the horseman some unnatural seeming holds him transfixed to the spot.
    With haunches in quivering contact with the sward, and frontlet faced to the rear, he continues to gaze his large brown eyes straining upon the intruder in a mingled expression of fear and bewilderment.
    What has challenged the saga to such protracted scrutiny?
    The horse is perfect in all its parts a splendid steed, saddled, bridled, and otherwise completely caparisoned. In it appears nothing amiss, nothing to produce either wonder or alarm. But the rider? Ah! About him there is something to cause both something weird something wonting !
    By heavens! it is the head!
    Even the unreasoning animal can perceive this and, after gazing a moment with wildered eyes wondering what abnormal monster thus mocks its corvine intelligence terror stricken it continues its retreat nor again pauses, till it has plunged through the waters of the Leona, and placed the current of the stream between itself and the ghastly intruder.
    Heedless of the affrighted deer either of its presence, or precipitate flight the Headless Horseman rides on.
    He too, is going in the direction of the river. Unlike the stag, he does not seem pressed for time but advances in a slow, tranquil pace so silent as to seem ceremonious.
    Apparently absorbed in solemn thought, he gives free rein to his steed permitting the animal, at intervals, to snatch a mouthful of the herbage growing by the way. Nor does he, by voice or gesture, urge it impatiently onward, when the howl bark of the prairie wolf causes it to fling its head on high, and stand snorting in its tracks.
    He appears to be under the influence of some all absorbing emotion, from which no common incident can awake him. There is no speech not a whisper to betray its nature. The startled stag, his own horse, the wolf, and the midnight moon, are the sole witnesses of his silent abstraction.
    His shoulders shrouded under a serapé, one edge of which, flirted up by the wind, displays a portion of his figure his limbs encased in "water guards" of jaguar skin thus sufficiently sheltered against the dews of the night, or the showers of a tropical sky, he rides on silent as the stars shining above, unconcerned as the cicada that chirrups in the grass beneath, or the prairie breeze playing with the drapery of ms dress.
    Something at length appears to rouse from his reverie, and stimulate mm to greater speed his steed, at the same time. The latter, tossing up its head, gives utterance to a joyous neigh and, with outstretched neck, and spread nostrils, advances in a gait gradually increasing to a canter. The proximity of the river explains the altered pace.
    The horse halts not again, till the crystal current is surging against his flanks, and the legs of his rider are submersed knee deep under the surface.
    The animal eagerly assuages its thirst crosses to the opposite side and, with vigorous stride, ascends the sloping bank.
    Upon the crest occurs a pause as if the rider tarried till his steed should shake the water from its flanks. There is a rattling of saddle flaps, and stirrup leathers, resembling thunder, amidst a cloud of vapor, white as the spray of a cataract.
    Out of this self constituted nimbus, the Headless Horseman emerges and moves onward, as before.
    Apparently pricked by the spur, and guided by the rein, of his rider, the horse no longer strays from the track but steps briskly forward, as if upon a path already trodden.
    A treeless savannah stretches before salvaged by the sky. Outlined against the azure is seen the imperfect centaurean shape gradually dissolving in the distance, till it becomes lost to view, under the mystic gloaming of the moonlight!
    
1. THE BURST PRAIRIE.
    
    On the great plain of Texas, about a hundred miles southward from the old Spanish town of San Antonio de Bejar, the noonday sun is shedding his beams from a sky of cerulean brightness. Under the golden light appears a group of objects, but little in unison with the landscape around them since they betoken the presence of human beings, in a spot where there is no sign of human habitation.
    The objects in question are easily identified even at a great distance. They are wagons each covered with its ribbed and rounded tilt of snow-white "Osnaburgh."
    There are ten of them scarce enough to constitute a "caravan" of traders, nor yet a "government train." They are more likely the individual property of an emigrant who has lauded upon the coast, and is wending his way to one of the late formed settlements on the Leona.
    Slowly crawling across the savannah, it could scarce be told that they are in motion but for their relative position, in long serried line, indicating the order of march.
    The dark bodies between each two declare that the teams are attached and that they are making progress is proved, by the retreating antelope, scared from its noonday siesta, and the long shacked curlew, rising with a screech from the sward both bird and beast wondering at the string of strange behemoths , thus invading their wilderness domain.
    Elsewhere upon the prairie, no movement may be detected either of bird or quadruped. It is the time of day when all tropical life becomes torpid, or seeks repose in the shade man alone, stimulated by the love of gain, or the promptings of ambition, disregarding the laws of nature, and defying the fervor of the sun.
    So seems it with the owner of the tilted train who, despite the relaxing influence of the fierce mid day heat, keeps moving on.
    That he is an emigrant and not one of the ordinary class is evidenced in a variety of ways. The ten large wagons of Pittsburgh build, each hauled by eight able bodied mules their miscellaneous contents plenteous provisions, articles of costly furniture, even de lux e , live stock in the shape of colored women and children the groups of black and yellow bondsmen, walking alongside, or straggling foot sore m the rear the light traveling carriage in the lead, drawn by a span of sleek coated Kentucky mules, and driven by a black Jehu, sweltering in a suit of livery all bespeak, not a poor Northern States settler in search of a new home, but a rich Southerner who has already purchase done, and is on his way to take possession of it.
    And this is the exact story of the train. It is the property of a planter who has landed at Indianola, on the Gulf of Matagorda and is now traveling overland en route for his destination.
    In the cortege that accompanies it, riding habitually at its head, is the planter himself Woodley Poindexter a tall thin man of fifty, with a slightly yellowish complexion, and aspect proudly severe. He is simply though not inexpensively clad in a loosely fitting frock of alpaca cloth, a waistcoat of black satin, and trousers of nankin. A shirt of finest linen shows its plaits through the opening of his vest its collar embraced by a piece of black ribbon while the shoe, resting in his stirrup, is of finest tanned leather. His features are shaded by a broad brimmed Leghorn hat.
    Two horsemen are riding alongside one on his right, the other on the left a stripling scarce twenty, and a young man six or seven years older. The former is his son a youth, whose open cheerful countenance contrasts, not only with the severe aspect of his father, but with the somewhat sinister features on the other side, and which belong to his cousin.
    The youth is dressed in a French blouse of sky colored "cottoned," with trousers of the same material a most appropriate costume for a southern climate, and which, with the Panama hat upon his head, is equally becoming.
    The cousin, an ex-officer of volunteers, affects a military undress of dark blue cloth, with a forage cap to correspond.
    There is another horseman riding near, who, only on account of having a white skin not white for all that is entitled to description. His coarser features, and cheaper habiliments the keel colored "cowhide" clutched in his right hand, and flirted with such evident skill, proclaim him the overseer and whisper up of the swarthy pedestrians composing the entou rage of the train.
    The traveling carriage, which is a "carriole", a sort of cross between a Jersey wagon and a barouche, has two occupants. One is a young lady of the whitest skin the other a girl of the blackest. The former is the daughter of Woodley Poindexter his only daughter. She of the sable complexion is the young lady's handmaid.
    The emigrating party is from the "coast" of the Mississippi from Louisiana. The planter is not himself a native of this State in other words a Creole but the type is exhibited in the countenance of his son still more in that fair face, seen occasionally through the curtains of the carriole, and whose delicate features declare descent from one of those endorsed damsels fillee a la ca s e t te who, more than a hundred years ago, came across the Atlantic provided with proofs of their virtue in the casket!
    A grand sugar planter of the South is Woodley Poindexter one of the highest and haughtiest of his class one of the most profuse in aristocratic hospitalities hence the necessity of forsaking his Mississippian home, and transferring himself and his "penates" with only a remnant of his "niggers," to the wilds of South-Western Texas.
    The sun is upon the meridian line, and almost in the zenith. The travelers tread upon their own shadows. Enervated by the excessive heat, the white horsemen sit silently in their saddles. Even the dusky pedestrians, less sensible to its influence, have ceased their garrulous "gumbo" and, in straggling groups, shamble listlessly along in the rear of the wagons.
    The silence solemn as that of a funereal procession is interrupted only at intervals by the pistol like crack of a whip, or the loud "wo-ha," delivered in deep baritone from the thick lips of some sable teamster.
    Slowly the train moves on, as if groping its way. There is no regular road. The route is indicated by the wheel marks of some vehicles that have passed before barely conspicuous, by having crashed the culms of the shot grass.
    Notwithstanding the slow progress, the teams are doing their best. The planter believes himself within less than twenty miles of the end of his journey. He hopes to reach it before night hence the march continued through the mid day heat.
    Unexpectedly the drivers are directed to pull up, by a sign from the overseer who has been riding a hundred yards in the advance, and who is seen to make a sudden stop as if some obstruction had presented itself.
    He comes trotting back towards the train. His gestures tell of something amiss. What is it?
    There has been much talk about Indians of a probability of their being encountered in this quarter.
    Can it be the red skinned marauders? Scarcely the gestures of the overseer do not betray actual alarm.
    "What is it, Mr. Sansom?" asked the planter, as the man rode up.
    "The grass air burnt. The prairie’s been afire."
    "Been on fire! Is it on fire now ? " hurriedly inquired the owner of the wagons, with an apprehensive glance towards the traveling carriage. "Where? I see no smoke!"
    " No, sir no," stammered the overseer, becoming conscious that he had caused unnecessary alarm "I didn't say it air afire now only that it has been, an the hul ground air as black as the ten o' spades."
    " Ta-tat! What of that? I suppose we can travel over a black prairie, as safely as a green one?"
    "What nonsense of you, Josh Sansom, to raise such a row about nothing frightening people out of their senses! Ho! there, you niggers! Lay the leather to your teams, and let the train proceed. Whip up! Whip up!"
    "But, Captain Calhoun," protested the overseer, in response to the gentleman who had reproached him in such chaste terms "how are we to find the way?"
    "Find the way! What are you raving about? We haven't lost it, have we?"
    "I'm afraid we have, though. The wheel tracks ain't no longer to be seen. They're burnt out, along with the grass."
    "What matters that? I reckon we can cross a piece of scorched prairie, without wheel marks to guide us we’ll find them again on the other side."
    "Ye-es," naively responded the overseer who although a "down-easter" had been far enough west to have learnt something of frontier life "if their air any other side. I can’t see it out o' the saddle ne'er a sign o' it."
    "Whip up, niggers! Whip up!" shouted Calhoun, without heeding the remark and spurring onwards, as a sign that the order was to be obeyed.
    The teams are again set in motion and, after advancing to the edge of the burnt tract, without instructions from any one, are once more brought to a stand.
    The white men on horseback draw together for a consultation. There is need as all are satisfied by a single glance directed to the ground before them.
    Far as the eye can reach the country is of one uniform color black as Erebus. There is nothing green not a blade of grass not a reed, or a weed!
    It is after the summer solstice. The ripened culms of the gramine e , and the stalks of the prairie flowers, have alike crumbled into dust under the devastating breath of fire.
    In front on the right and left to the utmost verge of vision extends the scene of desolation. Over it the cerulean sky is changed to a darker blue the sun, though clear of clouds, seems to scowl rather than shine as if reciprocating the frown of the earth.
    The overseer has made a correct report there is no trail visible. The action of the fire, as it raged among the ripe grass, has eliminated the impression of the wheels hitherto indicating the route.
    "What are we to do?"
    The planter himself put this inquiry, in a tone that told of a vacillating spirit.
    "Do, uncle Woodley! What else but keep straight on? The river must be on the other side? If we don't hit the crossing, to a half mile or so, we can go up, or down the bank as the case may require."
    "But Cassius, if we should lose our way?"
    "We can't. There's but a patch of this, I suppose? If we do go a little astray, we must come out somewhere on one aide, or the other."
    "Well, nephew, you know best I shall be guided by you."
    "No fear, uncle. I've made my way out of a worse fix than this. Drive on, niggers! Keep straight after me. "
    The ex-officer of volunteers, casting a conceited glance towards the traveling carriage through the curtains of which appears a fair face, slightly shadowed with anxiety gives the spur to Ins horse and with confident air trots onward.
    A chorus of whip cracks is succeeded by the trampling of fourscore mules, mingled with the clanking of wheels against their hubs. The wagon train is once more in motion.
    The mules step out with greater rapidity. The sable surface, strange to their eyes, excites them to brisker action causing them to raise the hoofs as soon as it touches the turf. The younger animals show fear snorting, as they advance.
    In time their apprehensions become allayed and, taking the cue from their older associates, they move on steadily as before.
    A mile or more is made, apparently in a direct line from the point of starting. Then there is a halt. The self appointed guide has ordered it. He has reined up his horse and is sitting in the saddle with less show of confidence. He appears to be puzzled about the direction.
    The landscape, if such it may be called, has assumed a change though not for the better. It is still sable as ever, to the verge of the horizon. But the surface is no longer a plain it rolls. There are ridges, gentle undulations, with valleys between. They are not entirely treeless though nothing that may be termed a tree is in sight. There have been such, before the fire - algarrobas , mezquites, and others of the acacia family- standing solitary, or in copses. Their light pinnate foliage has disappeared like flax before the flame. Their existence is only evidenced by charred trunks, and blackened boughs.
    "You've lost the way, nephew?" said the planter, riding rapidly up.
    "No uncle not yet. I've only stopped to have a look. It must lie in this direction down that valley. Let them drive on. We're going all right I'll answer for it."
    Once more in motion adown the slope then along the valley then up the acclivity of another ridge and then there is a second stoppage upon its crest.
    "You've lost the way, Cash?" said the planter, coming up and repeating his former observation.
    "Damn if I don't believe I have, uncle!" responded the nephew, in a tone of not very respectful mistrust. "Anyhow who the devil could find his way out of an ash pit like this? No, no!" he continued, reluctant to betray his embarrassment, as the carriole came up. "I see now. We're all right yet. The river must be in this direction. Come on!"
    On goes the guide, evidently irresolute. On follow the sable teamsters, who, despite their stolidity, do not fail to note some signs of vacillation. They can tell that they are no longer advancing in a direct line but circuitously among the copses, and across the glades that stretch between.
    All are gratified by a shout from the conductor, announcing recovered confidence. In response there is a universal explosion of whipcord, with joyous exclamations.
    Once more they are stretching their teams along a traveled road where a half score of wheeled vehicles must have passed before them. And not long before the wheel tracks are of recent impress the hoof-prints of the animals fresh as if made within the hour. A train of wagons, not unlike their own, must have passed over the burnt prairie!
    Like themselves, it could only be going towards the Leona perhaps some government convoy on its way to Fort Inge? In that case they have only to keep in the same track. The Fort is on the line of their march but a short distance beyond the point where their journey is to terminate.
    Nothing could be more opportune. The guide, hitherto perplexed though without acknowledging it is at once relieved of all anxiety and with a fresh exhibition of conceit, orders the route to be resumed.
    For a mile or more the wagon tracks are followed not in a direct line, but bending about among the skeleton copses. The countenance of Cassius Calhoun, for a while wearing a confident look, gradually becomes clouded. It assumes the profoundest expression of despondency, on discovering that the four and forty wheel tracks he is following, have been made by ten Pittsburgh wagons, and a carriole the same that are now following him, and in whose company he has been traveling all the way from the Gulf of Matagorda !
2. THE TRAIL OF THE LASSO.
    Beyond doubt, the wagons of Woodley Poindexter were going over ground already traced by the tiring of their wheels.
    "Our own tracks!" muttered Calhoun on making the discovery, adding a fierce oath as he reined up.
    "Our own tracks! What mean you, Cassius? You don't say we've been traveling"
    "On our own tracks. I do, uncle that very thing. We must have made a complete circumbendibus of it. See! Here's the hind hoof of my own horse, with half a shoe off and there's the feet of the niggers. Besides, I can tell the ground. That's the very hill we went down as we left our last stopping place. Hang the crooked luck! We've made a couple of miles for nothing."
    Embarrassment is no longer the only expression upon the face of the speaker. It has deepened to chagrin, with an admixture of shame. It is through him that the train is without a regular guide. One, engaged at Indianola, had piloted them to their last camping place. There, in consequence of some dispute, due to the surly temper of the ex-captain of volunteers, the man had demanded his dismissal, and gone back.
    For tins as also for an ill timed display of confidence in his power to conduct the march is the planter's nephew now suffering under a sense of shame. He feels it keenly as the carriole comes up, and bright eyes become witnesses of his discomfiture.
    Poindexter does not repeat his inquiry. That the road is lost is a fact evident to all. Even the barefooted or "broganned" pedestrians have recognized their long heeled footprints, and become aware that they are for the second time treading upon the same ground.
    There is a general halt, succeeded by an animated conversation among the white men. The situation is serious the planter himself believes it to be so. He cannot that day reach the end of his journey a thing upon which he had set his mind.
    That is the very least misfortune that can befall them. There are others possible, and probable. There are perils upon the burnt plain. They may be compelled to spend the night upon it, with no water for their animals. Perhaps a second day and night or longer who can tell how long?
    How are they to find their way? The sun is beginning to descend though still too high in heaven to indicate his line of declination. By waiting a while they may discover the quarters of the compass.
    But to what purpose? The knowledge of east, west, north and south can avail nothing now they have lost their line of march.
    Calhoun has become cautious. He no longer volunteers to point out the path. He hesitates to repeat his pioneering experiments after such manifest and shameful failure.
    A ten minutes' discussion terminates in nothing. No one can suggest a feasible plan of proceeding. No one knows how to escape from the embrace of that dark desert, which appears to cloud not only the sun and sky, but the countenances of all who enter within its limits.
    A flock of black vultures is seen flying afar off. They come nearer, and nearer. Some alight upon the ground others hover above the heads of the strayed travelers. Is there a boding in the behavior of the birds.
    Another ten minutes is spent in the midst of moral and physical gloom. Then, as if by a benignant mandate from heaven, does cheerfulness reassume its sway. The cause? A horseman riding in the direction of the train!
    An unexpected sight that could have looked for human being in such a place? All eyes simultaneously sparkle with joy as if, in the approach of the horseman, they beheld the advent of a savior!
    "He's coming this way, is he not?" inquired the planter, scarce confident in his failing sight.
    "Yes, father straight as he can ride," replied Henry, lifting the hat from his head, and waving it on high the action accompanied by a shout intended to attract the horseman.
    The signal was superfluous. The stranger had already sighted the halted wagons and, riding towards them at a gallop, was soon within speaking distance.
    He did not draw bridle, until he had passed the train and arrived upon the spot occupied by the planter and his party.
    "A Mexican!" whispered Henry, drawing his deduction from the habiliments of the horseman.
    "So much the better," replied Poindexter, in the same tone of voice "he'll be all the more likely to know the road."
    "Not a bit of Mexican about him," muttered Calhoun, "excepting the rig. I'll soon see. Buenos dias, cavallero ! Es ta y . M e xicano ? (Good day, sir! are you a Mexican?)"
    " No, indeed," replied the stranger, with a protesting smile. "Anything but that. I can speak to you in Spanish, if you prefer it but I dare say you will understand me better in English, which, I presume, is your native tongue?"
    Calhoun, suspecting that he had spoken indifferent Spanish, or indifferently pronounced it, refrains from making rejoinder.
    "American , sir," replied Poindexter, his national pride feeling slightly piqued. Then, as if fearing to offend the man from whom he intended asking a favor, he added "Yes, sir we are all Americans from the Southern States . "
    "That I can perceive by your following." An expression of contempt scarce perceptible showed itself upon the countenance of the speaker, as his eye rested upon the groups of black bondsmen. "I can perceive too," he added, "that you are strangers to prairie traveling. You have lost your way?"
    "We have, sir and have very little prospect of recovering it, unless we may count upon your kindness to direct us."
    "Not much kindness in that. By the merest chance I came upon your trail, as I was crossing the prairie. I saw you were going astray and have ridden this way to set you right."
    "It is very good of you. We shall be most thankful, sir. My name is Poindexter, Woodley Poindexter, of Louisiana. I have purchased a property on the Leona River, near Fort Inge. We were in hopes of reaching it before nightfall. Can we do so?"
    "There is nothing to hinder you, if you follow the instructions I shall give."
    On saying this, the stranger rode a few paces apart and appeared to scrutinize the country as if to determine the direction which the travelers should take.
    Poised conspicuously upon the crest of the ridge, horse and man presented a picture worthy of skilful delineation.
    A steed, such as might have been ridden by an Arab sheik blood-bay in color broad in counter with limbs clean as culms of cane, and hips of elliptical outline, continued into a magnificent tail sweeping rearward like a rainbow on his back a rider a young man of not more than five and twenty of noble form and features habited in the picturesque costume of a Mexican ran ch ero Spencer jacket of velveteen calzoneros laced along the seams c alzoneillos of snow white lawn botas of buff leather, heavily spurred at the heels around the waist a scarf of scarlet crape and on his head a hat of black glaze, banded with gold bullion. Picture to yourself a horseman thus habited seated in a deep tree saddle, of Moorish shape and Mexican manufacture, with housings of leather stamped in antique patterns, such as were worn by the caparisoned steeds of the Conquistadores picture to yourself such a caballero , and you will have before your mind's eye a counterpart of him, upon whom the planter and his people were gazing.
    Through the curtains of the traveling carriage he was regarded with glances that spoke of a singular sentiment. For the first time in her life, Louise Poindexter looked upon that hitherto known only to her imagination a man of heroic mould. Proud might he have been, could he have guessed the interest which his presence was exciting in the breast of the young Creole.
    He could not, and did not. He was not even aware of her existence. He had only glanced at the dust bedaubed vehicle in passing as one might look upon the rude incrustation of an oyster, without suspecting that a precious pearl may lie gleaming inside.
    "By my faith!" he declared, facing round to the owner of the wagons, "I can discover no landmarks for you to steer by. For all that, I can find the way myself. You will have to cross the Leona five miles below the Fort and, as I have to go by the crossing myself, you can follow the tracks of my horse. Good day, gentlemen!"
    Thus abruptly bidding adieu, he pressed the spur against the side of his steed and started off at a gallop.
    An unexpected almost un courteous departure! So thought the planter and his people.
    They had no time to make observations upon it, before the stranger was seen burning towards them!
    In ten seconds he was again in their presence all listening to learn what had brought him back.
    "I fear the tracks of my horse may prove of little service to you. The mustangs have been this way, since the fire. They have made hoof-marks by the thousand. Mine are shod but, as you are not accustomed to trailing, you may not be able ' to distinguish them the more so, that in these dry ashes all horse tracks are so nearly alike.
    "What are we to do r" despairingly asked the planter.
    "I am sorry, Mr. Poindexter, I cannot stay to conduct you. I am riding express, with a dispatch for the Fort. If you should lose my trail, keep the sun on your right shoulders so that your shadows may fall to the left, at an angle of about fifteen degrees to your line of march. Go straight forward for about five miles. You will, then come in sight of the top of a tall tree a cypress. You will know it by its leaves being in the red. Head direct for this tree. It stands on the bank of the river and close by is the crossing."
    The young horseman, once more drawing up his reins, 'was about to ride off when something caused him to linger. It was a pair of dark lustrous eyes observed by him for the first time glancing through the curtains of the traveling carriage.
    Their owner was in shadow but there was light enough, to show, that they were set in a countenance of surpassing loveliness. He perceived, moreover, that they were turned upon himself fixed, as he fancied, in an expression that betokened interest almost tenderness!
    He returned it with an involuntary glance of admiration, which he made but an awkward attempt to conceal. Lest it might be mistaken for rudeness, he suddenly faced round and once more addressed himself to the planter who had just finished thanking him for his civility.
    "I am but ill deserving thanks," was his rejoinder, "thus to leave you with a chance of losing your way. But, as I've told you, my time is measured."
    The dispatch bearer consulted his watch as though not a little reluctant to travel alone.
    "You are very kind, sir," said Poindexter "but with the directions you have given us, I think we shall be able to manage. The sun will surely show us…"
    "No now I look at the sky, it will not. There are clouds looming up on the north. In an hour, the sun may be obscured at all events, before you can get within sight of the cypress. It will not do. Stay!" he continued, after a reflective pause, "I have a better plan still follow the trail of my lasso ! "
    While speaking, he had lifted the coiled rope from his saddlebow, and flung the loose end to the earth the other being secured to a ring in the pommel. Then raising his hat in graceful salutation more than half directed towards the traveling carriage he gave the spur to his steed and once more bounded off over the prairie.
    The lasso, lengthening out, tightened over the hips of his horse and, dragging a dozen yards behind, left a line upon the cinereous surface as if some slender serpent had been making its passage across the plain.
    "An exceedingly curious fellow!" remarked the planter, as they stood gazing after the horseman, fast becoming hidden behind a cloud of sable dust. "I ought to have asked him his name?"
    "An exceedingly conceited fellow, I should say," muttered Calhoun who had not foiled to notice the glance sent by the stranger in the direction of the carriole, nor that which had challenged it. "As to his name, I don't think it matters much. It mightn't be his own he would give you. Texas is full of such swells, who take new names when they get here by way of improvement, if for no better reason."
    "Come, cousin Cash," protested young Poindexter "you are unjust to the stranger. He appears to be educated in met, a gentleman worthy of bearing the best of names, I should say."
    "A gentleman! Deuced unlikely rigged out in that fanfaron fashion. I never saw a man yet, that took to a Mexican dress, who wasn't a Jack. He's one, I'll be bound."
    During this brief conversation, the fair occupant of the carriole was seen to bend forward and direct a look of evident interest, after the form of the horseman fast receding from her view.
    To this, perhaps, might have been traced the acrimony observable in the speech of Calhoun.
    "What is it, Loo?" he inquired, riding close up to the carriage, and speaking in a voice not loud enough to be heard by the others. "You appear impatient to go forward? Perhaps you'd like to ride off along with that swaggering fellow? It isn't too late I'll lend you my horse."
    The young girl threw herself back, upon the seat, evidently displeased, both by the speech and the tone in which it was delivered. But her displeasure, instead of expressing itself in a frown, or in the shape of an indignant rejoinder, was concealed under a guise far more galling to him who had caused it.
    A clear ringing laugh was the only reply vouchsafed to him.
    "So, so! I thought there must be something by the way you behaved yourself in his presence. You looked as if you would have relished a tête-à-tête with this showy dispatch bearer. Taken with his stylish dress, I suppose? Fine feathers make line birds. His are borrowed. I may strip them off some day, along with a little of the skin that's under them."
    "For shame, Cassius! your words are a scandal!"
    "This you should think of scandal, Loo! To let your thoughts turn on a common scamp a masquerading fellow like that! No doubt the letter carrier, employed by the officers at the Fort!"
    "A letter carrier, you think? Oh, how I should like to get love letters by such a postman!"
    "You had better hasten on, and tell him so. My horse is at your service."
    "Ha! ha! ha! What a simpleton you show yourself! Suppose, for jesting's sake, I did have a fancy to overtake this prairie postman! It couldn't be done upon that dull steed of yours not a bit of it! At the rate he is going, he and his blood-bay will be out of sight before you could change Baddies for me. Oh, no! He's not to be overtaken by me, however much I might like it and perhaps I might like it! "
    "Don't let your father hear you talk in that way."
    "Don't let him hear you talk in that way," retorted the young lady, for the first time speaking in a serious strain. "Though you are my cousin, and papa may think you the peak of perfection, I don't! I never told you, did I?" A frown, evidently called forth by some unsatisfactory reflection, was the only reply to this tantalizing interrogative.
    "You are my cousin," she continued, in a tone Sat contrasted strangely with the levity she had already exhibited, "but you are nothing more nothing more Captain Cassius Calhoun!" You have no claim to be my counsellor. There is but one from whom I am in duty bound to take advice, or bear reproach. I therefore beg of you Master Cash that you will not again presume to repeat such sentiments as those you have just favoured me with. I shall remain mistress of my own thoughts and actions, too till I have found a master who can control them. It is not you!"
    Having delivered this speech, with eyes flashing half angrily, half contemptuously upon her cousin, the young Creole once more threw herself back upon the cushions of the carriole.
    The closing curtains admonished the ex-officer, that further conversation was not desired.
    Quailing under the lash of indignant innocence, he was only too happy to hear the loud "gee on" of the teamsters, as the wagons commenced moving over the somber surface not more somber than his own thoughts.
3. THE PRAIRIE FINGER-POST.
    The travelers felt no further uneasiness about the route. The snake like trail was continuous and so plain that a child might have followed it.
    It did not run in a right line, but meandering among the thickets at times turning out of the way, in places where the ground was clear of timber. This had evidently been done with intent to avoid obstruction to the wagons since at each of these windings the travelers could perceive that there were breaks, or other inequalities, in the surface.
    "How very thoughtful of the young fellow!" remarked Poindexter. "I really feel regret at not having asked for his name. If he belongs to the Fort, we shall see him again."
    "No doubt of it," assented his son. "I hope we shall.'
    His daughter, reclining in shadow, overheard the conjectural speech, as well as the rejoinder. She said nothing but her glance towards Henry seemed to declare that her heart fondly echoed the hope.
    Cheered by the prospect of soon terminating a toilsome journey as also by the pleasant anticipation of beholding, before sunset, his new purchase the planter was in one of his happiest moods. His aristocratic bosom was moved by an unusual amount of condescension, to all around him. He chatted familiarly with his overseer stopped to crack a joke with "Uncle" Scipio, hobbling along on blistered heels and encouraged "Aunt" Chloe in the transport of her piccaninny.
    "Marvelous!" might the observer exclaim misled by such exceptional interludes, so pathetically described by the scribblers in Lucifer's pay "what a fine patriarchal institution is slavery, after all! After all we have said and done to abolish it! A waste of sympathy sheer philanthropic folly to attempt the destruction of this ancient edifice worthy corner stone to a ' chivalric' nation! Oh, ye abolition fanatics! Why do ye clamour against it? Know ye not that some must suffer must work and starve that others may enjoy the luxury of idleness? That some must be slaves, that others may be free?"
    Such arguments, at which a world might weep have been of late, but too often urged. Woe to the man who speaks, and the nation that gives ear to them!
    The planter's high spirits were shared by his party, Calhoun alone excepted. They were reflected in the faces of his black bondsmen, who regarded him as the source, and dispenser, of their happiness, or misery omnipotent next to God. They loved him less than God, and feared him more, though he was by no means a bad master that is, by comparison. He did not absolutely take delight in torturing them. He liked to see them well fed and clad their epidermis shining, with the exudation of its own oil. These signs bespoke the importance of their proprietor himself. He was satisfied to let them off with an occasional "cowhiding" salutary, he would assure you and in all his "stock" there was not one black skin marked, with the mutilations of vengeance a proud boast for a Mississippian slave owner, and more than most could truthfully lay claim to.
    In the presence of such an exemplary owner, no wonder that the cheerfulness was universal, or that the slaves should partake of their master's joy, and give way to their garrulity.
    It was not destined that this joyfulness should continue to the end of their journey. It was after a time interrupted not suddenly, nor by any fault on the part of those indulging in it, but by causes and circumstances over which they had not the slightest control.
    As the stranger had predicted the sun ceased to be visible, before the cypress came in sight.
    There was nothing in this to cause apprehension. The line of the lasso was conspicuous as ever and they needed no guidance from the sun only that his cloud eclipse produced a corresponding effect upon their spirits.
    "One might suppose it close upon nightfall," observed the planter, drawing out his gold repeater, and glancing at its dial and yet it's only three o'clock! Lucky the young fellow has left us such a sure guide. But for him, we might have floundered among these ashes till sundown perhaps has been compelled to sleep upon them."
    "A black bed it would be," jokingly rejoined Henry, with the design of rendering the conversation more cheerful. "Ugh! I should have such ugly dreams, were I to sleep upon it."
    "And I too," added his sister, protruding her pretty face through the curtains, and taking a survey of the surrounding scene "I'm sure I should dream of Tartarus, and Pluto, and Proserpine, and…"
    "Hya! hya! hya!" grinned the black Jehu, on the box enrolled in the plantation books as Pluto Poindexter "De young missa dream 'bout me in de mids' of dis brack prairie! Golly! dat am a good joke-berry! Hya! hya! hya!"
    "Don't be too sure, all of you," said the surly nephew, at this moment coming up, and taking part in the conversation "don't be too sure that you won't have to make your beds upon it yet. I hope it may be no worse."
    "What do you mean, Cash?" inquired the uncle.
    "I mean, uncle, that that fellow's been misleading us. I won't say it for certain but it looks ugly. We've come more than five miles six, I should say and where's the tree? I've examined the horizon, with a pair of as good eyes as most have got, I reckon and there isn't such a thing in sight."
    "But why should the stranger have deceived us?"
    "Ah why? That's just it. There may be more reasons than one."
    "Give us one, then!" challenged a silvery voice from the carriole. "We're all ears to hear it!"
    "You're all ears to take in everything that's told you by a stranger," sneeringly replied Calhoun. "I suppose if I gave my reason, you'd be so charitable as to call it a false alarm!"
    "That depends on its character, Master Cassius. I think you might venture to try us. We scarcely expect a false alarm from a soldier, as well as traveler, of your experience."
    Calhoun felt the taunt and would probably have withheld the communication he had intended to make, but for Poindexter himself.
    "Come on Cassius, explain yourself!" demanded the planter, in atone of respectful authority. "You have said enough to excite something more than curiosity. For what reason should the young fellow be leading us astray?"
    "Well, uncle," answered the ex-officer, retreating a little from his original accusation, "I haven't said for certain that he is only that it looks like it."
    "In what way?"
    "Well, one doesn't know what may happen. Traveling parties as strong, or stronger than us, have been attacked on these plains, and plundered of everything and murdered."
    "Mercy!" exclaimed Louise, in a tone of terror, more affected than real.
    "By Indians," replied Poindexter.
    "Ah! Indians, indeed! Sometimes it may be and sometimes, too, they may be whites who play at that game, not all Mexican whites, neither. It only needs a bit of brown paint a horsehair wig, with half a dozen feathers stuck into it that, and plenty of hullabalooing. If we were to be robbed by a party of white Indians, it wouldn't be the first time the thing's been done. We as good as half deserve it for our greenness, in trusting too much to a stranger."
    "Good heavens, nephew! This is a serious accusation. Do you mean to say that the dispatch rider if he be one is leading us into an ambuscade?"
    "No, uncle I don't say that. I only say that such things have been done and it's possible he may. "
    "But not probable , " emphatically interposed the voice from the carriole, in a tone tauntingly quizzical.
    "No!" exclaimed the stripling Henry, who, although riding a few paces ahead, had overheard the conversation. "Your suspicions are unjust, cousin Cassius. I pronounce them a calumny. What's more, I can prove them so. Look there!"
    The youth had reined up his horse, and was pointing to an object placed conspicuously by the side of the path which, before speaking, he had closely scrutinized. It was a tall plant of the columnar cactus , whose green succulent stem had escaped scathing by the fire.
    It was not to the plant itself that Henry Poindexter directed the attention of his companions but to a small white disc, of the form of a parallelogram, impaled upon one of its spines. No one accustomed to the usages of civilized life could mistake the "card." It was one.
    "Hear what's written upon it!" continued the young man, riding nearer, and reading aloud the directions penciled upon the bit of pasteboard.
    " The cypress in sight! "
    "Where?" inquired Poindexter.
    "There's a hand," rejoined Henry, "with a finger pointing no doubt in the direction of the tree."
    All eyes were instantly turned towards the quarter of the compass, indicated by the cipher on the card.
    Had the sun been shining, the cypress might have been seen at the first glance. As it was, the sky late of cerulean hue was now of a leaden grey and no straining of the eyes could detect anything along the horizon resembling the top of a tree.
    "There's nothing of the kind," asserted Calhoun, with restored confidence, at the same time returning to his unworthy accusation. "It's only a dodge, another link in the chain of tricks the scamp is playing us."
    "You mistake, cousin Cassius," replied that same voice that had so often contradicted him. "Look through this lorgnette! If you haven't lost the sight of those superior eyes of yours, you'll see something very like a tree , a tall tree and a cypress, too, if ever there was one in the swamps of Louisiana."
    Calhoun disdained to take the opera glass from the hands of his cousin. He knew it would convict him for he could not suppose she was telling an untruth.
    Poindexter availed himself of its aid and, adjusting the focus to his failing sight, was enabled to distinguish the red leafed cypress, topping up over the edge of the prairie.
    "It's true," he said "the tree is there. The young fellow is honest you've been wronging him, Cash. I didn't think it likely he should have taken such a queer plan to make fools of us. Ho there! Mr. Sansom! Direct your teamsters to drive on!"
    Calhoun, not caring to continue the conversation, nor yet remain longer in company, spitefully spurred his horse, and trotted off over the prairie.
    "Let me look at that card, Henry?" said Louise, speaking to her brother in a restrained voice. "I'm curious to see the cipher that has been of such service to us. Bring it away, brother it can be of no further use where it is now that we have sighted the tree."
    Henry, without the slightest suspicion of his sister's motive for making the request, yielded obedience to it.
    Releasing the piece of pasteboard from its impalement, he "chucked" it into her lap.
    " Maurice Gerald! " muttered the young Creole, after deciphering the name upon the card. "Maurice Gerald!" she repeated, in apostrophic thought, as she deposited the piece of pasteboard in her bosom. "Whoever you are whence you have come whither you are going what you may be hence forth there is a fate between us! I feel it I know it sure as there's a sky above! Oh! How that sky lowers! Am I to take it as a type of this still untraced destiny?"
    
4. THE BLACK NORTHER.
    
    For some seconds, after surrendering herself to the Sibylline thoughts thus expressed, the young lady sate in silence, her white hands clasped across her temples, as if her whole soul was absorbed in an attempt, either to explain the past, or penetrate the future.
    Her reverie whatever might be its cause was not of long notation. She was awakened from it, on hearing exclamations without mingled with words that declared some object of apprehension.
    She recognized her brother's voice, speaking in tones that betokened alarm.
    "Look, father! Don't you see them?"
    "Where, Henry? Where?"
    "Yonder, behind the wagons. You see them now?"
    "I do, though I can't say what are they. They look like…"
    Poindexter was puzzled for a simile…"I really don't know what."
    "Waterspouts?" suggested the ex-captain, who, at sight of the strange objects, had condescended to rejoin the party around the carriole. "Surely it can't be that? It's too far from the sea. I never heard of their occurring on the prairies."
    "They are in motion, whatever they are," said Henry. "See! They keep closing, and then going apart. But for that, one might mistake them for huge obelisks of black marble!"
    "Giants or ghouls!" jokingly suggested Calhoun "ogres from some other world, who've taken a fancy to have a promenade on this abominable prairie!"
    The ex-officer was only humorous with an effort. As well as the others, he was under the influence of an uneasy feeling.
    And no wonder. Against the northern horizon had suddenly become up reared a number of ink colored columns half a score of them unlike anything ever seen before. They were not of regular columnar form, nor fixed in any way but constantly changing size, shape, and place now steadfast for a time now gliding over the charred surface like giants upon skates anon, bending and balancing towards one another in the most fantastic figurings!
    It required no great effort of imagination, to fancy the Titans of old, resuscitated on the prairies of Texas, leading a measure after some wild carousal in the company of Bacchus!
    In the proximity of phenomena never observed before unearthly in their aspect unknown to every individual of the party it was but natural these should be inspired with alarm.
    And such was the fact. A sense of danger, pervaded every bosom. All were impressed, with a belief that they were in the presence of some peril of the prairies .
    A general halt had been made on first observing the strange objects the Negroes on foot, as well as the teamsters, giving utterance to shouts of terror. The mules, as well as horses," had come instinctively to a stand the latter neighing and trembling the former filling the air with their shrill screams.
    These were not the only sounds. From the sable towers could be heard a hoarse swishing noise, that resembled the sough of a waterfall at intervals breaking into reverberations like the roll of musketry, or the detonations of distant thunder!
    These noises were gradually growing louder and more distinct. The danger, whatever it might be, was drawing nearer!
    Consternation became depicted on the countenances of the travelers, Calhoun's forming no exception. The ex-officer no longer pretended levity. The eyes of all were turned towards the lowering sky, and the band of black columns that appeared coming on to crush them!
    At this crisis a shout, reaching their ears from the opposite side, was a source of relief despite the unmistakable accent of alarm in which it was uttered.
    Turning, they beheld a horseman in full gallop riding direct towards them.
    The horse was black as coal the rider of like hue, even to the skin of his face. For all that he was recognized as the stranger, upon the trail of whose lasso they had been traveling.
    The perceptions of woman are quicker than those of man the young lady within the carriole was the first to identify him,
    "Onward!" he cried, as soon as within speaking distance. "On-on! as fast as you can drive!"
    "What is it?" demanded the planter, in bewildered alarm. "Is there a danger?"
    "There is. I did not anticipate it, as I passed you. It was only after reaching the river, I saw the sure signs of it."
    "Of what, sir?"
    "The norther. "
    "You mean the storm of that name?"
    "I do."
    "I never heard of its being dangerous," interposed Calhoun, " except to vessels at sea. It's precious cold, I know but…"
    "You’ll find it worse than cold, sir," interrupted the young horseman, "if you're not quick in getting out of its way. Mr. Poindexter," he continued, turning to the planter, and speaking with impatient emphasis, "I tell you, that you and your party are in peril. A norther is not always to be dreaded but this one-look yonder! You see those black pillars?"
    "We've been wondering didn't know what to make of them."
    "They're nothing only the precursors of the storm. Look beyond! Don't you see a coal black cloud spreading over the sky? That's what you have to dread. I don't wish to ease you unnecessary alarm, but I tell you, there's death in yonder shadow! It's in motion, and coming this way. You hare no chance to escape it, except by speed. If you do not make haste, it will be too late. In ten minutes' time you may be enveloped, and then quick sir, I entreat you! Order your drivers to hurry forward as fast as they can! The sky heaven itself commands you!"
    The planter did not think of refusing compliance, with an appeal urged in such energetic terms. The order was given for the teams to be set in motion, and driven at top speed.
    Terror, that inspired the animals equally with their drivers, rendered superfluous the use of the whip.
    The traveling carriage, with the mounted men, moved in front, as before. The stranger alone threw himself in the rear as if to act as a guard against the threatening danger.
    At intervals he was observed to rein up his horse, and look back each time by his glances betraying increased apprehension.
    Perceiving it, the planter approached, and accosted him with the inquiry:
    "Is there still a danger?"
    "I am sorry to answer you in the affirmative," he said "I had hopes that the wind might be the other way."
    "Wind, sir? There is none that I can perceive."
    "Not here. Yonder it is blowing a hurricane, and this way too direct. By heavens! It is nearing us rapidly! I doubt if we shall be able to clear the burnt track."
    "What is to be done?" exclaimed the planter, terrified by the announcement.
    "Are your mules doing their best?"
    "They are, they could not be driven faster."
    "I fear we shall be too late, then ! "
    As the speaker gave utterance to this gloomy conjecture, he reined round once more and sate regarding the cloud columns as if calculating the rate at which they were advancing.
    The lines, contracting around his lips, told of something more than dissatisfaction.
    "Yes too late!" he exclaimed, suddenly terminating his scrutiny. "They are moving faster than we far faster. There is no hope of our escaping them!"
    "Good God, sir! Is the danger so great? Can we do nothing to avoid it?"
    The stranger did not make immediate reply. For some seconds he remained silent, as if reflecting his glance no longer turned towards the sky, but wandering among the wagons.
    "Is there no chance of escape?" urged the planter, with the impatience of a man in presence of a great peril.
    "There is!" joyfully responded the horseman, as if some hopeful thought had at length suggested itself. "There is a chance. I did not think of it before. We cannot shun the storm, but the danger we may. Quick, Mr. Poindexter! Order your men to muffle the mules, the horses too, otherwise the animals will be blinded and go mad. Blankets cloaks anything will do. When that's done, let all seek shelter within the wagons. Let the tilts be closed at the ends. I shall myself look to the traveling carriage."
    Having delivered this set of instructions, which Poindexter assisted by the overseer, hastened to direct the execution of the young horseman, galloped towards the front.
    "Madame!" he said, reining up alongside the carriole, and speaking with as much suavity as the circumstances would admit of, "you must close the curtains all round. Your coachman will have to get inside and you, gentlemen!" he continued, addressing himself to Henry and Calhoun "and you, sir" to Poindexter, who had just come up. "There will be room for all. Inside, I beseech you! Lose no time. In a few seconds the storm will be upon us!"
    "And you, sir?" inquired the planter, with a show of interest in the man who was making such exertions to secure them against some yet unascertained danger. "What of yourself?"
    "Don't waste a moment upon me. I know what's coming. It isn't the first time I have encountered it. In-in, I entreat you! You haven't a second to spare. Listen to that shriek! Quick, or the dust cloud will be around us!"
    The planter and his son sprang together to the ground and retreated into the traveling carriage.
    Calhoun, refusing to dismount, remained stiffly seated in his saddle. Why should he skulk from a visionary danger, that did not deter a man in Mexican garb?
    The latter turned away as he did so, directing the overseer to get inside the nearest wagon a direction which was obeyed with alacrity and, for the first time, the stranger was left free to take care of himself.
    Quickly, unfolding his serap é , hitherto strapped across the cantle of his saddle, he flung it over the head of his horse. Then, drawing the edges back, he fastened it, bag-fashion, around the animal's neck. With equal alertness he undid his scarf of China crape and stretched it around his sombrero fixing it in such a way, that one edge was held under the bullion band, while the other dropped down over the brim thus forming a silken visor for his face.
    Before finally closing it, he turned once more towards the carriole and, to his surprise, saw Calhoun still in the saddle. Humanity triumphed over a feeling of incipient aversion.
    "Once again, sir, I adjure you to get inside! If you do not, you'll have cause to repent it. Within ten minutes' time, you may be a dead man!"
    The positive emphasis with which the caution was delivered produced its effect. In the presence of mortal foeman, Cassius Calhoun was no coward. But there was an enemy approaching that was not mortal not in any way understood. It was already making itself manifest, in tones that resembled thunder in shadows that mocked the darkness of midnight. Who would not have felt fear at the approach of a destroyer so declaring itself?
    The ex-officer was unable to resist the united warnings of earth and heaven and, slipping out of his saddle with a show of reluctance, intended to save appearances he, clambered into the carriage, and ensconced himself behind the closely drawn contains.
    To describe what followed, is beyond the power of the pen. No eye beheld the spectacle, for none dared look upon it. Even had this been possible, nothing could have been seen. In five minutes after the muffling of the mules, the train was enveloped in worse than Cimmerian darkness.
    The opening scene can alone be depicted, for that only was observed by the travelers. One of the sable columns, moving in the advance, broke as it came in collision with the wagon tilts. Down came a shower of black dust, as if the sky had commenced raining gunpowder! It was a foretaste of what was to follow.
    There was a short interval of open atmosphere, hot as the inside of an oven. Then succeeded puffs, and whirling gusts, of wind, cold as if projected from caves of ice, and accompanied by a noise as though all the trumpets of Eolus were announcing the advent of the Storm-King!
    In another instant, the norther was around them and the wagon train, halted on a subtropical plain, was enveloped in an atmosphere, akin to that which congeals the icebergs of the Arctic Ocean!
    Nothing more was seen nothing heard, save the whistling of the wind, or its hoarse roaring, as it thundered against the tilts of the wagons. The mules having instinctively turned stern towards it, stood silent in their traces and the voices of the travelers, in solemn converse inside, could not be distinguished amid the howling of the hurricane.
    Every aperture had been closed for it was soon discovered, that to show a face from under the shelter canvas was to court suffocation. The air was surcharged with ashes, lifted aloft from the burnt plain, and reduced, by the whirling of the wind, to an impalpable but poisonous powder.
    For over an hour did the atmosphere carry this cinereous cloud, during which period lasted the imprisonment of the travelers.
    At length a voice, speaking close by the curtains of the carriole, announced their release.
    "You can come forth!" said the stranger, the crepe scarf thrown back above the brim of his hat. "You will still have the storm to contend against. It will last to the end of your journey and, perhaps for three days longer. But you have nothing further to fear. The ashes are all swept off. They've gone before you and you're not likely to overtake them this side the Rio Grande."
    "Sir!" said the planter, hastily descending the steps of the carriage, "we have to thank you, for… for…"
    "Our lives, father!" cried Henry, supplying the proper words. "I hope, sir, you will favour us with your name?"
    " Maurice Gerald! " returned the stranger "though, at the Fort, you will find me better known as Maurice the mustanger. "
    "A mustanger!" scornfully muttered Calhoun, but only loud enough to be heard by Louise.
    "Only a mustanger!" reflected the aristocratic Poindexter, the fervor of his gratitude becoming sensibly chilled.
    "For guide, you will no longer need either me, or my lasso," said the hunter of wild horses. "The cypress is in sight keep straight towards it. After crossing, you will see the flag over the Fort. You may yet reach your journey's end before night. I have no time to tarry and must say adieu."
    Satan himself, astride a Tartarean steed, could not have looked more like the devil, than did Maurice the Mustanger, as he separated for the second time from the planter and his party.
    But neither his ashy envelope, nor the announcement of his humble calling, did aught to damage him in the estimation of one, whose thoughts were already predisposed in his favour; Louise Poindexter.
    On hearing him declare his name by presumption, already known to her, she but more tenderly cherished the bit of cardboard, chafing against her snow white bosom at the same time muttering in soft pensive soliloquy, heard only by herself
    "Maurice the mustanger! despite your sooty covering despite your modest pretence you have touched the heart of a Creole maiden. Mon Dieu -M on Dieu! He i s too like Lucifer for me to despite him ! "
5. THE HOME OF THE HORSE-HUNTER.
    Where the Rio de Nueces (River of Nuts) collects its waters from a hundred tributary streams lining the map like the limbs of a grand genealogical tree, you may look upon a land of surpassing fairness. Its surface is "rolling prairie," interspersed with clumps of post-oak and pecan, here and there along the banks of the watercourses uniting into continuous groves.
    In some places, these timbered tracts, assume the aspect of the true chaparral -a thicket rather than a forest- its principal growth being various kinds of acacia, associated with copaiva and creosote trees, with wild aloes, with eccentric shapes of cereus, cactus, and arborescent yucca.
    These spinous forms of vegetation, though repulsive to the eye of the agriculturist as proving the utter sterility of the soil present an attractive aspect to the botanist, or the lover of Nature especially when the cereus unfolds its huge wax like blossoms, or the Fouquiera splendens overtops the surrounding shrubbery with its spike of resplendent flowers, like a red flag hanging unfolded along its staff.
    The whole region, however, is not of this character. There are stretches of greater fertility, where a black calcareous earth, gives nourishment to trees of taller growth, and more luxuriant foliage. The "wild China" -a true s apindal - the pecan, the elm, the hackberry, and the oak of several species, with here and there a cypress, or cottonwood form the components of many a sylvan scene, which, from the blending of their leaves of various shades of green, and the ever changing contour of their clumps, deserves to be denominated fair.
    The streams of this region are of crystal purity, their waters tinted only by the reflection of sapphire skies. Its sun, moon, and stars are scarcely ever concealed behind a cloud. The demon of disease, has not found his way into this salubrious spot, no epidemic can dwell within its borders.
    Despite these advantages, civilized man has not yet made it his home. Its paths are trodden only by the red skinned rovers of the prairie -Lipano or Comanche- and these only when mounted, and upon the maraud towards the settlements of the Lower Nueces, or Leona.
    It may be on this account, though it would almost, seem as if they were actuated by a love of the beautiful and picturesque, that the true children of Nature, the wild animals, have selected this spot as their favorite habitat and home. In no part of Texas does the stag bound up so often before you and nowhere is the timid antelope so frequently seen. The rabbit, and his gigantic cousin, the mule-rabbit, are scarcely ever out of sight while the polecat, the opossum, and the curious peccary, are encountered at frequent intervals.
    Birds, too, of beautiful forms and colours, enliven the landscape. The quail whirrs up from the path, the king vulture wheels in the ambient air, the wild turkey, of gigantic stature, suns his resplendent gorget by the side of the pecan copse and the singular tailor bird known among the rude Rangers as the "bird of paradise" flouts his long scissors like tail among the feathery fronds of the acacia.
    Beautiful butterflies spread their wide wings in flapping flight or, perched upon some gay corolla, look as if they formed of the flower. Huge bees (Melipona), clad in velvet liveries, amid the blossoming bushes, disputing possession with hawk moths and humming birds not much larger than them.
    They are not all innocent, the denizens of this lovely land. Here the rattlesnake attains to larger dimensions than in any other part of North America, and shares the covert with the more dangerous moccasin. Here, too, the tarantula inflicts its venomous sting, the scorpion poisons with its bite and the centipede, by simply crawling over the skin, causes a fever that may prove fatal!
    Along the wooded banks of the streams may be encountered the spotted ocelot, the puma, and their more powerful congener, the jaguar the last of these felid e being here upon the northern limit of its geographical range.
    Along the edges of the chapparal skulks the gaunt Texan wolf solitarily and in silence while a kindred and more cowardly species, the coyote, may be observed, far out upon the open plain, hunting in packs.
    Sharing the same range with these, the most truculent of quadrupeds, may be seen the noblest and most beautiful of animals, perhaps nobler and more beautiful than man, certainly the most distinguished of man's companions; the horse!
    Here independent of man's caprice, his jaw unchecked by bitt or curb, his back unscathed by pack or saddle, he roams unrestrained giving way to all the wildness of his nature.
    But even in this, his favourite haunt, he is not always left alone. Man presumes to be his pursuer and tamer for here was he sought, captured, and conquered, by Maurice the Mu s tanger.
    On the banks of the Alamo , -one of the most sparkling streamlets that pay tribute to the Nueces- stood a dwelling, unpretentious as any to be found within the limits of Texas, and certainly as picturesque.
    Its walls were composed of split trunks of the arborescent yucca, set stockade fashion in the ground while its roof was a thatch furnished by the long bayonet shaped leaves of the same gigantic lily.
    The interstices between the uprights, instead of being "chinked" with clay, as is common in the cabins of Western Texas, were covered by a sheeting of horse skins attached, not by iron tacks, but with the sharp spines that terminate the leaves of the pita plant.
    On the bluffs, that on both sides overlooked the rivulet and which were but the termination of the escarpment of the higher plain grew in abundance the material out of which the hut had been constructed tree yuccas and maguey s , amidst other rugged types of sterile vegetation, whereas the fertile valley below was covered with a growth of heavy timber consisting chiefly of red mulberry, post-oak, and pecan, that formed a forest of several leagues in length. The timbered tract was, in fact, conterminous with the bottom lands the tops of the trees scarce using to a level with the escarpment of the cliff.
    It was not continuous. Along the edge of the streamlet were breaks forming little meads, or savannahs, covered with that most nutritious of grasses, and known among Mexicans as grama.
    In the concavity of one of these, of semicircular shape, which served as a natural lawn, stood the primitive dwelling above described; the streamlet representing the chord, while the curve was traced by the trunks of the trees that resembled a series of columns supporting the roof of some sylvan coliseum.
    The structure was in shadow, a little retired among the trees, as if the site had been chosen with a view to concealment. It could have been seen, but by one passing along the bank of the stream and then only with the observer directly in front of it. Its rude style of architecture, and russet hue, contributed still further to its inconspicuousness.
    The house was a mere cabin, not larger than a marquee tent, with only a single aperture, the door if we except the flue of a slender clay chimney, erected at one end against the upright posts. The doorway had a door, a light framework of wood, with a horse skin stretched over it, and hung upon hinges cut from the same hide.
    In the rear was an open shed, thatched with yucca leaves, and supported by half a dozen posts. Around this, was a small enclosure, obtained by tying cross poles to the trunks of the adjacent trees.
    A still more extensive enclosure, containing within its circumference, more than an acre of the timbered tract, and fenced in a similar manner, extended rearward from the cabin, terminating against the bluff. Its turf tracked and torn by numerous hoof prints, in some places trampled into a hard surface, told of its use: a "corral" for wild horses - mustangs. This was made still more manifest, by the presence of a dozen or more of these animals within the enclosure whose glaring eyeballs, and excited actions, gave evidence of their recent capture, and how ill they brooked the imprisonment of that shadowy paddock.
    The interior of the hut was not without some show of neatness and comfort. The sheeting of mustang skins, that covered the walls, with the hairy side turned inward, presented no mean appearance. The smooth shining coats of all colours black, bay, snow white, sorrel, and skewbald offered to the eye a surface pleasantly variegated and there had evidently been some taste displayed in their arrangement.
    The furniture was of the scantiest kind. It consisted of a counterfeit camp bedstead, formed by stretching a horse hide over a framework of trestles, a couple of stools diminutive specimens on the same model and a rude table, shaped out of hewn slabs of the yucca tree. Something like a second sleeping place appeared in a remote corner a "shakedown," or "spread," of the universal mustang skin.
    What was least to be expected in such a place was a shelf containing about a score of books, with pens, ink, and pape terie also a newspaper lying upon the slab table.
    Further proofs of civilization, if not refinement, presented themselves in the shape of a large leathern portmanteau, a double-barreled gun, with "Westley Richards" upon the breech; a drinking cup of chased silver, a huntsman's horn, and a dog-call.
    Upon the floor were a few culinary utensils, mostly of tin while in one corner stood a demijohn, covered with wicker, and evidently containing something stronger than the water of the Alamo.
    Other "chattels" in the cabin were perhaps more in keeping with the place. There was a high peaked Mexican saddle a bridle, with headstall of plaited horsehair, and reins to correspond two or three spare serap és and some odds and ends of raw hide rope.
    Such was the structure of the mustanger's dwelling such its surroundings such it's interior and contents, with the exception of its living occupants two in number.
    On one of the stools, standing in the centre of the floor was seated a man, who could not be the mustanger himself. In no way did he present the semblance of a proprietor. On the contrary, the air of the servitor, the mien of habitual obedience, was impressed upon him beyond the chance of misconstruction.
    Rude as was the cabin that sheltered him, no one entering under its roof would have mistaken him for its master.
    Not that he appeared ill clad or fed, or in any way stinted in his requirements. He was a round plump specimen, with a shock of carrot colored hair and a bright ruddy skin, habited in a suit of stout stuff half corduroy, half cotton-velvet. The corduroy was in the shape of a pair of knee-breeches, with gaiters to correspond; the velveteen, once bottle green, now faded to a brownish line, exhibited itself in a sort of shooting coat, with ample pockets in the breast and skirts.
    A "wide awake" hat, cocked over a pair of eyes equally deserving the appellation, completed the costume of the individual in question if we except a shirt of coarse calico, a red cotton kerchief loosely knotted around his neck, and a pair of Irish brogue s upon his feet.
    It needed neither the brogues, nor the corduroy breeches, to proclaim his nationality. His lips, nose, eyes, air, and attitude, were all unmistakably Milesian.
    Had there been any ambiguity about this, it would have been dispelled as he opened his mouth for the emission of speech and this he at intervals did, in an accent that could only have been acquired in the shire of Galway. As he was the sole human occupant of the cabin, it might be supposed that he spoke only in soliloquy. Not so, however. Couched upon a piece of horse skin, in front of the fire, with snout half buried among the ashes, was a canine companion, whose appearance bespoke a countryman a huge Irish staghound, that looked as if he too understood the speech of Connemara.
    Whether he did so or not, it was addressed, to him, as if he was expected to comprehend every word.
    "Och, Tara, me jewel!" exclaimed he in the corduroys, fraternally interrogating the hound "hadn't yet weesh now to be back in Ballyballagh? Wadn't yez like to be wance more in the courtyard of the owld castle, friskm' over the clane stones, an' being tripe fed till there wasn't a rib to be seen in your sides so different from what they ar now when I kyan count every wan of them? Sowl! It's meself that ud like to be there, anyhow! But there's no knowm when the young masther 'll go back, an' take us along wid him. Niver mind, Tara! He's goin' to the sittlements soon, you owld dog an' he's promised to take us there that's some consolashun. By japers! It's over three months since I've been to the Fort, meself. Maybe I'll find some owld acquaintance among them Irish sodgers that's come lately an' be me sowl, as I do, won't there be a dhrap betwane us won't there, Tara?"
    The staghound, raising his head at hearing the mention of his name, gave a slight sniff, as if saying "Yes" in answer to the droll interrogatory.
    "I'd like a dhrap now," continued the speaker, casting a covetous glance towards the wickered jar "mightily I wud that same but the dimmyjan is too near bein' empty, an' the young masther might miss it. Besides, it wudn't be real honest of me to take it widout lave wud it, Tara?"
    The dog again raised his head above the ashes, and sneezed as before.
    "Why, that was y is, the last time ye spoke! Div yez mane it for the same now? Till me, Tara!"
    Once more the hound gave utterance to the sound that appeared to be caused either by a slight touch of influenza, or the ashes having entered his nostrils.
    "'Yis' again? In truth that's just what the dumb crayther manes! Don't tempt me, ye owld thief! No-no I won't touch the whisky. I'll only draw the cork out ay the dimmy jan, an' take a smell at it. Shure the masther won't know anything about that an' if he did, he wudn't mind it! Smellin' kyant do the pothyeen any harm."
    During the concluding portion of this utterance, the speaker had forsaken his seat, and approached the corner where stood the jar.
    Notwithstanding the professed innocence of his intent, there was a stealthiness about his movements, that seemed to argue either a want of confidence in his own integrity, or in his power to resist temptation.
    He stood for a short while listening his eyes turned towards the open doorway and then, taking up the demijohn,' he drew out the stopper, and held the neck to his nose.
    For some seconds he remained in this attitude giving out no other sign than an occasional "sniff," similar to that uttered by the hound, and which he had been fain to interpret as an affirmative answer to his interrogatory. It expressed the enjoyment he was deriving from the bouquet of the potent spirit.
    But this only satisfied him for a very short time and gradually the bottom of the jar was seen going upwards, while the reverse end descended in like ratio in the direction of his protruding lips.
    "By japers!" he exclaimed, once more glancing stealthily towards the door, "flesh and blood cudn't stand the smell of that bewtiful whisky, widout tastin' it. Trath! I'll chance it jist the smallest trifle to wet the tap of my tongue. Maybe it 'll burn the skin av it but no matter here goes!"
    Without further ado the neck of the demijohn was brought in contact with his lips but instead of the "smallest trifle" to wet the top of his tongue, the "gluck gluck" of the escaping fluid told that he was administering a copious saturation to the whole lining of his larynx, and something more.
    After half a dozen "smacks" of the mouth, with other exclamations denoting supreme satisfaction, he hastily restored the stopper returned the demijohn to its place and glided back to his seat upon the stool.
    "Tara, ye owld thief!" said he, addressing himself once more to his canine companion, "it was you that timpted me! No matther, man the masther 'll niver miss it besides, he's goin' soon to the Fort, an' can lay in a fresh supply."
    For a time the pilferer remained silent either reflecting on the act he had committed, or enjoying the effects which the "potheen" had produced upon his spirits.
    His silence was of short duration and was terminated by a soliloquy.
    "I wondher," muttered he, "what makes Masther Maurice so anxious to get back to the Settlements. He says he'll go when ever he catches that spotty mustang he has seen lately. Sowl! isn't he bad afther that baste! I suppose it must be somethin' beyant the common the more be token, as he has chased the crayther three times widout bein' able to throw his rope over it an' mounted on the blood-bay, too. He sez he won't give it up, till he gets hold of it. Trath! I hope it'll be grupped aton, or wez may stay here till the marnin' av doomsday., Hush! fwhat'sthat?"
    Tara springing up from his couch of skin, and rushing out with a low growl, had caused the exclamation.
    " Phelim!" hailed a voice from the outside. "Phelim!"
    "It's the masther," muttered Phelim, as he jumped from his stool, and followed the dog through the doorway.
6. THE SPOTTED MUSTANG.
    Phelim was not mistaken as to the voice that had hailed him. It was that of his master, Maurice Gerald.
    On getting outside, he saw the mustanger at a short distance from the door, and advancing towards it.
    As the servant should have expected, his master was mounted upon his horse no longer of a reddish color, but appearing almost black. The animal's coat was darkened with sweat its counter and flanks speckled with foam.
    The blood-bay was not alone. At the end of the lasso, drawn taut from the saddle tree was a companion, or, to speak more accurately, a captive. With a leathern thong looped around its under jaw, and firmly embracing the bars of its mouth, kept in place by another passing over its neck immediately behind the ears, was the captive secured.
    It was a mustang of peculiar appearance, as regarded its markings which were of a land rarely seen even among the largest "gangs" that roam over the prairie pastures, where colours of the most eccentric patterns are not uncommon.
    That of the animal in question was a ground of dark chocolate in places approaching to black with white spots distributed over it, as regularly as the contrary colours upon the skin of the jaguar.
    As if to give effect to this pleasing arrangement of hues, the creature was of perfect shape broad chested, fall in the flanks, and clean limbed with a hoof showing half a score of concentric rings, and a head that might have been taken as a type of equine beauty. It was of large size for a mustang, though much smaller than the ordinary English horse even smaller than the blood-bay himself a mustang that had assisted in its cap tore.
    The beautiful captive was a mare, one of a manada that frequented the plains near the source of the Alamo and where, for the third time, the mustanger had unsuccessfully chased it.
    In his case, the proverb had proved untrue. In the third time he had not found the "charm"; though it favoured him in the fourth. By the fascination of a long rope, with a running noose at its end, he had secured the creature that, for some reason known only to him, he so ardently wished to possess.
    Phelim had never seen his master return from a horse hunting excursion in such a state of excitement even when coming back as he often did with half a dozen mustangs led loosely at the end of his lasso.
    But never before at the end of that implement had Phelim beheld such a beauty as the spotted mare. She was a thing to excite the admiration of one less a connoisseur in horse flesh than the ci - devant stable boy of Castle Ballagh.
    "Hooch-hoop-hoora!" cried he, as he set eyes upon the captive, at the same time tossing his hat high into the air. "Thanks to the Howly Vargin, an' Saint Pathrick to boot, Masther Maurice, yez have catched the spotty at last! It's a mare, be japers! Och! the purty crayther! I don't wondher yez hiv been so bad about gettin' howlt av her. Sowl! if yea had her in Ballinasloe Fair, yez might ask your own price, and get it too, widout givin' sixpence av luckpenny. Oh! the purty crayther! Where will yez hiv her phut, masther? Into the corral, wid the others?"
    "No, she might get kicked among them. We shall tie her in the shed. Castro must pass his night outside among the trees. If he's got any gallantry in him he won't mind that. Did you ever see anything so beautiful as she is, Phelim I mean in the way of horseflesh?"
    "Never, Masther Maurice never, in all me life! An' I've seen some nice bits of blood about Ballyballagh. Oh, the purty crayther! she looks as if a body cud ate her and yit, in trath, she looks like she wud ate you. Yez haven't given her the schoolin' lesson, have yez?"
    "No, Phelim I don't want to break her just yet not till 1 have time, and can do it properly. It would never do to spoil such perfection as that. I shall tame her, after we've taken ner to the Settlements."
    "Yez be goin' there, masther?"
    "Tomorrow, we shall start by daybreak, so as to make only one day between here and the Fort."
    "Sowl! I'm glad to hear it. Not on me own account, but yours, Masther Maurice. Maybe yez don't know that the whisky's on the idge of bein' out? From the rattle of the jar, I don't think there's more than three naggins left. Them sutlers at the Fort aren't honest. They chate ye in the mizyure besides wafcherin' the whisky, so that it won't bear a dhrap more out ay the strame hare. Trath! a gallon ay Innishowen wud last equal to three ay this Amerikin rotgut, as the Yankees themselves christen it."
    "Never mind about the whisky, Phelim I suppose there's enough to last us for this night, and fill our flasks for the journey of tomorrow. Look alive, old Ballyballagh! Let us stable the spotted mare and then I shall have time to talk about a fresh supply of "potheen," which I know you like better than anything else, except yourself!"
    "And you, Masther Maurice!" retorted the Galwegian, with a comic twinkle of the eye, that caused his master to leap laughingly out of the saddle.
    The spotted mare was soon stabled in the shed, Castro being temporarily attached to a tree where Phelim proceeded to groom him after the most approved prairie fashion.
    The mustanger threw himself on his horse skin couch, wearied with the work of the day. The capture of the "yegua pinta" had cost him a long and arduous chase such as he had never ridden before in pursuit of a mustang.
    There was a motive that had urged him on, unknown to Phelim unknown to Castro who carried him unknown to living creature, save himself.
    Notwithstanding that he had spent several days in the saddle the last three in constant pursuit of the spotted mare despite the weariness thus occasioned; he was unable to obtain repose. At intervals he rose to his feet, and paced the floor of his hut, as if stirred by some exciting emotion.
    For several nights he had slept uneasily at intervals tossing upon his catre till not only his henchman Phelim, but his hound Tara, wondered what could be the meaning of his unrest .
    The former might have attributed it to his desire to possess the spotted mare had he not known that his master's feverish feeling antedated his knowledge of the existence of this peculiar quadruped.
    It was several days after his last return from the Fort that the "yegua pinta" had first presented herself to the eye of the mustanger. That therefore could not be the cause of his altered demeanor.
    His success in having secured the animal, instead of tranquillizing his spirit, seemed to have produced the contrary effect.
    At least, so thought Phelim, who with the freedom of that relationship, known as "foster-brother", had at length determined on questioning his master as to the cause of his inquietude.
    As the latter lay shifting from side to side, he was saluted with the interrogatory…
    "Masther Maurice, fwhat, in the name of the Holly Virgin, is the matther wid ye?"
    "Nothing, Phelim nothing, mabohil ! What makes you think there is?"
    " Alannah ! How kyan I help thinkin it? Yez kyant get a wink av sleep niver since ye returned the last time from the Sittlement. Och! yez hiv seen somethin' there that kapes ye awake? Shure now, it isn't wan ay them Mixikin girls mow- chachas, as they call them? No, I won't believe it. You wudn't be wan av the owld Geralds to care for such trash as them."
    "Nonsense, my good fellow! There's nothing the matter with me. It's all in your own imagination."
    "Trath, masther, yez arr mistaken. If there's anything asthray wid me imaginashun, fhwat is it that's gone wrong wid your own? That is, whin yez arr aslape which aren't often av late."
    "When I'm asleep! What do you mean, Phelim?"
    "What div I mane? Fwhy, that wheniver yez close your eyes an' think yez are sleepin', ye begin palaverin', as if a preast was confessin' ye!"
    "Ah! Is that so? What have you heard me say?"
    "Not much, masther, that I cud make sinse out av. Yez be always tryin' to pronounce a big name that appears to have no indin', though it begins wid a point. " '
    "A name! What name?"
    "Sowl! I kyan't till ye exakly. It's too long for me to remimber, seein' that my edicashun was intirely neglicted. But there's another name that yez phut before it; an' that I kyan tell ye. It's a woman's name, though it's not common in the owld counthry. It's Looaze that ye say, Masther Maurice an' then comes the point. "
    "Ah!" interrupted the young Irishman, evidently not caring to converse longer on the subject. "Some name I may have heard somewhere, accidentally. One does have such strange ideas in dreams!"
    "Trath! yez spake the truth there; for in your drames, masther, ye talk about a purty girl lookin' out av a carriage wid curtains to it, an' tellin' her to close them agaynst some danger that yez are going to save her from."
    "I wonder what puts such nonsense into my head?"
    "I wondher meself," rejoined Fhelim, fixing his eyes upon his young master with a stealthy but scrutinizing look. "Shure," he continued, "if I may make bowld to ax the question shure, Masther Maurice, yez haven't been makin' a Judy Fitzsumnon's mother av yerself, an' fallin' in love wid wan of these Yankee weemen out thare? Och an-an-ee! That wnd be a misforthune an' fhwat wnd she say the purty colleen wid the goodlen hair an' blue eyes, that lives not twinty miles from Ballyballagh?"
    "Poh, poh! Phelim! you're taking leave of your senses, I fear."
    "Trath, masther, I aren't, but I know somethin' I wud like to take lave of."
    "What is that? Not me, I hope?"
    "Yon, a lannah? Niver! It's Tixas I mane. I'd like to take lave of that an' you goin' along wid me back to the owld sad. Arrah, now, fhwat's the use ay yer stayin' here, wastin' the best part av yer days in doin' nothin'? Shore yez don't make more than a bare livin' by the horse catchin' an' if yes did, what mathers it? Yer owld aunt at Castle Ballagh can't howld out much longer an' when she's did, the bewtiful demane 'll be yours, spite ay the dhirty way she's thratin' ye. Shure the property's got a tail to it an' not a mother's son ay them can. Kape ye out av it!"
    "Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the young Irishman "you'requite a lawyer, Phelim. What a first rate attorney you'd have made! But come! You forget that I haven't tasted food since morning. What have you got in the larder?"
    "Trath! there's no great stock, masther. Yez haven't laid in anythin' for the three days yez hiv been afther spotty. There's only the cowld venison an' the corn bread. If yez like I'll phut the venison in the pat, an' make a hash av it."
    "Yes, do so. I can wait."
    "Won't yez wait betther afther tastin' a dhrap ay the crayther?"
    "True let me have it."
    "Will yez take it nate, or with a little wather? Trath! it won't carry much av that same."
    "A glass of grog draw the water fresh from the stream."
    Phelim took hold of the silver drinking cup, and was about stepping outside, when a growl from Tara, accompanied by a start, and followed by a rush across the floor, caused the servitor to approach the door with a certain degree of caution.
    The barking of the dog soon subsided into a series of joyful whisperings, which told that he had been gratified by the sight of some old acquaintance.
    "It's owld Zeb Stump," said Phelim, first peeping out, and then stepping boldly forth with the double design of greeting the new comer, and executing the order he had received from his master.
    The individual, who had thus freely presented himself in front of the mustanger's cabin, was as unlike either of its occupants, as one from the other.
    He stood full six feet high, in a pair of tall boots, fabricated out of tanned alligator skin into the ample tops of which were thrust the bottoms of his pantaloons the latter being of woolen homespun, that had been dyed with "dog-wood ooze," but was now of a simple dirt color. A deerskin under shirt, without any other, covered his breast and shoulders over which was a "blanket coat," that had once been green, long since gone to a greenish yellow, with most of the wool worn off.
    There was no other garment to be seen; a slouch felt hat, of grayish color, badly battered, completing the simple and somewhat scant, collection of his wardrobe.
    He was equipped in the style of a backwoods hunter, of the true Daniel Boone breed: bullet pouch, and large crescent shaped powder horn, both suspended by shoulder straps, hanging under the right arm a waist belt of thick leather keeping his coat closed and sustaining a skin sheath, from which protruded the rough stag horn handle of a long bladed knife.
    He did not affect either moccasins, leggings, nor the caped and fringed tunic shirt of dressed deerskin worn by most Texan hunters. There was no embroidery upon his coarse clothing, no carving upon his accoutrements or weapons, nothing in his tout ensemble intended as ornamental. Everything was plain almost to rudeness as if dictated by a spirit that despised "fan-faron."
    Even the rifle, his reliable weapon, the chief tool of his trade looked like a rounded bar of iron, with a piece of brown unpolished wood at the end, forming its stock and barrel, when the butt rested on the ground, reaching up to the level of his shoulder.
    The individual thus clothed and equipped was apparently about fifty years of age, with a complexion inclining to dark, and features that, at first sight, exhibited a grave aspect.
    On close scrutiny, however, could be detected an underlying stratum of quiet humor and in the twinkle of a small grayish eye there was evidence that its owner could keenly relish a joke, or, at times, perpetrate one.
    The Irishman had pronounced his name it was Zebulon Stump, or "Old Zeb Stump," as he was better known to the very limited circle of his acquaintances.
    "Kentucky, by birth an' raisin'" as he would have described himself, if asked the country of his nativity, he had passed the early part of his life among the primeval forests of the Lower Mississippi his sole calling that of.a hunter and now at a later period, he was performing the same métier in the wilds of South western Texas.
    The behavior of the staghound, as it bounded before him, exhibiting a series of canine welcomes, told of a friendly acquaintance between Zeb Stump and Maurice the mustanger.
    "Evening" laconically saluted Zeb, as his tall figure shadowed the cabin door.
    "Good evening, Mr. Stump!" rejoined the owner of the hut, rising to receive him. "Step inside, and take a seat!"
    The hunter accepted the invitation and, making a single stride across the floor, after some awkward maneuvering, succeeded in planting himself on the stool lately occupied by Phelim. The lowness of the seat brought his knees upon a level with his chin, the tall rifle rising like a pikestaff several feet above his head.
    "Durn stools, anyhow!" muttered he, evidently dissatisfied with the posture "an' chore, too, for the matter. I like to plant my stare upon a log thur ye've got somethin' under ye as ain't like to guv way."
    "Try that," said his host, pointing to the leathern portmanteau in the corner "you'll find it a firmer seat."
    Old Zeb, adopting the suggestion, unfolded the zigzag of his colossal carcass, and transferred it to the trunk.
    "On foot, Mr. Stump, as usual?"
    "No I got my old critter out thur, tied to a saplin'. I wa'n't abuntin'."
    "You never hunt on horseback, I believe?"
    "I shed be a greenhorn if I dud. Anybody as goes huntm' a hossback must be a durnation fool!"
    "But it's the universal fashion in Texas!"
    "Univarsal or no, it air a fool's fashion a durned lazy fool's fashion! I kill more meat in one day a foot, then I ked in a hul week wi' a hoss btween my legs. I don't misdoubt that a hoss air the best thing for you bein' as yur game's entire diffrent. But when ye go arter baar, or deer, or turkey eyther, ye won't see much o' them, trampin' about through the timmer a hossback, an' scarrin' everythin' es hes got ears 'ithin the circuit o' a mile. As for hosses, I shedn't be bothered wi' ne'er a one no how, ef twa'n't for packin' the meat: thet's why I keep my ole maar."
    "She's outside, you say? Let Phelim take her round to the shed. You'll stay all night?"
    "I kill for that purpiss. But ye needn't trouble about the maar she air hitched safe enuf. I'll let her out on the laryitt, afore I take to grass."
    "You'll have something to eat? Phelim was just getting supper ready. I'm sorry I can't offer you anything very dainty some hash of venison."
    "Nothin' better 'n good deermeat, 'ceptin it be baar, but I like' both done over the coals. Maybe I can help ye to some'at thet'll make a roast. Mister Pheelum, ef ye don't mind steppin' to whar my critter air hitched, ye'll find a gobbler hangin' over the horn o' the saddle. I shot the bird as I war comin' up the crik."
    "Oh, that is rare good fortune! Our larder has got very low quite out, in truth. I've been so occupied, for the last three days, in chasing a very curious mustang that I never thought of taking my gun with me. Phelim and I, and Tara, too, had got to the edge of starvation."
    "Whet sort o' a mustang?" inquired the hunter, in a tone that betrayed interest, and without appearing to notice the final remark.
    "A mare with white spots on a dark chocolate ground a splendid creature!"
    "Durn it, young fellur! thet air's the very bizness thet's brung me over to ye."
    "Indeed!"
    "I've seed that mustang maar, ye say it air, though I kedn't tell, as she'd niver let me 'ithin hef a mile o' her. I've seed her several times out on the purayra, an' I jest wanted ye to go arter her. I'll tell ye why. I've been to the Leeona settlements since I seed you last, and since I seed her too. Wal, theer hev kum thur a man as I knowed on the Massissippi. He air a rich planter, as used to keep up the tallest kind o' doin's, 'specially in the feestin' way. Many's the jeint o' deermeat, and many's the turkey-gobbler this hyur coon hes surplied for his table. His name air Peintdexter."
    "Poindexter?"
    "Thet air the name-one o' the best known on the Massissippi from Orleens to St. Looey. He war rich then, an I reck'n, ain't poor now seein' as he's brought about a hunderd niggers along wi' him. Beside, thur'a a nephew o' hisn, by name Calhoun. He's got the dollars, an' nothin' to do wi' 'em but lend 'em to his uncle the which, for a startin reezun, I think he will . Now, young fellur, I'll tell ye why I wanted to see yo". Thet 'ere planter hev got a darter, as air dead bent upon hossflesh. She used to ride the skittishest kind o' cattle in Loozeyanner, wher they lived. She heern me tellin' the old 'un 'boat the spotted mustang and nothin' would content her thur and then, till he promised he'd offer a big price for catchin' the critter. He sayed he'd give a kupple o' hunderd dollars for the anymal, ef 'twur anythin like what I sayed it wur. In coorse, I knowed thet 'ud send all the mustangers in the settlement straight custrut arter it; so, savin' nuthin' to nobody, I kam over hyur, fast as my ole maar 'ud fetch me. You grup thet 'ere spotty, an' Zeb Stump 'll go yur bail ye'll grab them two hunderd dollars."
    "Will you step this way, Mr. Stump?" said the young Irishman, rising from his stool, and proceeding in the direction of the door.
    The hunter followed, not without showing some surprise at the abrupt invitation.
    Maurice conducted his visitor round to the rear of the cabin and, pointing into the shed, inquired,…
    "Does that look anything like the mustang you've been speaking of?"
    "Dog-gone my cats, ef 'taint the eyedenticul same! Grupped already! Two hunderd dollars, easy as slidin' down a barked saplin'! Young fellur yur in luck, two hunderd, slick sure! and darn me, ef the anymal ain't worth every cent o' the money! Geehosofat! what a putty beest it air! Won't Miss Peintdexter be pleezed! It'll turn that young critter 'most crazy!"
7. NOCTURNAL ANNOYANCE.
    The unexpected discovery, that his purpose had been already anticipated by the capture of the spotted mustang, raised the spirits of the old hunter to a high pitch of excitement.
    They were farther elevated by a portion of the contents of the demijohn, which held out beyond Phelim's expectations giving all hands, an appetizing "nip" before attacking the roast turkey, with another go each to wash it down, and several more to accompany the post-cenal pipe.
    While this was being indulged in, a conversation was carried on the themes being those that all prairie men delight to talk about Indian and hunter lore.
    As Zeb Stump was a sort of living encyclopedia of the latter, he was allowed to do most of the talking and he did it in such a fashion as to draw many a wondering ejaculation from the tongue of the astonished Galwegian.
    Long before midnight, however, the conversation was brought to a close. Perhaps the empty demijohn was, as much as any thing else, the monitor that urged their retiring to rest though there was another and more creditable reason. On the morrow, the mustanger intended to start for the Settlements and it was necessary that all should be astir at an early hour, to make preparation for the journey. The wild horses, as yet but slightly tamed, had to be strung together, to secure against their escaping by the way and many other matters required attending to previous to departure.
    The hunter had already tethered out his "ole maar" as he designated the sorry specimen of horseflesh he was occasionally accustomed to bestride and had brought back with him an old yellowish blanket, which was all he ever used for a bed.
    "You may take my bedstead," said his courteous host "I can lay myself on a skin along the floor."
    "No," responded the guest "none o' yer shelves for Zeb Stump to sleep on. I prefer the solid groun'. I kin sleep sounder on it an' besides, thur's no fear o' fallin' over."
    "If you prefer it, then, take the floor. Here's the best place. I'll spread a hide for you."
    "Young fellur, don't you do anythin' o' the sort ye'll only be wastin' yur time. This child don't sleep on no floors. His bed air the green grass o' the purayra."
    "What! You're not going to sleep outside?" inquired the mustanger in some surprise seeing that his guest, with the old blanket over his arm, was making for the door.
    "I ain't agoin' to do anythin' else."
    "Why, the night is freezing cold almost as chilly as a norther!"
    "Darn that! It air better to stan' a leetle chillishness, than a feelin' o' suffercation which last I wud sartintly hev to go through ef I slep inside o' a house."
    "Surely you are jesting, Mr. Stump?"
    "Young fellur!" emphatically rejoined the hunter, without making direct reply to the question. "It air now nigh all o' six year since Zeb Stump hev stretched his ole karkiss under a roof. I oncest used to hev a sort o' a house in the hollow o' a sycamore-tree. That wur on the Massissippi, when my ole ooman wur alive, an' I kep up the 'stablishment to 'commerdate her. After she went under, I moved into Loozeyanny an' then afterward kim out hyur. Since then the blue sky o' Texas hev been my only kiver, eyther wakin' or sleepin'."
    "If you prefer to lie outside…"
    "I prefer it," laconically rejoined the hunter, at the same time stalking over the threshold, and gliding out upon the little lawn that lay between the cabin and the creek.
    His old blanket was not the only thing he carried along with him. Beside it, hanging over his arm, could be seen some six or seven yards of a horsehair rope. It was a piece of a c abrie s to -usually employed for tethering horses- though it was not for this purpose it was now to be used.
    Having carefully scrutinized the grass within a circumference of several feet in diameter which a shining moon enabled him to do he laid the rope with like care around the spot examined, shaping it into a sort of irregular ellipse.
    Stepping inside this, and wrapping the old blanket around him, he quietly let himself down into a recumbent position. In an instant after he appeared to be asleep.
    And he was asleep, as his strong breathing testified for Zeb Stump, with a hale constitution and a quiet conscience, had only to summon sleep, and it came.
    He was not permitted long to indulge his repose without interruption. A pair of wondering eyes had watched his every movement the eyes of Phelim O'Neal.
    "Mother av Mozis!" muttered the Galwegian "fwhat can be the manin' av the owld chap's surroundin' himself wid the rope?"
    The Irishman's curiosity for a while struggled with his courtesy, but at length overcame it and just as the clamberer delivered his third snore, he stole towards him, shook him out of his sleep, and propounded a question based upon the one he had already put to himself.
    "Darn ye for a Irish donkey!" exclaimed Stump, in evident displeasure at being disturbed "ye made me think it war mornin'! What do I put the rope roun' me for? What else wud it be for, but to keep off the varmints!"
    "What varmints, Misther Stump? Snakes, div yeas mane?"
    "Snakes in coorse. Burn ye, go to your bed!"
    Notwithstanding the sharp rebuke, Phelim returned to the cabin apparently in high glee. If there was anything in Texas, "barrin' an' above the Indyins themselves," as he used to say, "that kept him from slapin', it was them vinamous sarpints. He hadn't had a good night's rest, iver since he'd been in the counthry for thinkin' av the ugly vipers, or dhramin' about thim. What a pity Saint Pathrick hadn't paid Tixas a visit before goin' to grace!"
    Phelim in his remote residence, isolated as he had been from all intercourse, had never before witnessed the trick of the c a briesto.
    He was not slow to avail himself of the knowledge thus acquired. Returning to the cabin, and creeping stealthily inside as if not wishing to wake his master, already asleep he was seen to take a ca b riesto from its peg and then going forth again, he carried the long rope around the stockade walls pay in it out as he proceeded.
    Having completed the circumvallation, he re entered the hut as he stepped over the threshold, muttering to himself…
    "Sowl! Phalim O'Nale, you'll sleep sound for this night, spite av all the snakes in Texas!"
    For some minutes after Phelim's soliloquy, a profound stillness reigned around the hut of the mustanger. There was like silence inside for the countryman of St. Patrick, no longer apprehensive on the score of reptile intruders, had fallen asleep, almost on the moment of his sinking down upon his spread horse skin.
    For a while it seemed as if everybody was in the enjoyment of perfect repose, Tara and the captive steeds included. The only sound heard was that made by Zeb Stump's "maar," close by cropping the sweet grama grass.
    Presently, however, it might have been perceived that the old hunter was himself stirring. Instead of lying still in the recumbent attitude to which he had consigned himself, he could be seen shifting from side to side, as if some feverish thought was keeping mm awake.
    After repeating this movement some half score of times, he at length raised himself into a sitting posture, and looked discontentedly around.
    "Dod-rot his ignorance and impudence the Irish cuss!" were the words that came hissing through his teeth. "He's spoilt my night's rest, darn him! 'I would serve him 'bout right to drag him out, an' gie him a dnckin' in the crik. Dog-goned ef I don't feel 'clined torst doin' it only I don't like to displeeze the other Irish, who air a somebody. Possible I don't git a wink o' sleep till mornin'."
    Having delivered himself of this peevish soliloquy, the hunter once more drew the blanket around his body, and returned to the horizontal position.
    Not to sleep, however as was testified by the tossing and fidgeting that followed terminated by his again raising himself into a sitting posture.
    A soliloquy, very similar to his former one, once more proceeded from his lips this time the threat of ducking Phelim in the creek being expressed with a more emphatic accent of determination.
    He appeared to be wavering, as to whether he should carry the design into execution, when an object coming under his eye gave a new turn to his thoughts.
    On the ground, not twenty feet from where he sate, a long thin body was seen gliding over the grass. Its serpent shape, and smooth lubricated skin reflecting the silvery light of the moon rendered the reptile easy of identification.
    "Snake!" mutteringly exclaimed he, as his eye rested upon the reptilian form. "Wonder what sort it air, slickerin' about hyus at this time o' the night? It air too large for a rattle though thur air some in these parts most as big as it. But it air too clur i' the color, an' thin about the belly, for ole rattletail! No 'tain't one of them. Hah now I recognize the varmint! It air a chicken, out on the sarch arter eggs, I reck'n! Durn the thing! it air comin' torst me, straight as it kin crawl!"
    The tone in which the speaker delivered himself told that he was in no fear of the reptile even after discovering that it was making approach. He knew that the snake would not cross the c a briesto but on touching it would turn away as if the horsehair rope was a line of living fire. Secure within his magic circle, he could have looked tranquilly at the intruder, though it had been the most poisonous of prairie serpents.
    But it was not. On the contrary, it was one of the most innocuous harmless as the "chicken," from which the species takes its trivial title at the same time that it is one of the largest in the list of North American reptilia.
    The expression on Zeb's face, as he sat regarding it, was simply one of curiosity, and not very keen. To a hunter in the constant habit of couching himself upon the grass, there was nothing in the sight either strange or terrifying not even when the creature came close up to the cabriesto, and, with head slightly elevated, rubbed its snout against the rope! After that there was less reason to be afraid for the snake, on doing so, instantly turned round and commenced retreating over the sward.
    For a second or two the hunter watched it moving away, without making any movement himself. He seemed undecided as to whether he should follow and destroy it, or leave it to go as it had come unscathed. Had it been a rattlesnake, "copper-head," or "moccasin" he would have acted up to the curse delivered in the garden of Eden, and planted the heel of his heavy alligator skin boot upon its head. But a harmless chicken snake did not come within the limits of Zeb Stump's antipathy as was evidenced by some words muttered by him as it slowly receded from the spot.
    "Poor crawlin' critter let it go! It ain't no enemy o' mine though it do suck a turkey's egg now an' then, an' in coorse scarcities the breed o' the birds. Thet air only its nater, an' no reezun why I shed be angry wi' it. But thur's a darned good reason why I shed be wi' thet Irish the dog-goned, stinkin' fool, to ha' woke me es he did! I feel dod-rotted, like sarvin' him out, ef I ked only think o' some way as wudn't diskermode the young fellur. Stay! By Geehosofat, I've got the idea -the nary thing- sure es my name air Zeb Stump!"
    On giving utterance to the last words, the hunter whose countenance had suddenly assumed an expression of quizzical cheerfulness sprang to his feet and, with bent body, hastened in pursuit of the retreating reptile.
    A few strides brought him alongside of it when he pounced upon it with all his ten digits extended.
    In another moment its long glittering body was uplifted from the ground, and writhing in his grasp.
    "Now, Mister Pheelum," exclaimed he, as if apostrophizing the serpent, "If I don't gi'e yur Irish soul a scare thet 'll keep ye awake till mornin', I don't know buzzart from turkey. Hyur goes to purvide ye wi' a bedfellur!"
    On saying this, he advanced towards the hut and, silently skulking under its shadow, released the serpent from his gripe letting it fall within the circle of the c a briesto, with which Phelim had so craftily surrounded his sleeping place.
    Then returning to his grassy couch, and once more pulling the old blanket over his shoulders, he muttered,…
    "The varmint won't come out acrost the rope thet air sartin an' it ain't agoin' to leave a yurd o' the groun' 'ithout explorin' for a place to git clur thet's eequally sartin. Ef it don't crawl over thet Irish greenhorn 'ithin the hef o' an hour, then ole Zeb Stump air a greenhorn hisself. Hi! what's thet? Dog-goned ef 'taint on him arready!"
    If the hunter had any further reflections to give tongue to, they could not have been heard for at that moment there arose a confusion of noises that must have startled every living creature on the Alamo, and for miles up and down the stream.
    It was a human voice that had given the cue or rather, a human howl, such as could proceed only from the throat of a Galwegian. Phelim O'Neal was the originator of the infernal fracas .
    His voice, however, was soon drowned by a chorus of barkings, snortings, and neighings that continued without interruption for a period of several minutes.
    "What is it?" demanded his master, as he leaped from the catr e , and groped his way towards his terrified servitor. "What the devil has got into you, Phelim? Have you seen a ghost?"
    "Oh, masther! by Jaysus! Worse than that I've been mur dhered by a snake. It's bit me all over the body. Blessed Saint Pathrick! I'm a poor lost sinner! I'll be shure to die!"
    "Bitten you, you say -where?" asked Maurice, hastily striking a light, and proceeding to examine the skin of his henchman, assisted by the old hunter who had by this time arrived within the cabin.
    "I see no sign of bite," continued the mustanger, after having turned Phelim round and round, and closely scrutinized his epidermis.
    "Ne'er a scratch," laconically interpolated Stump.
    "Sowl! then, if I'm not bit, so much the better but it crawled all over me. I can feel it now, as cowld as charity, on me skin."
    "Was there a snake at all?" demanded Maurice, inclined to doubt the statement of his follower. "You've been dreaming of one, Phelim nothing more."
    "Not a bit of a drama, masther it was a raal sarpint. Be me sowl, I'm shure of it!"
    "I reck'n thur's been snake," drily remarked the hunter. "Let's see if we kin track it up. Kewrious it air, too. Thur's a hair rope all roun' the house. Wonder how the varmint could hav' crossed thet? Thur thur it is!"
    The hunter, as he spoke, pointed to a corner of the cabin, where the serpent was seen spirally coiled.
    "Only a chicken!" he continued "no more harm in it than in a suckin' dove. It kedn't ha' bit ye, Mister Pheelum but we'll put it past bitin', anyhow."
    Saying this, the hunter seized the snake in his hands and, raising it aloft, brought it down upon the floor of the cabin with a "thwack" that almost deprived it of the power of motion.
    "Thur now, Mister Pheelum!" he exclaimed, giving it the finishing touch with the heel of his heavy boot, "ye may go back to yur bed agin, an' sleep 'ithout fear o' bein' disturbed till the mornin' leastwise, by snakes."
    Kicking the defunct reptile before him, Zeb Stump strode out of the hut, gleefully chuckling to himself, as, for the third time, he extended his colossal carcass along the sward.
8. THE CRAWL OF THE ALACRAN.
    The killing of the snake appeared to be the cue for a general return to quiescence. The howlings of the hound ceased with those of the henchman. The mustangs once more stood silent under the shadowy trees.
    Inside the cabin the only noise heard was an occasional shuffling, when Phelim, no longer feeling confidence in the protection of his cabriesto, turned restlessly on his horse skin.
    Outside also there was but one sound to disturb the stillness, though its intonation was in striking contrast with that heard within. It might have been likened to a cross between the grunt of an alligator and the croaking of a bull frog but proceeding, as it did, from the nostrils of Zeb Stump, it could only kill the snore of the slumbering hunter. Its sonorous fullness proved him to be soundly asleep.
    He was had been, almost from the moment of re establishing himself within the circle of his cabriesto. The revanche obtained over his late disturber had acted as a settler to his nerves and once more was he enjoying the relaxation of perfect repose.
    For nearly an hour did this contrasting duet continue, varied only by an occasional recitative in the hoot of the great horned owl, or a cantata penserosa in the lugubrious wail of the prairie wolf.
    At the end of this interval, however, the chorus recommenced, breaking out abruptly as before, and as before led by the vociferous voice of the Connemara man.
    "Meliah murdher!" he cried, his first exclamation not only startling the host of the hut, but the guest so soundly sleeping outside. "Howly Mother! Vargin av unpurticted innocence! Save me save me!"
    "Save you from what?" demanded his master, once more springing from his couch and hastening to strike a light. "What is it, you confounded fellow?"
    "Another snake, yer hanner! Och! be me sowl! a far wickeder sarpent than the wan Misther Stump killed. It's bit me all over the breast. I feel the place burnin' where it crawled across me, just as if the horse-shoer at Ballyballagh had scorched me wid a rid hot iron!"
    "Durn ye for a stinkin' skunk!" shouted Zeb Stump, with his blanket about his shoulder, quite filling the doorway. "Ye've twicest spiled my night's sleep, ye Irish fool! 'Scuse me, Mister Gerald! Thur air fools in all countries, I reck'n, 'Merican as well as Irish, but this hyur follerer of yourn air the dumdest o' the kind iver I kim acrost. Dog-goned if I see how we air to get any sleep the night, 'less we drowned him in the crik.
    "Och! Misther Stomp dear, don't talk that way. I sware to yez both, there's another snake. I'm share it's in the kyabin yit. It's only a minute since I feeled it creepin' over me."
    "You must ha' been dreemin?" rejoined the hunter, in a more complacent tone, and speaking half interrogatively. "I tell ye no snake in Texas will cross a hosshair rope. The tother 'un must ha' been inside the house afore ye laid the laryitt roun' it. 'Taint likely there ked ha' been two on 'em. We kin soon settle that by sarchin'."
    "Oh, murdher! Luk bare!" cried the Galwegian, pulling off his shirt and laying bare his breast. "Thare's the riptoile's track, right acrass over me ribs! Didn't I tell yez there was another snake? O blissed Mother, what will become of me? It feels like a strake of fire!"
    "Snake!" exclaimed Stump, stepping up to the affrighted Irishman, and holding the candle close to his skin. "Snake i'deed! By the 'tarnal earthquake, it air no snake! It air wurst than that!"
    "Worse than a snake?" shouted Phelim in dismay. "Worse, yez say, Misther Stump? Div yez mane that it's dangerous?"
    "Wal, it mout be, an' it moutn't. Thet ere 'll depend on whether I kin find somethin' 'bout hyur, an' find it soon. I don't, then, Mister Pheelum, I won't answer"
    "Oh, Misther Stump, don't say thare's danger!"
    "What is it?" demanded Maurice, as his eyes rested upon a reddish line running diagonally across the breast of his follower, and which looked as if traced by the point of a hot spindle. "What is it, anyhow?" he repeated with increasing anxiety, as he observed the serious look with which the hunter regarded the strange marking. "I never saw the like before. Is it something to be alarmed about?"
    "All of that, Mister Gerald," replied Stump, motioning Maurice outside the hut, and speaking to him in a whisper, so as not to be overheard by Phelim.
    "But what is it?" eagerly asked the mustanger.
    " It air the crawl o' the pisen centipede "
    "The poison centipede! Has it bitten him?"
    "No, I hardly think it hez. But it don't need that. The crawl o' itself air enuf to kill him!"
    "Merciful Heaven! you don't mean that?"
    "I do, Mister Gerald. I've seed more 'an one good fellur go under wi' that same sort o' a stripe across his skin. If thur ain't somethin' done, an' that soon, he'll fust get into a ragin' fever, an' then he'll go out o' his senses, jest as if the bite o' a mad dog had gin him the hydrophoby. It air no use frightenin' him howsomdever, till I sees what I kin do. Thur's a yarb, or rayther it air a plant, as grows in these parts. Ef I kin find it handy, there'll be no defeequilty in cnrin' o' him. But as the cussed luck wnd hev it, the moon hez sneaked out of sight an' I kin only get the yarb by gropin'. I know there air plenty o' it up on the bluff an ef you'll go back inside, an' keep the fellur quiet, m see what kin be done. I won't be gone but a minute."
    The whispered colloquy, and the fact of the speakers having gone outside to carry it on, instead of tranquillizing the fears of Phelim, had by this time augmented them to an extreme degree and just as the old hunter, bent upon his herborizing errand, disappeared in the darkness, he came rushing forth from the hut, howling more piteously than ever.
    It was some time before his master could get him tranquillized, and then only by assuring him on a faith not very firm that there was not the slightest danger.
    A few seconds after this had been accomplished, Zeb Stump reappeared in the doorway, with a countenance that produced a pleasant change in the feelings of those inside. His confident air and attitude proclaimed, as plainly as words could. We done, that he had discovered that of which he had gone in search the "yarb." In his right hand he held a number of oval shaped objects of dark green color, all of them bristling with sharp spines, set over the surface in equidistant clusters. Maurice recognized the leaves of a plant well known to him the oregano cactus.
    "Don't be skeeart, Mister Pheelum!" said the old hunter, in a consolatory tone, as he stepped across the threshold. "Thur's nothin' to fear now. I hev got the bolsum as 'll draw the burnin' out o' yur blood, quicker 'an flame ud scorch a feather. Stop yur yellin', man! Ye've rousted every bird an' beast, an' creepin' thing too, I reckon, out o' thar slumbers, for more an' twenty mile up an' down the crik. Ef you go on at that grist much longer, ye'll bring the Kumanchees out o' thur mountains, an' that 'ud be wuss mayhap than the crawl o' this hunderd legged critter. Mister Gerald, you git riddy a bandige, whiles I pur pares the powltiss."
    Drawing his knife from its sheath, the hunter first lopped off the spines and then, removing the outside skin, he split the thick succulent leaves of the cactus into slices of about an eighth of. an inch in thickness. These he spread contiguously upon a strip of clean cotton stuff already prepared by the mustanger and then, with the ability of a hunter, laid the "powltiss," as he termed it, along the inflamed line, which he declared to have been made by the claws of the centipede, but which in reality was caused by the injection of venom from its poison charged mandibles, a thousand times inserted into the flesh of the sleeper!
    The application of the oregano was almost instantaneous in its effect. The acrid juice of the plant, producing a counter poison, killed that which had been secreted by the animal and the patient, relieved from farther apprehension, and soothed by the sweet confidence of security stronger from reaction soon fell off into a profound and restorative slumber.
    After searching for the centipede and failing to find it for this hideous reptile, known in Mexico as the alaeran, unlike the rattlesnake, has no fear of crossing a cabriesto the improvised physician strode silently out of the cabin and, once more committing himself to his grassy conch, slept undisturbed till the morning.
    At the earliest hour of daybreak all three were astir, Phelim having recovered both from his fright and his fever. Having made their matinal meal upon the debris of the roast turkey, they hastened to take their departure from the hut. The quondam stable-boy of Ballyballagh, assisted by the Texan hunter, prepared the wild steeds for transport across the plains by stringing them securely together while Maurice looked after his own horse and the spotted mare. More especially did he expend his time, upon the beautiful captive carefully combing out her mane and tail, and removing from her glossy coat the stains that told of the severe chase she had cost him before her proud neck yielded to the constraint of his lasso.
    "Durn it, man!" exclaimed Zeb, as, with some surprise, he stood watching the movements of the mustanger, "ye needn't ha' been haf so purtickler! Wudley Poindexter ain't the man as 'll go back from a barg'in. Ye'll git the two hunderd dollars, sure as my name air Zeb'lun Stump an' dog-gone my cats, ef the maar ain't worth every red cent o' the money!"
    Maurice heard the remarks without making reply but the half suppressed smile playing around his lips told that the Kentuckian had altogether misconstrued the motive for his assiduous grooming.
    In less than an hour after, the mustanger was on the march, mounted on his blood bay, and leading the spotted mare at the end of his lasso while the captive cavallada, under the guidance of the Galwegian groom, went trooping at a brisk pace over the plain.
    Zeb Stump, astride his "ole maar," could only keep up by a constant hammering with his heels and Tara, picking his steps through the spinous mezquite grass, trotted listlessly in the rear.
    The hut,.with its skin door closed against animal intruders, was left to take care of itself its silent solitude, for a time, to be disturbed only by the hooting of the horned owl, the scream of the cougar, or the howl bark of the hungering coyote.
    
9. THE FRONTIER FORT.
    
    The "star spangled banner" suspended above Fort Inge, as it flouts forth from its tall staff, flings its fitful shadow over a scene of strange and original interest.
    It is a picture of pure frontier life which perhaps only the pencil of the younger Vernet could truthfully portray half military, half civilian half savage, half civilized mottled with figures of men whose complexions, costumes, and callings, proclaim them appertaining to the extremes of both, and every possible gradation between.
    Even the mi s e - en - scen e , the Fort itself, is of this mis c egenou s character. That star spangled banner waves not over bastions and battlements it flings no shadow over casemate or covered ray, fosse, escarpment, or glacis scarce anything that appertains to a fortress. A rude stockade, constructed out of trunks of algarobia, enclosing shed stabling for two hundred horses outside this a half score of buildings of the plainest architectural style some of them mere huts of "wattle and daub" - jacales - the biggest a barrack behind it the hospital, the stores of the commissary, and quartermaster on one side the guardhouse and on the other, more pretentiously placed, the mess room and officers' quarters all plain in their appearance plastered and whitewashed with the lime plentifully found on the Leona, all neat and clean, as becomes a cantonment of troops wearing the uniform of a great civilized nation. Such is Fort Inge.
    At a short distance off another group of houses meets the eye nearly, if not quite, as imposing as the cluster above described bearing the name of "The Fort." They are just outside the shadow of the flag, though under its protection for to it are they indebted for their origin and existence. They are the germ of the village that universally springs up in the proximity of an American military post in all probability, and at no very remote period, to become a town perhaps a great city.
    At present their occupants are a settler, whose store contains "knick knacks" not classed among commissariat rations an hotel keeper whose bar room, with white sanded floor and shelves sparkling with prismatic glass, tempts the idler to step in a brace of gamblers whose rival tables of faro and mont e extract from the pockets of the soldiers most part of their pay a score of dark eyed señoritas of questionable reputation a like number of hunters, teamsters, mustangers , and nondescripts such as constitute in ail countries the hangers on of a military cantonment, or the followers of a camp. The houses in the occupancy of this motley corporation have been "sited" with some design. Perhaps they are the property of a single speculator. They stand around a "square," where, instead of lamp posts or statues, may be seen the decaying trunk of a cypress, or the bushy form of a hackberry, rising out of a tapis of trodden grass.
    The Leona -at this point a mere rivulet- glides past in the rear both of fort and village. To the front extends a level plain, green as verdure can make it in the distance darkened by a bordering of woods, in which post oaks and pecans, live oaks and elms, struggle for existence with spinous plants of cactus and anona, with scores of creepers, climbers, and parasites almost unknown to the botanist. To the south and east along the banks of the stream, you see scattered houses the homesteads of plantations some of them rude and of recent construction, with a few of more pretentious style, and evidently of older origin. One of these last particularly attracts the attention a structure of superior size with flat roof, surmounted by a crenelled parapet whose white walls show conspicuously against the green background of forest with which it is half encircled. It is the hacienda of Casa del C orvo.
    Turning your eye northward, you behold a curious isolated eminence a gigantic cone of rocks rising several hundred feet above the level of the plain and beyond, in dim distance, a waving horizontal line indicating the outlines of the Guadalupe Mountains the outstanding spurs of that elevated and almost a trodden plateau, the Llano Estacado.
    Look aloft! You behold a sky, half sapphire, half turquoise by day, showing no other spot than the orb of its golden god by night, studded with stars that appear clipped from clear steel, and a moon whose well defined disc outshines the effulgence of silver.
    Look below at that hour when moon and stars have disappeared, and the land wind arrives from Matagorda Bay, laden with the fragrance of flowers when it strikes the starry flag, unfolding it to the eye of the morn then look below, and behold the picture that should have been painted by the pencil of Vernet too varied and vivid, too plentiful in shapes, costumes, and colouring, to be sketched by the pen.
    In the tableau you distinguish soldiers in uniform the light blue of the United States infantry, the darker cloth of the dragoons, and the almost invisible green of the mounted riflemen.
    You will see but few in full uniform, only the officer of the day, the captain of the guard, and the guard itself.
    Their comrades off duty lounge about the barracks, or within the stockade enclosure, in red flannel shirts, slouch hats, and boots innocent of blacking.
    They mingle with men whose costumes make no pretence to a military character, tall hunters in tunics of dressed deerskin, with leggings to correspond herdsmen and mustangers, habited a la Mexicaine , Mexicans themselves, in wide calzoneros, serap é s on their shoulders, botas on their legs, huge spurs upon their heels, and glazed sombreros set jauntily on their crowns. They palaver with Indians on a friendly visit to the Fort, for trade or treaty whose tents stand at some distance, and from whose shoulders hang blankets of red, and green, and blue giving them a picturesque, even classical, appearance, in spite of the hideous paint with which they have bedaubed their skins, and the dirt that renders sticky their long black hair, lengthened by tresses taken from the tails of their horses.
    Picture to the eye of your imagination this jumble of mixed nationalities in their varied costumes of race, condition, and calling jot in here and there a black skinned scion of Ethiopia, the body servant of some officer, or the emissary of a planter from the adjacent settlements imagine them standing in gossiping groups, or stalking over the level plain, amidst some half dozen halted wagons a couple of six-pounders upon their carriages, with caissons close by a square tent or two, with its surmounting fly occupied by some eccentric officer who prefers sleeping under canvas a stack of bayoneted rifles belonging to the soldiers on guard, imagine all these component parts, and you will have before your mind's eye a truthful picture of a military fort upon the frontier of Texas, and the extreme selvedge of civilization.
    About a week after the arrival of the Louisiana planter at his new home, three officers were seen standing upon the parade ground in front of Fort Inge, with their eyes turned towards the hacienda of Casa del Corvo.
    They were all young men, the oldest not over thirty years of age. His shoulder straps with the double bar proclaimed him a captain the second, with a single cross bar, was a first lieutenant while the younger of the two, with an empty chevron, was either a second lieutenant or "brevet."
    They were off duty engaged in conversation their theme, the "new people" in Casa del Corvo by which was meant the Louisiana planter and his family.
    "A sort of housewarming it's to be," said the infantry captain, alluding to an invitation that had reached the Fort, extending to all the commissioned officers of the garrison. "Dinner first and dancing afterwards, a regular field day, where I suppose we shall see paraded the aristocracy and beauty of the settlement.
    "Aristocracy?" laughingly rejoined the lieutenant of dragoons. "Not much of that here, I fancy and of beauty still less."
    "You mistake, Hancock. There are both upon the banks of the Leona. Some good States families have strayed out this way. We'll meet them at Poindexter's party, no doubt. On the question of aristocracy, the host himself, if you'll pardon a poor joke, is himself a host. He has enough of it to inoculate all the company that may be present and as for beauty, I'll back his daughter against anything this side the Sabine. The commissary's niece will be no longer belle about here."
    "Oh, indeed!" drawled the lieutenant of rifles, in a tone that told of his being chafed by this representation. "Miss Poindexter must be deuced good looking, then."
    "She's all that, I tell you, if she be anything like what she was when I last saw her, which was at a Bayou Lafourche ball. There were half a dozen young Creoles there, who came nigh crossing swords about her."
    "A coquette, I suppose?" insinuated the rifleman.
    "Nothing of the kind, Crossman. Quite the contrary, I assure you. She's a girl of spirit, though likely enough to snub any fellow who might try to be too familiar. She's not without some of the father's pride. It's a family trait of the Poindexters."
    "Just the girl I should cotton to," jocosely remarked the young dragoon. "And if she's as good looking as you say, Captain Sloman, I shall certainly go in for her. Unlike Crossman here, I'm clear of all entanglements of the heart. Thank the Lord for it!"
    "Well, Mr. Hancock," rejoined the infantry officer, a gentleman of sober inclinings, "I'm not given to betting but I'd lay a big wager you won't say that, after you have seen Louise Poindexter that is, if you speak your mind."
    "Pshaw, Sloman! don't you be alarmed about me. I've been too often under the fire of bright eyes to have any fear of them."
    "None so bright as hers."
    "Deuce take it! You make a fellow fall in love with this lady without having set eyes upon her. She must be something extraordinary incomparable."
    "She was both, when I last saw her."
    "How long ago was that?"
    "The Lafourche ball?" Let me see about eighteen months. Just after we got back from Mexico. She was then ' coming out' as society styles it
    "A new star in the firmament, to light and glory born!"
    "Eighteen months is a long time," sagely remarked Crossman", a long time for an unmarried maiden especially among Creoles, where they often get spliced at twelve, instead of 'sweet sixteen.' Her beauty may have lost some of its bloom?"
    I believe not a bit. I should have called to see only I knew they were in the middle of their 'plenishing,' and mightn't deter to be visited. But the major has been to Casa del Corvo, and brought back such a report about Miss Poindexter's beauty, as almost got him into a scrape, with the lady commanding the post."
    "Upon my soul, Captain Sloman!" asseverated the lieutenant of dragoons, "you've excited my curiosity to such a degree, I feel already half in love with Louise Poindexter!"
    "Before you get altogether into it "rejoined the officer of infantry, in a serious tone," let me recommend a little caution. There's a be te noir in the background."
    "A brother, I suppose? That is the individual usually so regarded."
    "There is a brother, but it's not he. A free noble young fellow, he is the only Poindexter I ever knew not eaten up with pride. He's quite the reverse."
    "The aristocratic father, then? Surely he wouldn't object to a quartering with the Hancock’s?"
    "I'm not so sure of that seeing that the Hancock’s are Yankees, and he's a chivalr ic Southerner! But it's not old Poindexter I mean."
    "Who, then, is the black beast, or what is it if not a human?"
    "It is human, after a fashion. A male cousin a queer card he is by name Cassius Calhoun."
    "I think I've heard the name."
    "So have I," said the lieutenant of rifles.
    "So has almost everybody who had anything to do with the Mexican war that is, who took part in Scott's campaign. He figured there extensively, and not very creditably either. He was captain in a volunteer regiment of Mississippians for he hails from that State but he was oftener met with at the monte table than in the quarters of his regiment. He had one or two affairs that gave him the reputation of a bully. But that notoriety was not of Mexican war origin. He had earned it before going there and was well known, among the desperadoes of New Orleans as a dangerous man.
    "What of all that?" asked the young dragoon, in a tone slightly savoring of defiance. "Who cares whether Mr. Cassius Calhoun be a dangerous man, or a harmless one? Not I. He's only the girl's cousin, you say?"
    "Something more, perhaps. I have reason to think he's her lover."
    "Accepted, do you suppose?"
    "That I can't tell. I only know, or suspect, that he's the favourite of the father. I have heard reasons why given only in whispers, it is true, but too probable to be scouted. The old story influence springing from mortgage money. Poindexter's not so rich as he has been else we'd never have seen him out here."
    "If the lady be as attractive as you say, I suppose we'll have Captain Cassius out here also, before long?"
    "Before long! Is that all you know about it? He came along with the family, and is now residing with them. Some say he's a partner in the planting speculation. I saw him this very morning down in the hotel bar room' liquoring up,' and swaggering in his old way."
    "A swarthy complexioned man, of about thirty, with dark hair and moustaches wearing a blue cloth frock, half military cut, and a Colt's revolver strapped over his thigh?"
    "Aye, and a bowie-knife, if you had looked for it, under the breast of his coat. That's the man."
    "He's rather a formidable-looking fellow," remarked the young rifleman. "If a bully, his looks don't belie him."
    "Ddamn his looks!" half angrily exclaimed the dragoon. "We don't hold commissions in Uncle Sam's army to be scared by looks, nor bullies either. If he comes any of his bullying over me, he'll find I'm as quick with a trigger as he."
    At that moment the bugle brayed out the call for morning parade, a ceremony observed at the little frontier fort as regularly as if a whole corps d'armee had been present and the three officers separating, betook themselves to their quarters to prepare their several companies for the inspection of the major in command of the cantonment.
    
10. CASA DEL CORVO.
    
    The estate, or "hacienda," known as Casa del Corvo, extended along the wooded bottom of the Leona River for more than a league, and twice that distance southwards across the contiguous prairie.
    The house itself usually, though not correctly, styled the hacienda , stood within long cannon range of Fort Inge from which its white walls were partially visible the remaining portion being shadowed by tall forest trees that skirted the banks of the stream.
    Its site was peculiar, and no doubt chosen with a view to defense for its foundations had been laid at a time when Indian assailants might be expected as indeed they might be, and often are, at the present hour.
    There was a curve of the river closing upon itself, like the shoe of a racehorse, or the arc of a circle, three parts complete the chord of which, or a parallelogram traced upon it, might be taken as the ground plan of the dwelling. Hence the name Casa del Corvo "the House of the Curve" (curved river).
    The façade, or entrance side, fronted towards the prairie the latter forming a noble lawn that extended to the edge of the horizon, in comparison with which an imperial park would have shrunk into the dimensions of a paddock.
    The architecture of Casa del Corvo, like that of other large country mansions in Mexico, was of a style that might be termed Morisco-Mexican being a single story in height, with a flat roof - azotea - spouted and parapeted all round having a courtyard inside the walls, termed patio, open to the sky, with a flagged floor, a fountain, and a stone stairway leading up to the roof a grand entrance gateway, the saguan , with a massive wooden door, thickly studded with bolt heads and two or three windows on each side, defended by a grille of strong iron bars, called reja, These are the chief characteristics of a Mexican hacienda and Casa del Corvo differed but little, from the type almost universal throughout the vast territories of Spanish America.
    Such was the homestead that adorned the newly acquired estate of the Louisiana planter that had become his property by purchase.
    As yet no change had taken place in the exterior of the dwelling; nor much in its interior, if we accept the personnel of its occupants. A physiognomy, half Anglo-Saxon, half Franco-American, presented itself in courtyard and corridor, where formerly were seen only faces of pure Spanish type and instead of the rich sonorous language of Andalusia, was now heard the harsher guttural of a semi Teutonic tongue occasionally diversified by the sweeter accentuation of Creolian French.
    Outside the walls of the mansion in the village like cluster of yucca thatched huts which formerly gave housing to the peons and other dependants of the hacienda the transformation was more striking. Where the tall thin vaquero, in broad brimmed hat of black glaze, and chequered serapé strode proudly over the sward his spurs tinkling at every step was now met the authoritative "overseer," in blue jersey, or blanket coat his whip cracking at every corner where the red children of Aztecan and Anahuac, scantily clad in tanned sheepskin, could be seen, with sad solemn aspect, lounging listlessly by their jacales , or trotting silently along, were now heard the black sons and daughters of Ethiopia, from morn till night, chattering their gay "gumbo," or with song and dance seemingly contradicting the idea that slavery is a heritage of unhappiness!
    Was it a change for the better upon the estate of Casa del Corvo?
    There was a time when the people of England would have answered no with a unanimity and emphasis calculated to drown all disbelief in their sincerity.
    Alas, for human weakness and hypocrisy! Our long cherished sympathy with the slave, proves to have been only a tissue of sneer dissembling. Led by an oligarchy, not the true aristocracy of our country, for these are too noble to have yielded to such deep designing, but an oligarchy composed of conspiring plebs, who have smuggled themselves into the first places of power in all the four estates guided by these prurient conspirators against the people's rights, England has proved untrue to her creed so loudly proclaimed, truculent to the trust reposed in her by the universal acclaim of the nations.
    On a theme altogether different, dwelt the thoughts of Louise Poindexter, as she flung herself into a chair in front of her dressing glass, and directed her maid Florinda to prepare her for the reception of guests expected soon to arrive at the hacienda.
    It was the day fixed for the "house warming," and about an hour before the time appointed for dinner to be on the table. This might have explained a certain restlessness observable in the air of the young Creole especially observed by Florinda but it did not. The maid had her own thoughts about the cause of her mistress's disquietude as was proved by the conversation that ensued between them.
    Scarce could it be called a conversation. It was more as if the young lady were thinking aloud, with her attendant acting as an echo. During all her life, the Creole had been accustomed to look upon her sable handmaid as a thing from whom it was not worth while concealing her thoughts, any more than she would from the chairs, the table, the sofa, or any other article of furniture in the apartment. There was but the difference of Florinda being a little more animated and companionable, and the advantage of her being able to give a vocal response to the observations addressed to her.
    For the first ten minutes after entering the chamber, Florinda had sustained the brunt of the dialogue on indifferent topics her mistress only interfering with an occasional ejaculation.
    "Oh, Miss Looey!" pursued the negress, as her fingers fondly played among the lustrous tresses of her young mistress's hair, "how bewful you hair am! Like de long 'Panish moss dat hang from de cyprus tree only dat it am of a different color, an' shine like the sugar house 'lasses."
    As already stated, Louise Poindexter was a Creole. After that, it is scarce necessary to say that her hair was of a dark color and as the sable maid in rude speech had expressed it luxuriant as Spanish moss. It was not black but of a rich glowing brown such as may be observed in the tinting of a tortoise shell, or the coat of a winter trapped sable.
    "Ah!" continued Florinda, spreading out an immense "hank" of the hair, that glistened like a chestnut against her dark palm," if I had dat lubbly hair on ma head, in'tead of dis cuss'd cully wool, I fotch em all to ma feet ebbry one of dem."
    "What do you mean, girl?" inquired the young lady, as if just aroused from some dreamy reverie. "What's that you've been saying? Fetch them to your feet? Fetch whom?"
    "Na, now; you know what dis chile mean?"
    "'Pon honour, I do not."
    "Make em lub me. Dat's what I should hab say."
    "But whom?"
    "All de white gen'l'm. De young planter, de officer of de Fort, all of dem. Wif you hair, Miss Looey, I could dem all make conquess."
    "Ha-ha-ha!" laughed the young lady, amused at the idea of Florinda figuring under that magnificent chevelure. "You think, with my hair upon your head, you would be invincible among the men?"
    "No, missa -not you hair alone- but wif you sweet face, you skin, white as de alumbaster -you tall figga- you grand look. Oh, Miss Looey, you am so 'plendidly bewful! I hear de white gen'l'm say so. I no need hear em say it. I see dat for masef."
    "You're learning to flatter, Florinda."
    "No, 'deed, missa- ne'er a word of flattery- ne'er a word, I swa it. By de 'postles, I swa it."
    To one who looked upon her mistress, the earnest asseveration of the maid, was not necessary to prove the sincerity of her speech, however hyperbolical it might appear. To say that Louise Poindexter was beautiful would only be to repeat the universal verdict of the society that surrounded her. A single glance was sufficient to satisfy any one upon this point, strangers as well as acquaintances. It was a kind of beauty that needed no discovering and yet it is difficult to describe it. The pen cannot portray such a face. Even the pencil could convey, but a faint idea of it for no painter, however skilled, could represent upon cold canvas, the glowing ethereal light that emanated from her eyes, and appeared to radiate over her countenance. Her features were purely classic, resembling those types of female beauty chosen by Phidias or Praxiteles. And yet in all the Grecian Pantheon, there is no face to which it could have been likened for it was not the countenance of a goddess, but something more attractive to the eye of man, the face of a woman.
    A suspicion of sensuality, apparent in the voluptuous curving of the lower lip still more pronounced in the prominent rounding beneath the cheeks, while depriving the countenance of its pure spiritualism, did not perhaps detract from its beauty. There are men, who, in this departure from the divine type, would have perceived a superior charm since in Louise Poindexter they would have seen not a divinity to be worshipped, but a woman to be loved.
    Her only reply vouchsafed to Florinda's earnest asseveration was a laugh careless, though not incredulous. The young Creole did not need to be reminded of her beauty. She was not unconscious of it, as could be told by her taking more than one long look into the mirror before which her toilet was being made. The flattery of the negress, scarce called up an emotion certainly not more than she might have felt at the fawning of a pet spaniel and she soon after surrendered herself to the reverie from which the speech had aroused her.
    Florinda was not silenced by observing her mistress's air of abstraction. The girl had evidently something on her mind, some mystery, of which she desired the é claircissement and was determined to have it.
    "Ah!" she continued, as if talking to herself "if Florinda had half de charm of young missa, she for nobody care she for nobody heave de deep sigh!"
    "Sigh!" repeated her mistress, suddenly startled by the speech. "What do you mean by that?"
    "Par dieu, Miss Looey, Florinda no so blind you think, nor so deaf neider. She you see long time sit in de same place you nebber 'peak no word you only heave de sigh de long deep sigh. You nebba do dat in de ole plantashun, in Loozyanny."
    "Florinda! I fear you are taking leave of your senses, or have left them behind you in Louisiana? Perhaps there's something in the climate here that affects you. Is that so, girl?"
    "Pa' dieu, Miss Looey, dat question of yourself ask. You no be angry case I 'peak so plain. Florinda you slave, she you lab like brack sisser. She no happy hear you sigh. Dat why she hab take de freedom. You no be angry wif me?"
    "Certainly not. Why should I be angry with you, child? I'm not. I didn't say I was only you are quite mistaken in. your ideas. What you've seen, or heard, could be only a fancy of your own. As for sighing, heigho! I have something else to think of just now. I have to entertain about a hundred guests nearly all strangers, too; among them the young planters and officers whom you would entangle if you had my hair. Ha! ha! ha! I don't desire to enmesh them- not one of them! So twist it up as you like, without the semblance of a snare in it."
    "Oh! Miss Looey, you so 'peak?" inquired the negress with an air of evident interest. "You say none of dem gen'l'm you care for? Dere am two, tree, berry, berry, berry han'som'. One planter dar be, and two of de officer all young gen'l'm. You know de tree I mean. All of dem hab been 'tentive to you. You sure, missa, tain't one of dem dat you make sigh?
    "Sigh again! Ha! ha! ha! But come, Florinda, we're losing time. Recollect, I've got to be in the drawing-room to receive a hundred guests. I must have at least half an hour to compose myself into an attitude befitting such an extensive reception."
    "No fear, Miss Looey-no fear. I you toilette make in time- plenty of time. No much trouble you dress. Pa' dieu, in any dress you look 'plondid. You be de belle if you dress like one of de tier hand of de plantashun."
    "What a flatterer you are grown, Florinda! I shall begin to suspect that you are after some favour. Do you wish me to intercede, and make up your quarrel with Pluto?"
    "No, missa. I be friend nebber more wid Pluto. He show hiseeff such great coward when come dat storm on de brack prairee. Ah, Miss Looey! what we boaf do if dat young white gen'l'm on de red hoss no come ridin' dat way?"
    "If he had not, cher Florinde, it is highly probable neither of us should now have been here."
    "Oh, missa! wasn't he real fancy man, dat 'ere? You see him bewful face. You see him thick hair, jess de color of you own only curled leetle bit like mine. Talk of de young planter, or dem officer at de Fort! De brack folk say he no good for nuffin, like dem; he only poor white trash. Who care fo' dat? He am de sort of man could dis chile make sigh. Ah! de berry, berry sort!"
    Up to this point the young Creole had preserved a certain tranquility of countenance. She tried to continue it, but the effort failed her. Whether by accident or design, Florinda had touched the most sensitive chord in the spirit of her mistress.
    She would have been loth to confess it, even to her slave and it was a relief to her, when loud voices heard in the courtyard gave a colourable excuse for terminating her toilette, along with the delicate dialogue upon which she might have been constrained to enter.
11. AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL.
    "Say, ye durnationed nigger! whar's yur master?"
    "Mass Poindexter, sar? De ole massr, or de young 'un?"
    "Young 'un be darned! I mean Mister Poindexter. Who else shed I? Whar air he?"
    "Ho-ho! sar! dey am boaf at home- dat is, dey am boaf away from de house- de ole massr an' de young Massr Henry. Dey am down de ribber, wha de folk am makin' de new fence. Ho! ho! you find em dar."
    "Down the river! How fur d'ye reck'n?"
    "Ho! ho! sar. Dis nigga reck'n it be 'bout tree or four mile dat at de berry leas'."
    "Three or four mile? Ye must be a durnationed fool, nigger. Mister Peintdexter's plantation don't go thet fur an I reck'n he ain't the man to be makin' a fence on some'dy else's clarin". Lookee hyur! What time air he expected hum? Ye've got a straighter idee o' thet, I hope?"
    "Dey boaf 'pected home berry soon, de young massr and de ole massr, and Mass Ca'houn too. Ho! ho! dar's agwine to be big doom's 'bout dis yar shanty- yer see dat fo' yeseff by de smell of de kitchen. Ho! ho! All sorts o' gran' feassin', de roa' an' de bile, an' de barbecue de pot pies, an' de chicken fixins. Ho! ho! ain't thar agwine to go it hyar jess like de ole times on de coass of de Massippy! Hoora fo' ole Mass Poindex'er! He de right sort. Ho! ho! 'tranger! why you no holla too you no friend of de massr?"
    "Durn you, nigger, don't ye remember me? Now I look into yur ugly mug, I recollex you."
    "Gorramighty! 'tain't Mass 'Tump 't use to fotch de ven'son an' de turkey gobbla to de ole plantashun? By de jumbo, it am, the Law, Mass 'Tump, dis nigga 'members you like it wa de day afore yesserday. Ise heern you called de odder day but I war away from 'bout de place. I'm de coachman now dribes de carriage dat carries de lady of de 'tablishment de bewful Missy Loo. Lor, massr, she berry fine gal. Dey do say she beat Florinday into fits. Nebba mind, Mass 'Tump, you better wait till ole massr come home. He am a bound to be kya , in de shortess poss'ble time."
    "Wal, if thet's so, I'll wait upon him," rejoined the hunter, leisurely lifting his leg over the saddle in which up to this time he had retained his seat. "Now, ole fellur," he added, passing the bridle into the hands of the negro, "you gi'e the maar half a dozen yeers o' corn out o' the crib. I’ve rid the critter better 'n a score o' miles like a streak o' lightnin' all to do yur master a sarvice."
    "Oh, Mr. Zebulon Stump, is it you?" exclaimed a silvery voice, followed by the appearance of Louise Poindexter upon the verandah.
    "I thought it was," continued the young lady, coming up to the railings, "though I didn't expect to see you so soon. You said you were going upon a long journey. Well I am pleased that you are here and so will papa and Henry be. Pluto! go instantly to Chloe, the cook, and see what she can give you for Mr. Stump's dinner. You have not dined, I know, You are dusty you've been travelling? Here, Florinda! Haste you to the sideboard, and pour out some drink. Mr. Stump will be thirsty; I'm sure, this hot dav. What would you prefer port, sherry, claret? Ah, now, if I recollect, you used to be partial to Monongahela whisky. I think there is some. Florinda, see if there be! Step into the verandah, dear Mr. Stump, and take a seat. You were inquiring for papa? I expect him home every minute. I shall try to entertain you till he come."
    Had the young lady paused sooner in her speech, she would not have received an immediate reply. Even as it was, some seconds elapsed before Zeb made rejoinder. He stood gazing upon her, as if struck speechless by the sheer intensity of his admiration.
    "Lord o' marcy, Miss Lewaze!" he at length gasped forth, "I thort when I used to see you on the Mississippi, ye war the puttiest critter on the airth but now, I think ye the puttiest thing either on airth or in hewing. Geehosofat!"
    The old hunter's praise was scarce exaggerated. Fresh from the toilette, the gloss of her luxuriant hair untarnished by the action of the atmosphere her cheeks glowing with a carmine tint, produced by the application of cold water her fine figure, grace fully draped in a robe of India muslin, white and semi translucent certainly did Louise Poindexter appear as pretty as anything upon earth, if not in heaven.
    "Geehosofat!" again exclaimed the hunter, following up his complimentary speech, "I hey in my time seed what I thort war some putty critters o' the sheemale kind my ole 'ooman herself warn't so bad lookin' when I fust kim acrost her in Kaintuck thet she warn't. But I will say this, Miss Lewaze ef the puttiest bits o' all o' them war clipped out an' then joined thegither agin, they wudn't make up the thousanth part o' a angel sech as you."
    "Oh-oh-oh! Mr. Stump Mr. Stump! I'm astonished to hear you talk in this manner. Texas has quite turned you into a courtier. If you go on so, I fear you will lose your character for plain speaking! After that I am sure you will stand in need of a very big drink. Haste, Florinda! I think you said you would prefer whisky?"
    "Ef I didn't say it, I thunk it an' that air about the same. Yur right, miss, I prefer the corn afore any o' them thur furrin lickers an' I sticks to it whuriver I kin git it. Texas hain't made no alterashun in me in the matter o' lickerin'."
    "Mass 'Tump, you it hab mix wif water?" inquired Florinda, coming forward with a tumbler about one half full of "Monongahela."
    "No, gurl. Dura yur water! I hev hed enuf o' thet since I started this mornin'. I hain't hed a taste o' licker the hul day ne'er as much as the smell o' it."
    "Dear Mr. Stump! Surely you can't drink it that way? Why, it will burn your throat! Have a little sugar, or honey, along with it?"
    "Speil it, miss. It air sweet enuf 'ithout that sort o' docterin' 'specially arter you hey looked inter the glass. Yu'll see if I can't drink it. Hyur goes to try!"
    The old hunter raised the tumbler to his chin and after giving three gulps, and the fraction of a fourth, returned it empty into the hands of Florinda. A loud smacking of the lips almost drowned the simultaneous exclamations of astonishment uttered by the young lady and her maid.
    "Burn my throat, ye say? Ne'er a bit. It hez jest eiled thet ere jugewlar, an' put it in order for a bit 'o a palaver I wants to hev wi' yur father 'bout thet ere spotty mow stang."
    "Oh, true! I had forgotten. No, I hadn't either but I did not suppose you had time to have news of it. Have you heard anything of the pretty creature?"
    "Putty critter ye may well pernounce it. It ur all o' thet. Besides, it ur a maar."
    "A ma-a-r! What is that, Mr. Stump? I don't understand."
    "A maar I sayed. Shurly ye know what a maar is?"
    "Ma-a-r… ma-a-r! Why, no, not exactly. Is it a Mexican word? Mar in Spanish signifies the sea."
    "In coorse it air a Mexikin maar- all mowstangs air. They air all on 'em o' a breed as wur oncest brought over from some European country by the fust o' them as settled in these hyur parts, leesewise I hev heern so."
    "Still, Mr. Stump, I do not comprehend you. What makes this mustang a ma-a-r?"
    "What makes her a maar? 'Case she ain't a host thet's what make it, Miss Peintdexter."
    "Oh-now-I-I think I comprehend. But did you say you have heard of the animal I mean since you left us?"
    "Heern o' her, seed her, an' feeled her."
    "Indeed!"
    "She air grupped."
    "Ah, caught! What capital news! I shall be so delighted to see the beautiful thing and ride it too. I haven't had a horse worth a piece of orange peel since I've been in Texas. Papa has promised to purchase this one for me at any price. But who is the lucky individual who accomplished the capture?"
    "Te mean who grupped the maar?"
    "Yes-yes-who?"
    "Why, in coorse it wur a mowstangcr."
    "A mustanger?"
    "Ye-es an' such a one as thur ain't another on all these purayras eyther to ride a hoss, or throw a laryitt over one. Ye may talk about yur Mexikins! I never seed neery Mexikin ked manage hoss doin's like that young fellur an' thur ain't a drop o' thur pisen blood in his veins. He ur es white es I am myself."
    "His name?"
    "Wal, es to the name o' his family, that I niver heern. His Christyun name air Maurice. He's knowed up thur 'bout the Fort as Maurice the mowstanger."
    The old hunter was not sufficiently observant to take note of the tone of eager interest in which the question had been asked, nor the sudden deepening of color upon the cheeks of the questioner as she heard the answer.
    Neither had escaped the observation of Florinda.
    "La, Miss Looey!" exclaimed the latter," shoo dat de name of de brave young white gentm he dat us save from being smodered on de brack prairee?"
    "Geehosofat, yes!" resumed the hunter, relieving the young lady from the necessity of making reply. "Now I think o't, he told me o' thet suckumstance this very mornin', afore we started. He air the same. Thet's the very fellur es hev trapped spotty an he air toatin' the critter along at this eyedentical minnit, in kmnp'ny wi' about a dozen others o' the same cavyurd. He onghter be hyur afore sundown. I pushed my ole maar ahead, so 's to tell yur father the spotty war comin', and let him git the fust chance o' buyin'. I know'd as how thet ere bit o' hos-doin's don't get druv fur into the Settlements efore someb'dy snaps her up. I thort o' you, Miss Lewaze, and how ye tuk on so when I tolt ye 'bout the critter. Wal, make yur mind eezy ye shell hev the fust chance. Ole Zeb Stump 'll be yur bail for thet."
    "Oh, Mr. Stump, it is so kind of you! I am very, very grateful. You will now excuse me for a moment. Father will soon be back. We have a dinner party to day and I have to prepare for receiving a great many people. Florinda, see that Mr. Stump's luncheon is set out for him. Go, girl go at once about it!"
    "And, Mr. Stump," continued the young lady, drawing nearer to the hunter, and speaking in a more subdued tone of voice, "if the young gentleman should arrive while the other people are here perhaps he don't know them will you see that he is not neglected? There is wine yonder, in the verandah, and other things. You know what I mean, dear Mr. Stump?"
    "Durned if I do, Miss Lewaze that air, not adzackly. I kin nnnerstan' all thet ere 'bout the licker an' other fixins. But who air the young gen'leman yur speakin' o'? Thet's the thing as bamboozles me."
    "Surely you know who I mean! The young gentleman the young man who, you say, is bringing in the horses."
    "Oh! ah! Maurice the mowstanger! That's it, is it? Wal, I reck'n yur not a hundred mile astray in calling him a gen'leman tho' it ain't offen es a mowstanger gits thet entitlement, or desarves it eyther. He air one, every inch o' him a gentleman by barth, breed, an' raisin' tho' he air a hoss hunter, an' Irish at thet."
    The eyes of Louise Poindexter sparkled with delight as she listened to opinions so perfectly in unison with her own.
    "I must tell ye, howsomdiver," continued the hunter, as if some doubt had come across his mind," it won't do to show the 'ere young fellur any sort o' second hand hospertality. As they used to say on the Massissippi, he air 'as proud as a Poindexter.' Excuse me, Miss Lewaze, for lettin' the word slip. I didn't think o't thet I war talkin' to a Poindexter not the proudest, but the puttiest o' the name."
    "Oh, Mr. Stump! You can say what you please to me. You know that I could not be offended with you, you dear old giant!"
    "He'd be meaner than a dwurf es ked eyther say or do anythin' to offend you, miss."
    "Thanks! thanks! I know your honest heart, I know your devotion. Perhaps some time some time, Mr. Stump" she spoke hesitatingly, but apparently without any definite meaning "I might stand in need of your friendship."
    "Ye won't need it long afore ye git it, then thet ole Zeb Stump kin promise ye, Miss Peintdexter. He'd be stinkiner than a skunk, an' a bigger coward than a coy oat, es wouldn't stan' bv sech as you, while there wur a bottle rull o' breath left in the inside of his body."
    "A thousand thanks again and again! But what were you going to say? You spoke of second hand hospitality?"
    "I dud."
    "You meant…?"
    "I meaned thet it 'ud be no use o' my inviting Maurice the mowstanger eyther to eat, or drink miner this hyur roof. Unless yur father do that, the young fellur 'll go 'ithout tastin'. You unnerstan, Miss Lewaze, he ain't one o' thet sort o' poor whites as kin be sent roun' to the kitchen."
    The young Creole stood for a second or two, without making rejoinder. She appeared to be occupied with some abstruse calculation, that engrossed the whole of her thoughts.
    "Never mind about it," she at length said, in a tone that told the calculation completed. "Never mind, Mr. Stump. You need not invite him. Only let me know when he arrives, unless we are at dinner, and then, of course, he would not expect any one to appear. But if he should come at that time, you detain him won't you?"
    "Boun' to do it, ef you bid me."
    "You will, then and let me know he is here. I shall ask him to eat."
    "Ef ye do, miss, I reck'n ye'll spoil his appetite. The sight o' you, to say nothin' o' listenin' to your melodyus voice, ud cure a starvin' wolf o' bein' hungry. When I kim in hyur I war peckish enuf to swaller a raw buzzart. Neow I don't care a durn about eatin'. I ked go 'ithout chawin' meat for a month."
    As this exaggerated chapter of euphemism was responded to by a peal of clear ringing laughter, the young lady pointed to the other side of the patio where her maid was seen emerging from the "cocina," carrying a light tray followed by Pluto with one of broader dimensions, more heavily weighted.
    "You great giant!" was the reply, given in a tone of sham reproach "I won't believe you have lost your appetite, until you have eaten Jack. Yonder come Pinto and Florinda. They bring something that will prove more cheerful company than I so I shall leave you to enjoy it. Good bye, Zeb good bye, or,. as the natives say here, Ha s ta luego ! "
    Gaily were these words spoken lightly did Louise Poindexter trip back across the covered corridor. Only after entering her chamber, and finding herself chez s oi - m ê me, did she give way to a reflection of a more serious character, that found expression in words low murmured, but full of mystic meaning
    "It is my destiny I feel I know that it is! I dare not meet, and yet I cannot shun it, I may not, I would not, I will not! "
12. TAMING A WILD MARE.
    The pleasantest apartment in a Mexican house is that which has the roof for its floor and the sky for its ceiling- the azotea. In fine weather, ever fine in that sunny clime it is preferred to the drawing room especially after dinner, when the sun begins to cast rose colored rays upon the snow clad summits of Orizava, Popocatepec, Toluca, and the "Twin Sister" when the rich wines of Xeres and Madeira have warmed the imaginations of Andalusia's sons and daughters, descendants of the Conquistadores, who mount up to their house tops to look upon a land of world wide renown, rendered famous by the heroic achievements of their ancestors.
    Then does the Mexican "cavallero," clad in embroidered habiliments, exhibit his splendid exterior to the eyes of some señorita, at the same time puffing the smoke of his paper cigarito against her cheeks. Then does the dark eyed donçella favorably listen to soft whisperings or perhaps only pretends to listen, while, with heart distraught, and eye wandering away, she sends stealthy glances over the plain towards some distant hacienda the home of him she truly loves.
    So enjoyable a fashion, as that of spending the twilight hours upon the housetop, could not fail to be followed by any one who chanced to be the occupant of a Mexican dwelling and the family of the Louisiana planter had adopted it, as a matter of course.
    On that same evening, after the dining hall had been deserted, the roof, instead of the drawing-room, was chosen as the place of re assemblage and as the sun descended towards the horizon; his slanting rays fell upon a throng as gay, as cheerful, and perhaps as resplendent, as ever trod the azotea of Casa del Corvo. Moving about over its tessellated tiles, standing in scattered groups, or lined along the parapet with faces turned towards the plain, were women as fair and men as brave as had ever assembled, on that same spot even when its ancient owner used to distribute hospitality to the hidalgo s of the land the bluest blood in Coahuila and Texas.
    The company now collected to welcome the advent of Woodley Poindexter on his Texan estate, could also boast of this last distinction. They were the élit e of the Settlements, not only of the Leona, but of others more distant. There were guests from Gonzales, from Castroville, and even from San Antonio, old friends of the planter, who, like him, had sought a home in South Western Texas, and who had ridden some of them over a hundred miles to be present at this, his first grand "reception."
    The planter had spared neither pains nor expense to give it éclat . What with the sprinkling of uniforms and epaulettes, supplied by the Fort what with the brass band borrowed from the same convenient repository, what with the choice wines found in the cellars of Casa del Corvo, and which had formed part of the purchase there could be little lacking to make Poindexter's party the most brilliant ever given upon the banks of the Leona.
    And to insure this effect, his lovely daughter Louise, late belle of Louisiana, the fame of whose beauty had been before her, even in Texas acted as mistress of the ceremonies, moving about among the admiring guests with the smile of a queen, and the grace of a goddess.
    On that occasion was she the cynosure of a hundred pairs of eyes, the happiness of a score of hearts, and perhaps the torture of as many more for not all were blessed who beheld her beauty.
    Was she herself happy?
    The interrogatory may appear singular, almost absurd. Surrounded by friends -admirers- one, at least, who adored her, a dozen whose incipient love, could but end in adoration young planters, lawyers, embryo statesmen, and some with reputation already achieved sons of Mars in amour, or with armor late laid aside how could she be otherwise than proudly, supremely happy?
    A stranger might have asked the question one superficially acquainted with Creole character more especially the character of the lady in question.
    But mingling in that splendid throng was a man who was no stranger to either; and who, perhaps, more than any one present, watched her every movement and endeavored more than any other to interpret its meaning. Cassius Calhoun was the individual thus occupied.
    She went not hither, nor thither, without his following her- not close, like a shadow; but by stealth, flitting from place to place upstairs, and downstairs standing in corners, with an air of apparent abstraction but all the while with eyes turned as cant upon his cousin's face, like a plain clothes policeman employed on detective duty.
    Strangely enough he did not seem to pay much regard to her speeches, made in reply to the compliments showered upon her by several would be winners of a smile, not even when these were conspicuous and respectable, as in the case of young Hancock of the dragoons. To all such he listened without visible emotion, as one listens to a conversation in no way affecting the affairs either of self or friends.
    It was only after ascending to the azotea, on observing his cousin near the parapet, with her eyes turned interrogatively towards the plain, that his detective zeal became conspicuous so much so as to attract the notice of others. More than once was it noticed by those standing near for more than once was repeated the act which gave cause to it.
    At intervals, not very wide apart, the young mistress of Casa del Corvo, might have been seen to approach the parapet, and look across the plain, with a glance that seemed to interrogate the horizon of the sky.
    Why she did so no one could tell. No one presumed to conjecture, except Caseins Calhoun. He had thoughts upon the subject thoughts that were torturing him.
    When a group of moving forms appeared upon the prairie, emerging from the garish light of the setting sun, when the spectators upon the azotea pronounced it, a drove of horses in charge of some mounted men, the ex-officer of volunteers had a suspicion as to who was conducting that cavallada.
    Another appeared to feel an equal interest in its advent, though perhaps from a different motive. Long before the horse drove had attracted the observation of Poindexter's guests, his daughter had noted its approach from the time that a cloud of dust soared up against the horizon, so slight and filmy as to have escaped detection by any eye not bent expressly on discovering it.
    From that moment the young Creole, under cover of a conversation carried on amid a circle of fair companions, had been slyly scanning the dust cloud as it drew nearer forming conjectures,- as to what was causing it, upon knowledge already, and as she supposed, exclusively, her own.
    "Wild horses!" announced the major commandant of Fort Inge, after a short inspection through his pocket telescope. "Some one bringing them in," he added, a second time raising the glass to his eye. "Oh! I see now- its Maurice the mustanger, who occasionally helps our men to a remount He appears to be coming this way direct to your place, Mr. Poindexter."
    "If it be the young fellow you have named, that's not unlikely," replied the owner of Casa del Corvo. "I bargained with him to catch me a score or two and maybe this is the first installment he's bringing me."
    "Yes, I think it is," he added, after a look through the telescope.
    "I'm sure of it," said the planter's son. "I can tell the horseman yonder to be Maurice Gerald."
    The planter's daughter could have done the same though she made no display of her knowledge. She did not appear to be much interested in the matter indeed, rather indifferent. She had become aware of being watched by that evil eye, constantly burning upon her.
    The c avallada came up, Maurice sitting handsomely on his horse, with the spotted mare at the end of his lasso.
    "What a beautiful creature!" exclaimed several voices, as the captured mustang was led up in front of the house, quivering with excitement at a scene so new to it.
    "It's worth a journey to the ground, to look at such an animal!" suggested the major's wife, a lady of enthusiastic inclinings. "I propose we all go down! What say you, Miss Poindexter?"
    "Oh, certainly," answered the mistress of the mansion, amidst a chorus of other voices crying out,
    " Let us go down! Let us go down!"
    Led by the majoress, the ladies filed down the stone stairway the gentlemen after and in a score of seconds the horse hunter, still seated in his saddle, became, with his captive, the centre of the distinguished circle.
    Henry Poindexter had hurried down before the rest, and already, in the frankest manner, bidden the stranger welcome.
    Between the latter and Louise only a slight salutation could be exchanged Familiarity with a horse dealer even supposing him to have had the honor of an introduction would scarce have been tolerated by the "society."
    Of the ladies, the major's wife alone addressed him, in a familiar way, but that was in a tone that told of superior position, coupled with condescension. He was more gratified by a glance quick and silent, when his eyes changed intelligence with that of the young Creole.
    Hers were not the only ones that rested approvingly upon him. In truth, the mustanger looked splendid, despite his travel stained habiliments. His journey of over twenty miles had done little to fatigue him. The prairie breeze had freshened the color upon his cheeks and his full round throat, naked to the breast bone, and slightly bronzed with the sun, contributed to the manliness of his mien. Even the dust clinging to his curled hair could not altogether conceal its natural gloss, nor the luxuriance of its growth, while a figure tersely knit told of strength and endurance beyond the ordinary endowment of man. There were stolen glances, endeavoring to catch his, sent by more than one of the fair circle. The pretty niece of the commissary, smiled admiringly upon him. Some said the commissary's wife but this could be only a slander, to be traced, perhaps, to the doctor's -better half the Lady Teazle of the cantonment.
    "Surely," said Poindexter, after making an examination of the captured mustang, "this must be the animal of which old Zeb Stump has been telling me?"
    "It ur thet eyedenticul same," answered the individual so described, making his way towards Maurice with the design of assisting him. "Ye-es, Mister Peintdexter the eyedenticul critter a maar, es ye kin all see for yurselves"
    "Yes, yes," hurriedly interposed the planter, not desiring any further elucidation.
    "The young fellur hed grupped her, afore I got thur so I wnr jess in the nick o' time bout it. She mout a been tuck elswhar, an' then Miss Lewaze thur mout a missed hovin' her."
    "It is true indeed, Mr. Stump! It was very thoughtful of you. I know not how I shall ever be able to reciprocate your kindness?"
    "Reciperkate! Wal, I spose thet air means to do suthin in return. Ye kin do thet, miss, 'ithout much difeequilty. I han't dud nothin' for you, ceptin' make a bit o' a journey across the purayra. To see yur bewtyful self mounted on thet maar, wi' yur ploomed het upon yur head, an' yur long tailed pettykote streakdn' it ahint you, 'ud pay old Zeb Stump to go clur to the Rockies, and back agin."
    "Oh, Mr. Stump! You are an incorrigible flatterer! Look around you! You will see many here more deserving of your compliments than I."
    "Wal, wal!" rejoined Zeb, casting a look of careless scrutiny towards the ladies, "I ain't a goin' to deny thet thur air gobs o' putty critters hyur Dog-goned putty critters but es they used to say in ole Loozyanney, thur air but one Lewaze Poindexter." A burst of laughter in which only a few feminine voices bore part was the reply to Zeb's gallant speech.
    "I shall owe you two hundred dollars for this," said the planter, addressing himself to Maurice, and pointing to the spotted mare. "I think that was the sum stipulated for by Mr. Stump."
    "I was not a party to the stipulation," replied the mustanger, with a significant, but well intentioned smile. "I cannot take your money. She is not for sale."
    "Oh, indeed!" said the planter, drawing back with an air of proud disappointment, while his brother planters, as well as the officers of the Fort, looked astonished at the refusal of such a munificent price. Two hundred dollars for an untamed mustang, when the usual rate of price was from ten to twenty! The mustanger must be mad?
    He gave them no time to descant upon his sanity.
    "Mr. Poindexter," he continued, speaking in the same good-humored strain, "you have given me such a generous price for my other captives and before they were taken, too that I can afford to make a present what we over in Ireland call a 'luck-penny.' It is our custom there also, when a horse-trade takes place at the house, to give the douceur, not to the purchaser himself, but to one of the fair members of his family. May I have your permission to introduce this Hibernian fashion into the settlements of Texas?"
    "Certainly, by all means!" responded several voices, two or three of them unmistakably with an Irish accentuation.
    "Oh, certainly, Mr. Gerald!" replied the planter, his conservatism giving way to the popular will "as you please about that."
    "Thanks, gentlemen thanks!" said the mustanger, with a patronizing look towards men who believed themselves to be his masters. "This mustang is my luck-penny and if Miss Poindexter will condescend to accept of it, I shall feel more than repaid for 'the three days' chase which the creature has cost me. Had she been the most cruel of coquettes, she could scarce have been more difficult to subdue."
    "I accept your gift, sir and with gratitude," responded the young Creole for the first time prominently proclaiming herself, and stepping freely forth as she spoke. "But I have a fancy," she continued, pointing to the mustang at the same time that her eye rested inquiringly on the countenance of the mustanger" a fancy that your captive is not yet tamed ? She but trembles in fear of the unknown future. She may yet kick against the traces, if she find the harness not to her liking and then what am I to do poor I?."
    "True, Maurice!" said the major, widely mistaken as to the meaning of the mysterious speech, and addressing the only man on the ground who could possibly have comprehended it "Miss Poindexter speaks very sensibly. That mustang has not been tamed yet any one may see it. Come, my good fellow! Give her the lesson.
    "Ladies and gentlemen!" continued the major, turning towards the company, "this is something worth your seeing those of you who have not witnessed the spectacle before. Come, Maurice mount, and show us a specimen of prairie horsemanship. She looks as though she would put your skill to the test."
    "You are right, major she does!" replied the mustanger, with a quick glance, directed not towards the captive quadruped, but to the young Creole who, with all her assumed courage, retired tremblingly behind the circle of spectators.
    "No matter, my man," pursued the major, in a tone intended for encouragement. "In spite of that devil sparkling in her eye, I'll lay ten to one you'll take the conceit out of her. Try!"
    Without losing credit, the mustanger could not have declined acceding to the major's request. It was a challenge to skill to equestrian prowess a thing not lightly esteemed upon the prairies of Texas.
    He proclaimed his acceptance of it by leaping lightly out of his saddle, resigning his own steed to Zeb Stump, and exclusively giving his attention to the captive.
    The only preliminary called for was the clearing of the ground. This was effected in an instant the greater part of the company with all the ladies returning to the azotea.
    With only a piece of raw hide rope looped around the under jaw, and carried headstall fashion behind the ears with only one rein in hand Maurice sprang to the back of the wild mare.
    It was the first time she had ever been mounted by man the first insult of the kind offered to her.
    A shrill spiteful scream spoke plainly her appreciation of and determination to resent it. It proclaimed defiance of the attempt to degrade her to the condition of a slave!
    With equine instinct, she reared upon her hind legs, for some seconds balancing her body in an erect position. Her rider, anticipating the trick, had thrown his arms around her neck and, close clasping her throat, appeared part of herself. But for this she might have poised over upon her back, and crushed him beneath her.
    The uprearing of the hind quarters was the next "trick" of the mustang sure of being tried, and most difficult for the rider to meet without being thrown. From sheer conceit in his skill, he had declined saddle and stirrup, that would now have stood him in stead but with these he could not have claimed accomplishment of the boasted feat of the prairies- to tame the naked steed.
    He performed it without them. As the mare raised her hind quarters aloft, he turned quickly upon her back, threw his arms around the barrel of her body, and resting his toes upon the angular points of her fore shoulders, and successfully resisted her efforts to unhorse him.
    Twice or three times, was the endeavor repeated by the mustang, and as often foiled by the skill of the mustanger and then, as if conscious that such efforts were idle, the enraged animal plunged no longer but, springing away from the spot, entered upon a gallop that appeared to have no goal this side the ending of the earth.
    It must have come to an end somewhere though not within sight of the spectators, who kept their places, waiting for the horse tamer's return.
    Conjectures that he might be killed, or, at the least, badly "crippled," were freely ventured during his absence and there was one who wished it so. But there was also one upon, whom such an event would have produced a painful impression, almost as painful as if her own life depended upon his safe return. Why Louise Poindexter, daughter of the proud Louisiana sugar planter, a belle a beauty of more than provincial repute who could, by simply saying yes, have had for a husband the richest and noblest in the land why she should have fixed her fancy, or even permitted her thoughts to stray, upon a poor horse hunter of Texas, was a mystery that even her own intellect by no means a weak one, was unable to fathom.
    Perhaps she had not yet gone so far as to fix her fancy upon him. She did not think so herself. Had she thought so, and reflected upon it, perhaps she would have recoiled from the contemplation of certain consequences, that could not have failed to present themselves to her mind.
    She was, but conscious of having conceived some strange interest in a strange individual, one who had presented himself in a fashion that favored fanciful reflections one who differed essentially from the common place types introduced to her in the world of social distinctions.
    She was conscious, too, that this interest originating in a word, a glance, a gesture listened to, or observed, amid the ashes of a burnt prairie instead of subsiding, had ever since been upon the increase!
    It was not diminished when Maurice the mustanger came riding back across the plain, with the wild mare between his legs, no more wild, no longer desiring to destroy him, but with lowered crest and mien submissive, acknowledging to the entire world that she had found her master!
    Without acknowledging it to the world, or even to her, the young Creole was inspired with a similar reflection.
    "Miss Poindexter!" said the mustanger, gliding to the ground, and without making any acknowledgment to the plaudits that were showered upon him "may I ask you to step up to her, throw this lasso over her neck, and lead her to the stable? By so doing, she will regard you as her tamer and ever after submit to your will, if you but exhibit the sign that first deprived her of her liberty."
    A prude would have paltered with the proposal a coquette would have declined it a timid girl have shrunk back.
    Not so Louise Poindexter a descendant of one of the f ille s- a- la - casette. Without a moment's hesitation, without the slightest show of prudery, or fear she stepped forth from the aristocratic circle as instructed, took hold of the horsehair rope whisked it across the neck of the tamed mustang and led the captive off towards the caballeriza of Casa del Corvo.
    As she did so, the mustanger's words were ringing in her ears, and echoing through her heart with a strange foreboding weird signification.
    " She will regard you as her tamer and ever after submit to your will, if you but exhibit the sign that first deprived her of her liberty "
    
13. A PRAIRIE PICNIC.
    
    The first rays from a rosy aurora, saluting the flag of Fort Inge, fell with a more subdued light upon an assemblage of objects occupying the parade ground below in front of the "officers' quarters."
    A small sumpter-wagon stood in the centre of the group having attached to it a double span of tight little Mexican mules, whose quick impatient "stomping," tails spitefully whisked, and ears at intervals turning awry, told that they had been for some time in harness, and were impatient to move off warning the bystanders, as well, against a too close approximation to their heels.
    Literally speaking, there were no bystanders, if we except a man of colossal size, in blanket coat, and slouch felt hat who, despite the obscure light straggling around his shoulders, could be identified as Zeb Stump, the hunter.
    He was not standing either, but seated astride his "olc maar," that showed less anxiety to be off than either the Mexican mules or her own master.
    The other forms around the vehicle were all in motion quick, hurried, occasionally confused hither and thither, from the wagon to the door of the quarters, and back again from the house to the vehicle.
    There were half a score of them, or thereabouts varied in costume as in the color of their skins. Most were soldiers, in fatigue dress, though of different arms of the service. Two would be taken to be mess-cooks and two or three more, officers' servants, who had been detailed from the ranks.
    A more legitimate specimen of this profession, appeared in the person of a well dressed darkie, who moved about the ground in a very authoritative manner deriving his importance, from his office of valet de tout to the major in command of the cantonment. A sergeant, as shown by his three barred cheveron, was in charge of the mixed party, directing their movements the object of which was to load the wagon with eatables and drinkables in short, the paraphernalia of a picnic.
    That it was intended to be upon a grand scale, was testified by the amplitude and variety of the impedimenta. There were hampers and baskets of all shapes and sizes, including the well known parallelopipedon, enclosing its twelve necks of shining silver lead while the tin canisters, painted Spanish brown, along with the universal sardine case, proclaimed the presence of many luxuries not indigenous to Texas.
    However delicate and extensive the stock of provisions, there was one in the party of purveyors who did not appear to think it complete. The dissatisfied Lucullus was Zeb Stump.
    "Lookee hyur, surgint," said he, addressing himself confidentially to the individual in charge, "I haint seed neery smell o' corn put inter the veehicle as yit an', I reck'n, thet out on the purayra, thur'll be some folks ud prefar a leetle corn to any o' thet theer furrin French stuff. Sham-pain, ye call it, I b'lieve."
    "Prefer corn to champagne! The horses you mean?"
    "Hosses be durned. I ain't talkin' 'bout hoss corn. I mean M'nongaheela."
    "Oh ah I comprehend. You're right about that, Mr. Stump. The whisky mustn't be forgotten, Pomp. I think I saw a jar inside, that's intended to go?"
    "Yaw yaw, sagint," responded the dark skinned domestic; "dar am dat same wesicle. Hya it is!" he added, lugging a large jar into the light, and swinging it up into the wagon.
    Old Zeb appearing to think the packing now complete, showed signs of impatience to be off.
    "Ain't ye riddy, surgint?" he inquired, shifting restlessly in his stirrups.
    "Not quite, Mr. Stump. The cook tells me the chickens want another turn upon the spit, before we can take 'em along."
    "Durn the chickens an' the cook too! What air any dunghill fowl to compare wi' a wild turkey o' the purayra an' how im I to shoot one, ai'ter the sun hev clomb ten mile up the sky? The major sayed I war to git him a gobbler, whativer shed happen. 'Tain't so dumation easy to loll turkey gobbler arter sun up, wi' a clamjamferry like this comin' clost upon a fellur's heels? Ye musn't surpose, surgint, that thet ere bird air as big a fool as the sodger o' a fort. Of all the cunnin' critters, as ferquents these hyur purayras, a turkey air the cunninest an' to git helf way roun' one o' 'em, ye must be up along wi' the sun and preehap a leetle urlier."
    "True, Mr. Stump. I know the major wants a wild turkey. He told me so and expects you to procure one on the way."
    "No doubt he do an' preehap expex me likeways to purvide him wi' a bufner's tongue, an' hump seein' as thur ain't sech a anymal on the purayras o' South Texas nor hain't a been for good twenty yurs past noterthstandin' what European writers o' books hev said to the contrary, an' 'specially French 'uns, as I've heern. Thur ain't no buffler 'bout hyur. Thur's baar, an' deer, an' goats, an' plenty o' gobblers but to hev one o' these critters for yur dinner, ye must git it urly enuf for yur break fist. Unless I hev my own time, I won't promise to guide yur party, an' git gobbler both. So, surgint, ef ye expex yur grand kumpny to chaw turkey meat this day, yell do well to be makin' tracks for the purayra."
    Stirred by the hunter's representation, the sergeant did all that was possible to hasten the departure of himself and his parti-colored company and, shortly after, the provision train, with Zeb Stump as its guide, was wending its way across the extensive plain that lies between the Leona and the "River of Nuts."
    The parade ground had been cleared of the wagon and its escort scarce twenty minutes, when a party of somewhat different appearance commenced assembling upon the same spot.
    There were ladies on horseback attended, not by grooms, as at the "meet" in an English hunting-field, but by the gentlemen who were to accompany them their friends and acquaintances, fathers, brothers, lovers, and husbands. Most, if not all, who had figured at Poindexter's dinner party, were soon upon the ground.
    The planter himself was present, as also his son Henry, his nephew Cassius Calhoun, and his daughter Louise the young lady mounted upon the spotted mustang, that had figured so conspicuously on the occasion of the entertainment at Casa del Corvo.
    The affair was a reciprocal treat, a simple return of hospitality the major and his officers being the hosts, the planter and his friends the invited guests. The entertainment about to be provided, if less pretentious in luxurious appointments, was equally appropriate to the time and place. The guests of the cantonment were to be gratified by witnessing a spectacle grand as rare a chase of wild steeds!
    The arena of the sport could only be upon the wild horse prairies some twenty miles to the southward of Fort Inge. Hence the necessity for an early start, and being preceded by a vehicle laden with an ample commissariat.
    Just as the sunbeams began to dance upon the crystal waters of the Leona, the excursionists were ready to take their departure from the parade ground, with an escort of two score dragoons that had been ordered to ride in the rear. Like the party that preceded them, they too were provided with a guide not an old backwoodsman in battered felt hat, and faded blanket coat, astride a scraggy roadster but a horseman completely costumed and equipped, mounted upon a splendid steed, in every way worthy to be the chaperone of such a distinguished expedition.
    "Come, Maurice!" cried the major, on seeing that all had assembled, "we're ready to be conducted to the game. Ladies and gentlemen! This young fellow is thoroughly acquainted with the haunts and habits of the wild horses. If there's a man in Texas, who can show us how to hunt them, 'tis Maurice the mustanger."
    "Faith, you flatter me, major!" rejoined the young Irishman, turning with a courteous air towards the company "I have not said so much as that. I can only promise to show you where you may find them."
    "Modest fellow!" soliloquized one, who trembled, as she gave thought to what she more than half suspected to be an untruth.
    "Lead on, then!" commanded the major and, at the word, the gay cavalcade, with the mustanger in the lead, commenced moving across the parade ground while the star spangled banner, unfurled by the morning breeze, fluttered upon its staff as if waving them an elegant adieu!
    A twenty mile ride upon prairie turf is a mere bagatelle before breakfast, an airing. In Texas it is so regarded by man, woman, and horse.
    It was accomplished in less than three hours without further inconvenience than that which arose from performing the last few miles of it with appetites uncomfortably keen.
    Fortunately the provision wagon, passed upon the road, came close upon their heels and, long before the sun had attained the meridian line, the excursionists were in full picnic under the shade of a gigantic pecan tree, that stood near the banks of the Nueces.
    No incident had occurred on the way worth recording. The mustanger, as guide, had ridden habitually in the advance of the company, with one or two exceptions, thinking of him only in his official capacity, unless when startled by some feat of horsemanship such as leaping clear over a prairie stream, or dry arroyo, which others were fain to ford, or cross by the crooked path.
    There may have been a suspicion of bravado in this behavior, a desire to exhibit. Cassius Calhoun told the company there was. Perhaps the ex-captain spoke the truth for once.
    If so, there was also some excuse. Have you ever been in a hunting field, at home, with riding habits trailing the sward, and plumed hats proudly nodding around you? You have and then what? Be cautious how you condemn the Texan mustanger. Reflect, that he, too, was under the artillery of bright eyes, a score pair of them, some as bright as overlooked love out of a lady's saddle. Think, that Louise Poindexter's were among the number; think of that, and you will scarce feel surprised at the ambition to "shine."
    There were others equally demonstrative of personal accomplishments of prowess that might prove manhood. The young dragoon, Hancock, frequently essayed to show that he was not new to the saddle and the lieutenant of mounted rifles, at intervals, strayed from the side of the commissary's niece, for the performance of some equestrian feat, without looking exclusively to her, his reputed sweetheart, as he listened to the whisperings of applause.
    Ah, daughter of Poindexter! Whether in the s alon s of civilized Louisiana, or the prairies of savage Texas, peace could not reign in thy presence! Go where thou wilt, romantic thoughts must spring up, wild passions be engendered around thee!
    
14. THE MANADA.
    
    Had their guide held the prairies in complete control its denizens subject to his secret will responsible to time and place he could not have conducted the excursionists to a spot more likely to furnish the sport that had summoned them forth.
    Just as the sparkling Johannisberger, obtained from the German wine stores of San Antonio had imparted a brighter blue to the sky, and a more vivid green to the grass, the cry "Musteños!" was heard above the hum of conversation, interrupting the half spoken sentiment, with the peal of merry laughter. It came from a Mexican vaquero, who had been stationed as a vidette on an eminence near at hand.
    Maurice at the moment partaking of the hospitality of his employers, freely extended to him suddenly quaffed off the cup and springing to his saddle, cried out:
    " C av a ll ada ? "
    "No," answered the Mexican " manada "
    "What do the fellows mean by their gibberish?" inquired Captain Calhoun.
    " Musteños is only the Mexican for mustangs," replied the major "and by 'manada' he means they are wild mares, a drove of them. At this season they herd together, and keep apart from the horses unless when…"
    "When what?" impatiently asked the ex-officer of volunteers, interrupting the explanation.
    "When they are attacked by asses," innocently answered the major.
    A general peal of laughter, rendered doubtful the naiveté of the major's response, imparting to it the suspicion of a personality not intended.
    For a moment Calhoun writhed under the awkward misconception of the auditory, but only for a moment. He was not the man to succumb to an unlucky accident of speech. On the contrary, he perceived the chance of a triumphant reply and took advantage of it.
    "Indeed!" he drawled out, without appearing to address himself to any one in particular. "I was not aware that donkeys were so dangerous in these parts."
    As Calhoun said this, he was not looking at Louise Poindexter or he might have detected in her eyes a glance to gratify him.
    The young Creole, despite an apparent coolness towards him, could not withhold admiration at anything that showed cleverness. His case might not be so hopeless?
    The young dragoon, Hancock, did not think it so; nor yet the lieutenant of rifles. Both observed the approving look, and both became imbued with the belief that Cassius Calhoun had or might have in his keeping, the happiness of his cousin.
    The conjecture gave a secret chagrin to both, but especially to the dragoon.
    There was but short time for him to reflect upon it the manada was drawing near.
    "To the saddle!" was the thought upon every mind, and the cry upon every tongue.
    The bit was rudely inserted between teeth still industriously grinding the yellow corn, the bridle drawn over shoulders yet smoking after the quick scurry of twenty miles through the close atmosphere of a tropical morn and, before a hundred could have been deliberately counted, every one, ladies and gentlemen alike, was in the stirrup, ready to ply whip and spur.
    By this time the wild mares appeared coming over the crest of the ridge, upon which the vidette had been stationed. He, himself a horse catcher by trade, was already mounted, and in their midst endeavoring to fling his lasso over one of the herd. They were going at mad gallop, as if fleeing from a pursuer some dreaded creature that was causing them to "whigher" and snort! With their eyes strained to the rear, they saw neither the sumpter wagon, nor the equestrians clustering around it, but were continuing onward to the spot which chanced to lie directly in the line of their flight.
    "They are chased!" remarked Maurice, observing the excited action of the animals.
    "What is it, Crespino?" he cried out to the Mexican, who, from his position, must have seen any pursuer that might be after them.
    There was a momentary pause, as the party awaited the response. In the crowd were countenances that betrayed uneasiness, some even alarm. It might be Indians who were in pursuit of the mustangs!
    " U n asino c i m m aron! " was the phrase that came from the mouth of the Mexican, though by no means terminating the suspense of the picnickers. " U n macho ! " he added.
    "Oh! That's it! I thought it was!" muttered Maurice "The rascal must be stopped, or he'll spoil our sport. So long as he's after them, they'll not make halt this side the sky line. Is the macho coming on?"
    "Close at hand, Don Mauricio. Fling your rope over him, if you can. If not, cripple him with a shot anything to put an end to his capers."
    The character of the pursuer was still a mystery to most, if not all, upon the ground for only the mustanger knew the exact signification of the phrases "un asino cimmaron," "un macho."
    "Explain, Maurice!" commanded the major.
    "Look yonder!" replied the young Irishman, pointing to the top of the hill.
    The two words were sufficient. All eyes became directed towards the crest of the ridge, where an animal, usually regarded as the type of slowness and stupidity, was seen advancing with the swiftness of a bird upon the wing.
    But very different is the "asino cimmaron" from the ass of civilization, the donkey becudgelled into stolidity.
    The one now in sight was a male, almost as large as any of the mustangs it was chasing and if not fleet as the fleetest, still able to keep up with them by the sheer pertinacity of its pursuit!
    The tableau of nature, thus presented on the green surface of the prairie, was as promptly produced as it could have been upon the stage of a theatre, or the arena of a hippodrome.
    Scarce a score of words had passed among the spectators, before the wild mares were close up to them and then, as if for the first time, perceiving the mounted party, they seemed to forget their dreaded pursuer, and shied off in a slanting direction.
    "Ladies and gentlemen!" shouted the guide to a score of people, endeavoring to restrain their steeds "keep your places, if you can. I know where the herd has its haunt. They are heading towards it now and we shall find them again, with a better chance of a chase. If you pursue them at this moment, they'll scatter into yonder chapparal and ten to one if we evermore get sight of them.
    "Hola, Señor Crespino! Send your bullet through that brute. He's near enough for your escopette, is he not?"
    The Mexican, detaching a short gun, "escopeta", from his saddle flap, and hastily bringing its butt to his shoulder, fired at the wild ass.
    The animal brayed on hearing the report, but only as if in defiance. He was evidently untouched. Crespino's bullet had not been truly aimed.
    "I must stop him!" exclaimed Maurice, "or the mares will run on till the end of daylight."
    As the mustanger spoke, he struck the spur sharply into the flanks of his horse. Like an arrow projected from its bow, Castro shot off in pursuit of the jackass, now galloping regard-lessly past.
    Half a dozen springs of the blood bay, guided in a diagonal direction, brought his rider within casting distance and like a flash of lightning; the loop of the lasso was seen descending over the long ears.
    On launching it, the mustanger halted, and made a half wheel the horse going round as upon a pivot and with like mechanical obedience to the will of his rider, bracing himself for the expected pluck.
    There was a short interval of intense expectation, as the wild ass, careering onward, took up the slack of the rope. Then the animal was seen to rise erect on its hind legs, and fall heavily backward upon the sward where it lay motionless, and apparently as dead, as if shot through the heart!
    It was only stunned, however, by the shock, and the quick tightening of the loop causing temporary strangulation, which the Mexican mustanger prolonged to eternity, by drawing his sharp edged machete across its throat.
    The incident caused a postponement of the chase. All awaited the action of the guide who, after "throwing" the macho, had dismounted to recover his lasso.
    He had succeeded in releasing the rope from the neck of the prostrate animal, when he was seen to coil it up with a quickness that betokened some new cause of excitement at the same time that he ran to regain his saddle.
    Only a few of the others most being folly occupied with their own excited steeds observed this show of haste on the part of the mustanger. Those who did, saw it with surprise. He had counseled patience in the pursuit. They could perceive no cause for the eccentric change of tactics, unless it was that Louise Poindexter, mounted on the spotted mustang, had suddenly separated from the company, and was galloping off after the wild mares, as if resolved on being foremost of the field!
    But the hunter of wild horses had not construed her conduct in this sense. That uncourteous start, could scarce be an intention except on the part of the spotted mustang? Maurice had recognized the manada, as the same from which he had himself captured it and, no doubt, with the design of rejoining its old associates, it was running away with its rider!
    So believed the guide and the belief became instantly universal.
    Stirred by gallantry, half the field spurred off in pursuit: Calhoun, Hancock, and Crossman leading, with half a score of young planters, lawyers, and legislators close following each as he rode off reflecting to himself, what a bit of luck it would be to bring up the runaway.
    But few, if any, of the gentlemen felt actual alarm. All knew that Louise Poindexter was a splendid equestrian, a spacious plain lay before her, smooth as a racetrack the mustang might gallop till it tired itself down, it could not throw her, and there could be little chance of her receiving any serious injury?
    There was one who did not entertain this confident view. It was he who had been the first to show anxiety the mustanger himself.
    He was the last to leave the ground. Delayed in the rearrangement of his lasso, a moment more in remounting, he was a hundred paces behind every competitor, as his horse sprang forward upon the pursuit.
    Calhoun was a like distance in the lead, pressing on with all the desperate energy of his nature, and all the speed he could extract from the heels of his horse. The dragoon and rifleman were a little in his rear and then came the "ruck."
    Maurice soon passed through the thick of the field, overlapped the leaders one by one and forging still further ahead, showed Cassius Calhoun the heels of his horse.
    A mattered curse was sent hissing through the teeth of the ex-officer of volunteers, as the blood bay, bounding past, concealed from his sight the receding form of the spotted mustang.
    The sun, looking down from the zenith, gave light to a singular tableau. A herd of wild mares going at reckless speed across the prairie, one of their own kind with a lady upon its back, following about four hundred yards behind at a like distance after the lady, a steed of red bay color, bestridden by a cavalier picturesquely attired, and apparently intent upon overtaking her, still further to the rear a string of mounted men some in civil, some in military, garb behind these a troop of dragoons going at full gallop, having just parted from a mixed group of ladies and gentlemen also mounted, but motionless, on the plain, or only stirring around the same spot with excited gesticulations!
    In twenty minutes the tableau was changed. The same personages were upon the stage, the grand tapis vert of the prairie, but the grouping was different, or, at all events, the groups were more widely apart. The manada had gained distance upon the spotted mustang, the mustang upon the blood-bay and the blood-bay ah! His competitors were no longer in sight, or could only have been seen by the far piercing eye of the caracara, soaring high in the sapphire heavens.
    The wild mares the mustang and its rider the red horse, and his had the savanna to themselves!
15. THE RUNAWAY OVERTAKEN.
    For another mile the chase continued, without much change.
    The mares still swept on in full flight, though no longer screaming, or in fear. The mustang still uttered an occasional neigh, which its old associates seemed not to notice, while its rider held her seat in the saddle unshaken, and without any apparent alarm.
    The blood-bay appeared more excited, though not so much as his master who was beginning to show signs either of despondency or chagrin.
    "Come, Castro!" he exclaimed, with a certain spitefulness of tone. "What the deuce is the matter with your heels to day of all others? Remember, you overtook her before though not so easily, I admit. But now she's weighted. Look yonder, you dull brute! Weighted with that which is worth more than gold, worth every drop of your blood, and mine too. The yegua pinta seems to have improved her paces. Is it from training or does a horse run faster when ridden?
    "What if I lose sight of her? In truth, it begins to look queer! It would be an awkward situation for the young lady. Worse than that there's danger in it real danger. If I should lose sight of her, she'd be in trouble to a certainty!"
    Thus muttering, Maurice rode on his eyes now fixed upon the form still flitting away before him at intervals interrogating, with uneasy glances, the space that separated him from it.
    Up to this time he had not thought of hailing the rider of the runaway.
    His shouts might have been heard, but no words of warning, or instruction. He had refrained partly on this account partly because he was in momentary expectation of overtaking her and partly because he knew that acts, not words, were wanted to bring the mustang to a stand.
    All along he had been flattering himself that he would soon be near enough to fling his lasso over the creature's neck, and control it at discretion. He was gradually becoming relieved of this hallucination.
    The chase now entered among copses that thickly studded the plain, fast closing into a continuous chapparal. This was a new source of uneasiness to the pursuer. The runaway might take to the thicket, or become lost to his view amid the windings of the wood.
    The wild mares were already invisible at intervals. They would soon be out of sight altogether. There seemed no chance of their old associate overtaking them.
    What mattered that? A lady lost on a prairie, or in a chapparal alone, or in the midst of a manada either contingency pointed to certain danger.
    A still more startling peril suggested itself to the mind of the mustanger so startling as to find expression in excited speech.
    "By heavens!" he ejaculated, his brow becoming more clouded than it had been from his first entering upon the chase. " If the stallions should chance this way! 'Tis their favorite stamping ground, among these motes. They were hero but a week' ago and this yes 'tis the month of their madness!"
    The spur of the mustanger again drew blood, till its rowels were red and Castro, galloping at his utmost speed, glanced back upbraidingly over his shoulder.
    At this crisis the manada disappeared from the sight, both of the blood-bay and his master and most probably at the same time from that of the spotted mustang and its rider. There was nothing mysterious in it. The mares had entered between the closing of two copses, where the shrubbery hid them from view.
    The effect produced upon the runaway appeared to proceed from some magical influence. As if their disappearance was a signal for discontinuing the chase, it suddenly slackened pace and the instant after came to a standstill!
    Maurice, continuing his gallop, came up with it in the middle of a meadow like glade standing motionless as marble its rider, reins in hand, sitting silent in the saddle, in an attitude of easy elegance, as if waiting for him to ride up!
    "Miss Poindexter!" he gasped out, as he spurred his steed within speaking distance, "I am glad that you have recovered command of that wild creature. I was beginning to be alarmed about."
    "About what, sir?" was the question that startled the mustanger.
    "Your safety of course," he replied, somewhat stammering.
    "Oh, thank you, Mr. Gerald but I was not aware of having been in any danger. Was I really so?"
    "Any danger!" echoed the Irishman, with increased astonishment. "On the back of a runaway mustang in the middle of a pathless prairie!"
    "And what of that? The thing couldn't throw me. I'm too clever in the saddle, sir."
    "I know it, madame but that accomplishment would have availed you very little, had you lost yourself, a thing you were like enough to have done among these chapparal copses, where the oldest Texan can scarce find his way."
    "Oh lost myself! That was the danger to be dreaded?"
    "There are others, besides. Suppose you had fallen in with…"
    "Indians!" interrupted the lady, without waiting for the mustanger to finish his hypothetical speech. "And if I had," what would it have mattered? Are not the Comanches en paz at present? Surely they wouldn't have molested me, gallant fellows as they are? So the major told us, as we came along. You my word, sir, I should seek, rather than shun, such an encounter. I wish to see the noble savage on his native prairie, and on horseback not, as I've hitherto beheld him, reeling around the settlements in a state of debasement from too freely partaking of our fire water."
    "I admire your courage, miss but if I had the honor of being one of your friends, I should take the liberty of counseling a little caution. The 'noble savage' you speak of is not always sober upon the prairies and perhaps not so very gallant, as you've been led to believe. If you had met him…"
    "If I had met him, and he had attempted to misbehave himself, I would have given him the go by, and ridden straight back to my friends. On such a swift creature as this, he must have been well mounted to have overtaken me. You found some difficulty did you not?"
    The eyes of the young Irishman, already showing astonishment, became expanded to increased dimensions surprise and incredulity being equally blended in their glance.
    "But," said he, after a speechless pause, "you don't mean to say that you could have controlled that the mustang was not running away with you? Am I to understand?"
    "No-no-no!" hastily rejoined the fair equestrian, showing some slight embarrassment. "The mare certainly made off with me that is, at the first, but I found, that is at the last I found I could easily pull her up. In fact I did so you saw it?"
    "And could you have done it sooner?"
    A strange thought had suggested the interrogatory and with more than ordinary interest the questioner awaited the reply.
    "Perhaps-perhaps! I might no doubt, if I had dragged a little harder upon the rein. But you see, sir, I like a good gallop especially upon a prairie, where there's no fear of running over pigs, poultry, or people."
    Maurice looked amaze. In all his experience even in his own native land, famed for feminine braverie above all in the way of bold riding he had met no match for the clever equestrian before him.
    His astonishment, mixed with admiration, hindered him from making a ready rejoinder.
    "To speak truth," continued the young lady, with an air of charming simplicity, "I was net sorry at being run off with. One sometimes gets tired of too much talk of the kind called complimentary. I wanted fresh air, and to be alone. So you see, Mr. Gerald, it was rather a bit of good fortune since it saved explanations and adieus."
    "You wanted to be alone?" responded the mustanger, with a disappointed look. "I am sorry I should have made the mistake to have intruded upon you. I assure you, Miss Poindexter; I followed, because I believed you to be in danger."
    "Most gallant of you, sir and now that I know there wa s danger, I am truly grateful. I presume I have guessed aright: you meant the Indians?"
    "No not Indians exactly at least, it was not of them I was thinking."
    "Some other danger? What is it, sir? You will tell me, so that I may be more cautious for the future?"
    Maurice did not make immediate answer. A sound striking upon his ear had caused him to turn away as if inattentive to the interrogatory.
    The Creole, perceiving there was some cause for his abstraction, likewise assumed a listening attitude. She heard a shrill scream, succeeded by another and another, close followed by a loud hammering of hoofs the conjunction of sounds causing the still atmosphere to vibrate around her.
    It was no mystery to the hunter of horses. The words that came quick from his lips though not designed were a direct answer to the question she had put.
    " The wild stallions ! " he exclaimed, in a tone that betokened alarm. "I knew they must be among those motes and they are!"
    "Is that the danger of which you have been speaking?"
    "It is."
    "What fear of them? They are only mustangs!"
    "True, and at other times there is no cause to fear them. But just now, at this season of the year, they become as savage as tigers, and equally as vindictive. Ah! The wild steed in his rage is an enemy more to be dreaded than wolf, panther, or bear."
    "What are we to do?" inquired the young lady, now, for the first time, giving proof that she felt fear by riding close up to the man who had once before rescued her from a situation of peril, and gazing anxiously in his face, as she awaited the answer.
    "If they should charge upon us," answered Maurice, "there are but two ways of escape. One, by ascending a tree, and abandoning our horses to their fury."
    "The other?" asked the Creole, with a sang froid that showed a presence of mind likely to stand the test of the most exciting crisis. "Anything but abandon our animals! 'Twould be but a shabby way of making our escape!"
    "We shall not have an opportunity of trying it. I perceive it is impracticable. There's not a tree within sight large enough to afford us security. If attacked, we have no alternative but to trust to the fleetness of our horses. Unfortunately," he continued, with a glance of inspection towards the spotted mare, and then at his own horse, "they've had too much work this morning. Both are badly blown. That will be our greatest source of danger. The wild steeds are sure to be fresh."
    "Do you intend us to start now?"
    "Not yet. The longer we can breathe our animals the better. The stallions may not come this way or if so, may not molest us. It'will depend on their mood at the moment. If battling among themselves, we may look out for their attack. Then they have lost their reason if I may so speak and will recklessly rush upon one of their own kind even with a man upon his back. Ha! 'tis as I expected they are in conflict. I can tell by their cries! And driving this way, too!"
    "But, Mr. Gerald why should we not ride off at once, in the opposite direction?"
    "That would be of no use. There's no cover to conceal us, on that side nothing but open plain. They'll be out upon it before we could get a sufficient start, and would soon overtake us. The place we must make for the only safe one I can think of lies the other way. They are now upon the direct path to it, if I can judge by what I hear and, if we start too soon, we may ride into their teeth. We must wait, and try to steal away behind them. If we succeed in getting past, and can keep our distance for a two mile gallop, I know a spot, where we shall be as safe as if inside the corrals of Casa del Corvo. You are sure you can control the mustang?"
    "Quite sure," was the prompt reply all idea of deception being abandoned in presence of the threatening peril.
16. CHASED BY WILD STALLIONS.
    The two sat expectant in their saddles, she apparently with more confidence than he, for she confided in him. Still, but imperfectly comprehending it, she knew there must be some great danger. When such a man showed signs of fear, it could not be otherwise. She had a secret happiness in thinking that a portion of this fear was for her own safety.
    "I think we may venture now" said her companion, after a short period spent in listening," they appear to have passed the opening by which we must make our retreat. Look well to your riding, I entreat you! Keep a firm seat in the saddle, and a sure hold of the rein. Gallop by my side, where the ground will admit of it, but in no case let more than the length of my horse's tail be between us. I must perforce go ahead to guide the way. Ha! They are coming direct for the glade. They're already close to its edge. Our time is up!"
    The profound stillness, that but a short while before pervaded the prairie, no longer reigned over it. In its stead had arisen a fracas, which resembled the outpouring of some overcrowded asylum, for in the shrill neighing of the steeds might have been fancied the screams of maniacs, only ten times more vociferous. They were mingled with a thunder like hammering of hoofs, a swishing and crashing of branches, savage snorts, accompanied by the sharp snapping of teeth, the dull "thud" of heels coming in contact with ribs and rounded hips squealing that betokened spite or pain all forming a combination of sounds that jarred harshly upon the ear, and caused the earth to quake, as if oscillating upon its orbit!
    It told of a terrible conflict, carried on by the wild stallions that, still unseen, were fighting indiscriminately among themselves, as they held their way among the motes.
    Not much longer unseen. As Maurice gave the signal to start, the speckled crowd showed itself in an opening between two copses. In a moment more it filled the gangway like gap, and commenced disgorging into the glade, with the impetus of an avalanche!
    It was composed of living forms, the most beautiful known in nature, for in this man must give way to the horse. Not the unsexed horse of civilization, with hunched shoulders, bandied limbs, and bowed frontlet scarce one in a thousand of true equine shape and this, still farther, mutilated by the shears of the coper and gentleman jockey, but the wild steed of the savannas, foaled upon the green grass, his form left free to develop as the flowers that shed their fragrance around him.
    Eye never beheld a more splendid sight than a cavallada of wild stallions, prancing upon a prairie especially at that season when, stirred by strong passions, they seek to destroy one another. The spectacle is more than splendid, it is fearful too fearful to be enjoyed by man, much less by a timid woman. Still more, when the spectator views it from an exposed position, liable to become the object of their attack.
    In such a situation were the riders of the blood-bay and spotted mustang. The former knew it, by past experience, the latter could not fail to perceive it by the evidence before her.
    "This way!" cried Maurice, lancing his horse's flanks with the spur, and bending so as to oblique to the rear of the cavallada.
    "By heaven they've discovered us! On-on! Miss Poindexter! Remember you are riding for your life!"
    The stimulus of speech was not needed. The behavior of the stallions was of itself sufficient to show, that speed alone could save the spotted mustang and its rider.
    On coming out into the open ground, and getting sight of the ridden horses, they had suddenly desisted from their internecine strife and, as if acting under the orders of some skilled leader, come to a halt. In line, too, like cavalry checked up in the middle of a charge!
    For a time, their mutual hostility seemed to be laid aside, as if they felt called upon to attack a common enemy, or resist some common danger!
    The pause may have proceeded from surprise but, whether or not, it was favorable to the fugitives. During the twenty seconds it continued, the latter had made good use of their time, and accomplished the circuit required to put them on the path of safety.
    Only on the path, however. Their escape was still problematical: for the steeds, perceiving their intention, wheeled suddenly into the line of pursuit, and went galloping after, with snorts and screams that betrayed a spiteful determination to overtake them.
    From that moment, it became a straight unchanging chase across country, a trial of speed between the horses without riders, and the horses that were ridden.
    At intervals did Maurice carry his chin to his shoulder and though still preserving the distance gained at the start, his look was not the less one of apprehension.
    Alone, he would have laughed to scorn his pursuers. He knew that the blood-bay, himself a prairie steed, could surpass any competitor of his race. But the mare was delaying him. She was galloping slower than he had ever seen her, as if unwilling, or not coveting escape like a horse, with his head turned away from home!
    "What can it mean?" muttered the mustanger, as he checked his pace, to accommodate it to that of his companion. "If there should be any baulk at the crossing, we're lost! A score of seconds will make the difference."
    "We keep our distance, don't we?" inquired his fellow fugitive, noticing his troubled look.
    "So far, yes. Unfortunately there's an obstruction ahead. It remains to be seen how we shall get over it. I know you are a clever rider, and can take a long leap. But your mount? I'm not so sure of the mare. You know her better than I. Do you think she can carry you over?"
    "Over what, sir?"
    "You'll see in a second. We should be near the place now."
    The conversation thus carried on was between two individuals riding side by side, and going at a gallop of nearly a mile to the minute!
    As the guide had predicted, they soon came within sight of the obstruction, which proved to be an arroyo a yawning fissure in the plain fall, fifteen feet in width, as many in depth, and trending on each side to the verge of vision.
    To turn aside, either to the right or left would be to give the pursuers the advantage of the diagonal, which the fugitives could no longer afford.
    The chasm must be crossed, or the stallions would overtake them.
    It could only be crossed by a leap, fifteen feet at the least. Maurice knew that his own horse could go over it; he had done it before. But the mare?
    "Do you think she can do it?" he eagerly asked, as, in slackened pace, they approached the edge of the barranca.
    "I am sure she can," was the confident reply.
    "But are you sure you can sit her over it?"
    "Ha! ha! ha!" scornfully laughed the Creole. "What a question for an Irishman to ask! I'm sure, sir, one of your own countrywomen would be offended at your speech. Even I, a native of swampy Louisiana, don't regard it as at all gallant. Sit her over it! Sit her anywhere she can carry me."
    " But, Miss Poindexter," stammered the guide, still doubting the powers of the spotted mustang," suppose she cannot? If you have any doubts, had you not better abandon her? I know that my horse can bear us both to the other side, and with safety. If the mustang be left behind, in all likelihood we shall escape further pursuit. The wild steeds"
    "Leave Luna behind? Leave her to be trampled to death, or torn to pieces as you say she would? No-no, Mr. Gerald. I prize the spotted mare too' much for that. She goes with me over the chasm, if we can. If not, we both break our necks at the bottom. Come, my pretty pet! This is he who chased, captured, and conquered you. Show him you're not yet so subdued, but that you can escape, when close pressed, from the toils of either friend or enemy. Show him one of those leaps, of which you've done a dozen within the week. Now for a flight in the air!"
    Without even waiting for the stimulus of example, the courageous Creole rode recklessly at the arroyo and cleared it by one of those leaps of which she had "done a dozen, within the week."
    There were three thoughts in the mind of the mustanger, rather might they be called emotions, as he sate watching that leap. The first was simple astonishment the second, intense admiration. The third was not so easily denned. It had its origin in the words " prize the spotted mare too much for that. "
    "Why?" reflected he, as he drove his spur rowels into the flanks of the blood-bay and the reflection lasted as long as Castro was suspended in mid air over the yawning abysm.
    Cleverly as the chasm was crossed, it did not ensure the safety of the fugitives. It would be no obstruction to the steeds. Maurice knew it, and looked back with undiminished apprehension.
    Rather was it increased. The delay, short as it was, had given the pursuers an advantage. They were nearer than ever! They would not be likely to make a moment's pause, but clear the crevasse at a single bound, of their sure footed gallop.
    And then-what then?
    The mustanger put the question to himself. He grew paler, as the reply puzzled him.
    On alighting from the leap, he had not paused for a second, but gone galloping on as before, close followed by his fugitive companion. His pace, however, was less impetuous. He seemed to ride with irresolution, or as if some half formed resolve was restraining him.
    When about a score lengths from the edge of the arroyo, he reined up and wheeled round as if he had suddenly formed the determination to ride back!
    "Miss Poindexter!" he called out to the young lady, at that moment just up with him. "You must ride on alone."
    "But why, sir?" asked she, as she jerked the muzzle of the mustang close up to its counter, bringing it almost instantaneously to a stand.
    "If we keep together we shall be overtaken. I must do something to stay those savage brutes. Here there is a chance nowhere else. For heaven's sake don't question me! Ten seconds of lost time, and 'twill be too late. Look ahead yonder. You perceive the sheen of water. 'Tis a prairie pond. Ride straight towards it. You will find yourself between two high fences. They come together at the pond. You'll see a gap, with bars. If I'm not up in time, gallop through, dismount, and put the bars up behind you."
    "And you, Sir? You are going to undergo some great danger?"
    "Have no fear for me! Alone, I shall run but little risk. 'Tis
    Mustang… For mercy's sake, gallop forward! Keep the water under your eyes. Let it guide you like a beacon fire. Remember to close the gap behind you. Away-away!"
    For a second or two the young lady appeared irresolute, as if reluctant to part company with the man who was making such efforts, to ensure her safety perhaps at the peril of his own.
    By good fortune she was not one of those timid maidens, who turn frantic at a crisis, and drag to the bottom the swimmer who would save them. She had faith in the capability of her counselor, believed that he knew what he was about and, once more spurring the mare into a gallop, she rode off in a direct line for the prairie pond.
    At the same instant, Maurice had given the rein to his horse, and was riding in the opposite direction back to the place where they had leaped the arroyo!
    On parting from his companion, he had drawn from his saddle holster the finest weapon ever wielded upon the prairies either for attack or defense, against Indian, buffalo, or bear. It was the six chambered revolver of Colonel Colt, not the spurious improvement of Deane, Adams, and a host of retrograde imitators but the genuine article from the "land of wooden nutmegs," with the Hartford brand upon its breech.
    "They must get over the narrow place where we crossed," muttered he, as he faced towards the stallions, still advancing on the other side of the arroyo.
    "If I can but fling one of them in his tracks, it may hinder the others from attempting the leap or delay them long enough for the mustang to make its escape. The big sorrel is leading. He will make the spring first. The pistol's good for a hundred paces. He's within range now!"
    Simultaneous with the last words came the crack of the six shooter. The largest of the stallions, a sorrel in color rolled headlong upon the sward his carcass falling transversely across the line that led to the leap.
    Half a dozen others, close following, were instantly brought to a stand and then the whole cavallada!
    The mustanger stayed not to note their movements. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by the fall of their leader, he reserved the fire of the other five chambers and, wheeling to the west, spurred on after the spotted mustang, now far on its way towards the glistening pond.
    Whether dismayed by the fall of their chief or whether it was that his dead body had hindered them from approaching the only place where the chasm could have been cleared at a leap, the stallions abandoned the pursuit and Maurice had the prairie to himself as he swept on after his fellow fugitive.
    He overtook her beyond the convergence of the fences on the shore of the pond. She had obeyed him in everything except as to the closing of the gap. He found it open the bars lying scattered over the ground. He found her still seated in the saddle, relieved from all apprehension for his safety, and only trembling with a gratitude that longed to find expression in speech.
    The peril was passed.
    
17. THE MUSTANG TRAP.
    
    No longer in dread of any danger, the young Creole looked interrogatively around her.
    There was a small lake in Texan phraseology, a "pond" with countless horse tracks visible along its shores, proving that the place was frequented by wild horses, their excessive number showing it to be a favorite watering place. There was a high rail fence constructed so as to enclose the pond, and a portion of the contiguous prairie, with two diverging wings, carried far across the plain, forming a funnel shaped approach to a gap which, when its bars were up, completed an enclosure that no horse could either enter or escape from.
    "What is it for?" inquired the lady, indicating the construction of split rails.
    "A mustang trap," said Maurice.
    "A mustang trap?"
    "A contrivance for catching wild horses. They stray between the wings which, as you perceive, are carried far out upon the plain. The water attracts them or they are driven towards it by a band of mustangers who follow, and force them on through the gap. Once within the corral, there is no trouble in taking them. They are then lassoed at leisure."
    "Poor things! Is it yours? You are a mustanger? You told us so?"
    "I am but I do not hunt the wild horse in this way. I prefer being alone, and rarely consort with men of my calling. Therefore I could not make use of this contrivance, which requires at least a score of drivers. My weapon, if I may dignify it by the name, is this the lasso."
    "You use it with great skill? I've heard that you do, besides having myself witnessed the proof."
    "It is complimentary of you to say so. But you are mistaken. There are men on these prairies 'to the manner born', Mexicans who regard, what you are pleased to call skill, as sheer clumsiness."
    "Are you sure, Mr. Gerald, that your modesty is not prompting you to overrate your rivals? I have been told the very opposite."
    "By whom?"
    "Your friend, Mr. Zebulon Stump."
    "Ha-ha! Old Zeb is but indifferent authority on the subject of the lasso."
    "I wish I could throw the lasso," said the young Creole. "They tell me 'tis not a lady like accomplishment. What matters so long as it is innocent, and gives one a gratification?"
    "Not lady like! Surely 'tis as much so as archery, or skating? I know a lady who is very expert at it."
    "An American lady?"
    "No, she's Mexican, and lives on the Rio Grande but sometimes comes across to the Leona, where she has relatives.
    "A young lady?"^
    "Yes. About your "own age, I should think, Miss Poindexter."
    "Size?"
    "Not so tall as you."
    "But much prettier, of course? The Mexican ladies, I've heard, in the matter of good looks, far surpass us plain Americanos. "
    "I think Creoles are not included in that category," was the reply, worthy of one whose lips had been in contact with the famed boulder of Blarney.
    "I wonder if I could ever learn to fling it?" pursued the young Creole, pretending not to have been affected by the complimentary remark. "Am I too old? I've been told that the Mexicans commence almost in childhood that that is why they attain to such wonderful skill?"
    "Not at all," replied Maurice, encouragingly. "It's possible, with a year or two's practice, to become a proficient lassoer. I, myself, have only been three years at it and…"
    He paused, perceiving he was about to commit himself to a little boasting.
    "And you are now the most skilled in all Texas?" said his companion, supplying the presumed finale of his speech.
    "No, no!" laughingly rejoined he. "That is but a mistaken belief on the part of Zeb Stump, who judges my skill by comparison, making use of his own as a standard."
    "Is it modesty?" reflected the Creole. "Or is this man mocking me? If I thought so, I should go mad!"
    "Perhaps you are anxious to get back to your party?" said Maurice, observing her abstracted air. "Your father may be alarmed by your long absence? Your brother your cousin"
    "Ah, true!" she hurriedly rejoined, in a tone that betrayed either pique, or compunction. "I was not thinking of that. Thanks, sir, for reminding me of my duty. Let us go back!"
    Again in the saddle, she gathered up her reins, and plied her tiny spur both acts being performed with an air of languid reluctance, as if she would have preferred lingering a little longer in the "mustang trap."
    Once more upon the prairie, Maurice conducted his protégée by the most direct route towards the spot where they had parted from the picnic party.
    Their backward way, led them across a peculiar tract of country, what in Texas is called a "weed prairie," an appellation bestowed by the early pioneers, who were not very choice in their titles.
    The Louisianian saw around her a vast garden of gay flowers, laid out in one grand parterre, whose borders were the blue circle of the horizon a garden designed, planted, nurtured, by the hand of Nature.
    The most plebeian spirit cannot pass through such a scene without receiving an impression calculated to refine it. I've known the illiterate trapper, habitually blind to the beautiful pause in the midst of his "weed prairie," with the flowers rising breast high around him, gaze for a while upon their gaudy corollas waving beyond the verge of his vision then continue his silent stride with a gentler feeling towards his fellow man, and a firmer faith in the grandeur of his God.
    " Pardieu ! 'tis very beautiful!" exclaimed the enthusiastic Creole, reining up as if by an involuntary instinct.
    "You admire these wild scenes, Miss Poindexter?"
    "Admire them? Something more, sir! I see around me all that is bright and beautiful in nature verdant turf, trees, flowers, all that we take such pains to plant or cultivate; and such, too, as we never succeed in equaling. There seems nothing wanting to make this picture complete 'tis a park perfect in everything!"
    "Except the mansion?"
    "That would spoil it for me. Give me the landscape where there is not a house in sight slate, chimney, or tile to interfere with the outlines of the trees. Under their shadow could I live; under their shadow let me…"
    The word: "love" uppermost in her thoughts, was upon the tip of her tongue.
    She dexterously restrained herself from pronouncing it, changing it to one of very different signification "die."
    It was cruel of the young Irishman not to tell her that she was speaking his own sentiments repeating them to the very echo. To this was the prairie indebted for his presence. But for a kindred inclination amounting almost to a passion he might never have ' been known as Maurice the mustanger.
    The romantic sentiment is not satisfied with a "sham." It will soon consume itself, unless supported by the consciousness of reality. The mustanger would have been humiliated by the thought, that he chased the wild horse as a mere pastime a pretext to keep him upon the prairies. At first, he might have condescended to make such an acknowledgment but he had of late become thoroughly imbued with the pride of the professional hunter.
    His reply might have appeared chillingly prosaic.
    "I fear, miss, you would soon tire of such a rude life no roof to shelter you no society no"
    "And you, sir how is it you have not grown tired of it? If I have been correctly informed your friend, Mr. Stump, is my authority you've been leading this life for several years. Is it so?"
    "Quite true I have no other calling."
    "Indeed! I wish I could say the same. I envy you your lot I'm sure I could enjoy existence amid these beautiful scenes for ever and ever!"
    "Alone? Without companions? Without even a roof to shelter you?"
    "I did not say that. But, you've not told me. How do you lire? Have you a house?"
    "It does not deserve such a high sounding appellation," laughingly replied the mustanger. "She would, more correctly serve for the description of my jacalé , which may be classed among the lowliest in the land."
    "Where is it? Anywhere near where we've been today?"
    "It is not very far from where we are now. A mile, perhaps. You see those tree tops to the west? They shade my hovel from the sun, and shelter it from the storm."
    "Indeed! How I should like to have a look at it! A real rude hut, you say?"
    "In that I have but spoken the truth."
    "Standing solitary?"
    "I know of no other within ten miles of it."
    "Among trees, and picturesque?"
    "That depends upon the eye that beholds it."
    "I should like to see it, and judge. Only a mile you say?"
    "A mile there the same to return would be two."
    "That's nothing. It would not take us a score of minutes."
    "Should we not be trespassing on the patience of your people?"
    "On your hospitality, perhaps? Excuse me, Mr. Gerald!" continued the young lady, a slight shadow suddenly overcastting her countenance. "I did not think of it. Perhaps you do not live alone ? Some other shares your jacalé as you call it?"
    "Oh, yes I have a companion one who has been with me since I…"
    The shadow became sensibly darker.
    Before the mustanger could finish his speech, his listener had pictured to herself a certain image, that might answer to the description of his companion, a girl of her own age perhaps more inclining to embonpoint , with a skin of chestnut brown eyes of almond shape, set piquantly oblique to the lines of the nose teeth, of more than pearly purity a tinge of crimson upon the cheeks, hair like Castro's tail, beads and bangles around neck, arms, and ankles a short kirtle elaborately embroidered moccasins covering small feet and fringed leggings, laced upon limbs of large development. Such were the style and equipments of the supposed companion, who had suddenly become outlined in the imagination of Louise Poindexter.
    "Your fellow tenant of the jacalé might not like being intruded upon by visitors, more especially a stranger?"
    "On the contrary, he's but too glad to see visitors at any time, whether strangers or acquaintances. My foster brother, is the last man to shun society of which, poor fellow! he sees precious little on the Alamo."
    "Your foster brother?"
    "Yes. Phelim O'Neal by name, like myself a native of the Emerald Isle, and shire of Galway, only perhaps speaking a little better brogue than mine."
    "Oh! The Irish brogue. I should so like to hear it spoken by a native of Galway. I am told that theirs is the richest. Is it so, Mr. Gerald?"
    "Being a Galwegian myself, my judgment might not be reliable, but if you will condescend to accept Phelim's hospitality for half an hour, he will, no doubt, give you an opportunity of judging for yourself."
    "I should be delighted. 'Tis something so new. Let papa and the rest of them wait. There are plenty of ladies without me, or the gentlemen may amuse themselves by tracing up our tracks. 'Twill be as good a horse hunt, as they are likely to have. Now, sir, I'm ready to accept your hospitality."
    "There's not much to offer you, I fear, Phelim has been several days by himself, and as he's but an indifferent hunter, his larder is likely to be low. 'Tis fortunate you had finished luncheon before the stampede. "
    It was not Phelim's larder that was leading Louise Poindexter out of her way, nor yet the desire to listen to his Connemara pronunciation. It was not curiosity to look at the jacalé of the mustanger, but a feeling of a far more irresistible kind, to which she was yielding, as if she believed it to be her fate!
    She paid a visit to the lone hut, on the Alamo she entered under its roof she scanned with seeming interest its singular penates and noted, with pleased surprise, the books, writing materials, and other chattels that betokened the refinement of its owner, she listened with apparent delight to the palthogue of the Connemara man, who called her a "coleen bawn;" she partook of Phelim's hospitality condescendingly tasting of everything offered, except that which was most urgently pressed upon her, "a dhrap of the crayther, drawn fresh from the dimmy jan" and finally made her departure from the spot, apparently in the highest spirits.
    Alas! Her delight was short lived, lasting only so long as it was sustained by the excitement of the novel adventure. As she re-crossed the flower prairie, she found time for making a variety of reflections and there was one that chilled her to the very core of her heart.
    Was it the thought that she had been acting wrongly, in keeping her father, her brother, and friends in suspense about her safety? Or had she become conscious of playing a part open to the suspicion of being unfeminine?
    Not either. The cloud that darkened her brow in the midst of that blossoming brightness was caused by a different, and far more distressing, reflection. During all that day, in the journey from the fort, after overtaking her in the chase, in the pursuit while protecting her, lingering by her side on the shore of the lake, returning across the prairie, under his own humble roof in short everywhere her companion had only been polite, had only behaved as a gentleman!
18. JEALOUSY UPON THE TRAIL.
    Of the two score rescuers, who had started in pursuit of the runaway, but few followed far. Having lost sight of the wild mares, the mustang, and the mustanger, they began to lose sight of one another and before long, became dispersed upon the prairie going single, in couples, or in groups of three and four together. Most of them, unused to tracking up a trail, soon strayed from that taken by the manada branching oft' upon others, made, perhaps, by the same drove upon some previous stampede.
    The dragoon escort, in charge of a young officer a fresh fledgling from West Point ran astray upon one of these ramifications, carrying the hindmost of the field along with it.
    It was a rolling prairie through which the pursuit was conducted, here and there intersected by straggling belts of brushwood. These, with the inequalities of the surface, soon hid the various pursuing parties from one another and in twenty minutes after the start, a bird looking from the heavens above, might have beheld half a hundred horsemen, distributed into half a score of groups apparently having started from a common centre spurring at full speed towards every quarter of the compass!
    But one was going in the right direction, a solitary individual, mounted upon a large strong limbed chestnut horse, that without any claim to elegance of shape, was proving the possession both of speed and bottom. The blue frock coat of half military cut, and forage cap of corresponding color, were distinctive articles of dress habitually worn by the ex-captain of volunteer cavalry Cassius Calhoun. He it was who directed the chestnut on the true trail while with whip and spur he was stimulating the animal to extraordinary efforts. He was himself stimulated by a thought, sharp as his own spurs, that caused him to concentrate all his energies upon the object in hand.
    Like a hungry hound he was laying his head along the trail, in hopes of an issue that might reward him for his exertions.
    What that issue was he had but vaguely conceived; but an occasional glance towards his holsters from which protruded the butts of a brace of pistols told of some sinister design that was shaping itself in his soul.
    But for a circumstance that assisted him, he might, like the others, have gone astray. He had the advantage of them, however, in being guided by two shoe tracks he had seen before. One, the larger, he recollected with a painful distinctness. He had seen it stamped upon a charred surface, amid the ashes of a burnt prairie. Yielding to an undefined instinct, he had made a note of it in his memory, and now remembered it.
    Thus directed, the ci devant captain arrived among the copses, and rode into the glade where the spotted mustang had been pulled up in such a mysterious manner. Hitherto his analysis had been easy enough. At this point it became conjecture. Among the hoof-prints of the wild mares, the shoe tracks were still seen, but no longer going at a gallop. The two animals thus distinguished must have been halted, and standing' in juxtaposition.
    Whither next? Along the trail of the manada, there was no imprint of iron, nor elsewhere! The surface on all sides was hard, and strewn with pebbles. A horse going in rude gallop, might have indented it but not one passing over it at a tranquil pace.
    And thus had the spotted mustang and blood-bay parted from that spot. They had gone at a walk for some score yards, before starting on their final gallop towards the mustang trap.
    The impatient pursuer was puzzled. He rode round and round, and along the trail of the wild mares, and back again, without discovering the direction that had been taken by either of the ridden horses.
    He was beginning to feel something more than surprise, when the sight of a solitary horseman advancing along the trail interrupted his uncomfortable conjectures.
    It was no stranger who was drawing near. The colossal figure, clad in coarse habiliments, bearded to the buttons of his blanket coat, and bestriding the most contemptible looking steed that could have been found within a hundred miles of the spot, was an old acquaintance. Cassius Calhoun knew Zebulon Stump, and Zeb Stump knew Cash Calhoun, long before either had set foot upon the prairies of Texas.
    "You hain't seed nuthin' o' the young lady, hev ye, Mister Calhoon?" inquired the hunter, as he rode up, with an unusual impressiveness of manner. "No, ye hain't," he continued, as if deducing his inference from the blank looks of the other.
    "Dog-gone my cats! I wonder what the hev becomed of her! Curious, too sech a rider as she air, ter let the durned goat o' a thing run away wi' her. Wal! thur's not much danger.to be reeprehended. The mustanger air putty sartin to throw his rope aroun' the critter, an' that 'll put an eend to its capers. Why hev ye stopped hyur?"
    " I'm puzzled about the direction they've taken. Their tracks show they have been halted here, but I can see the shod hoofe no farther."
    " Whoo! whoo! yur right, Mister Cashus! They her been halted hynr an' been clost thegither too. They hain't gone no further on the trail o' the wild maars. Sartin they hain't. Whar then?"
    The speaker scanned the surface of the plain with an interrogative glance as if there, and not from Cassius Calhoun, expecting an answer to his question.
    "I cannot see their tracks anywhere," replied the ex-captain.
    "No, kan't ye? I kin though. Lookee hyur! Don't ye see them thur bruises on the grass?"
    "No."
    "Durn it! thur plain es the nose on a Jew's face. Thur's a big shoe, an' a little un clost aside o' it. Thet's the way they've' rod off, which show that they hain't follered the wild maars no further than hyur. We'd better keep on arter them?"
    "By all means!"
    Without further parley, Zeb started along the new trail which, though still indiscernible to the eye of the other, was to him as conspicuous as he had figuratively declared it.
    In a little while it became visible to his companion on their arrival at the place where the fugitives had once more urged their horses into a gallop to escape from the cavallada, and where the shod tracks again deeply indented the turf.
    Shortly after their trail was again lost or would have been to a scrutiny less keen than that of Zeb Stump among the hundreds of other hoof-marks seen now upon the sward.
    "Hilloo!" exclaimed the old hunter, in some surprise at the new sign. "What's been a doin' hyur? This air some'at kewrious."
    "Only the tracks of the wild mares!" suggested Calhoun. "They appear to have made a circuit, and come round again?"
    "If they hev it's been arter the others rud past them. The chase must a changed sides, I reck'n."
    "What do you mean, Mr. Stump?"
    "That i'stead o' them gallupin' arter the maars, the maars hev been gallupin' arter them."
    "How can you tell that?"
    "Don't ye see that the shod tracks air kivered by them o' the maars? Maars no! By the 'turns! airthquake! them's not maar tracks. They air a inch bigger. Thur's been studs this way a hul cavayurd o' them. Geehosofat! I hope they hain't"
    "Haven't what?"
    "Gone arter Spotty. If they hev, then thur will be danger to Miss Peintdexter. Gome on!"
    Without waiting for a rejoinder, the hunter started off at a shambling trot, followed by Calhoun, who kept calling to hint for an explanation of his ambiguous words.
    Zeb did not deign to offer any excusing himself by a backward sweep of the hand, which seemed to say, "Do not bother me now I am busy."
    For a time he appeared absorbed in taking up the trail of the shod horses not so easily done, as it was in places entirely obliterated by the thick trampling of the stallions. He succeeded in making it out by piecemeal still going on at a trot.
    It was not till he had arrived within a hundred yards of the arroyo that the serious shadow disappeared from his face and, checking the pace of his mare, he vouchsafed the explanation once more demanded from him.
    "Oh! That was the danger," said Calhoun, on hearing the explanation. "How do you know they have escaped it?"
    "Look thur!"
    "A dead horse! Freshly killed, he appears? What does that prove?"
    "That the mowstanger hes killed him."
    "It frightened the others off, you think, and they followed no further?"
    "They follered no further, but it wa'n't adzackly thet es scared 'em off. Thur's the thing as kep them from follerin'. Ole Hickory, what a jump!"
    The speaker pointed to the arroyo, on the edge of which both riders had now arrived.
    "You don't suppose they leaped it?" said Calhoun. "Impossible."
    "Leaped it clur as the crack o' a rifle. Don't ye see thur toe marks, both on this side an' the t'other? An' Miss Peintdexter fust, too! By the jumpin' Geehosofat, what a gurl she air sure enuf! They must both a jumped afore the stellyun war shot else they kedn't a got at it. Thur's no other place whar a hoss ked go over. Geeroozalem! wa'n't it ounnin' o' the mowstanger to throw the stud in his tracks, jest in the very gap?"
    "You think that he and my cousin crossed here together?"
    "Not exactly thegither," explained Zeb, without suspecting the motive of the interrogatory. "As I've sayed, Spotty went fust. You see the critter's tracks yonner on t'other side?"
    "I do."
    "Wal don't ye see they air kivered wi' them o' the mow stanger's hoss?"
    "True-true."
    "As for the stellyuns, they hain't got over ne'er a one o' the hul cavayurd. I kin see how it hez been. The young fellur pulled up on t'other side, an' sent a bullet back inter this brute's karkidge. 'Twar jest like closin' the gap ahint him an' the pursooers, seein' it shet, guv up the chase, an' scampered off in a different direckshun. Thur's the way they her gone up the side o' the gully!"
    "They may have crossed at some other place, and continued the pursuit?"
    "If they dud, they'd hev ten mile to go, afore they ked git back hyur five up, an' five back agin. Not a bit o' that, Mister Calhoon. Ye needn't be uneezy 'bout Miss Lewaze bein' pnrsooed by them any farther. Arter the jump, she's rod off along wi' the mowstanger both on 'em as quiet as a kupple o' lambs. Thur wa'n't no danger then an' by this time, they oughter be Dog-goned well on torst rejeinin' the people as stayed by the purvision waggon."
    "Come on!" cried Calhoun, exhibiting as much impatience as when he believed his cousin to be in serious peril. "Come on, Mr. Stump! Let us get back as speedily as possible!"
    "Not so fast, if you pleeze," rejoined Zeb, permitting himself to slide leisurely out of his saddle, and then drawing his knife from his sheath. "I'll only want ye to wait for a matter o' ten minutes, or thereabout."
    "Wait! For what?" peevishly inquired Calhoun.
    "Till I kin strip the hide off o' this hyur Borrel. It appear to be a skin o' the fust qualerty an' oughter fetch a five dollar bill in the settlements. Five dollar bills ain't picked up every day on these hyur pnrayras."
    "Damn the skin!" angrily ejaculated the impatient Southerner. "Come on, an' leave it!"
    "Ain't a goin' to do anythin' o' the sort," coolly responded the hunter, as he drew the sharp edge of his blade along the belly of the prostrate steed. "You kin go on if ye like, Mister Calhoon but Zeb Stump don't start till he packs the hide o' this hyur stellyun on the kropper o' his old maar. Thet he don't."
    "Come, Zeb what's the use of talking about my going back by myself? You know I can't find my way?"
    "That air like enough. I didn't say ye ked."
    "Look here, you obstinate old case! Time's precious to me just at this minute. It 'll take you a full half hour to skin the horse."
    "Not twenty minutes."
    "Well, say twenty minutes. Now, twenty minutes are of more importance to me than a five dollar bill. You say that's the value of the skin? Leave it behind and I agree to make good the amount."
    "Wal that air darned gin'rous, I admit Dog-goned gin'rous. But I mussent except yur offer. It 'ud be a mean trick o' me mean enuf for a yeller bellied Mexican to take yur money for seen a sarvice as thet the more so es I ain't ao stranger to ye, an' myself a goin' the same road. On the t'other hand, I kan't afford to lose the five dollars' worth o' hoss hide, which ud be rotten as punk to say nuthin' o' it's bein, tored into skreeds by the buzzarts and coyoats afore I mout find a chance to kum this way agin."
    "'Tis very provoking! What am I to do?"
    "You air in a hurry? Wal I'm sorry to discommerdate ye. But stay! Thur's no reezun for yur waitin' on me. Thur's nuthin' to hinder ye from findin' yur way to the wagon. Te see that tree stannin' up agin the sky line the tall poplar yonner?"
    "I do."
    "Wal do you remember ever to hev seed' it afore? It air a queery lookw' plant, appearin' more like a church steeple than a tree."
    "Yes-yes!" said Calhoun. "Now you've pointed it out, I do remember it. We rode close past it while in pursuit of the wild mares?"
    "You dud that very thing. An' now, as ye know it, what air to hinder you from ridin' past it agin and follering the trail o' the maars back'ard? That ud bring ye to yur startin' peint where, ef I ain't out o' my reck'nin', ye'll find yur cousin, Miss Peintdexter, an' the hul o' yur party enjeying themselves wi' that 'ere French stuff, they call shampain. I hope they'll stick to it, and spare the Monongaheela, of which licker I shed like to hev a triflin' suck arter I git back myself."
    Calhoun had not waited for the wind up of this characteristic speech. On the instant after recognizing the tree, he had struck the spurs into the sides of his chestnut, and gone off at a gallop, leaving old Zeb at liberty to secure the coveted skin.
    "Geeroozalem!" ejaculated the hunter, glancing up, and noticing the quick unceremonious departure. "It don't take much o' a head piece to tell why he air in sech a durned hurry. I ain't myself much guv torst guessin', but if I ain't dog-goned mistaken it air a clar case o' jellacy on the trail!"
    Zeb Stump was not astray in his conjecture. It was jealousy that urged Cassius Calhoun to take that hasty departure black jealousy, that had first assumed shape in a kindred spot in the midst of a charred prairie that had been every day growing stronger from circumstances observed, and others imagined that was now intensified so as to have become his prevailing passion.
    The presentation and taming of the spotted mustang the acceptance of that gift, characteristic of the giver, and gratifying to the receiver, who had made no effort to conceal her gratification these, and other circumstances, acting upon the already excited fancy of Cassius Calhoun, had conducted him to the belief that in Maurice the mustanger he would find his most powerful rival.
    The inferior social position of the horse hunter should have hindered him from having such belief, or even a suspicion.
    Perhaps it might have done so, had he been less intimately acquainted with the character of Louise Poindexter. But, knowing her as he did associating with her from the hour of childhood thoroughly understanding her independence of spirit the braverie of her disposition, bordering upon very recklessness he could place no reliance on the mere idea of gentility. With most women this may be depended upon as a barrier, if not to m és a lli ance, at least to absolute imprudence but in the impure mind of Cassius Calhoun, while contemplating the probable conduct of his cousin, there was not even this feeble support to lean upon!
    Chafing at the occurrences of the day to him crookedly inauspicious he hurried back towards the spot where the picnic bad been held. The steeple like tree guided him back to the trail of the manada and beyond that there was no danger of straying. He had only to return along the path already trodden by him.
    He rode at a rapid pace, faster than was relished by his now tired steed, stimulated by bitter thoughts, which for more than an hour were his sole companions their bitterness more keenly felt in the tranquil solitude that surrounded him.
    He was but little consoled by a sight that promised other companionship that of two persons on horseback, riding in advance, and going in the same direction as himself, upon the same path. Though he saw but their backs and at a long distance ahead there was no mistaking the identity of either. They were the two individuals that had brought that bitterness upon his spirit.
    Like himself they were returning upon the trail of the wild mares which, when first seen, they had just struck, arriving upon it from a lateral path. Side by side their saddles almost chafing against each other to all appearance absorbed in a conversation of intense interest to both, they saw not the solitary horseman approaching them in a diagonal direction.
    Apparently less anxious than he, to rejoin the party of picnickers, they were advancing at a slow pace the lady a little inclining to the rear.
    Their proximity to one another their attitudes in the saddle their obvious inattention to outward objects the snail like pace at which they were proceeding these, along with one or two other slighter circumstances observed by Calhoun, combined to make an impression on his mind or rather to strengthen one already made that almost drove him mad.
    To gallop rapidly up, and rudely terminate the t è te à t è te. was but the natural instinct of the chivalric Southerner. In obedience to it he spitefully plied the spur and once more forced his jaded chestnut into an unwilling canter.
    In a few seconds, however, he slackened pace as if changing his determination. The sound of his horse's hoofs had not yet warned the others of his proximity though he was now less than two hundred yards behind them! He could hear the silvery tones of his cousin's voice bearing the better part of the conversation. How interesting it must be to both to have hindered them from perceiving his approach!
    If he could but overhear what they were saying?
    It seemed a most unpropitious place for playing eavesdropper and yet there might be a chance?
    The seeming interest of the dialogue to the individuals engaged in it gave promise of such opportunity. The turf of the savannah was soft as velvet. The hoof gliding slowly over it gave forth not the slightest sound.
    Calhoun was still too impatient to confine himself to a walk but his chestnut was accustomed to that gait, peculiar to the horse of the South Western States the "pace" and into this was he pressed.
    With hoofs horizontally striking the sward elevated scarce an inch above the ground he advanced swiftly and noiselessly so quick withal, that in a few seconds he was close upon the heels of the spotted mustang, and the red steed of the mustanger!
    He was then checked to a pace corresponding to theirs while his rider, leaning forward, listened with an eagerness that evinced some terrible determination. His attitude proclaimed him in the vein for vituperation of the rudest kind ready with ribald tongue or, if need be, with knife and pistol!
    His behavior depended on a contingency on what might be overheard.
    As chance, or fate, willed it, there was nothing. If the two equestrians were insensible to external sounds, their steeds were not so absorbed. In a walk the chestnut stepped heavily the more so from being fatigued. His footfall proclaimed his proximity to the sharp ears, both of the blood-bay and spotted mustang that simultaneously flung up their heads, neighing as they did so.
    Calhoun was discovered.
    "Ha! cousin Cash!" cried the lady, betraying more of pique than surprise "you there? Where's father, and Harry, and the rest of the people?"
    "Why do you ask that, Loo? I reckon you know as well as I."
    "What! Haven't you come out to meet us? And they too ah! Your chestnut is all in a sweat! He looks as if you had been riding a long race like us?"
    "Of course he has. I followed you from the first in hopes of being of some service to you."
    "Indeed! I did not know that you were after us. Thank you, cousin! I've just been saying thanks to this gallant gentleman, who also came after, and has been good enough to rescue both Luna and myself from a very unpleasant dilemma, a dreadful danger I should rather call it. Do you know that we've been chased by a drove of wild steeds, and had actually to ride for our lives?"
    "I'am aware of it."
    "You saw the chase then?"
    "No. I only knew it by the tracks."
    "The tracks! And were you able to tell by that?"
    "Yes, thanks to the interpretation of Zeb Stump."
    "Oh! He was with you? But did you follow them to follow far did you follow them?"
    " To a crevasse in the prairie. You leaped over it, Zeb said. Did you?"
    " Luna did."
    " With you on her back?"
    " I wa s n 't anywhere else! What a question, cousin Cash! Where would you expect me to have been? Clinging to her tail? Ha! ha! ha!"
    " Did you leap it?" inquired the laugher, suddenly changing tone. "Did you follow us any further?"
    "No, Loo. From the crevasse I came direct here, thinking you had got back before me. That's how I've chanced to come up with you."
    The answer appeared to give satisfaction.
    " Ah! I'm glad you've overtaken us. We've been riding slowly. Luna is so tired. Poor thing! I don't know how I shall ever get her back to the Leona."
    Since the moment of being joined by Calhoun, the mustanger had not spoken a word. However pleasant may have been his previous intercourse with the young Creole, he had relinquished it, without any apparent reluctance and was now riding silently in the advance, as if by tacit understanding he had returned to the performance of the part for which he had been originally engaged.
    For all that, the eyes of the ex-captain was bent blightingly upon him at times, in a demoniac glare when he saw or fancied that another eye was turned admiringly in the same direction.
    A long journey, performed by that trio of travelers might have led to a tragically termination. Such finale was prevented by the appearance of the picnickers who soon after surrounded the returned runaway, drowning every other thought in the chorus of their congratulations.
    
19. WHISKY AND WATER.
    
    In the embryo city springing up under the protection of Fort Inge, the "hotel" was the most conspicuous building. This is but the normal condition of every Texan town, whether new or founded forty years ago and none are older, except the sparse cities of Hispano-Mexican origin where the presidio and convent took precedence, now surpassed by, and in some instances transformed into, the "tavern."
    The Fort Inge establishment, though the largest building in the place, was, nevertheless, neither very grand nor imposing. Its exterior had but little pretence, to architectural style. It was a structure of hewn logs, having for ground plan the letter T according to the grotesque alphabet, the shank being used for eating and sleeping rooms, while the head was a single apartment, entirely devoted to drinking, smoking and expectorating included. This last was the bar-room, or "saloon."
    The sign outside, swinging from the trunk of a post-oak, that had been pollarded some ten feet above the ground, exhibited on both sides the likeness of a well known military celebrity, the hero of that quarter of the globe, General Zachariah Taylor. It did not need looking at the lettering beneath, to ascertain the name of the hotel. Under the patronage of such a portrait, it could only be called " Rough and R e ady. "
    There was a touch of the apropos about this designation. Outside things appeared rough enough, while inside, especially if you entered by the "saloon," there was a readiness to meet you halfway, with a mint julep, a sherry cobbler, a gin sling, or any other mixed drink known to trans-Mississippian tipplers, provided always that you were ready with the picayunes to pay for them.
    The saloon in question would not call for description, had you ever traveled in the Southern or South Western, States of America. If so, no Lethean draught could ever efface from your memory, the "bar-room" of the hotel or tavern , in which you have had the unhappiness to sojourn. The counter extending longitudinally by the side, the shelved wall behind, with its rows of decanters and bottles, containing liquors, of not only all the colours of the rainbow, but every possible combination of them the elegant young fellow, standing or sidling between counter and shelves, ycleped "clerk", don't call him a "barkeeper," or you may get a decanter in your teeth, this elegant young gentleman, in blouse of blue cottonad e , or white linen coat, or maybe in his shirt sleeves the latter of finest linen and lace ruffled, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty this elegant young gentleman, who, in mixing you a sherry cobbler, can look you straight in the face, talk to you the politics of the day, while the ice, and the wine, and the water, are passing from glass to glass, like an iris sparkling behind his shoulders, or an aureole surrounding his perfumed head! Traveller through the Southern States of America! you cannot fail to remember him.
    If so, my words will recall him, along with his surroundings, the saloon in which he is the presiding administrator, with its shelves and colored decanters, its counter, its floor sprinkled with white sand, at times littered with cigar stumps, and the brown asterisks produced by expectoration , its odour of musk, absinthe, and lemon peel, in which seem to luxuriate the black fly, the blue bottle, and the sharp tongued mosquito. All these must be sharply outlined on the retina of your memory.
    The hotel, or tavern, "Rough and Ready," though differing very little from other Texan houses of entertainment, had some points in particular. Its proprietor, instead of being a speculative Yankee, was a German in this part of the world, as elsewhere, found to be the best purveyors of food. He kept his own bar, so that on entering the saloon, instead of the elegant young gentleman with ruffled shirt and odorous chevelure, your "liquor'' was mixed for you by a staid Teuton, who looked as sober as if he never tasted, notwithstanding the temptation of wholesale price, the delicious drinks, served out to his customers. Oberdoffer was the name he had imported with him, from his Fatherland, transformed by his Texan customers into "Old Duffer."
    There was one other peculiarity about the bar-room of the "Rough and Ready," though it scarce deserved to be so designated, since it was not uncommon elsewhere. As already stated, the building was shaped like a capital T; the saloon representing the head of the letter. The counter, extended along one side, that contiguous to the shank while at each end was a door that opened outward, into the public square of the incipient city.
    This arrangement had been designed to promote the circulation of the air, a matter of primary importance in an atmosphere, where the thermometer for half the year, stands at 90°F in the shade.
    The hotels of Texas or the South Western States, I may say every part of the American Union, serve the double purpose of exchange and club house. Indeed, it is owing to the cheap accommodation thus afforded often of the most convenient kind, that the latter can scarce be said to exist.
    Even in the larger cities of the Atlantic States, the "club" is by no means a necessity. The moderate charges of the hotels, along with their excellent cuis ine and elegant accommodations, circumscribe the prosperity of this institution, which in America is and ever must be an unhealthy exotic.
    The remark is still truer of the Southern and South Western cities, where the "saloon" and "bar-room" are the chief places of resort and rendezvous.
    The company, too, is there of a more miscellaneous character. The proud planter does not disdain, for he does not dare to drink in the same room with the "poor white trash", often as proud as himself.
    There is no peasant in that part of the world, least of all in the state called Texas and in the saloon of "Rough and Ready" might often be seen assembled representatives of every class and calling to be met with among the settlements.
    Perhaps not upon any occasion, since "Old Duffer" had hung out the sign of his tavern, was he favoured with a larger company, or served more customers across his counter, than upon that night, after the return of the horse hunting party to Fort Inge.
    With the exception of the ladies, almost every one who had taken part in the expedition, seemed to think that a half hour spent at the "Rough and Ready", was necessary as a "night-cap", before retiring to rest and as the Dutch clock, quaintly ticking among the colored decanters, indicated the hour of eleven, one after another, officers of the Fort, planters living near along the river, settlers, commissariat contractors, "sportsmen" and others who might be called nondescripts, came dropping in, each as he entered marching straight up to the counter, calling for his favorite drink, and then falling back, to converse with some group already occupying the floor.
    One of these groups was conspicuous. It consisted of some eight or ten individuals, half of them in uniform. Among the latter, were the three officers already introduced, the captain of infantry and the two lieutenants Hancock of the dragoons, and Crossman of the mounted rifles.
    Along with these was an officer older than any of them, also higher in authority, as could be told by the embroidery on his shoulder strap, that proclaimed him of the rank of major. As he was the only "field officer" at Fort Inge, it is unnecessary to say he was the commandant of the cantonment.
    These gentlemen were conversing as freely as if all were subalterns of equal rank the subject of the discourse being the incidents of the day.
    "Now tell us, major!" said Hancock "you must know. Where did the girl gallop to?"
    "How should I know?" answered the officer appealed to. "Ask her cousin, Mr. Cassius Calhoun."
    "We have asked him, but without getting any satisfaction.
    It's clear he knows no more than we. He only met them on the return and not very far from the place where we had our bivouac. They were gone a precious long time and judging by the sweat of their horses they must have had a hard ride of it. They might have been to the Rio Grande, for that matter, and beyond it."
    "Did you notice Calhoun as he came back?" inquired the captain of infantry. "There was a scowl upon his face, that betokened some very unpleasant emotion within his mind, I should say."
    "He did look rather unhappy," replied the major "but surely, Captain Sloman, you don't attribute it to…?"
    "Jealousy. I do, and nothing else."
    "What! of Maurice the mustanger? Poh-poh! Impossible, at least very improbable."
    "And why, major?"
    "My dear Sloman, Louise Poindexter is a lady and Maurice Gerald…"
    "May be a gentleman for aught that is known to the contrary."
    "Pshaw!" scornfully exclaimed Crossman "a trader in horses! The major is right, the thing's improbable, impossible."
    "Ah, gentlemen!" pursued the officer of infantry, with a significant shake of the head. "You don't know Miss Poindexter, so well as I. An eccentric young lady to say the least of her. You may have already observed that for yourselves."
    "Come, come, Sloman!" said the major, in a bantering way; "you are inclined to be talking scandal, I fear. That would be a scandal. Perhaps you are yourself interested in Miss Poindexter, notwithstanding your pretensions to be considered a Joseph? Now, I could understand your being jealous if it were handsome Hancock here, or Crossman supposing him to be disengaged. But as for a common mustanger poh-poh!"
    "He's an Irishman, major, this mustanger and if he be what I have some reason to suspect…"
    "Whatever he is," interrupted the major, casting a side glance towards the door, "he's there to answer for himself and as he's a sufficiently plain spoken fellow, you may learn from him all about the matter that seems to be of so much interest to you."
    "I don't think you will," muttered Sloman, as Hancock and two or three others turned towards the new comer, with the design of carrying out the major's suggestion.
    Silently advancing across the sanded floor, the mustanger had taken his stand at an unoccupied space in front of the counter.
    "A glass of whisky and water, if you please?" was the modest request with which he saluted the landlord.
    "Visky und vachter!" echoed the latter, without any show of eagerness, to wait upon his new guest. "Ya, woe, visky und vachter! It ish two picayunsh the glass."
    "I was not inquiring the price," replied the mustanger, "I asked to be served with a glass of whisky and water. Have you got any?"
    "Yesh-yesh," responded the German, rendered obsequious by the sharp rejoinder. "Plenty plenty of visky und vachter. Here it ish."
    While his simple potation was being served out to him, Maurice received nods of recognition from the officers, returning them with a free, but modest air. Most of them knew him personally, on account of his business relations with the Fort.
    They were on the eve of interrogating him, as the major had suggested when the entrance of still another individual caused them to suspend their design.
    The new comer was Cassius Calhoun. In his presence it would scarce have been delicacy to investigate the subject any further.
    Advancing with his customary swagger towards the mixed group of military men and civilians, Calhoun saluted them as one who had spent the day in their company, and had been absent only for a short interval. If not absolutely intoxicated, it could be seen that the ex-officer of volunteers was under the influence of drink. The unsteady sparkle of his eyes, the unnatural pallor upon his forehead, still further clouded by two or three tossed tresses that fell over it, with the somewhat grotesque set of his forage cap, told that he had been taking wine beyond the limits of wisdom.
    "Come, gentlemen!" cried he, addressing to the major's party, at the same time stepping up to the counter, "let's hit the wagon a crack, or old Dunder-und-blitzen behind the bar, will say we 're wasting his lights. Drinks all round! What say you?"
    "Agreed-agreed!" replied several voices.
    "You, major?"
    "With pleasure, Captain Calhoun."
    According to universal custom, the intended imbibers fell into line along the counter, each calling out the name of the drink most to his liking at the moment.
    Of these were ordered almost as many kinds as there were individuals in the party Calhoun himself shouting out "Brown sherry for me" and immediately adding "with a dash of bitters."
    "Prandy und pitters, you calls for, Mishter Calhoon?" said the landlord, as he leant obsequiously across the counter towards the reputed partner of an extensive estate.
    "Certainly, you stupid Dutchman! I said brown sherry, didn't I?"
    "All rights, mein herr; all rights! Prandy und pitters prandy und pitters," repeated the German Boniface, as he has-tened to place the decanter before his ill mannered guest.
    With the large accession of the major's party, to several others already in the act of imbibing, the whole front of the long counter became occupied with scarce an inch to spare.
    Apparently by accident, though it may have been design on the part of Calhoun, he was the outermost man on the extreme right of those who had responded to his invitation.
    This brought him in juxtaposition with Maurice Gerald, who alone as regarded boon companionship was quietly drinking his whisky and water, and smoking a cigar he had just lighted. The two were back to back neither having taken any notice of the other.
    "A toast!" cried Calhoun, taking his glass from the counter. "Let us have it!" responded several voices. "America for the Americans, and confusion to all foreign interlopers especially the damned Irish!"
    On delivering the obnoxious sentiment, he staggered back a pace, which brought his body in contact with that of the mustanger at the moment standing with the glass raised to his lips.
    The collision caused the spilling of a portion of the whisky and water which fell over the mustanger's breast.
    Was it an accident? No one believed it was, even for a moment. Accompanied by such a sentiment the act could only have been an affront intended and premeditated.
    All present, expected to see the insulted man spring instantly upon his insulter. They were disappointed, as well as surprised, at the manner in which the mustanger seemed to take it. There were some, who even fancied he was about to submit to it.
    "If he does," whispered Hancock in Sloman's ear, "he ought to be kicked out of the room."
    "Don't you be alarmed about that," responded the infantry officer, in the same sotto voce. "You'll find it different. I'm not given to betting, as you know, but I'd lay a month's pay upon it the mustanger don't back out and another, that Mr. Cassius Calhoun will find him an ugly customer to deal with, although just now he seems more concerned about his fine shirt, than the insult put upon him. Odd devil he is!"
    While this whispering was being carried on, the man to whom it related was still standing by the bar to use a hackneyed phrase, "the observed of all observers."
    Having deposited his glass upon the counter, he had drawn a silk handkerchief from his pocket, and was wiping from his embroidered shirt bosom the defilement of the spilt whisky.
    There was an imperturbable coolness about the action, scarce compatible with the idea of cowardice and those who had doubted him perceived that they had made a mistake, and that there was something to come. In silence they awaited the development.
    They had not long to wait. The whole affair speculations and whisperings included, did not occupy twenty seconds of time and then did the action proceed, or the speech which was likely to usher it in.
    "I am an Irishman" said the mustanger, as he returned his handkerchief to the place from which he had taken it.
    Simple as the rejoinder may have appeared, and long delayed as it had been, there was no one present who mistook its meaning. If the hunter of wild horses had tweaked the nose of Cassius Calhoun, it would not have added emphasis to that acceptance of his challenge. Its simplicity but proclaimed the serious determination of the acceptor.
    "You?" scornfully retorted Calhoun, turning round, and standing with his arms akimbo. "You?" he continued, with his eyes measuring the mustanger from head to foot, "you an Irishman? Great God, sir, I should never have thought so! I should have taken you for a Mexican, judging by your rig, and the elaborate stitching of your shirt."
    "I can't perceive how my rig should concern you, Mr. Cassius Calhoun and as you've done my shirt no service by spilling half my liquor upon it, I shall take the liberty of unstarching yours in a similar fashion."
    So saying, the mustanger took up his glass and, before the ex-captain of volunteers could duck his head, or get out of the way, the remains of the mixed Monongahela were "swilled" into his face, sending him off into a fit of alternate sneezing and coughing that appeared to afford satisfaction to more than a majority of the bystanders.
    The murmur of approbation was soon suppressed. The circumstances were not such as to call for speech and the exclamations that accompanied the act, were succeeded by a hush of silence. All saw that the quarrel could not be otherwise than a serious one. The affair must end in a fight. No power on earth could prevent it from coming to that conclusion.
20. AN UNSAFE POSITION.
    On receiving the alcoholic douche, Calhoun had clutched his six-shooter and drawn it from its holster. He only waited to get the whisky out of his eyes before advancing upon his adversary.
    The mustanger, anticipating this action, had armed himself with a similar weapon, and stood ready to return the fire of his antagonist, shot for shot.
    The more timid of the spectators, had already commenced making their escape out of doors, tumbling over one another, in their haste to get out of harm's way.
    A few stayed in the saloon from sheer irresolution a few others, of cooler courage, from choice, or perhaps actuated by a more astute instinct, which told them that in attempting to escape, they might get a bullet in the back.
    There was an interval some six seconds of silence, during which a pin might have been heard falling upon the floor. It was but the interlude that often occurs between resolution and action when the mind has completed its task, and the body has yet to begin.
    It might have been more brief with other actors on the scene. Two ordinary men would have blazed away at once, and without reflection. But the two now confronting each other were not of the common kind. Both had seen street fighting before, had taken part in it and knew the disadvantage of an idle shot. Each was determined to take sure aim on the other. It was this that prolonged the interval of inaction.
    To those outside, who dared not even look through the doors, the suspense was almost painful. The cracking of the pistols, which they expected every moment to hear, would have been a relief. It was almost a disappointment when, instead, they heard the voice of the major who was among the few who had stayed inside raised in a loud authoritative tone.
    "Hold!" commanded he, in the accent of one accustomed to be obeyed, at the same time whisking his saber out of its scabbard, and interposing its long blade between the disputants.
    "Hold your fire I command you both. Drop your muzzles or by the Almighty I'll take the arm off the first of you that touches trigger! Hold, I say!"
    "Why?" shouted Calhoun, purple with angry passion. "Why, Major Ringwood? After an insult like that, and from a low fellow"
    "Yon were the first to offer it, Captain Calhoun."
    "Damn me if I care! I shall be the last to let it pass unpunished. Stand out of the way, major. The quarrel is not yours, you have no right to interfere!"
    "Indeed! Ha! ha! Sloman! Hancock! Crossman! Hear that? I have no right to interfere! Hark ye, Mr. Cassius Calhoun, ex-captain of volunteers! Know you where you are, sir? Don't fancy yourself in the state of Mississippi, among your slave whipping chivalry. This, sir, is a military post, under military law, my humble self its present administrator. I therefore command you to return your six-shooter to the holster from which you have taken it. This instant too, or you shall go to the guardhouse, like the humblest soldier in the cantonment!"
    "Indeed!" sneeringly replied the Mississippian. "What a fine country you intend Texas to become! I suppose a man mustn't fight, however much aggrieved, without first obtaining a license from Major Ringwood? Is that to be the law of the land?"
    "Not a bit of it," retorted the major. "I'm not the man, never was, to stand in the way of the honest adjustment of a quarrel. You shall be quite at liberty you and your antagonist to kill one another, if it so please you, but not just now. You must perceive, Mr. Calhoun, that your sport endangers the lives of other people, who have not the slightest interest in it. I've no idea of being bored by a bullet not intended for me. Wait till the rest of us can withdraw to a safe distance and you may crack away to your heart's content. Now, sir, will that be agreeable to you?"
    Had the major been a man of ordinary character his commands might have been disregarded. But to his official weight, as chief officer of the post, was added a certain reverence due to seniority in age, along with respect for one who was himself known to wield a weapon with dangerous skill, and who allowed no trifling with his authority.
    His saber had not been unsheathed by way of empty gesticulation. The disputants knew it and by simultaneous consent lowered the muzzles of their pistols, still holding them in hand.
    Calhoun stood, with sullen brow, gritting his teeth, like a beast of prey, momentarily withheld from making attack upon its victim, while the mustanger appeared to take things as coolly as if neither angry, nor an Irishman.
    "I suppose you are determined upon fighting?" said the major, knowing that there was not much chance of adjusting the quarrel.
    "I have no particular wish for it," modestly responded Maurice. "If Mr. Calhoun will apologize for what he has said, and also what he has done"
    "He ought to do it: he began the quarrel!" suggested several of the bystanders.
    "Never!" scornfully responded the ex-captain. "Cash Calhoun ain't accustomed to that sort of thing. Apologize indeed! And to a masquerading monkey like that!"
    "Enough!" cried the young Irishman, for the first time showing serious anger; "I gave him a chance for his life. He refuses to accept it and now, by the Mother of God, we don t both leave this room alive! Major! I insist that you and your friends withdraw. I can stand his insolence no longer!"
    "Ha-ha-ha!" responded the Southerner, with a yell of derisive laughter "a chance for my life! Clear out, all of ye clear out and let me at him!"
    "Stay!" cried the major, hesitating to torn his back upon the duelist. "It's not quite safe. You may fancy beginning your game of touch trigger a second too soon. We must get out of doors before you do. Besides, gentlemen!" he continued, ad dressing himself to those around him, "there should be some system about this. If they are to fight, let it be fair for both sides. Let them be armed alike and go at it on the square!"
    "By all means!" chorused the half-score of spectators, turning their eyes towards the disputants, to see if they accepted the proposal.
    "Neither of you can object?" continued the major, interrogatively.
    "I sha'n't object to anything that's fair," assented the Irishman, "devil a bit!"
    "I shall fight with the weapon I hold in my hand," doggedly declared Calhoun.
    " Agreed! The same weapon for me!" was the rejoinder of his adversary.
    "I see you both carry Colt's six shooter No. 2," said the major, scanning the pistols held in hand. "So far all right! You're armed exactly alike."
    "Have they any other weapons?" inquired young Hancock, suspecting that under the cover of his coat the ex-captain had a knife.
    "I have none," answered the mustanger, with a frankness that left no doubt as to his speaking the truth.
    All eyes were turned upon Calhoun, who appeared to hesitate about making a reply. He saw he must declare himself.
    "Of course," he said, "I have my toothpick as well. You don't want me to give up that? A man ought to be allowed to use whatever weapon he has got."
    "But, Captain Calhoun," pursued Hancock, "your adversary has no knife. If you are not afraid to meet him on equal terms, you should surrender yours."
    "Certainly he should!" cried several of the bystanders. "He must! He must!"
    "Come, Mr. Calhoun!" said the major, in a soothing tone. "Six shots ought to satisfy any reasonable man, without having recourse to the steel. Before you finish firing, one or the other of you…"
    "Damn the knife!" interrupted Calhoun, unbuttoning his coat. Then drawing forth the proscribed weapon and flinging it to the farthest corner of the saloon, he added, in a tone of bravado, intended to encowardice his adversary. "I sha'n't want it for such a spangled jay-bird as that. I'll fetch him out of his boots at the first shot."
    "Time enough to talk when you've done something to justify it. Cry boo to a goose, but don t fancy your big words are going to frighten me, Mr. Calhoun! Quick, gentlemen! I'm impatient to put an end to his boasting and blasphemy!"
    "Hound!" frantically hissed out the chivalric Southerner." Low dog of an Irish dam! I'll send you howling to your kennel! I'll…"
    "Shame, Captain Calhoun!" interrupted the major, seconded by other voices. "This talk is idle, as it is impolite in the presence of respectable company. Have patience a minute longer and you may then say what you like. Now, gentlemen!" he continued, addressing himself to the surrounding, "there is only one more preliminary to be arranged. They must engage not to begin firing till we have got out of their way?"
    A difficulty here presented itself. How was the engagement to be given? A simple promise would scarce be sufficient in a crisis like that? The combatants one of them at least would not be over scrupulous as to the time of pulling trigger.
    "There must be a signal," pursued the major. "Neither should fire till that is given. Can any one suggest what it is to be?"
    "I think I can," said the quiet Captain Sloman, advancing as he spoke. "Let the gentlemen go outside along with us. There is as you perceive a door at each end of the room. I see no difference between them. Let them enter again one at each door, with the understanding that neither is to fire before setting foot across the threshold."
    "Capital! the very thing!" replied several voices.
    "And what for a signal?" demanded the major. "A shot?"
    "No. Ring the tavern bell!"
    "Nothing could be better nothing fairer," conclusively declared the major, making for one of the doors that led outward into the square.
    "Mein Gott, major!" screamed the German Boniface, rushing out from behind his bar where, up to this time, he had been standing transfixed with fear. "Mein Gott, surely the shentlemens pe not going to shoot their pisthols inside the shaloon! Ach! they'll preak all my pottles, and my shplendid looking glashes, an' my crystal clock, that hash cost me von two hundred dollars. They'll shpill my pesht liquors ach! Major, it'll ruin me mein Gott it will!"
    "Never fear, Oberdoffer!" rejoined the major, pausing to reply. "No doubt you'll be paid for the damage. At all events, you had better betake yourself to some place of safety. If you stay in your saloon you'll stand a good chance of getting a bullet through your body, and that would be worse than the preaking of your pottles."
    Without further parley, the major parted from the unfortunate landlord, and hurried across the threshold into the street, whither the combatants, who had gone out by separate doors, had already preceded him.
    " Old Duffer," left standing in the middle of his sanded floor, did not remain long in that perilous position. In six seconds after the major's coat-tail had disappeared through the outer door, an inner one closed upon his own skirts and the bar-room, with its camphene lamps, its sparkling decanters, and its costly mirrors, was left in untenanted silence no other sound being heard save the ticking of its crystal clock.
21. A DUEL WITHIN DOORS.
    Once outside, the major took no further part in the affair. As the commanding officer of the post, it would have been out of place for him to have given encouragement to a fight even by his interfering to see that it should be a fair one. This, however, was attended to by the younger officers who at once set about arranging the conditions of the duel.
    There was not much time consumed. The terms had been expressed already and it only remained to appoint some one of the party to superintend the ringing of the bell, which was to be the signal for the combat to commence.
    This was an easy matter, since it made no difference who might be entrusted with the duty. A child might have sounded the summons for the terrible conflict that was to follow.
    A stranger, chancing at that moment to ride into the rude square of which the hotel "Rough and Ready" formed nearly a side, would have been sorely puzzled to comprehend what was coming to pass. The night was rather dark, though there was still light enough to make known the presence of a conglomeration of human beings, assembled in the proximity of the hotel. Most were in military garb since, in addition to the officers who had lately figured inside the saloon, others, along with such soldiers as were permitted to pass the sentries, had hastened down from the Fort on receiving intelligence that something unusual was going on within the "square." Women, too, but scantily robed soldiers' wives, washerwomen, and "senoritas" of more questionable calling had found their way into the street, and were endeavoring to extract from those who had forestalled them an explanation of the fracas.
    The conversation was carried on in low tones. It was known that the commandant of the post was present, as well as others in authority and this checked any propensity there might hove been for noisy demonstration.
    The crowd, thus promiscuously collected, was not in close proximity with the hotel, but standing well out in the open ground, about a dozen yards from the building. Towards it, however, the eyes of all were directed, with that steady stare which tells of the attention being fixed on some engrossing spectacle. They were watching the movements of two men, whose positions were apart one at each end of the heavy block-house, known to be the bar-room of the hotel and where, as already stated, there was a door.
    Though separated by the interposition of two thick log walls, and mutually invisible, these men were maneuvering as if actuated by a common impulse. They stood contiguous to the entrance doors, at opposite ends of the bar room, through both of which glared the light of the camphene lamps falling in broad divergent bands, upon the rough gravel outside. Neither was in front of the contiguous entrance but a little to one side, just clear of the light. Neither was in an upright attitude, but crouching not as if from fear, but like a runner about to make a start, and straining upon the spring.
    Both were looking inwards into the saloon, where no sound could be heard save the ticking of a clock. Their attitudes told of their readiness to enter it, and that they were only restrained by waiting for some pre-concerted signal.
    That their purpose was a serious one could be deduced from several circumstances. Both were in their shirt sleeves, hatless, and stripped of every rag that might form an impediment to action, while on their faces was the stamp of stern determination, alike legible in the attitudes they had assumed.
    But there was no fine reflection needed, to discover their design. The stranger, chancing to come into the square, could have seen at a glance that it was deadly. The pistols in their hands, cocked and tightly clutched the nervous energy of their attitudes the silence of the crowd of spectators and the concentrated interest with which the two men were regarded, proclaimed more emphatically than words, that there was danger in what they were doing in short, that they were engaged in some sort of a strife, with death for its probable consummation!
    So it was at that moment when the crisis had come. The duelists stood, each with eye intent upon the door, by which he was to make entrance perhaps into eternity! They only waited for a signal to cross the threshold and engage in a combat that must terminate the existence of one or the other perhaps both.
    Were they listening for that fatal formulary: One-Two-Fire?
    No. Another signal had been agreed upon and it was given.
    A stentorian voice was heard calling out the simple monosyllable:
    "Ring!"
    Three or four dark figures could be seen, standing by the shorn trunk on which swung the tavern bell. The command instantly set them in motion and along with the oscillation of their arms, dimly seen through the darkness, could be heard the sonorous tones of a bell. That bell, whose sounds had been hitherto heard, only as symbols of joy calling men together to partake of that, which perpetuates life was now listened to as a summons of death!
    The "ringing in" was of short duration. The bell had made less than a score of vibrations, when the men engaged at the rope saw that their services were no longer required. The disappearance of the duelists, who had rushed inside the saloon, the quick, sharp cracking of pistols, the shivering of broken glass, admonished the ringers that theirs was but a superfluous noise and, dropping the rope, they stood like the rest of the crowd, listening to the conflict inside.
    No eyes, save those of the combatants themselves, were witnesses to that strange duel.
    At the first dong of the bell, both combatants had re-entered the room. Neither made an attempt to skulk outside. To have done so, would have been a ruin to reputation. A hundred eyes were upon them and the spectators understood the conditions of the duel that neither was to fire before crossing the threshold.
    Once inside, the conflict commenced, the first shots filling the room with smoke. Both kept their feet, though both were wounded their blood spurting out over the sanded floor.
    The second shots were also fired simultaneously, but at random, the smoke hindering the aim.
    Then, came a single shot, quickly followed by another, and succeeded by an interval of quiet.
    Previous to this, the combatants had been heard rushing about through the room. This noise was no longer being made.
    Instead there was profound silence. Had they killed one another? Were both dead? No! Once more, the double detonation announced that both still lived. The suspension had been caused as they stood peering through the smoke in the endeavor to distinguish one another. Neither spoke or stirred in fear of betraying his position.
    Again there was a period of tranquility, similar to the former, but more prolonged.
    It ended by another exchange of shots, almost instantly succeeded by the felling of two heavy bodies upon the floor.
    There was the sound of sprawling, the overturning of chairs then a single shot the eleventh and this was the last that was fired!
    The spectators outside saw only a cloud of sulphurous smoke, oozing out of both doors, and dimming the light of the camphene lamps. This, with an occasional flash of brighter effulgence, close followed by a crack, was all that occurred to give satisfaction to the eye.
    But the ear, that was gratified by a greater variety. There were heard shots, after the bell had become silent, other sounds the sharp shivering of broken glass, the duller crash of falling furniture, rudely overturned in earnest struggle the trampling of feet upon the boarded floor at intervals the clear ringing crack of the revolvers but neither of the voices of the men whose insensate passions were the cause of all this commotion!
    The crowd in the street heard the confused noises, and noted the intervals of silence, without being exactly able to interpret them. The reports of the pistols were all they had to proclaim the progress of the duel. Eleven had been counted and in breathless silence they were listening for the twelfth.
    Instead of a pistol report their ears were gratified by the sound of a voice, recognized as that of the mustanger.
    "My pistol is at your head! I have one shot left make an apology, or die!"
    By this the crowd had become convinced that the fight was approaching its termination. Some of the more fearless, looking in, beheld a strange scene. They saw two men, lying prostrate on the plank floor, both with bloodstained habiliments, both evidently disabled, the white sand around them reddened with their gore, tracked with tortuous trails, where they had crawled closer, to get a last shot at each other one of them, in scarlet scarf and slashed velvet trousers, slightly surmounting the other, and holding a pistol to his head that threatened to deprive him of life.
    Such was the tableau, that presented itself to the spectators, as the sulphurous smoke, drifted out by the current between the two doors, gave them a chance of distinguishing objects within the saloon.
    At the same instant, a different voice from that which had already spoken. It was that of Calhoun no longer in roistering bravado, but in low whining accents, almost a whisper.
    "Enough, damn' it! Drop your shooting iron, I apologize."
    
22. AN UNKNOWN DONOR.
    
    In Texas, a duel is not even a nine days' wonder. It oftener ceases to be talked about, by the end of the third day and at the expiration of a week, is no longer thought of, except by the principals themselves, or their immediate friends and relatives.
    This is so, even when the parties are well known, and of respectable standing in society. When the duelists are of humble position, or as is often the case, strangers in the place a single day, may suffice to doom their achievement to oblivion to dwell only in the memory of the combatant who has survived, it oftener one than both and perhaps some ill starred spectator, who has been bored by a bullet, or received the slash of a knife, not designed for him.
    More than once have I been witness to a "street fight" improvised upon the pavement where some innocuous citizen, sauntering carelessly along, has become the victim even unto death of this irregular method of seeking "satisfaction."
    I have never heard of any punishment awarded, or damages demanded, in such cases. They are regarded as belonging to the "chapter of accidents!"
    Though Cassius Calhoun and Maurice Gerald were both comparatively strangers in the settlement, the latter being only seen on occasional visits to the Fort, the affair between them caused something more than the usual interest and was talked about for the full period of the nine days. The character of the former, as a noted bully, and that of the latter as a man of singular habitudes, gave to their duello a certain sort of distinction and the merits and demerits of the two men, were freely discussed for days after the affair had taken place, nowhere with more earnestness than upon the spot where they had shed each other's blood, in the bar-room of the hotel.
    The conqueror had gained credit and friends. There were few who favored his adversary and not a few who were gratified at the result for, short as had been the time since Calhoun's arrival, there was more than one saloon lounger who had felt the smart of his insolence.
    For this it was presumed, the young Irishman had administered a cure and there was almost universal satisfaction at the result.
    How the ex-captain carried his discomfiture no one could tell. He was no longer to be seen swaggering in the saloon of the "Rough and Ready" though the cause of his absence was well understood. It was not chagrin, but his couch to which he was confined by wounds, that, if not skillfully treated, might consign him to his coffin.
    Maurice was in like manner, compelled to stay within doors. The injuries he had received, though not so severe as those of his antagonist, were nevertheless of such a character, as to make it necessary for him to keep to his chamber a small, and scantily furnished bedroom in "Old Duffer's" hotel, where notwithstanding the éclát derived from his conquest, he was somewhat scurvily treated.
    In the hour of his triumph, he had fainted from loss of blood. He could not be taken elsewhere though, in the shabby apartment to which he had been consigned, he might have thought of the luxurious care that surrounded the couch of his wounded antagonist. Fortunately Phelim was by his side, or he might have been still worse attended to.
    "Be Sant Pathrick! it's a shame," half soliloquized this faithful follower. "A burnin' shame to squeeze a gintleman into a hole like this, not bigger than a pigstoy! A gintleman like you, Masther Maurice. An' thin such aytin' and drinkin'. Och! a well fid Oirish pig wud turn up its nose at such traytment. An' fwhat div yez think I've heerd Owld Duffer talkin' about below?"
    "I hav'n't the slightest idea, my dear Phelim, nor do I care a straw to know what you've heard Mr. Oberdoffer saying below, but if you don't want him to hear what you are saying above, you'll moderate your voice a little. Remember, ma bohil, that the partitions in this place are only lath and plaster."
    "Divil take the partitions and divil born them, av he loikes. Av yez don't care for fwhat's sed, I don't care far fwhat's heeurd not the snappin' av me fingers. The Dutchman can't trate us any worse than he's been doin' already. For all that, Masther Maurice, I thought it bist to lit you know."
    "Let me know then. What is it he has been saying?" "Will, thin I heerd him tellin' wan av his croneys that besoides the mate an' the dhrink, an' the washin', an' lodgin', he intinded to make you pay for the bottles, and glasses, an' other things, that was broke on the night av the shindy."
    "Me pay?"
    "Yis, yerself, Masther Maurice an' not a pinny charged to the Yankee. Now I call that downright rascally mane an' nobody but a dhirty Dutchman wud iver hiv thought av it. Av there be anythin' to pay, the man that's bate should be made to showlder the damage, an' that wasn't a discindant av the owld Geralds av Ballyballagh. Hoo-hooch! wudn't I loike to shake a ehaylaylah about Duffer's head for the matther of two minutes? Wudn't I?" "What reason did he give for saying that I should pay? Did you hear him state any?"
    "I did, masther the dhirtiest av all raisuns. He aid that you were the bird in the hand; an' he wud kape ye till yez sittled the score."
    "He'll find himself slightly mistaken about that and would perhaps do better by presenting his bill to the bird in the bush. I shall be willing to pay for half the damage done, but not more. You may tell him so, if he speaks to you about it. And, in troth, Phelim, I don't know how I am to do even that. There must have been a good many breakages. I remember a great deal of jingling while we were at it. If I don't mistake there was a smashed mirror, or clock dial, or something of the kind."
    "A big lookin' glass, masther an' a crystal somethin' that was set over the clock. They say two hunderd dollars. I don't belave they were worth wan half av the money."
    "Even so, it is a serious matter to me just at this crisis. I fear, Phelim, you will have to make a journey to the Alamo, and fetch away some of the household goods we have hidden there. To get clear of this secrape, I shall have to sacrifice my spurs, my silver cup, and perhaps my gun!"
    "Don't say that, masther! How are we to live, if the gun goes?"
    "As we best can, ma bohil. On horseflesh, I suppose and the lasso will supply that."
    "Be Japers! It wndn't be much worse than the mate Owld Duffer sits afore us. It gives me the bellyache ivery time I ate it."
    The conversation was here interrupted by the opening of the chamber door, which was done without knocking. A slatternly servant whose sex it would have been difficult to determine from outward indices appeared in the doorway, with a basket of palm-sinnet held extended at the termination of a long sinewy arm.
    "Pwhat is it, Girtrude?" asked Phelim, who, from some previous information, appeared to be acquainted with the feminine character of the intruder.
    "A shentlemans prot this."
    "A gentleman! Who, Gertrude?"
    "Not know, mein herr he wash a stranger shentlemans."
    "Brought by a gentleman. Who can he be? See what it is, Phelim."
    Phelim undid the fastenings of the lid, and exposed the interior of the basket. It was one of considerable bulk, since inside were discovered several bottles, apparently containing wines and cordials, packed among paraphernalia of sweetmeats, and other delicacies both of the confectionery and the kitchen. There was no note accompanying, the present not even a direction, but the trim and elegant style in which it was done up, proved that it had proceeded from the hands of a lady.
    Maurice turned over the various articles, examining each, as Phelim supposed, to take note of its value. Little was he thinking of this, while searching for the "invoice."
    There proved to be none, not a scrap of paper, not so much as a card!
    The generosity of the supply, well timed as it was bespoke the donor to be some person in affluent circumstances. Who could it be?
    As Maurice reflected, a fair image came uppermost in his mind which he could not help connecting with that of his unknown benefactor. Could it be Louise Poindexter?
    In spite of certain improbabilities, he was fain to believe it might and, so long as the belief lasted, his heart was quivering with a sweet beatitude.
    As he continued to reflect, the improbabilities appeared too strong for this pleasant supposition his faith became overturned and there remained only a vague unsubstantial hope.
    "A gintleman lift it," spoke the Connemara man, in semi soliloquy. A gintleman, she sez a kind gintleman, I say! Who div yez think he was, masther?"
    "I haven't the slightest idea unless it may have been some of the officers of the Fort, though I could hardly expect one of them to think of me in this fashion."
    "Nayther yez need. It wasn't wan av them. No officer, or gintleman ayther, phut them things in the basket."
    "Why do you think that?"
    "Fwhy div I think it! Och, maither! Is it yerself to ask the quistyun? Isn't there the smell av swate fingers about it? Jist look at the nate way them papers is tied up. That purty kreel was niver packed by the hand av a man. It was done by a wuman and I'll warrant a real lady at that."
    "Nonsense, Phelim! I know no lady who should take so much interest in me."
    "Aw, murdher! What a thumpin' big fib! I know wan that shud. It wud be black ungratytude av she didn't afther what yez did for her. Didn't yez save her life into the bargain?"
    "Of whom are you speaking?"
    "Now, don't be desateful, masther. Yez know that I mane the purty crayther that come to the hut ridin' Spotty that you presinted her, widout resavin' a dollar for the mare. If it wasn't her that sint ye this hamper, thin Phaylim Onale is the biggest numskull that was iver born about Ballyballagh. Be the Vargin, masther, speakin' of the owld place phuts me in mind of its paple. Fwhat wud the blue eyed colleen say, if she knew yez were in such danger heeur?"
    "Danger! It's all over. The doctor has said so and that I may go out of doors, in a week from now. Don't distress yourself about that."
    "Troth, masther, yez be only talkm'. That isn't the danger
    I was drhamin' av. Yez know will enough what I mane. Maybe yez have resaved a wound from bright eyes, worse than that from lid bullets. Or, maybe, somebody Use has an' that's why ye've had the things sint ye."
    "You're all wrong, Phelim. The thing must have come from the Fort, but whether it did, or not, there's no reason why we should stand upon ceremony with its contents. So, here goes to make trial of them!"
    Notwithstanding the apparent relish with which the invalid partook of the products, both of cellar and cuisine , while eating and drinking, his thoughts were occupied with a still more agreeable theme with a string of dreamy conjectures, as to whom he was indebted for the princely present.
    Gould it be the young Creole the cousin, of his direst enemy, as well as his reputed sweetheart?
    The thing appeared improbable.
    If not she, who else could it be?
    The mustanger would have given a horse a whole drove to have been assured that Louise Poindexter was the provider of that luxurious refection.
    Two days elapsed, and the donor still remained unknown.
    Then the invalid was once more agreeably surprised, by a second present very similar to the first another basket, containing other bottles, and crammed with fresh "confections."
    The Bavarian wench, was again questioned, but with no better result. A "shentlemans" had "prot" it the same "stranger shentlemans" as before. She could only add that "the shentlemans "was very " schwartz " wore a glazed hat, and came to the tavern mounted upon a mule.
    Maurice did not appear to be gratified with this description of the unknown donor though no one not even Phelim was made the confidant of his thoughts.
    In two days afterwards they were toned down to their former sobriety on the receipt of a third "basket," prot by the schwartz gentleman" in the glazed hat, which came mounted upon. a mule.
    The change could not be explained by the belongings in the basket almost the counterpart of what had been sent before. It might be accounted for by the contents of a billet dou x , which accompanied the gift attached by a ribbon to the wickerwork of palm-sinnet.
    "'Tis only Isidora!" muttered the mustanger, as he glanced at the superscription upon the note.
    Then opening it with an air of indifference, he read
    " Querido Señor !
    " Soy quedando por una semana en la casa del tio Silvio, De vuestra desfortuna he , oido tambien que V, es t a mal ci u dado en la fonda. He mandado alguna s cositas. Sea graciota usar l os, c omo una chiquitita memoria del s ervi c io grande de que vuestra deudor e s toy. En la silla s oy escribando, con l as espuela s preparadas sacar s angre de las ijadas del mio cavallo. En un memento mas , partira por el Rio Grande.
    " Bienkichor , de mi vida Salvador, y de que a una mujer est a ma s querida, la honra - adios - adios !
    " Al Señor Don Mauricio Gerald. "
    Literally translated, and in the idiom of the Spanish language, the note ran thus:
    "Dear Sir, -I have been staying for a week at the house of Uncle Silvio. Of your mischance I have heard, also that you are indifferently cared for, at the hotel. I have sent you some little things. Be good enough to make use of them, as a slight souvenir of the great service for which I am your debtor. I write in the saddle, with my spurs ready to draw blood from the flanks of my horse. In another moment I am off, for the Rio Grande!
    "Benefactor, preserver of my life, of what to a woman is dearer my honour Adieu! Adieu!
    "Thanks-thanks, sweet Isidora!" muttered the mustanger, as he refolded the note, and threw it carelessly upon the coverlet of his couch. "Ever grateful, considerate, kind! But for Louise Poindexter, I might have loved you!"
23. VOWS OF VENGEANCE.
    Calhoun, chafing in his chamber, was not the object of such assiduous solicitude. Notwithstanding the luxurious appointments that surrounded him, he could not comfort himself with the reflection that he was cared for by living creature. Truly selfish in his own heart, he had no faith in friendships and while confined to his couch not without some fears that it might be his death bed he experienced the misery of a man believing that no human being cared a straw whether he should live or die.
    Any sympathy shown to him was upon the score of relationship. It could scarce have been otherwise. His conduct towards his cousins had not been such as to secure their esteem, while his uncle, the proud Woodley Poindexter, felt towards him something akin to aversion, mingled with a subdued fear.
    It is true that this feeling was only of recent origin and arose out of certain relations that existed between uncle and nephew. As already hinted, they stood to one another in the relationship of debtor and creditor, or mortgagor and mortgagee, the nephew being the latter. To such an extent had this indebtedness been carried, that Cassius Calhoun was in effect the real owner of Casa del Corvo and could at any moment have proclaimed himself its master.
    Conscious of his power he had of late been using it to affect a particular purpose that is, the securing for his wife, the woman he had long fiercely loved his cousin Louise. He had come to know, that he stood but little chance of obtaining her consent, for she had taken but slight pains to conceal her indifference to his suit. Trusting to the peculiar influence established over her father, he had determined on taking no slight denial.
    These circumstances considered, it was not strange that the ex-officer of volunteers, when stretched upon a sick bed, received less sympathy from his relatives than might otherwise have been extended to him.
    While dreading death, which for a length of time, he actually did, he had become a little more amiable to those around him. The agreeable mood, however, was of short continuance and, once assured of recovery, all the natural savageness of his disposition was restored, along with the additional bitterness arising from his recent discomfiture.
    It had been the pride of his life, to exhibit himself as a successful bully, the master of every crowd that might gather around him. He could no longer claim this credit in Texas and the thought harrowed his heart to its very core.
    To figure as a defeated man, before all the women of the settlement, above all in the eyes of her he adored, defeated by one whom he suspected of being his rival in her affections, a mere nameless adventurer was too much to be endured with equanimity. Even an ordinary man would have been pained by the infliction. Calhoun writhed under it.
    He had' no idea of enduring it, as an ordinary man would have done. If he could not escape from the disgrace, he was determined to revenge himself upon its author and as soon as he had recovered from the apprehensions entertained about the safety of his life, he commenced reflecting upon this very subject.
    Maurice, the mustanger, must die! If not by his (Calhoun's) own hand, then by the hand of another, if such a one was to be found in the settlement. There could not be much difficulty in procuring a confederate. There are bravoe s upon the broad prairies of Texas, as well as within the walls of Italian cities. Alas! There is no spot upon earth where gold cannot command the steel of the assassin.
    Calhoun possessed gold more than sufficient for such a purpose and to such purpose did he determine upon devoting at least a portion of it.
    In the solitude of his sick chamber, he set about maturing his plans, which comprehended the assassination of the mustanger.
    He did not purpose doing the deed himself. His late defeat had rendered him fearful of chancing a second encounter with the same adversary even under the advantageous circumstances of a surprise. He had become too much encowardized, to play the assassin. He wanted an accomplice, an arm to strike for him. Where was he to find it?
    Unluckily he knew, or fancied he knew, the very man. There was a Mexican at the time making abode in the village like Maurice himself a mustanger but one of those with whom the young Irishman had shown a disinclination to associate.
    As a general rule, the men of this peculiar calling, are amongst the greatest reprobates, who have their home in the land of the "Lone Star." By birth and breed, they are mostly Mexicans, or mongrel Indians, though, not infrequently, a Frenchman, or American, finds it a congenial calling. They are usually the outcasts of civilized society, oftener its outlaws who, in the excitement of the chase, and its concomitant dangers, find, perhaps, some sort of salvo for a conscience that has been severely tried.
    While dwelling within the settlements, these men are not infrequently the pests of the society that surrounds them, ever engaged in broil and debauch and when abroad in the exercise of their calling, they are not always to be encountered with safety. More than once is it recorded in the history of Texas how a company of mustangers has, for the nonce, converted itself into a band of cuadrilla of salteadores or disguised as Indians, levied black mail upon the train of the prairie traveler.
    One of this kidney was the individual who had become recalled, to the memory of Cassius Calhoun. The latter remembered having met the man in the bar-room of the hotel, upon several occasions, but more especially on the night of the duel. He remembered that he had been one of those who had carried him home, on the stretcher and from some extravagant expressions he had made use of, when speaking of his antagonist, Calhoun had drawn the deduction, that the Mexican was no friend to Maurice the mustanger.
    Since then, he had learnt that he was Maurice's deadliest enemy, himself excepted.
    With these data to proceed upon the ex-captain had called the Mexican to his counsels, and the two were often closeted together in the chamber of the invalid.
    There was nothing in all this, to excite suspicion, even had Calhoun cared for that. His visitor was a dealer in horses and horned cattle. Some transaction in horseflesh might be going on between them. So, any one would have supposed. And so, for a time, thought the Mexican himself for in their first interview, but little other business was transacted between them. The astute Mississippian knew better than to declare his ultimate designs to a stranger who, after completing an advantageous horse trade, was well supplied with whatever he chose to drink, and cunningly cross questioned as to the relations in which he stood towards Maurice the mustanger.
    In that first interview, the ex-officer of volunteers learnt enough, to know that he might depend upon his man for any service he might require even to the committal of murder.
    The Mexican made no secret of his heartfelt hostility to the young mustanger. He did not declare the exact cause of it, but Calhoun could guess, by certain innuendos introduced during the conversation, that it was the same as that, by which he was himself actuated the same to which may be traced almost every quarrel that has occurred among men, from Troy to Texas: a woman!
    The Helen in this case appeared to be some dark eyed don - ç ella dwelling upon the Rio Grande, where Maurice had been in the habit of making an occasional visit, in whose eyes he had found favor, to the disadvantage of her own conpaisano .
    The Mexican did not give the name and Calhoun, as he listened to his explanations, only hoped in his heart that the damsel who had slighted him might have won the heart of his rival.
    During his days of convalescence, several interviews had taken place between the ex-captain and the intended accomplice in his purposes of vengeance enough, one might suppose, to have rendered them complete.
    Whether they were so, or not, and what the nature of their hellish designs, were things known only to the brace of kindred confederates. The outside world but knew that Captain Cassius Calhoun and Miguel Diaz, known by the nickname "El Coyote," appeared to have taken a fancy for keeping each other's company, while the more respectable portion of it wondered at such an ill starred association.
    
24. ON THE AZOTEA.
    
    There are no sluggards on a Texan plantation. The daybreak begins the day and the bell, conch, or cow horn, that summons the dark skinned proletarians to their toil, is alike the signal for their master to forsake his more luxurious couch.
    Such was the custom of Casa del Corvo under its original owners and the fashion was followed by the family of the American planter, not from any idea of precedent, but simply in obedience to the suggestions of Nature. In a climate of almost perpetual spring, the sweet matinal moments are not to be wasted in sleep. The siesta belongs to the hours of noon, when all nature appears to shrink under the smiles of the solar luminary, as if surfeited with their superabundance.
    On his reappearance at morn the sun is greeted with renewed joy. Then do the tropical birds spread their resplendent plumage the flowers their dew besprinkled petals to receive his fervent kisses. All nature again seems glad to acknowledge him as its god.
    Resplendent as any bird that flutters among the foliage of south western Texas fair as any flower that blooms within its glades was she who appeared upon the housetop of Casa del Corvo.
    Aurora herself, rising from her roseate conch, looked not fresher than the young Creole, as she stood contemplating the curtains of that very couch, from which a Texan sun was slowly uplifting his globe of burning gold.
    She was standing upon the edge of the azotea that fronted towards the east, her white hand resting upon the copestone of the parapet, still wet with the dews of the night. Under her eyes was the garden, enclosed within a curve of the river beyond the bluff formed by the opposite bank and [further still, the wide spreading plateau of the prairie.
    Was she looking at a landscape, which could scarce fail to challenge admiration? No.
    Equally was she unconscious of the ascending sun though, like some fair pagan, did she appear to be in prayer at its uprising!
    Listened she to the voices of the birds, from garden and grove swelling harmoniously around her?
    On the contrary, her ear was not bent to catch any sound, nor her eye intent upon any object. Her glance was wandering, as if her thoughts went not with it, but were dwelling upon some theme, neither present nor near.
    In contrast with the cheerful brightness of the sky, there was a shadow upon her brow despite the joyous warbling of the birds; there was the sign of sadness on her cheek.
    She was alone. There was no one to take note of this melancholy mood, nor inquire into its cause.
    The cause was declared in a few low murmured words, which fell, as if involuntarily, from her lips.
    "He may be dangerously wounded perhaps even to death?"
    Who was the object of this solicitude so hypothetically expressed?
    The invalid that lay below, almost under her feet, in a chamber of the hacienda her cousin Cassius Calhoun? It could scarce be he. The doctor had the day before pronounced him out of danger, and on the way to quick recovery. Any one listening to her soliloquy after a time continued in the same sad tone would have been convinced it was not he.
    "I may not send to inquire. I dare not even ask after him. I fear to trust any of our people. He may be in some poor place perhaps un-courteously treated perhaps neglected? Would that I could convey to him a message something more without any one being the wiser! I wonder what has become of Zeb Stump?"
    As if some instinct whispered her, that there was a possibility of Zeb making his appearance, she turned her eyes towards the plain on the opposite side of the river" where a road led up and down. It was the common highway, between Fort Inge and the plantations on the lower Leona. It traversed the prairie at some distance from the river bank approaching it only at one point, where the channel curved in to the base of the bluffs. A reach of the road, of half a mile in length, was visible in the direction of the Fort as also a cross path that led to a ford thence running on to the hacienda. In the opposite direction down the stream the view was open for a like length, until the chapparal on both sides closing in, terminated the savanna.
    The young lady scanned the road leading towards Fort Inge. Zeb Stump should come that way. He was not in sight nor was any one else.
    She could not feel disappointment. She had no reason to expect him. She had but raised her eyes in obedience to an instinct.
    Something more than instinct caused her, after a time, to turn round, and scrutinize the plain in the opposite quarter.
    If expecting some one to appear that way, she was not disappointed. A horse was just stepping out from among the trees, where the road debouched from the chapparal. He was ridden by one, who, at first sight, appeared to be a man, clad in a sort of Arab costume but who, on closer scrutiny, and despite the style of equitation, á la Duche s se de B erri , was unquestionably of the other sex a lady. There was not much of her face to be seen; but through the shadowy opening of the rebozo , rather carelessly tapado , could be traced an oval facial outline, somewhat brownly "complected," but with a carmine tinting upon the cheeks, and above this a pair of eyes whose sparkle appeared to challenge comparison with the brightest object either on the earth, or in the sky.
    Neither did the loosely falling folds of the lady's scarf, nor her somewhat outr é attitude in the saddle, hinder the observer from coming to the conclusion, that her figure was quite as attractive as her nice.
    The man following upon the mule, six lengths of his animal in the rear, by his costume as well as the respectful distance observed was evidently only an attendant.
    "Who can that woman be?" was the muttered interrogatory of Louise Poindexter, as with quick action she raised the lorgnette to her eyes, and directed it upon the oddly appareled figure. "Who can she be?" was repeated in a tone of greater deliberation, as the glass came down, and the naked eyes was entrusted to complete the scrutiny. "A Mexican, of course, the man on the mule her servant. Some grand señora, I suppose? I thought they had all gone to the other side of the Rio Grande. A basket carried by the attendant. I wonder what it contains and what errand she can have to the Fort, it may be the village. 'Tis the third time I've seen her passing within this week? She must be from some of the plantations below!"
    "What an outlandish style of riding! Pardieu! I'm told it's not uncommon among the daughters of Anahuac. What if I were to take to it myself? No doubt it's much the easiest way, though if such a spectacle were seen in the States it would be styled unfeminine. How our Puritan mammas would scream out against it! I think I hear them. Ha, ha, ha!
    The mirth thus begotten was but of momentary duration. There came a change over the countenance of the Creole, quick as a drifting cloud darkens the disc of the sun. It was not a return to that melancholy so late shadowing, it though something equally serious as might be told by the sudden blanching of her cheeks.
    The cause could only be looked for, in the movements of the scarfed equestrian on the other side of the river. An antelope had sprung up, out of some low shrubbery growing by the road side. The creature appeared to have made its first bound from under the counter of the horse, a splendid animal, that, in a moment after, was going at full gallop in pursuit of the affrighted "pronghorn"; while his rider, with her rebozo suddenly flung from her face, its fringed ends streaming behind her back, was seen describing, with her right arm, a series of circular sweeps in the air!
    "What is the woman going to do?" was the muttered interrogatory of the spectator upon the house top. "Ha! As I live, 'tis a lasso!"
    The señora, was not long in giving proof of skill, in the use of the national implement by flinging its noose around the antelope's neck, and throwing the creature in its tracks!
    The attendant rode up to the place where it lay struggling, dismounted from his mule and, stooping over the prostrate pronghorn, appeared to administer the coup de grace. Then, flinging the carcass over the croup of his saddle, he climbed back upon his mule, and spurred after his mistress who had already recovered her lasso, readjusted her scarf, and was riding onward, as if nothing had occurred worth waiting for!
    It was at that moment, when the noose was seen circling in the air that the shadow had reappeared upon the countenance of the Creole. It was not surprise that caused it, but an emotion of a different character, a thought far more unpleasant.
    Nor did it pass speedily away. It was still there though a white hand holding the lorgnette to her eye might have hindered it from being seen still there, as long as the mounted figures were visible upon the open road and even after they had passed out of sight behind the screening of the acacias.
    "I wonder oh, I wonder if it be she! My own age, he said not quite so tall. The description suits so far as one may judge at this distance. Has her home on the Rio Grande. Comes occasionally to the Leona, to visit some relatives. Who? Who are they? Why did I not ask him the name? I wonder - oh, I wonder if it be she! "
    
25. A GIFT UNGIVEN.
    
    For some minutes after the lady of the lasso and her attendant had passed out of sight, Louise Poindexter pursued the train of reflection started by the somewhat singular episode of which she had been spectator. Her attitude, and air, of continued dejection told that her thoughts had not been directed into a more cheerful channel.
    Rather the reverse. Once or twice, before had her mind given way to imaginings, connected with that accomplished equestrienne and more than once had she speculated upon her purpose in riding up the road. The incident just witnessed had suddenly changed her conjectures into suspicions of an exceedingly unpleasant nature.
    It was a relief to her, when a horseman appeared coming out of the chapparal, at the point where the others had ridden in a still greater relief, when he was seen to swerve into the cross path that conducted to the hacienda, and was recognized, through the lorgnette, as Zeb Stump the hunter.
    The face of the Creole became bright again almost to gaiety. There was something ominous of good, in the opportune appearance of the honest backwoodsman.
    "The man I wanted to see!" She exclaimed in joyous accents. " He can bear me a message and perhaps tell who she is. He must have met her on the road. That will enable me to introduce the subject, without Zeb having any suspicion of my object. Even with him I must be circumspect after what has happened. Ah, me! Not much should I care, if I were sure of his caring for me. How provoking his indifference! And to me Louise Poindexter! Pardieu! Let it proceed much further, and I shall try to escape from the toils, if I should crush my poor heart in the attempt!''
    It need scarce be said that the individual, whose esteem was so coveted, was not Zeb Stump.
    Her next speech, however, was addressed to Zeb, as he reined up in front of the hacienda.
    "Dear Mr. Stump!" hailed a voice, to which the old hunter delighted to listen. "I'm so glad to see you. Dismount, and come up here! I know you're a famous climber, and won't mind a flight of stone stairs. There's a view from this house-top that will reward you for your trouble."
    "Thur's suthin' on the house-top theear," rejoined the hunter, "the view o' which 'ud reward Zeb Stump for climbin' to the top o' a steamboat chimbly; 'an thet's yurself, Miss Lewaze. I'll kum up, soon as I ha' stabled the ole maar, which shell be dud in the shakin' o' a goat's tail. Gee up, ole gal!" he con tinned, addressing himself to the mare, after he had dismounted, "Hold up yur head, an' may be Plute hyur 'll gie ye a wheen o' corn shucks for yur breakfist."
    "Ho-ho! Mass 'Tump," interposed the sable coachman, making his appearance in the patio. "Dat same do dis nigga, gub um de shucks wi' de yaller corn inside of dem. Ho-ho! You gwup 'tairs to de young missa, an' Plute he no 'gleck yar ole mar."
    "Yur a dod-rotted good sample o' a nigger, Plute an' the nix occashun I shows about hyur, I'll fetch you a 'possum, wi' the meat on it as tender as a two year old chicken. Thet's what I'm boun' ter do."
    After delivering himself of this promise, Zeb commenced ascending the stone stairway, not by single steps, but by two, and sometimes three, at a stride.
    He was soon upon the housetop where he was once more welcomed by the young mistress of the mansion.
    Her excited manner, and the eagerness with which she conducted him to a remote part of the azotea, told the astute hunter, that he had been summoned thither for some other purpose, than enjoying the prospect.
    "Tell me, Mr. Stump!" said she, as she clutched the sleeve of the blanket coat in her delicate fingers, and looked inquiringly into Zeb's grey eye "Yon must know all. How is he? Are his wounds of a dangerous nature?"
    "If you refar to Mister Cal-hoon…"
    "No-no-no. I know all about him. It's not of Mr. Calhoun I'm speaking."
    "Wall, Miss Lewaze thur air only one other as I know of in these parts thet hev got wownds an' thet air's Maurice the mowstanger. Mout it be thet ere individooal yur inquirin'abeout?"
    "It is-it is! You know I cannot be indifferent to his welfare, notwithstanding the misfortune of his having quarreled with my cousin. You are aware that he rescued me twice, I may say from imminent peril. Tell me is he in great danger?"
    Such earnestness could no longer be trifled with. Zeb, without further parley, made reply:
    "Ne'er a morsel o' danger. Thur's a bullet hole jest above the ankle joint. It don't signerfy more'n the scratch o' a kitting. Thur's another hev goed through the flesh o' the young fellur's left arm. It don't signerfy neyther only thet it drawed a good sup o' the red out o' him. Howsomdever, he's all right now; an' expecks to be out o' doors in a kupple o' days, or tharabout. He sez that an hour in the seddle, an' a skoot acrosst the purayra, 'ud do him more good than all the doctors in Texas. I reckon it wud, but the doctor it's the surgint o' the Fort as attends on him, he won't let him git to grass yit a bit."
    "Where is he?"
    "He air stayin' at the hotel, whar the skrimmage tuk place."
    "Perhaps he is not well waited upon? It's a rough place, I've heard. He may not have any delicacies, such as an invalid stands in need of? Stay here, Mr. Stump, till I come up to you again. "I have something I wish to send to him. I know I can trust you to deliver it. Wont you? I'm sure you will. I shall be with you in six seconds."
    Without waiting to note the effect of her speech, the young lady tripped lightly along the passage, and as lightly descended the stone stairway.
    Presently she reappeared, bringing with her a good sized hamper, which was evidently filled with eatables, with something to send them down.
    "Now dear old Zeb, you will take this to Mr. Gerald? It's only some little things, that Florinda has put up, some cordials and jellies and the like, such as sick people at times have a craving for. They are not likely to be kept in the hotel. Don't tell him where they come from, neither him, nor any one else. You won't? I know you won't, you dear good giant."
    "Ye may depend on Zeb Stump for thet, Miss Lewaze. Nobody air' a goin' to be a bit the wiser about who sent these hyur, delekissies though, for the matter o' cakes an' kickshaws, an' all that sort o' thing, the mowstanger hain't had much reezun to complain. He hev been serplied wi' enuf o' them to hev filled the bellies o' a hul school o' shugarbabbies."
    "Ha! Supplied already! By whom?"
    "Wal, thet theer this chile can't inform ye, Miss Lewaze not beknowin' it hisself. I on'y hyurd they wur fetched to the tavern in baskets, by some sort o' a sarvingt man as air a Mexikin. I've seed the man myself. Fact, I've jest this minnit met him, ridin' arter a wuman sot stridy legs in her seddle, as most o' these Mexikin weemen ride. I reck'n he be her sarvingt, as he war keepin' a good ways ahint, and toatin' a basket jest like one o' them Maurice hed got arready. Like enuf it air another lot o' kickshaws they wur takin' to the tavern."
    There was no need to trouble Zeb Stump with further cross-questioning. A whole history was supplied by that single speech. The case was painfully clear. In the regard of Maurice Gerald, Louise Poindexter had a rival, perhaps something more. The lady of the lasso was either his fiancé e , or his mistress!
    It was not by accident, though to Zeb Stump it may have seemed so, that the hamper, steadied for a time, upon the coping of the balustrade, and still retained in the hand of the young Creole, escaped from her clutch, and fell with a crash upon the stones below. The bottles were broken, and their contents spilled into the stream, that surged along the basement of the wall.
    The action of the arm that produced this effect, apparently springing from a spasmodic and involuntary effort, was nevertheless due to design and Louisa Poindexter, as she leant over the parapet, and contemplated the ruin she had caused, felt as if her heart was shattered, like the glass that lay glistening below!
    "How unfortunate!" said she, making a feint, to conceal her chagrin. "The dainties are destroyed, I declare! What will Florinda say? After all, if Mr. Gerald be so well attended to, as you say he is, he'll not stand in need of them. I'm glad to hear he hasn't been neglected, one who has done me a service. But, Mr. Stump, you needn't say anything of this, or that I inquired after him. You know, his late antagonist, is our near relative and it might cause scandal in the settlement. Dear Zeb, you promise me?"
    "Swa-ar it ef ye like. Neery word, Miss Lewaze, neery word; ye kin depend on ole Zeb."
    "I know it. Come! The sun is growing hot up here. Let us go down, and see whether we can find you such a thing, as a glass of your favorite Monongahela. Come!"
    With an assumed air of cheerfulness, the young Creole glided across the azotea and, trilling the "New Orleans Waltz," once more commenced descending the escalera.
    In eager acceptance of the invitation, the old hunter followed close upon her skirts and although, by habit, stoically indifferent to feminine charms and with his thoughts at that moment chiefly bent upon the promised Monongahela, he could not help admiring those ivory shoulders, brought so conspicuously under his eyes.
    But for a short while, was he permitted to indulge in the luxurious spectacle. On reaching the bottom of the stair his fair hostess bade him a somewhat abrupt adieu. After the revelations he had so unwittingly made, his conversation seemed no longer agreeable and she, late desirous of interrogating, was now contented to leave him alone with the Monongahela, as she hastened to hide her chagrin in the solitude of her chamber.
    For the first time in her life, Louise Poindexter felt the pangs of jealousy. It was her first real love, for she was in love with Maurice Gerald.
    A solicitude like that, shown for him by the Mexican señora, could scarce spring from simple friendship? Some closer tie must have been established between them? So ran the reflections of the now suffering Creole.
    From what Maurice had said, from what she had herself seen, the lady of the lasso was just such a woman, as should win the affections of such a man. Hers were accomplishments he might naturally be expected to admire.
    Her figure had appeared perfect, under the magnifying effect of the lens. The face had not been so fairly viewed, and was still undetermined. Was it in correspondence with the form? Was it such as to secure the love of a man so much master of his passions, as the mustanger appeared to be?
    The mistress of Casa del Corvo could not rest, till she had satisfied herself on this score. As soon as Zeb Stump had taken his departure, she ordered the spotted mare to be saddled and, riding out alone, she sought the crossing of the river and thence proceeded to the highway on the opposite side.
    Advancing in the direction of the Fort, as she expected, she soon encountered the Mexican señora on her return, no señor a according to the exact signification of the term, but a señor ita , a young lady, not older than herself.
    At the place of their meeting, the road ran under the shadow of the trees. There was no sun to require the coifing of the rebozo upon the crown of the Mexican equestrian. The scarf had fallen upon her shoulders, laying bare a head of hair, in luxuriance rivaling the tail of a wild steed, in color the plumage of a crow. It formed the framing of a face that, despite a certain darkness of complexion, was charmingly attractive.
    Good breeding permitted only a glance at it in passing, which was returned by a like courtesy on the part of the stranger. But as the two rode on, back to back, going in opposite directions, neither could restrain herself from turning round in the saddle, and snatching a second glance at the other.
    Their reflections were not very dissimilar, if Louise Poindexter had already learnt something of the individual thus encountered, the latter was not altogether ignorant of her existence.
    We shall not attempt to portray the thoughts of the señorita, consequent on that encounter. Suffice it to say, that those of the Creole, were even more somber than when she sallied forth, on that errand of inspection and that the young mistress of Casa del Corvo rode back to the mansion, all the way seated in her saddle in an attitude, that betokened the deepest dejection.
    "Beautiful!" said she, after passing her supposed rival upon the road. "Yes too beautiful to be his friend!"
    Louise was speaking to her own conscience or she might have been charier of her praise.
    "I cannot have any doubt," continued she, "of the relationship that exists between them. He loves her! He loves her! It accounts for his cold indifference to me? I've been mad to risk my heart's happiness in such an illustrated entanglement!
    "And now to disentangle it! Now to banish him from my thoughts! Ah! 'tis easily said! Can I?"
    "I shall see him no more. That, at least, is possible. After what has occurred, he will not come to our house. We can only meet by accident and that accident I must be careful to avoid. Oh, Maurice Gerald! Tamer of wild steeds! You have subdued a spirit that may suffer long perhaps never recover from the lesson!"
26. STILL ON THE AZOTEA.
    To banish from the thoughts, one who has been passionately loved, is a simple impossibility. Time may do much to subdue the pain of an unreciprocated passion, and absence more. But neither time, nor absence, can hinder the continued recurrence of that longing for the lost loved one, or quiet the heart aching with that void that has never been satisfactorily filled.
    Louise Poindexter had imbibed a passion, that could not be easily stifled. Though of brief existence, it had been of rapid growth, vigorously overriding all obstacles to its indulgence. It was already strong enough to overcome such ordinary scruples as parental consent, or the inequality of rank and had it been reciprocated, neither would have stood in the way, so far as she herself was concerned. For the former, she was of age and felt as most of her countrywomen, do capable of taking care of herself. For the latter, who ever really loved that cared a straw for class, or caste? Love has no such meanness in its composition. At all events, there was none such in the passion of Louise Poindexter.
    It could scarce be called the first illusion of her life. It was, however, the first, where disappointment was likely to prove dangerous to the tranquility of her spirit.
    She was not unaware of this. She anticipated unhappiness for a while, hoping that time would enable her to subdue the expected pain.
    At first, she fancied she would find a friend in her own strong will and another in the natural buoyancy of her spirit. But as the days passed, she found reason to distrust both for in spite of both, she could not erase from her thoughts the image of the man who had so completely captivated her imagination.
    There were times when she hated him, or tried to do so when she could have killed him, or seen him killed, without making an effort to save him! They were but moments each succeeded by an interval of more righteous reflection, when she felt that the fault was hers alone, as hers only the misfortune.
    No matter for this. It mattered not if he had been her enemy the enemy of all mankind. If Lucifer himself, to whom in her wild fancy she had once likened him, she would have loved him all the same!
    And it would have proved nothing abnormal in her disposition, nothing to separate her from the rest of womankind, all the world over. In the mind of man, or woman either, there is no connection between the moral and the passional. They are as different from each other as fire from water. They may chance to run in the same channel, but they may go diametrically opposite. In other words, we may love the very being we hate aye, the one we despise!
    Louise Poindexter could neither hate, nor despise, Maurice Gerald. She could only endeavor to feel indifference.
    It was a vain effort, and ended in failure. She could not restrain herself, from ascending to the azotea and scrutinizing the road, where she had first beheld the cause of her jealousy. Each day, and almost every hour of the day, was the ascent repeated.
    Still more. Notwithstanding her resolve, to avoid the accident of an encounter with the man who had made her miserable, she was oft in the saddle and abroad, scouring the country around riding through the streets of the village with no other object than to meet him.
    During the three days that followed that unpleasant discovery, once again had she seen from the housetop as before the lady of the lasso en route up the road, as before accompanied by her attendant with the pannier across his arm that Pandora's box that had bred such mischief in her mind, while she herself stood trembling with jealousy, envious of the other's errand.
    She knew more now, though not much. Only had she learnt the name and social standing of her rival. The Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos, daughter of a wealthy haciendado, who lived upon the Rio Grande, and niece to another whose estate lay upon the Leona, a mile beyond the boundaries of her fathers new purchase. An eccentric young lady, as some thought, who could throw a lasso, tame a wild steed, or anything else excepting her own caprices.
    Such was the character of the Mexican señorita, as known to the American settlers on the Leona.
    Knowledge of it did not remove the jealous suspicions of the Creole. On the contrary, it tended to confirm them. Such practices were her own predilections. She had been created with an instinct to admire them. She supposed that others must do the same. The young Irishman was not likely to be an exception.
    There was an interval of several days during which the lady of the lasso was not seen again.
    "He has recovered from Ins wounds?" reflected the Creole. "He no longer needs such unremitting attention."
    She was upon the azotea at the moment of making this reflection lorgnette in hand, as she had often been before.
    It was in the morning, shortly after sunrise the hour when the Mexican had been wont to make her appearance. Louise had been looking towards the quarter whence the señorita might have been expected to come.
    On turning her eyes in the opposite direction, she beheld that which caused her something more than surprise. She saw Maurice Gerald, mounted on horseback, and riding down the road!
    Though seated somewhat stiffly in the saddle, and going at a slow pace, it was certainly he. The glass declared his identity, at the same time disclosing the fact, that his left arm was suspended in a sling.
    On recognizing him, she shrank behind the parapet as she did so, giving utterance to a suppressed cry.
    Why that anguished utterance? Was it the sight of the disabled arm, or the pallid face for the glass had enabled her to distinguish both?
    Neither one, nor the other. Neither could be a cause of surprise. Besides, it was an exclamation far differently, intoned to those of either pity or astonishment. It was an expression of sorrow, which had for its origin some heartfelt chagrin.
    The invalid was convalescent. He no longer needed to be visited by his nurse. He was on the way to visit her !
    Cowering behind the parapet, screened by the flower spike of the yucca , Louise Poindexter watched the passing horseman. The lorgnette enabled her to note every movement made by him, almost to the play of his features.
    She felt some slight gratification on observing that he turned his race at intervals and fixed his regard upon Casa del Corvo. It was increased, when on reaching a copse that stood by the side of the road, and nearly opposite the house, he reined up behind the trees, and for a long time remained in the same spot, as if reconnoitering the mansion.
    She almost conceived a hope that he might be thinking of its mistress!
    It was but a gleam of joy, departing like the sunlight under the certain shadow of an eclipse. It was succeeded by a sadness that might be appropriately compared to such shadow, for to her the world at that moment seemed filled with gloom.
    Maurice Gerald had ridden on. He had entered the chapparal and become lost to view with the road upon which he was riding.
    Whither was he bound? Whither, but to visit Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos?
    It mattered not that he returned within less than an hour. They might have met in the woods, within eyeshot of that jealous spectator, but for the screening of the trees. An hour was sufficient interview for lovers, who could every day claim unrestricted indulgence.
    It mattered not; that in passing upwards he again cast regards towards Casa del Corvo again halted behind the copse, and passed some time in apparent scrutiny of the mansion.
    It was but mockery or exultation. He might well feel triumphant but why should he be cruel, with kisses upon his lips, the kisses he had received from the Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos?
27. I LOVE TOU!, I LOVE YOU!
    Louise Poindexter upon the azotea again; again to be subjected to a fresh chagrin! That broad stone stairway, trending up to the house-top, seemed to lead only to spectacles that gave her pain. She had mentally vowed no more to ascend it, at least for a long time. Something stronger than her strong will, successfully combated the keeping of that vow. It was broken ere the sun of another day, had dried the dew from the grass of the prairie.
    As on the day before, she stood by the parapet scanning the road on the opposite side of the river; as before, she saw the horseman with the slung arm ride past as before, she crouched to screen herself from observation.
    He was going downwards, as on the day preceding. In like manner did he cast long glances towards the hacienda, and made halt behind the clump of trees that grew opposite.
    Her heart fluttered between hope and fear. There was an instant when she felt half inclined to show herself. Fear prevailed and in the next instant he was gone.
    Whither?
    The self asked interrogatory was but the same as of yesterday. It met with a similar response.
    Whither, if not to meet Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos?
    Could there be a doubt of it?
    If so, it was soon to be determined. In less than twenty minutes after, a parded steed was seen upon the same road and in the same direction with a lady upon its back.
    The jealous heart of the Creole could hold out no longer. No truth could cause greater torture than she was already suffering through suspicion. She had resolved on assuring herself, though the knowledge should prove fatal to the last faint remnant of her hopes.
    She entered the chapparal where the mustanger had ridden in, scarce twenty minutes before. She rode on beneath the flitting shadows of the acacias. She rode in silence upon the soft turf keeping close to the side of the path, so that the hoof might not strike against stones. The long pinnate fronds, drooping down to the level of her eyes, mingled with the plumes in her hat. She sate her saddle crouchingly, as if to avoid being observed all the while, with earnest glance scanning the open space before her.
    She reached the crest of a hill, which commanded a view beyond. There was a house in sight surrounded by tall trees. It might have been termed a mansion. It was the residence of Don Silvio Martinez, the uncle of Doña Isidora. So much had she learnt already.
    There were other houses to be seen upon the plain below, but on this one, and the road leading to it, the eyes of the Creole became fixed in a glance of uneasy interrogation.
    For a time she continued her scrutiny without satisfaction. No one appeared either at the house, or near it. The private road leading to the residence of the haciendado, and the public highway, were alike without living forms. Some horses were straying over the pastures, but not one with a rider upon his back.
    Could the lady have ridden out to meet him, or Maurice gone in?
    Were they at that moment in the woods, or within the walls of the house? If the former, was Don Silvio aware of it? If the latter, was he at home an approving party to the assignation?
    With such questions was the Creole afflicting herself, when the neigh of a horse broke abruptly on her ear, followed by the chinking of a shod hoof against the stones of the causeway.
    She looked below for she had halted upon the crest of a steep acclivity. The mustanger was ascending it riding directly towards her. She might have seen him sooner, had she not been occupied with the more distant view.
    He was alone, as he had ridden past Casa del Corvo. There was nothing to show that he had recently been in company, much less in the company of an inamorata.
    It was too late for Louise to shun him. The spotted mustang had replied to the salutation of an old acquaintance. Its rider was constrained to keep her ground, till the mustanger came up.
    "Good day, Miss Poindexter?" said he for upon the prairies it is not etiquette for the lady to speak first. "Alone?"
    "Alone, sir. And why not?"
    "'Tis a solitary ride among the chaparrals. But true I think I've heard you say you prefer that sort of thing?"
    "You appear to like it yourself, Mr. Gerald. To you, however, it is not so solitary, I presume?"
    "In faith I do like it and just for that very reason. I have the misfortune to live at a tavern, or ' hotel as mine host is pleased to call it and one gets so tired of the noises especially an invalid, as I have the bad luck to be that a ride along this quiet road is something akin to luxury. The cool shade of these acacias, which the Mexicans have vulgarized by the name of mezquites , with the breeze that keeps constantly circulating through their fan, like foliage would invigorate the feeblest of frames. Don't you think so, Miss Poindexter?"
    "You should know best, sir," was the reply vouchsafed, after some seconds of embarrassment. "You, who have so often tried it?"
    "Often! I have been only twice down this road since I have been able to sit in my saddle. But, Miss Poindexter, may I ask how you knew that I have been this way at all?"
    "Oh!" rejoined Louise, her color going and coming as she spoke, "how could I help knowing it for I am in the habit of spending much time on the housetop. The view, the breeze, the music of the birds, ascending from the garden below, makes it a delightful spot especially in the cool of the morning. Our roof commands a view of this road. Being up there, how could I avoid seeing you as you passed that is, so long as you were not under the shade of the acacias? "
    "You saw me, then?" said Maurice, with an embarrassed air, which was not caused by the innuendo conveyed in her last words which he could not have comprehended, but by a remembrance of how he had himself behaved while riding along the reach of open road.
    "How could I help it?" was the ready reply. "The distance is scarce six hundred yards. Even a lady, mounted upon a steed much smaller than yours, was sufficiently conspicuous to be identified. When I saw her display, her wonderful skill, by strangling a poor little antelope with her lasso, I knew it could be no other than she whose accomplishments you were as good as to give me an account of." "Isidora?" "Isidora!"
    "Ah true! She has been here for some time." "And has been very kind to Mr. Maurice Gerald?" "Indeed, it is true. She has been very kind though I have had no chance of thanking her. With all her friendship for poor me, she is a great hater of us foreign invaders and would not condescend to step over the threshold of Mr. Oberdoffer's hotel."
    "Indeed! I suppose she preferred meeting you under the shade of the acacias ! "
    "I have not met her at all, at least not for many months and may not for months to come, now that she has gone back to her home on the Rio Grande."
    "Are you speaking the truth, sir? You have not seen her since she is gone away from the house of her uncle?"
    "She has," replied Maurice, exhibiting surprise. "Of course, I have not seen her. I only knew she was here by her sending me some delicacies while I was ill. In truth, I stood in need of them. The hotel c ui sine is none of the nicest, nor was I the most welcome of Mr. Oberdoffer's guests. Doña Isidora has been but too grateful for the slight service I once did her."
    "A service! May I ask what it was, Mr. Gerald?"
    "Oh, certainly. It was merely a chance. I had the opportunity of being useful to the young lady, in once rescuing her from some rude Indians Wild Cat and his Seminoles into whose hands she had fallen, while making a journey from the Rio Grande to visit her uncle on the Leona, Don Silvio Martinez, whose house you can see from here. The brutes had got drunk and were threatening not exactly her life though, that was in some danger, but well, the poor girl was in trouble with them, and might have had some difficulty in getting away, had I not chanced to ride up."
    "A slight service, you call it? You are modest in your estimate, Mr. Gerald. A man who should do that much for…"
    "What would you do for him ? " asked the mustanger, placing a significant emphasis on the final word.
    "I should love him," was the prompt reply.
    "Then," said Maurice, spurring his horse close up to the side of the spotted mustang, and whispering into the ear of its rider, with an earnestness strangely contrasting to his late reticence, "I would give half my life to see you in the hands of Wild Cat and his drunken comrades the other half, to deliver you from the danger."
    "Do you mean this, Maurice Gerald? Do not trifle with me, I am not a child. Speak the truth! Do you mean it?
    "I do! As heaven is above me, I do!"
    The sweetest kiss I ever had in my life was when a woman a fair creature, in the hunting field leant over in her saddle and kissed me as I sate in mine.
    The fondest embrace ever received by Maurice Gerald, was that given by Louise Poindexter when, standing up in her stirrup, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, she cried in an agony of earnest passion
    " Do with me as thou wilt ; I love you ! I love yo u ! "
28. A PLEASURE FORBIDDEN.
    Ever since Texas became the scene of an Anglo-Saxon immigration, I might go a century farther back and say, from the time of its colonization by the descendants of the Conquistadores, the subject of primary importance has been the disposition of its aborigines.
    Whether these, the lawful lords of the soil, chanced to be in a state of open war or whether, by some treaty with the settlers, they were consenting to a temporary peace made but slight difference, so far as they were talked about. In either case they were a topic of daily discourse. In the former, it related to the dangers to be hourly apprehended from them in the latter, to the probable duration of such treaty as might for the moment be binding them to hold their tomahawks entombed.
    In Mexican times, these questions formed the staple of conversation, at desa y uno, a lm uerzo, comida, y cena ; in American times, up to this present hour, they have been the themes of discussion at the breakfast, dinner, and supper tables. In the planter's piazza, as in the hunter's camp, bear, deer, cougar, and peccary, are not named with half the frequency, or half the fear inspiring, emphasis allotted to the word "Indian." It is this that scares the Texan child instead of the stereotyped nursery ghost, keeping it awake upon its moss stuffed mattress disturbing almost as much the repose of its parent.
    Despite the surrounding of strong walls more resembling those of a fortress than a gentleman's dwelling the inmates of Casa del Corvo were not excepted from this feeling of apprehension, universal along the frontier. As yet they knew little of the Indians, and that little only from report but, day by day, they were becoming better acquainted with the character of this natural "terror" that interfered with the slumbers of their fellow settlers.
    That it was no mere "bogie", they had begun to believe, but if any of them remained incredulous, a note received from the major commanding the Fort about two weeks after the horse-hunting expedition was calculated to cure them of their incredulity.
    It came in the early morning, carried by a mounted rifleman. It was put into the hands of the planter just as he was about sitting down to the breakfast table, around which were assembled the three individuals who composed his household his daughter Louise, his son Henry, and his nephew Cassius Calhoun.
    "Startling news!" he exclaimed, after hastily reading the note. "Not very pleasant if true and I suppose there can be no doubt of that, since the major appears convinced."
    "Unpleasant news, papa?" asked his daughter, a spot of red springing to her cheek as she put the question.
    The spoken interrogatory was continued by others, not uttered aloud.
    "What can the major have written to him? I met him yesterday while riding in the chapparal. He saw me in company with… Can it be that? Mon Dieu ! If father should hear it…"
    "The Comanches on the war-trail' so writes the major."
    "Oh, that's all!" said Louise, involuntarily giving voice to the phrase, as if the news had nothing so very fearful in it. "You frightened us, sir. I thought it was something worse."
    "Worse! What trifling, child, to talk so! There is nothing worse, in Texas, than Comanches on the war-trail, nothing half so dangerous."
    Louise might have thought there was a danger, at least as difficult to be avoided. Perhaps she was reflecting upon a pursuit of wild steeds, or thinking of the trai l of a lasso .
    She made no reply. Calhoun continued the conversation.
    "Is the major sure of the Indians being up? What does he say, uncle?"
    "That there have been rumors of it for some days past, though not reliable. Now it is certain. Last night Wild Cat, the Seminole chief, came to the Fort with a party of his tribe, bringing the news that the painted pole has been erected in the camps of the Comanches, all over Texas, and that the war dance has been going on for more than a month. That several parties are already out upon the maraud, and may be looked for among the settlements at any moment."
    "And Wild Cat himself, what of him?" asked Louise, an unpleasant reminiscence suggesting the inquiry. "Is that renegade Indian to be trusted, who appears to be as much an enemy to the whites, as to the people of his own race?"
    "Quite true, my daughter. You have described the chief of the Seminoles almost in the same terms as I find him spoken of, in a postscript to the major's letter. He counsels us to beware of the two faced old rascal, who will be sure to take sides with the Comanches, whenever it may suit his convenience to do so."
    "Well," continued the planter, laying aside the note, and betaking himself to his coffee and waffles, "I trust we aha'n't see any redskins here either Seminoles, or Comanches. In making their marauds, let us hope they will not like the look of the crenelled parapets of Casa del Corvo, but give the hacienda a wide berth."
    Before any one could respond, a sable face appearing at the door of the dining room, which was the apartment in which breakfast was being eaten, caused a complete change in the character of the conversation.
    The countenance belonged to Pluto, the coachman.
    "What do you want, Piute?" inquired his owner.
    "Ho, ho! Massr Woodley, dis chile want nuffin 't all. Only look in, to tell Missa Looey dat soon's she done eat her brekfass, de spotty am unner de saddle, all ready for chuck de bit into him mouf. Ho! ho! dat critter do dance 'bout on de pavestone as if it wa' mad to 'treak it back to de smoove tuff of de praira."
    "Going out for a ride, Louise?" asked the planter, with a shadow upon his brow, which he made but little effort to conceal.
    "Yes, papa I was thinking of it."
    "You must not."
    "Indeed!"
    "I mean, that you must not ride out alone. It is not proper."
    "Why do you think so, papa? I have often ridden out alone."
    "Yes perhaps too often."
    This last remark brought the slightest tinge of color to the cheeks of the young Creole though she seemed uncertain what construction she was to put upon it.
    Notwithstanding its ambiguity, she did not press for an explanation. On the contrary, she preferred shunning it as was shown by her reply.
    "If you think so, papa, I shall not go out again. Though, to be cooped up here, in this dismal dwelling, while you gentlemen are all abroad upon business, is that the life you intend me to lead in Texas?"
    "Nothing of the sort, my daughter. I have no objection to your riding out as much as you please, but Henry must be with you, or your cousin Cassius. I only lay an embargo on your going alone. I have my reasons."
    "Reasons! What are they?"
    The question came involuntarily to her lips. It had scarce passed them, ere she regretted having asked it. By her uneasy air it was evident she had apprehensions as to the answer.
    The reply appeared partially to relieve her.
    "What other reasons do you want," said the planter, evidently endeavoring to escape from the suspicion of duplicity by the statement of a convenient fact "what better, than the contents of this letter from the major? Remember, my child, you are not in Louisiana, where a lady may travel anywhere without fear of either insult, or outrage but in Texas, where she may dread both, where even her life may be in danger. Here there are Indians."
    "My excursions don't extend so far from the house, that I need have any fear of Indians. I never go more than five miles, at the most."
    "Five miles!" exclaimed the ex-officer of volunteers, with a sardonic smile, "you would be as safe at fifty, cousin Loo. You are just as likely to encounter the redskins within a hundred yards of the door, as at the distance of a hundred miles. When they are on the war-trail, they may be looked for anywhere, and at any time. In my opinion, uncle Woodley is right, you are very foolish to ride out alone."
    "Oh! You say so?" sharply retorted the young Creole, turning disdainfully towards her cousin. "And pray, sir, may I ask of what service your company would be to me, in the event of my encountering the Comanches, which I don't believe there's the slightest danger of my doing? A pretty figure, we'd cut the pair of us, in the midst of a war party of painted savages! Ha! ha! The danger would be yours, not mine, since I should certainly ride away, and leave you to your own devices. Danger, indeed, within five miles of the house! If there's a horseman in Texas, savages not excepted, who can catch up with my little Luna in a five mile stretch, he must ride a swift steed, which is more than you do, Mr. Cash!"
    "Silence, daughter!" commanded Poindexter. "Don't let me hear you talk in that absurd strain. Take no notice of it, nephew. Even if there were no danger from Indians, there are other outlaws in these parts, quite as much to be shunned as they. Enough that I forbid you to ride abroad, as you have of late been accustomed to do."
    "Be it as you will, papa," rejoined Louise, rising from the breakfast table and with an air of resignation preparing to leave the room. "Of course I shall obey you at the risk of losing my health, for want of exercise. Go, Pluto!" she added, addressing herself to the darkey, which still stood grinning in the doorway, "turn Luna loose into the corral the pastures anywhere. Let her stray back to her native prairies, if the creature be so inclined she's no longer needed here."
    With this speech, the young lady swept out of the sala, leaving the three gentlemen, who still retained their seats by the table, to reflect upon the satire intended to be conveyed by her words.
    They were not the last to which she gave utterance in that same series. As she glided along the corridor leading to her own chamber, others, low murmured, and mechanically escaped from her lips. They were in the shape of interrogatories, a string of them self asked, and only to be answered by conjecture.
    "What can papa have heard? Is it but his suspicions? Can any one have told him? Does he know that we have met?"
29. EL COYOTE AT HOME.
    Calhoun took his departure from the breakfast table almost as abruptly as his cousin but, on leaving the sala, instead of returning to his own chamber, he sallied forth from the house.
    Still suffering from wounds, but half healed, he was nevertheless sufficiently convalescent to go abroad, into the garden, to the stables, the corrals anywhere around the house.
    On the present occasion, his excursion was intended to conduct him to a more distant point. As if under the stimulus of what had turned up in the conversation, or perhaps by the contents of the letter that had been read, his feebleness seemed for the time to have forsaken him and, vigorously plying his crutch, he proceeded up the river in the direction of Fort Inge.
    In a barren tract of land, that lay about half way between the hacienda and the Fort and that did not appear to belong to any one, he arrived at the terminus of his limping expedition. There was a grove of m ezquite , with some larger trees shading it and in the midst of this, a rude hovel of "wattle and dab," known in South-Western Texas as jacalé .
    It was the domicile of Miguel Diaz, the Mexican mustanger, a lair appropriate to the semi savage, who had earned for himself the distinctive appellation of El Coyote ("Prairie Wolf").
    It was not always, that the wolf could be found in his den, for his jacalé deserved no better description. It was but his occasional sleeping place, during those intervals of inactivity, when by the disposal of a drove of captured mustangs, he could afford to stay for a time within the limits of the settlement, indulging in such gross pleasures, as its proximity afforded. Calhoun was fortunate in finding him at home, though not quite so fortunate as to find him in a state of sobriety. He was not exactly intoxicated, having after a prolonged spell of sleep, partially recovered from this, the habitual condition of his existence.
    " H 'la ñ or! " he exclaimed in his provincial patois, slurring the salutation, as his visitor darkened the door of the jacalé . "Who'd have expected to see you? Sientese! Be seated. Take a chair. There's one. A chair! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
    The laugh was called up at contemplation of that which he had facetiously termed a chair. It was the skull of a mustang, intended to serve as such and which, with another similar piece, a rude table of cleft yucca tree, and a couch of cane reeds, upon which the owner of the ja calé was reclining, constituted the sole furniture of Miguel Diaz's dwelling.
    Calhoun, fatigued with his halting promenade, accepted the invitation of his host, and sate down upon the horse skull.
    He did not permit much time to pass, before entering upon the object of his errand.
    "Señor Diaz!" said he, "I have come for…"
    "S'ñor Americano!" exclaimed the half drunken horse hunter, cutting short the explanation, "why waste words upon that? Carrambo ! I know well enough for what you've come. You want me to wipe out that devilish Irlandes! "
    "Well!"
    "Well I promised you I would do it, for five hundred pesos at the proper time and opportunity. I will. Miguel Diaz never played false to his promise. But the time's not come, ñ or capita n, nor yet the opportunity. Carajo! To kill a man outright requires skill. It can't be done even on the prairies without danger of detection; and if detected, ha! What chance for me? You forget, ñ or c apitan, that I'm a Mexican. If I were of your people, I might slay Don Mauricio and get clear on the score of its being a quarrel. Maldito! With us Mexicans, it is different. If we stick our machete into a man, so as to let out his life's blood, it is called murder and you Americanos, with your stupid juries of twelve honest men, would pronounce it so aye, and hang a poor fellow for it. Chingaro! I can't risk that. I hate the Irlandes as much as you, but I'm not going to chop off my nose, to spite my own face. I must wait for the time, and the chance - carrai, the time and the chance."
    "Both are come!" exclaimed the tempter, bending earnestly towards the bravo. "You said you could easily do it, if there was any Indian trouble going on?"
    "Of course I said so. If there was that…"
    "You have not heard the news, then?"
    "What news?"
    "That the Comanches are starting on the war-trail."
    " Carajo! " exclaimed El Coyote, springing up from his conch of reeds, and exhibiting all the activity of his namesake, when roused by the scent of prey. Santissima Virgen! Do you speak the truth, ñ or capita n ? "
    "Neither more, nor less. The news has just reached the Fort. I have it, on the best authority the officer in command."
    "In that case," answered the Mexican, reflectingly, "in that case, Don Mauricio may die. The Comanches can kill him. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
    "You are sure of it?"
    "I should be surer, if his scalp were worth a thousand dollars, instead of five hundred."
    "It is worth that sum."
    "What sum?"
    "A thousand dollars."
    "You promise it?"
    "I do."
    "Then the Comanches shall scalp him, ñ or capita n . You may return to Casa del Corvo, and go to sleep with confidence that, whenever the opportunity arrives, your enemy will lose his hair. You understand me?"
    "I do."
    "Get ready your thousand pesos "
    "They await your acceptance."
    " Carajo ! I shall earn them in a trice. Adios! adios!"
    " Santi ss ima Virgen ! " exclaimed the profane ruffian, as his visitor limped out of sight. "What a magnificent fluke of fortune! A perfect chirip é . A thousand dollars for killing the man I intended to kill on my own account, without charging anybody a single claco for the deed!
    "The Comanches upon the war-trail! Chingaro ! Can it be true? If so, I must look up my old disguises, gone to neglect through these three long years of accursed peace. Viva la guerra de los Indios ! Success to the pantomime of the prairies!"
30. A SAGITTARY CORRESPONDENCE.
    Louise Poindexter, passionately addicted to the sports termed "manly," could scarce have overlooked archery.
    She had not. The bow, and its adjunct the arrow, were in her hands as toys which she could control to her will.
    She had been instructed in their man è ge by the Houma Indians; a remnant of whom the last descendants of a once powerful tribe may still be encountered upon the "coast" of the Mississippi, in the proximity of Point Coupé and the bayou Atchafalaya.
    For a long time her bow had lain unbent, unpacked, indeed, ever since it had formed part of the paraphernalia brought over-land in the wagon train. Since her arrival at Casa del Corvo, she had found no occasion to use the weapon of Diana and her beautiful bow of Osage-orange wood, and quiver of plumed arrows, had lain neglected in the lumber-room.
    There came a time when they were taken forth, and honored with some attention. It was shortly after that scene at the breakfast-table when she had received the paternal command to discontinue her equestrian excursions.
    To this she had yielded implicit obedience, even beyond what was intended, since not only had she given up riding out alone, but declined to do so in company.
    The spotted mustang stood listless in its stall, or pranced frantically around the corral wondering why its spine was no longer crossed, or its ribs compressed, by that strange caparison, that more than aught else reminded it of its captivity.
    It was not neglected, however. Though no more mounted by its fair mistress, it was the object of her daily almost hourly solicitude. The best corn in the granaderia s of Casa del Corvo was selected, the most nutritious grass that grows upon the savanna, the gramma , furnished for its manger while for drink it had the cool crystal water from the current of the Leona.
    Pluto took delight in grooming it and, under his currycomb and brushes, its coat had attained a gloss which rivaled that upon Pluto's own sable skin.
    While not engaged attending upon her pet, Miss Poindexter divided the residue of her time, between indoor duties and archery. The latter she appeared to have selected as the substitute for that pastime of which she was so passionately fond, and in which she was now denied indulgence.
    The scene of her sagittary performances was the garden, with its adjacent shrubbery an extensive enclosure, three sides of which were fenced in by the river itself, curving round it like the shoe of a racehorse, the fourth being a straight line traced by the rearward wall of the hacienda.
    Within this circumference a garden, with ornamental grounds, had been laid out, in times long gone by as might have been told by many ancient exotics seen standing over it. Even the statues spoke of a past age not only in their decay, but in the personages they were intended to represent. Equally did they betray the chisel of the Spanish sculptor. Among them you might see commemorated the figure and features of the great Condé; of the Campeador; of Ferdinand and his energetic queen, of the discoverer of the American world, of its two chief c onquistadore s, Cortez and Pizarro and of her, alike famous for her beauty and devotion, the Mexican Malinché.
    It was not amidst these sculptured stones that Louise Poindexter practiced her feats of archery, though more than once might she have been seen standing before the statue of Malinché, and scanning the voluptuous outline of the Indian maiden's form, not with any severe thought of scorn, that this dark skinned daughter of Eve had succumbed to such a conqueror as Cortez.
    The young Creole felt, in her secret heart, that she had no right to throw a stone at that statue. To one less famed than Cortez, though in her estimation equally deserving of fame, she had surrendered what the great conquistador had won from Marina, her heart of hearts.
    In her excursions with the bow, which were of diurnal occurrence, she strayed not among the statues. Her game was not there to be found, but under the shadow of tall trees that, keeping the curve of the river, formed a semicircular grove between it and the garden. Most of these trees were of indigenous growth, wild Chinas, mulberries, and pecans that in the laying out of the grounds had been permitted to remain where Nature, perhaps some centuries ago, had scattered their seed.
    It was under the leafy canopy of these fair forest trees, the young Creole delighted to sit or stray along the edge of the pellucid river, that rolled dreamily by.
    Here she was free to be alone which of late appeared to be her preference. Her father, in his sternest mood, could not have denied her so slight a privilege. If there was danger upon the outside prairie, there could be none within the garden enclosed, as it was, by a river broad and deep, and a wall that could not have been scaled without the aid of a thirty round ladder. So far from objecting to this solitary strolling, the planter appeared something more than satisfied that his daughter, had taken to these tranquil habits and the suspicions which he had conceived not altogether without a cause, were becoming gradually dismissed from his mind.
    After all, he might have been misinformed? The tongue of scandal takes delight in torturing and he may have been chosen as one of its victims? Or, perhaps, it was but a casual thing the encounter, of which he had been told, between his daughter and Maurice the mustanger? They may have met by accident in the chapparal? She could not well pass, without speaking to, the man who had twice rescued her from a dread danger. There might have been nothing in it, beyond the simple acknowledgment of her gratitude?
    It looked well that she had, with such willingness, consented to relinquish her rides. It was but little in keeping with her usual custom, when crossed. Obedience to that particular command could, not have been irksome and argued innocence uncontaminated, virtue still intact.
    So reasoned the fond father, who beyond conjecture, was not permitted to scrutinize too closely the character of his child. In other lands, or in a different class of society, he might possibly have asked direct questions, and required direct answers to them. This is not the method upon the Mississippi, where a son of ten years old a daughter of less than fifteen would rebel against such scrutiny, and call it inquisition.
    Still less might Woodley Poindexter strain the statutes of parental authority the father of a Creole belle for years used to that proud homage whose incense often stills, or altogether destroys, the simpler affections of the heart.
    Though her father, and by law her controller, he knew to what a short length his power might extend, if exerted in opposition to her will.
    He was, therefore, satisfied with her late act of obedience rejoiced to find that instead of continuing her reckless rides upon the prairie, she now contented herself within the range of the garden with bow and arrow slaying the small birds that were so unlucky as to come under her aim.
    Father of fifty years old, why reason in this foolish fashion? Have you forgotten your own youth, the thoughts that then inspired you, the deceits you practiced under such inspiration, the counterfeits you assumed, the "stories" you told to cloak what, after all, may have been the noblest impulse of your nature?
    The father of the fair Louise appeared to have become oblivious to recollections of this kind, for his early life was not without facts to have furnished them. They must have been forgotten, else he would have taken occasion to follow his daughter into the garden, and observe her himself unobserved while disporting herself in the shrubbery that bordered the river bank.
    By doing so, he would have discovered that her disposition was not as cruel as may have been supposed. Instead of transfixing the innocent birds that fluttered in such foolish confidence around her, her greatest feat in archery appeared to be the impaling a piece of paper upon the point of her arrow, and sending the shaft thus charged across the river, to fall harmlessly into a thicket on the opposite side.
    He would have witnessed an exhibition still more singular. He would have seen the arrow thus spent after a short interval, as if dissatisfied with the place into which it had been shot, and desirous of returning to the fair hand whence it had taken its departure come back into the garden with the same, or a similar piece of paper, transfixed upon its shaft!
    The thing might have appeared mysterious even supernatural to an observer unacquainted with the spirit and mechanism of that abnormal phenomenon. There was no observer of it, save the two individuals who alternately bent the bow, shooting with a single arrow and by them it was understood.
    "Love laughs at locksmiths." The old adage is scarce suited to Texas, where lock-making is an unknown trade.
    "Where there's a will, there's a way," expresses pretty much the same sentiment, appropriate to all time and every place. Never was it more correctly illustrated than in that exchange of bow shots across the channel of the Leona.
    Louise Poindexter had the will, Maurice Gerald had suggested the way.
31. A STREAM CLEVERLY CROSSED.
    The sagittary correspondence could not last for long. They are but lukewarm lovers, who can content themselves with a dialogue carried on at bowshot distance. Hearts brimful of passion must beat and burn together in close proximity, each feeling the pulsation of the other. "If there be an Elysium on earth, it is this!"
    Maurice Gerald was not the man, nor Louise Poindexter the woman, to shun such a consummation.
    It came to pass not under the tell-tale light of the sun, but in the lone hour of midnight, when but the stars could have been witnesses of their social dereliction.
    Twice had they stood together in that garden grove twice had they exchanged love vows under the steel grey light of the stars and a third interview had been arranged between them.
    Little suspected the proud planter, perhaps prouder of his daughter than anything else he possessed, that she was daily engaged in an act of rebellion, the wildest against which parental authority may pronounce itself.
    His own daughter, his only daughter, of the best blood of Southern aristocracy, beautiful, accomplished everything to secure him a splendid alliance, holding nightly assignation with a horse hunter!
    Could he have but dreamt it when slumbering upon his soft couch, the dream would have startled him from his sleep like the call of the eternal trumpet!
    He had no suspicion, not the slightest. The thing was too improbable, too monstrous, to have given cause for one. Its very monstrosity would have disarmed him, had the thought been suggested.
    He had been pleased at his daughter's compliance with his late injunctions, though he would have preferred her obeying them to the letter, and riding out in company with her brother, or cousin, which she still declined to do. This, however, he did not insist upon. He could well concede so much to her caprice, since her staying at home, could be no disadvantage to the cause that had prompted him to the stern counsel.
    Her ready obedience had almost influenced him to regret the prohibition. Walking in confidence by day, and sleeping in security by night, he fancied, it might soon be recalled.
    It was one of those nights, known only to a southern sky, when the full round moon, rolls clear across a canopy of sapphire, when the mountains have no mist, and look as though you could lay your hand upon them, when the wind is hushed, and the broad leaves of the tropical trees droop motionless from their boughs, themselves silent, as if listening to the concert of singular sounds, carried on in their midst and in which mingle the voices of living creatures, belonging to every department of animated nature beast, bird, reptile, and insect.
    Such a night was it, as you would select for a stroll in company with the being the one and only being who, by the mysterious dictation of Nature, has entwined herself around your heart, a night upon which you feel a wayward longing to have white arms entwined around your neck, and bright eyes before your face, with that voluptuous gleaming that can only be felt to perfection, under the mystic light of the moon.
    It was long after the infantry drum had beaten tatoo, and the cavalry bugle sounded the signal for the garrison of Fort Inge, to go to bed, in fact it was much nearer the hour of mid night when a horseman rode away from the door of Oberdoffer's hotel and, taking the down river road, was soon lost to the sight of the latest loiterer who might have been strolling' through the streets of the village.
    It is already known, that this road passed the hacienda of Casa del Corvo, at some distance from the house, and on the opposite side of the river. It is also known that at the same place it traversed a stretch of open prairie, with only a piece of copse-wood, midway between two extensive tracts of chapparal.
    This clump of isolated timber, known in prairie parlance as a "motte" or "island" of timber, stood by the side of the road, along which the horseman had continued, after taking his departure from the village.
    On reaching the copse he dismounted led his horse in among the underwood "hitched" him, by looping his bridle rein around the topmost twigs of an elastic bough; then detaching a long rope of twisted horsehair from the "horn" of his saddle, and inserting his arm into its coil, he glided out to the edge of the "island," on that side that lay towards the hacienda.
    Before forsaking the shadow of the copse, he cast a glance towards the sky, and at the moon sailing supremely over it. It was a glance of inquiry, ending in a look of chagrin, with some muttered phrases that rendered it more emphatic.
    "No use waiting for that beauty to go to bed? She's made up her mind; she won't go home till morning. Ha! Ha!"
    The droll conceit, which has so oft amused the nocturnal inebriate of great cities, appeared to produce a like effect upon the night patroller of the prairie; and for a moment the shadow, late darkening his brow, disappeared. It returned anon, as he stood gazing across the open space that separated him from the river bottom, beyond which lay the hacienda of Casa del Corvo, clearly outlined upon the opposite bluff.
    "If there should be any one stirring about the place? It's not likely at this hour, unless it be the owner of a bad conscience who can't sleep. Troth! There's one such within those walls. If he be abroad there's a good chance of his seeing me on the open ground not that I should care a straw, if it were only myself to be compromised. By Saint Patrick, I see no alternative, but risk it! It's no use waiting upon the moon, deuce take her! She doesn't go down for hours and there's not the sign of a cloud. It won't do to keep her waiting. No, I must chance it in the clear light. Here goes!"
    Saying this, with a swift, but stealthy step, the dismounted horseman glided across the treeless tract, and soon reached the escarpment of the cliff, that formed the second height of land rising above the channel of the Leona.
    He did not stay ten seconds in this conspicuous situation, but by a path that zigzagged down the bluff and with which he appeared familiar he descended to the river "bottom."
    In an instant after he stood upon the bank, at the convexity of the river's bend, and directly opposite the spot where a skiff was moored, under the somber shadow of a gigantic cotton tree.
    For a short while, he stood gazing across the stream, with a glance that told of scrutiny. He was scanning the shrubbery on the other side, in the endeavor to make out, whether any one was concealed beneath its shadow.
    Becoming satisfied that no one was there, he raised the loop end of his lasso, for it was this he carried over his arm and, giving it half a dozen whirls in the air, cast it across the stream.
    The noose settled over the cutwater of the skiff and, closing around the stem, enabled him to tow the tiny craft to the side on which he stood.
    Stepping in, he took hold of a pair of oars that lay along the planking at the bottom and, placing them between the tholepins, pulled the boat back to its moorings.
    Leaping out, he secured it as it had been before, against the drift of the current and then, taking stand under the shadow of the cotton tree, he appeared to await either a signal, or the appearance of some one, expected by appointment.
    His maneuvers up to this moment, had they been observed, might have rendered him amenable to the suspicion, that he was a housebreaker, about to "crack the crib" of Casa del Corvo.
    The phrases that fell from his lips, however, could they have been heard, would have absolved him of any such vile or vulgar intention. It is true he had designs upon the hacienda, but these did not contemplate its cash, plate, or jewellery if we except the most precious jewel it contained the mistress of the mansion herself.
    It is scarce necessary to say, that the man who had hidden his horse in the "motte," and so cleverly effected the crossing of the stream, was Maurice the mustanger.
    
32. LIGHT AND SHADE.
    
    He had not long to chafe under the trysting-tree, if such it were. At the very moment when he was stepping into the skiff, a casement window that looked to the rear of the hacienda commenced turning upon its hinges, and was then for a time held slightly ajar, as if some one inside was intending to issue forth, and only hesitated in order to be assured that the "coast was clear."
    A small white hand, decorated with jewels that glistened under the light of the moon grasping the sash, told that the individual who had opened the window, was of the gentler sex, the tapering fingers, with their costly garniture, proclaimed her a lady while the majestic figure soon after exhibited outside, on the top of the stairway that led down to the garden, could be no other than that of Louise Poindexter.
    It was she.
    For a second, or two, the lady stood listening. She heard, or fancied she heard, the dip of an oar. She might be mistaken for the stridulation of the cicadas, filled the atmosphere with confused sound. No matter. The hour of assignation had arrived and she was not the one to stand upon punctilios as to time, especially after spending two hours of solitary expectation in her chamber that had appeared like as many days.
    With noiseless tread descending the stone stairway, she glided sylph-like among the statues and shrubs unto, arriving under the shadow of the cotton wood, she flung herself into arms eagerly outstretched to receive her.
    Who can describe the sweetness of such embrace, strange to say, sweeter from being stolen? Who can paint the delicious emotions experienced at such a moment too sacred to be touched by the pen?
    It is only after long throes of pleasure had passed, and the lovers had begun to converse in the more sober language of life, that it becomes proper, or even possible to report them.
    Thus did they speak to each other, the lady taking the initiative:
    "Tomorrow night, you will meet me again tomorrow night, dearest Maurice?"
    "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow -if I were free to say the word."
    "And why not? Why are you not free to say it?"
    "Tomorrow, by break of day, I am off for the Alamo."
    "Indeed! Is it imperative you should go?"
    The interrogatory was put in a tone that betrayed displeasure. A vision of a sinister kind always came before the mind of Louise Poindexter at mention of the lone hut on the Alamo.
    And why? It had afforded her hospitality. One would suppose that her visit to it, could scarce fail to be one of the pleasantest recollections of her life. And yet it was not!
    "I have excellent reasons for going," was the reply she received.
    "Excellent reasons! Do you expect to meet any one there?"
    "My follower Phelim, no one else. I hope the poor fellow is still above the grass. I sent him out, about ten days ago, before there was any tidings of these Indian troubles."
    "Only Phelim you expect to meet? Is it true, Gerald? Dearest! Do not deceive me! Only him?"
    "Why do you ask the question, Louise?"
    "I cannot tell you why. I should die of shame to speak my secret thoughts."
    "Do not fear to speak them! I could keep no secret from you, in truth, I could not. So tell me' what it is, love!"
    "Do you wish me, Maurice?"
    "I do, of course I do. I feel sure that whatever it may be, I shall be able to explain it. I know that my relations with you are of a questionable character, or might be so deemed, if the world knew of them. It is for that very reason I am going back to the Alamo."
    "And to stay there?"
    "Only for a single day or two, at most. Only to gather up my household goods, and bid a last adieu to my prairie life."
    "Indeed!"
    "You appear surprised?"
    "No! Only mystified. I cannot comprehend you. Perhaps I never shall!"
    "Tis very simple, the resolve I have taken. I know you will forgive me, when I make it known to you."
    "Forgive you, Maurice! For what do you ask forgiveness?"
    "For keeping it a secret from you, that… that I am not what I seem."
    "God forbid, you should be otherwise than what you seem to me noble, grand, beautiful, rare among men! Oh, Maurice! You know not how I esteem, how I love you!"
    "Not more than I esteem and love you. It is that very esteem that now counsels me to a separation."
    "A separation?"
    "Yes love, but it is to be hoped, only for a short time."
    "How long?"
    "While a steamer can cross the Atlantic, and return."
    "An age! And why this?"
    "I am called to my native country Ireland, so much despised, as you already know. 'Tis only within the last twenty hours, I received the summons. I obey it the more eagerly, that it tells me I shall be able soon to return, and prove to your proud father that the poor horse-hunter who won his daughter's heart, have I won it, Louise?"
    "Idle questioner! Won it? You know you have more than won it, conquered it to a subjection from which it can never escape. Mock me not, Maurice, or my stricken heart henceforth, and for evermore, your slave!"
    During the rapturous embrace that followed this passionate speech, by which a highborn and beautiful maiden confessed to having surrendered herself heart, soul, and body to the man who had made conquest of her affections, there was silence perfect and profound.
    The grasshopper amid the green herbage, the cicada on the tree leaf, the mock bird on the top of the tall cotton wood, and the nightjar soaring still higher in the moonlit air, apparently actuated by a simultaneous instinct, ceased to give utterance to their peculiar cries as though one and all, by their silence, designed to do honor to the sacred ceremony transpiring in their presence!
    But that temporary cessation of sounds was due to a different cause. A footstep grating upon the graveled walk of the garden and yet touching it so lightly, that only an acute ear could have perceived, the contact was the real cause why the nocturnal voices had suddenly become stilled.
    The lovers, absorbed in the sweet interchange of a mutual affection, heard it not. They saw not that dark shadow, in the shape of man or devil, flitting among the flowers now standing by a statue, now cowering under cover of the shrubbery, until at length it became stationary behind the trunk of a tree, scarce ten paces from the spot where they were kissing each other!
    Little did they suspect, in that moment of celestial happiness when all nature was hushed around them, that the silence was exposing their passionate speeches, and the treacherous moon, at the same time, betraying their excited actions.
    That shadowy listener, crouching guilty like behind the tree, was a witness to both. Within easy earshot, he could hear every word even the sighs and soft low murmurings of their love while under the silvery light of the moon, with scarce a sprig coming between, he could detect their slightest gestures.
    It is scarce necessary to give the name of the dastardly eavesdropper. That of Cassius Calhoun will have suggested itself.
    It was he.
33. A TORTURING DISCOVERY.
    How came the cousin of Louise Poindexter to be astir at that late hour of the night, or, as it was now, the earliest of the morning? Had he been forewarned of this interview of the lovers or was it merely some instinctive suspicion that had caused him to forsake his sleeping chamber, and make a tour of inspection within the precincts of the garden?
    In other words, was he an eavesdropper by accident, or a spy acting upon information previously communicated to him?
    The former was the fact. Chance alone, or chance aided by a clear night, had given him the clue to a discovery that now filled his soul with the fires of hell.
    Standing upon the house-top at the hour of midnight, what had taken him up there cannot be guessed, breathing vile tobacco smoke into an atmosphere before perfumed with the scent of the night blooming cereus, the ex-captain of cavalry did not appear distressed by any particular anxiety. He had recovered from the injuries received in his encounter with the mustanger and although that bit of evil fortune did not fail to excite within him the blackest chagrin, whenever it came up before his mind, its bitterness had been, to some extent, counteracted by hopes of revenge towards a plan for which he had already made some progress.
    Equally with her father, he had been gratified that Louise was contented of late to stay within doors, for it was himself who had secretly suggested the prohibition to her going abroad. Equally had he remained ignorant as to the motive of that garden archery, and in a similar manner had misconceived it. In fact he had begun to flatter himself, that, after all, her indifference to himself might be only a feint on the part of his cousin, or an illusion upon his. She had been less cynical for some days and this had produced upon him the pleasant impression, that he might have been mistaken in his jealous fears.
    He had as yet discovered no positive proof that she entertained a partiality for the young Irishman and as the days passed without any renewed cause for disquiet, he began to believe that in reality there was none.
    Under the soothing influence of this restored confidence, had he mounted up to the azotea and, although it was the hour of midnight, the careless insouciance with which he applied the light to his cigar, and afterwards stood smoking it, showed that he could not have come there for any very important purpose. It may have been to exchange the sultry atmosphere of his sleeping room, for the fresher air outside or he may have been tempted forth by the magnificent moon, though he was not much given to such romantic contemplation.
    Whatever it was, he had lighted his cigar, and was apparently enjoying it, with his arms crossed upon the coping of the parapet, and his face turned towards the river.
    It did not disturb his tranquility to see a horseman ride out from the chapparal on the opposite side, and proceed onward across the open plain.
    He knew of the road that was there. Some traveler, he supposed, who preferred taking advantage of the cool hours of the night a night, too, that would have tempted the weariest wayfarer to continue his journey. It might be a planter who lived below, returning home from the village, after lounging a hoar too long in the tavern saloon.
    In daytime, the individual might have been identified by the moonlight, it could only be made out that there was a man on horseback.
    The eyes of the ex-officer accompanied him as he trotted along the road, but simply with mechanical movement, as one musingly contemplates some common waif drifting down the current of a river.
    It was only after the horseman had arrived opposite the island of timber, and was seen to pull up, and then ride into it, that the spectator upon the house-top became stirred to take an interest in his movements.
    "What the devil can that mean?" muttered Calhoun to himself, as he hastily plucked the cigar stump from between his teeth. "Damn the man, he's dismounted!" continued he, as the stranger re-appeared, on foot, by the inner edge of the copse.
    "And coming this way, towards the bend of the river straight as he can streak it!
    "Down the bluff into the bottom and with a stride that shows him well acquainted with the way. Surely to God be don't intend making his way across into the garden? He'd have to swim for that and anything he could get there would scarce pay him for his pains. What the old Scratch can be his intention? A thief?"
    This was Calhoun's first idea rejected almost as soon as conceived. It is true that in Spanish-American countries even the beggar goes on horseback. Much more might the thief?
    For all this, it was scarce probable, that a man would make a midnight expedition to steal fruit, or vegetables, in such cavalier style.
    What else could he be after?
    The odd maneuver of leaving his horse under cover of the copse, and coming forward on foot, and apparently with caution, as far as could be seen in the uncertain light, was of itself evidence that the man's errand could scarce be honest, and that he was approaching the premises of Casa del Corvo with some evil design.
    What could it be?
    Since leaving the upper plain, he had been no longer visible to Calhoun upon the house-top. The underwood skirting, the stream on the opposite side, and into which he had entered, was concealing him.
    "What can the man be after?"
    After putting this interrogatory to himself, and for about the tenth time each with increasing emphasis the composure of the ex-captain was still further disturbed by a sound that reached his ear, exceedingly like a plunge in the river. It was slight, but clearly the concussion of some hard substance brought in contact with water.
    "The stroke of an oar," muttered he, on hearing it. "Is, by the holy Jehovah! He's got hold of the skiff, and is crossing over to the garden. What on earth can he be after?"
    The questioner did not intend staying on the house-top to determine. His thought was to slip silently downstairs, rouse the male members of the family, along with some of the servants; and attempt to capture the intruder by a clever ambuscade.
    He had raised his arm from the copestone, and was in the act of stepping back from the parapet, when his ear was saluted by another sound, that caused him again to lean forward and look into the garden below.
    This new noise, bore no resemblance to the stroke of an oar, nor did it proceed from the direction of the river. It was the creaking of a door as it turned upon its hinge, or, what is much the same, a casement window while it came from below almost directly underneath the spot where the listener stood.
    On craning over to ascertain the cause, he saw, what blanched his cheeks to the whiteness of the moonlight that shone upon them what sent the blood curdling through every corner of his heart.
    The casement that had been opened, was that which belonged to the bed-chamber of his cousin Louise. He knew it. The lady herself was standing outside upon the steps that led to the level of the garden, her face turned downward, as if she was meditating a descent.
    Loosely attired in white, as though in the negligé of a robe de chambre, with only a small kerchief coifed over her crown, she resembled some fair nymph of the night, some daughter of the moon, whom Luna delighted to surround with a silvery effulgence!
    Calhoun reasoned rapidly. He could not do otherwise than connect her appearance outside the casement with the advent of the man who was making his way across the river.
    And who could this man be? Who but Maurice the mustanger?
    A clandestine meeting! And by appointment!
    There could be no doubt of it and if there had, it would have been dissolved, at seeing the white robed figure glide noiselessly down the stone steps, and along the graveled walks, till it at length disappeared among the trees that shadowed the mooring place of the skiff.
    Like one paralyzed with a powerful stroke, the ex-captain continued for some time upon the azotea, speechless and without motion. It was only after the white drapery had disappeared, and he heard the low murmur of voices rising from among the trees, that he was stimulated to resolve upon some course of proceeding.
    He thought no longer of awaking the inmates of the house at least not then. Better first to be himself the sole witness of his cousin's disgrace and then and then
    In short, he was not in a state of mind to form any definite plan and, acting solely under the blind stimulus of a fell instinct, he hurried down the escalera, and made his way through the house, and out into the garden.
    He felt feeble as he pressed forward. His legs had tottered under him while descending the stone steps. They did the same as he glided along the graveled walk. They continued to tremble as he crouched behind the tree trunk that hindered him from being seen while playing spectator of a scene that afflicted him to the utmost depths of his soul.
    He heard their vows, their mutual confessions of love, the determination of the mustanger to be gone by the break of the morrow's day, as also his promise to return, and the revelation to which that promise led.
    With bitter chagrin, he heard how this determination was combated by Louise, and the reasons why she at length appeared to consent to it.
    He was witness to that final and rapturous embrace, which caused him to strike his foot nervously against the pebbles, and make that noise that had scared the cicadas into silence.
    Why at that moment, did he not spring forward put a termination to the intolerable tète- a - t èt e and with a blow of his bowie knife lay his rival low at his own feet and that of his mistress? Why had he not done this at the beginning for to him there needed no further evidence, than the interview itself, to prove that his cousin had been dishonored?
    There was a time when he would not have been so patient. What, then, was the punctilio that restrained him? Was it the presence of that piece of perfect mechanism', that, with a sheen of steel, glistened upon the person of his rival, and which, under the bright moonbeams, could be distinguished as a "Colt's six shooter?"
    Perhaps it may have been. At all events, despite the terrible temptation to which his soul was submitted, something not only hindered him from taking an immediate vengeance, but in the mid-moments of that maddening spectacle, the final embrace prompted him to turn away from the spot, and with an earnestness, even keener than he had yet exhibited, hurry back in the direction of the house leaving the lovers, still unconscious of having been observed, to bring their sweet interview to an ending sure to be procrastinated.
34. A CHIVALROUS DICTATION.
    Where went Cassius Calhoun?
    Certainly not to his own sleeping-room. There was no sleep for a spirit suffering like his.
    He went not there, but to the chamber of his cousin. Not hers, now untenanted, with its couch unoccupied, its coverlet undisturbed but to that of her brother, young Henry Poindexter.
    He went direct as crooked corridors would permit him in haste, without waiting to avail him of the assistance of a candle.
    It was not needed. The moonbeams penetrating through the open bars of the reja, filled the chamber with light sufficient for his purpose. They disclosed the outlines of the apartment, with its simple furniture a washstand, a dressing table, a couple of chairs, and a bed with "mosquito curtains."
    Under these last was the youth reclining in that sweet silent slumber experienced only by the innocent. His finely formed head rested calmly upon the pillow, over which lay scattered a profusion of shining curls.
    As Calhoun lifted the muslin "bar," the moonbeams fell upon his face, displaying its outlines of the manliest aristocratic type.
    What a contrast between those two sets of features, brought into such close proximity! Both physically handsome, but morally, as Hyperion to the Satyr.
    "Awake, Harry! Awake!" was the abrupt salutation extended to the sleeper, accompanied by a violent shaking of his shoulder.
    "Oh! Ah! You, cousin Cash? What is it? Not the Indians, I hope?"
    "Worse than that, worse! Worse! Quick! Rouse yourself and see! Quick, or it will be too late! Quick, and be the witness of your own disgrace, the dishonor of your house. Quick or the name of Poindexter will be the laughing stock of Texas!"
    After such summons, there could be no inclination for sleep, at least on the part of a Poindexter and at a single bound, the youngest representative of the family, cleared the mosquito curtains, and stood upon his feet in the middle of the floor in an attitude of speechless astonishment.
    "Don't wait to dress," cried his excited counselor, "stay, you may put on your pants. Damn the clothes! There's no time for standing upon trifles. Quick! Quick!"
    The simple costume the young planter was accustomed to wear, consisting of trousers and Creole blouse of Attakapas cottonade , were adjusted to his person in less than twenty seconds of time and in twenty more, obedient to the command of his cousin, without understanding why he had been so unceremoniously summoned forth he was hurrying along the graveled walks of the garden.
    "What is it, Cash?" he inquired, as soon as the latter showed signs of coming to a stop. "What does it all mean?"
    "See for yourself! Stand close to me! Look through yonder opening in the trees, which leads down to the place where your skiff is kept. Do you see anything there?"
    "Something white. It looks like a woman's dress. It is that. It's a woman!"
    "It is a woman. Who do you suppose she is?"
    "I can't tell. Who do you say she is?"
    "There's another figure a dark one by her side."
    "It appears to be a man? It is a man!"
    "And who do you suppose he is?"
    "How should I know, cousin Cash? Do you?"
    "I do. That man is Maurice the mustanger!"
    "And the woman?"
    " Is Louise , your sister in his arms ! "
    As if a shot had struck him through the heart, the brother bounded upward, and then onward, along the path.
    "Stay!" said Calhoun, catching hold of, and restraining him. "You forget that you are unarmed! The fellow, I know, has weapons upon him. Take this, and this," continued he, passing his own knife and pistol into the hands of his cousin. "I should have used them myself, long ere this, but I thought it better that you her brother should be the avenger of your sister's wrongs. On, my boy! See that you don't hurt her , but take care not to lose the chance at him. Don't give him a word of warning. As soon as they are separated, send a bullet into his belly and if all six should fail, go at him with the knife. I'll stay near, and take care of you, if you should get into danger. Now! Steal upon him, and give the scoundrel hell!"
    It needed not this blasphemous injunction, to inspire Henry Poindexter to hasty action. The brother of a sister a beautiful sister erring, undone!
    In six seconds he was by her side, confronting her supposed seducer.
    "Low villain!" he cried, "unclasp your loathsome arm from the waist of my sister. Louise! Stand aside, and give me a chance of killing him! Aside, sister! Aside, I say!"
    Had the command been obeyed, it is probable that Maurice Gerald would at that moment have ceased to exist, unless he had found heart to kill Henry Poindexter which, experienced as he was in the use of his six shooter, and prompt in its manipulation, he might have done.
    Instead of drawing the pistol from its holster, or taking any steps for defense, he appeared only desirous of disengaging himself from the fair arms still clinging around him, and for whose owner he alone felt alarm.
    For Henry to fire at the supposed betrayer, was to risk taking his sister's life; and, restrained by the fear of this, he paused before pulling trigger.
    That pause produced a crisis favorable to the safety of all three, the Creole girl, with a quick perception of the circumstances, suddenly released her lover from the protecting embrace and, almost in the same instant, threw her arms around those of her brother. She knew there was nothing to be apprehended from the pistol of Maurice. Henry alone had to be held doing mischief.
    "Go, go!" she shouted to the former, while struggling to restrain the infuriated youth. "My brother is deceived by appearances. Leave me to explain. Away, Maurice! Away!"
    "Henry Poindexter," said the young Irishman, as he turned to obey the friendly command, "I am not the sort of villain you have been pleased to pronounce me. Give me but time, and I shall prove, that your sister has formed a truer estimate of my character than, her father, brother, or cousin. I claim but six months. If at the end of that time I do not show myself worthy of her confidence her love then shall I make you welcome to shoot me at sight, as you would the cowardly coyote, that chanced to cross your track. Till then, I bid you adieu."
    Henry's struggle to escape from his sister's arms perhaps stronger than ms own grew less energetic as he listened to these words. They became feebler and feebler at length ceasing when a plunge in the river announced that the midnight intruder into the enclosed grounds of Casa del Corvo was on his way back to the wild prairies he had chosen for his home.
    It was the first time he had re-crossed the river in that primitive fashion. On the two previous occasions he had passed over in the skiff, which had been drawn back to its moorings by a delicate hand, the tow rope consisting of that tiny lasso that had formed part of the caparison presented along with the spotted mustang.
    "Brother! You are wronging him! Indeed you are wronging him!" were the words of expostulation that.followed close upon his departure. "Oh, Henry dearest Hal, if you but knew how noble he is! So far from desiring to do me an injury, 'tis only this moment he has been disclosing a plan to prevent scandal, I mean to make me happy. Believe me, brother, he is a gentleman and if he were not, if only the common man you take him for, I could not help what I have done, I could not, for I love him ! "
    "Louise! Tell me the truth! Speak to me, not as to your brother, but as to your own self. From what I have this night seen, more than from your own words, I know that you love this man. Has he taken advantage of your, your unfortunate passion?"
    "No-no-no. As I live he has not. He is too noble for that, even had I, Henry! He is innocent! If there be cause for regret, I alone am to blame. Why-oh! Brother! Why did you insult him?"
    "Have I done so?"
    "You have Henry, rudely, grossly."
    "I shall go after, and apologize. If you speak truly, sister, I owe him that much. I shall go this instant. I liked him from the first you know I did? I could not believe him capable of a cowardly act. I can't now. Sister! Come back into the house with me. And now, dearest Loo! You had better go to bed. As for me, I shall be off i ns tanter to the hotel, where I may still hope to overtake him. I cannot rest till I have made reparation for my rudeness."
    So spoke the forgiving brother and gently leading his sister by the hand, with thoughts of compassion, but not the slightest trace of anger, he hastily returned to the hacienda intending to go after the young Irishman, and apologize for the use of words that, under the circumstances, might have been deemed excusable.
    As the two disappeared within the doorway, a third figure, hitherto crouching among the shrubbery, was seen to rise erect, and follow them up the stone steps. This last was their cousin, Cassius Calhoun.
    He, too, had thoughts of going after the mustanger.
35. AN UN COURTEOUS HOST.
    "The chicken hearted fool! Fool myself, to have trusted to such a hope! I might have known she'd cajole the young calf, and let the scoundrel escape. I could have shot him from behind the tree, dead as a drowned rat! And without risking anything, even disgrace! Not a particle of risk. Uncle Woodley would have thanked me; the whole settlement would have said I had done right. My cousin, a young lady betrayed by a common scamp, a horse trader, who would have said a word against it? Such a chance! Why have I missed it? Death and the devil it may not trump up again!"
    Such were the reflections of the ex-captain of cavalry, while at some paces distance following his two cousins on their return to the hacienda.
    "I wonder," muttered he, on re-entering the patio, "whether the blubbering baby be in earnest? Going after to apologize to the man who has made a fool of his sister! Ha-ha! It would be a good joke were it not too serious to be laughed at. He is in earnest, else why that row in the stable? 'Tis he bringing out his horse! It is, by the Almighty!"
    The door of the stable, as is customary in Mexican haciendas, opened upon the paved patio.
    It was standing ajar, but just as Calhoun turned his eyes upon it, a man coming from the inside pushed it wide open and then stepped over the threshold, with a saddled horse following close after him.
    The man had a Panama hat upon his head, and a cloak thrown loosely around his shoulders. This did not hinder Calhoun from recognizing his cousin Henry, as also the dark brown horse that belonged to him.
    "Fool! So you've let him off?" spitefully muttered the ex-captain, as the other came within whispering distance. "Give me back my bowie and pistol. They're not toys suited to such delicate fingers as yours! Bah! Why did you not use them as I told you? You've made a mess of it!"
    "I have," tranquilly responded the young planter. "I know it. I've insulted and grossly too a noble fellow."
    "Insulted a noble fellow! Ha-ha-ha! You're mad, by heavens, you're mad!"
    "I should have been, had I followed your counsel, cousin Cash. Fortunately I did not go so far. I have done enough to deserve being called worse than fool though perhaps, under the circumstances, I may obtain forgiveness for my fault. At all events, I intend to try for it, and without losing time."
    "Where are you going?"
    "After Maurice the mustanger to apologize to him for my misconduct."
    "Misconduct! Ha-ha-ha! Surely you are joking?"
    "No. I'm in earnest. If you come along with me, you shall see!"
    "Then I say again you are mad! Not only mad, but a natural born idiot! You are, by Jesus Christ and General Jackson!"
    "You're not very polite, cousin Cash though, after the language I've been lately using myself, I might excuse you. Perhaps you will one day imitate me, and make amends for your rudeness."
    Without adding another word, the young gentleman one of the somewhat rare types of Southern chivalry, sprang to his saddle gave the word to his horse and rode hurriedly through the sa g uan.
    Calhoun stood upon the stones, till the footfall of the horse became but faintly distinguishable in the distance.
    Then, as if acting under some sudden impulse, he hurried along the verandah to his own room entered, it reappeared in a rough overcoat, crossed back to the stable, went in, came out again with his own horse saddled and bridled led the animal along the pavement, as gently as if he was stealing him and once outside upon the turf, sprang upon his back, and rode rapidly away.
    For a mile or more he followed the same road that had been taken by Henry Poindexter. It could not have been with any idea of overtaking the latter since, long before, the hoof strokes of Henry's horse had ceased to be heard and proceeding at a slower pace, Calhoun did not ride as if he cared about catching up with his cousin.
    He had taken the up river road. When about midway between Casa del Corvo and the Fort, he reined up and after scrutinizing the chapparal around him, struck off by a bridle path leading back toward the bank of the river. As he turned into it he might have been heard muttering to himself…
    "A chance still left, a good one, though not so cheap as the other. It will cost me a thousand dollars. What of that, as long as I get rid of this Irish curse, who has poisoned every hour of my existence! If true to his promise, he takes the route to his home by an early hour in the morning. What time, I wonder. These men of the prairies call it late rising, if they be abed till daybreak! Never mind. There's yet time for the Coyote to get before him on the road! I know that. It must be the same as we followed to the wild horse prairies. He spoke of his hut upon the Alamo. That's the name of the creek, where we had our picnic. The hovel cannot be far from here! The Mexican must know the place, or the trail leading to it, which last will be sufficient for his purpose and mine. A fig for the shanty itself! The owner may never reach it. There may be Indians upon the road! There must be, before daybreak in the morning!"
    As Calhoun concluded this string of strange reflections, he had arrived at the door of another "shanty" that of the Mexican mustanger. The jacalé was the goal of his journey.
    Having slipped out of his saddle, and knotted his bridle to a branch, he set foot upon the threshold.
    The door was standing wide open. From the inside proceeded a sound, easily identified as the snore of a slumberer.
    It was not as of one who sleeps either tranquilly, or continuously. At short intervals it was interrupted now by silent pauses, anon by hog-like grunting, interspersed with profane words, not perfectly pronounced, but slurred from a thick tongue, over which, but a short while before, must have passed a stupendous quantity of alcohol.
    " Carrambo ! C arrai ! Carajo - chingara ! M il diablos! " mingled with more, perhaps less reverential exclamations of, " Sangre de Cristo! Jesus! Santissima Virgen! Santa Maria ! Dios! Madre de D ios! " and the like, were uttered inside the jacalé , as if the speaker was engaged in an apostrophic conversation with all the principal characters of the Popish Pantheon.
    Calhoun paused upon the threshold, and listened.
    " Mai - dit - dit - o ! " muttered the sleeper, concluding the exclamation with a hiccup. " Buen - buenos nove -d ad - es! Good news, por sangre Chrees - Chreest - o ! Si S'nor Meri c an - cano! Nove - dad - es s'perbos! Los Indyos Co - co - manchees on the war-trail, el rastro de guerra. God bless the Comanchees!"
    "The brute's drunk!" said his visitor, mechanically speaking aloud.
    " H' la S'nor ! " exclaimed the owner of the jacalé , aroused to a state of semi-consciousness by the sound of a human voice. " Quien llama ! Who has the honor that is, have I the happiness I, Miguel Diaz-el Co-coyote, as the leperos call me. Ha, ha! Coyo-coyot. Bah! What's in a name? Yours, S'nor? Mil - demonios! Who are you?"
    Partially raising himself from his reed couch, the inebriate remained for a short time in a sitting attitude glaring, half interrogatively, half unconsciously, at the individual whose voice had intruded into his drunken dreams.
    The unsteady examination lasted only for a score of seconds. Then the owner of the jacalé , with an unintelligible speech, subsided into a recumbent position when a savage grunt, succeeded by a prolonged snore, proved him to have become oblivious to the fact that his domicile contained a guest.
    "Another chance lost!" said the latter, hissing the words through his teeth, as he turned disappointedly from the door. "A sober fool and a drunken knave, two precious tools where-with to accomplish a purpose like mine! Curse the luck! All this night it's been against me! It may be three long hours before this pig sleeps off the swill that has stupefied him. Three long hours, and then what would be the use of him? 'Twould be too late, too late!
    As he said this, he caught the rein of his bridle, and stood by the head of his horse, as if uncertain what course to pursue.
    "No use my staying here! It might be daybreak before the damned liquor gets out of his skull. I may as well go back to the hacienda and wait there; or else… or else…"
    The alternative, that at this crisis presented itself, was not spoken aloud. Whatever it may have been, it had the effect of terminating the hesitancy that hung over him, and stirring him to immediate action.
    Roughly tearing his rein from the branch, and passing it over his horse's head, he sprang into the saddle, and rode off from the jacalé in a direction, the very opposite to that in which he had approached it.
36. THREE TRAVELLERS ON THE SAME TRACK.
    No one can deny that a ride upon a smooth surfed prairie, is one of the most positive pleasures of sublunary existence. No one will deny it, which has had the good fortune to experience the delightful sensation. With a spirited horse between your thighs, a well-stocked valise strapped to the cantle of your saddle, a flask of French brandy slung handy over the "horn," and a plethoric cigar-case protruding from under the flap of your pistol holster, you may set forth upon a day's journey, without much fear of feeling weary by the way.
    A friend riding by your side like yourself alive to the beauties of nature, and sensitive to its sublimities will make the ride, though long, and otherwise arduous, a pleasure to be remembered for many, many years.
    If that friend chance to be some fair creature, upon which you have fixed your affections, then will you experience a delight to remain in your memory for ever.
    Ah! if all prairie travelers were to be favored with such companionship, the wilderness of Western Texas would soon become crowded with tourists, the great plains would cease to be "pathless," the savannas would swarm with snobs.
    "Tis better as it is. As it is, you may launch yourself upon the prairie and once beyond the precincts of the settlement from which you have started, unless you keep to the customary road," indicated only by the hoof-prints of half a dozen horsemen who have preceded you may ride on for hours, days, weeks, months, perhaps a whole year, without encountering aught that bears the slightest resemblance to yourself, or the image in which you have been made.
    Only those who have traversed the great plain of Texas can form a true estimate of its illimitable vastness, impressing the mind with sensations similar to those we feel in the contemplation of infinity.
    In some sense may the mariner comprehend my meaning. Just as a ship may cross the Atlantic Ocean and in tracks most frequented by sailing craft without sighting a single sail, so upon the prairies of South-western Texas, the traveler may journey on for months, amid a solitude that seems eternal!
    Even the ocean itself does not give such an impression of endless space. Moving in its midst you perceive no change no sign to tell you that you are progressing. The broad circular surface of azure blue, with the concave hemisphere of a tint, but a few shades lighter, are always around and above you, seeming ever the same. You think they are so and fancy yourself, at rest in the centre of a sphere and a circle. You are thus to some extent hindered from having a clear conception of "magnificent distances."
    On the prairie it is different. The "landmarks" there are such, in the shape of "mottes," mounds, trees, ridges, and rocks constantly changing before your view, admonish you that you are passing through space and this very knowledge imbues you with the idea of vastness.
    It is rare for the prairie traveler to contemplate such scenes alone rarer still upon the plains of South-western Texas. In twos at least, but oftener in companies of ten or a score, go those who need it to tempt the perils of that wilderness claimed by the Comanches as ancestral soil.
    For all this, a solitary traveler may at times be encountered: for on the same night that witnessed the tender and stormy scenes in the garden of Casa del Corvo, no less than three such made the crossing of the plain that stretches south westward from the banks of the Leona River.
    Just at the time that Calhoun was making his discontented departure from the jacalé of the Mexican mustanger, the foremost of these nocturnal travelers was clearing the outskirts of the village going in a direction which, if followed far enough, would conduct him to the Nueces River, or one of its tributary streams.
    It is scarcely necessary to say, that he was on horseback. In Texas there are no pedestrians, beyond the precincts of the town or plantation.
    The traveler in question bestrode a strong steed; whose tread, at once vigorous and elastic, proclaimed it capable of carrying its rider through a long journey, without danger of breaking down.
    Whether such a journey was intended, could not have been told by the bearing of the traveler himself. He was equipped, as any Texan cavalier might have been, for a ten mile ride, perhaps to his own house. The lateness of the hour forbade the supposition that he could be going from it. The serapé on his shoulders somewhat carelessly hanging might have been only put on to protect them against the dews of the night.
    But as there was no dew on that particular night, or any outlying settlement in the direction he was heading, to the horseman was more like to have been a real traveler, en route for some distant point upon the prairies.
    For all this, he did not appear to be in haste or uneasy as to the hour at which he might reach his destination.
    On the contrary, he seemed absorbed in some thought, which linked itself with the past sufficiently engrossing to render him unobservant of outward objects, and negligent in the management of his horse.
    The latter, with the rein lying loosely upon his neck, was left to take his own way though instead of stopping, or straying, he kept steadily on, as if over ground oft trodden before.
    Thus leaving the animal to its own guidance and pressing it neither with whip nor spur, the traveler rode tranquilly over the prairie, till lost to view not by the intervention of any object, but solely through the dimness of the light, where the moon became misty in the far distance.
    Almost on the instant of his disappearance and as if the latter had been taken for a cue, a second horseman spurred out from the suburbs of the village and proceeded along the same path.
    From the fact of his being habited in a fashion to defend him against the chill air of the night, he too might have been taken for a traveler.
    A cloak clasped across his breast hung over his shoulders, its ample skirts draping backward to the hips of his horse.
    Unlike the horseman who had preceded him, he showed signs of haste plying both whip and spur as he pressed on.
    He appeared intent on overtaking some one. It might be the individual whose form had just faded out of sight?
    This was all the more probable from the style of his equitation at short intervals bending forward in his saddle, and scanning the horizon before him, as if expecting to see some form outlined above the line of the sky.
    Continuing to advance in this peculiar fashion, he also disappeared from view exactly at the same point, where his precursor had ceased to be visible to any one whose gaze might have been following him from the Fort or village. An odd contingency, if such it were that just at that very instant a third horseman rode forth from the outskirts of the little Texan town, and, like the other two, continued advancing in a direct line across the prairie.
    He, also, was costumed as if for a journey. A "blanket coat" of scarlet color shrouded most of his person from sight its ample skirts spread over his thighs, half concealing a short jager rifle, strapped aslant along the flap of his saddle.
    Like the foremost of the three, he exhibited no signs of a desire to move rapidly along the road. He was proceeding at a slow pace, even for a traveler. For all that, his manner betokened a state of mind far from tranquil and in this respect he might be likened to the horseman who had more immediately preceded him.
    But there was an essential difference between the actions of the two men. Whereas the cloaked cavalier appeared desirous of overtaking some one in advance, he in the red blanket coat seemed altogether to occupy himself in reconnoitring towards his rear.
    At intervals he would slue himself round in the stirrups, sometimes half turn his horse and scan the track over which he had passed all the while listening, as though he expected to hear some one who should be coming after him.
    Still keeping up this singular surveillance, he likewise in due time reached the point of disappearance, without having overtaken any one, or been himself overtaken.
    Though at nearly equal distances apart while making the passage of the prairie, not one of the three horsemen was within sight of either of the' others. The second, half way between the other two, was beyond reach of the vision of either, as they were beyond his.
    At the same glance no eye could have taken in all three, or any two of them unless it had been that of the great Texan owl perched upon the summit of some high eminence, or the "whip-poor-will" soaring still higher in pursuit of the moon loving moth.
    An hour later, and at a point of the prairie ten miles farther from Fort Inge, the relative positions of the three travelers had undergone a considerable change.
    The foremost was just entering into a sort of alley, or gap in the chapparal forest, which here extended right and left across the plain, for as the eyes could trace it. The alley might have been likened to a strait in the sea, its smooth surfed surface contrasting with the darker foliage of the bordering thickets, as water with dry land. It was illumined throughout a part of its length a half mile or so the moon showing at its opposite extremity. Beyond this the dark tree line closed it in, where it angled round into somber shadow.
    Before entering the alley, the foremost of the trio of travelers, and for the first time, exhibited signs of hesitation. He reined up; and for a second or two sate in his saddle regarding the ground before him. His attention was altogether directed to the opening through the trees in his front. He made no attempt at reconnoitring his rear.
    His scrutiny, from whatever cause, was of short continuance.
    Seemingly satisfied, he muttered an injunction to his horse, and rode onward into the gap.
    Though he saw not him, he was seen by the cavalier in the cloak, following upon the same track, and now scarce half a mile behind.
    The latter, on beholding him, gave utterance to a slight exclamation.
    It was joyful, nevertheless as if he was gratified by the prospect of at length overtaking the individual whom he had been for ten miles so earnestly pursuing.
    Spurring his horse to a still more rapid pace, he also entered the opening but only in time to get a glimpse of the other, just passing under the shadow of the trees, at the point where the avenue angled.
    Without hesitation, he rode after soon disappearing at the same place, and in a similar manner.
    It was a longer interval before the third and hindmost of the horsemen approached the pass, which led through the chapparal.
    He did approach it, however but instead of riding into it, as the others had done, he turned off at an angle towards the edge of the timber and, after leaving his horse among the trees, crossed a corner of the thicket, and came out into the opening on foot.
    Keeping along it to all appearance still more solicitous about something that might be in his rear than anything that was in front of him he at length arrived at the shadowy turning where, like the two others, he abruptly disappeared in the darkness.
    An hour elapsed, during which the nocturnal voices of the chapparal that had been twice temporarily silenced by the hoof stroke of a horse, and once by the footsteps of a man had kept up their choral cries by a thousand stereotyped repetitions.
    Then there came a further interruption more abrupt in its commencement, and of longer continuance. It was caused by a sound, very different from that made by the passage of either horseman or pedestrian over the prairie turf.
    It was the report of a gun, quick, sharp, and clear the "bang" that denotes the discharge of a rifle.
    As to the authoritative wave of the conductor's baton the orchestra yields instant obedience, so did the prairie minstrels simultaneously take their cue from that abrupt detonation that inspired one and all of them with a peculiar awe.
    The tiger cat miaulling in the midst of the chapparal, the coyote howling along its skirts, even the jaguar who need not fear any forest foe that might approach him, acknowledged his dread of that quick, sharp explosion to him unexplainable by instantly discontinuing his cries.
    As no other sound succeeded the shot, neither the groan of a wounded man, nor the scream of a stricken animal, the jaguar soon recovered confidence, and once more essayed to frighten the denizens of the thicket with his hoarse growling.
    Friends and enemies birds, beasts, insects, and reptiles disregarding his voice in the distance, reassumed the thread of their choral strain until the chapparal was restored to its normal noisy condition, when two individuals standing close together, can only hold converse by speaking in the highest pitch of their voices!
    
37. A MAN MISSING.
    
    The breakfast bell of Casa del Corvo had sounded its second and last summons preceded by a still earlier signal from a horn, intended to call in the stragglers from remote parts of the plantation.
    The "field hands," laboring near, had collected around the "quarter" and in groups, squatted upon the grass, or seated upon stray logs, were discussing their diet by no means spare of "hog and hominy" corn-bread and "corn-coffee," with a jocosity that proclaimed a keen relish of these, their ordinary comestibles.
    The planter's family assembled in the sala were about to begin breakfast, when it was discovered that one of its members was missing.
    Henry was the absent one.
    At first there was but little notice taken of the circumstance. Only the conjecture that he would shortly make his appearance.
    As several minutes passed without his coming in, the planter quietly observed that it was rather strange of Henry to be late, and wonder where he could be.
    The breakfast of the South-western American, is usually a well appointed meal. It is eaten at a fixed hour and table -d- h ó te fashion, all the members of the family meeting at the table.
    This habit is exacted by a sort of necessity, arising out of the nature of some of the viands peculiar to the country many of which, as "Virginia biscuit," buckwheat cakes," and "waffles," are only relished coming fresh from the fire, so that the hour when breakfast is being eaten in the dining room, is that in which the cook is broiling her skin in the kitchen.
    As the laggard, or late riser, may have to put up with cold biscuit, and no waffles or buckwheat cakes, there are few such on a Southern plantation.
    Considering this custom, it w as somewhat strange, that Henry Poindexter had not yet put in an appearance.
    "Where can the boy be?'" asked his father, for the fourth time, in that tone of mild conjecture that scarce calls for reply.
    None was made by either of the other two guests at the table. Louise only gave expression to a similar conjecture. For all that, there was strangeness in her glance as in the tone of her voice that might have been observed by one closely scrutinizing her features.
    It could scarce be caused by the absence of her brother from the breakfast table? The circumstance was too trifling to call up an emotion and clearly at that moment was she subject to one.
    What was it? No one put the inquiry. Her father did not notice anything odd in her look. Much less Calhoun, who was himself markedly laboring to conceal some disagreeable thought under the guise of an assumed naiveté .
    Ever since entering the room he had maintained a studied silence keeping his eyes averted, instead of, according to his usual custom, constantly straying towards his cousin.
    He sate nervously in his chair and once or twice might have been seen to start, as a servant entered the room.
    Beyond doubt he was under the influence of some extraordinary agitation.
    "Very strange Henry not being here to his breakfast!" remarked the planter, for about the tenth time. "Surely he is not abed till this hour? No-no, he never lies so late. And yet if abroad, he couldn't be at such a distance as not to have heard the horn. He may be in his room? It is just possible. Pluto!"
    "Ho-ho! d'ye call me, Mass' Woodley? I'se hya."
    The sable coacher, acting as table waiter, was in the s ala, hovering around the chairs.
    "Go to Henry's sleeping room. If he's there, tell him we're at breakfast half through with it."
    "He no dar, Mass' Woodley."
    "You have been to his room?"
    "Ho-ho! Yas. Dat am I'se no been to de room itseff but I'se been to de 'table, to look atter Massa Henry hoss; an gib um him fodder an' corn. Ho-ho! Dat same ole hoss he ain't dar; nor han't a been all of dis mornin'. I war up by de fuss skreek of day. No hoss dar, no saddle, no bridle and of coass no Massa Henry. Ho-ho! He been an' gone out 'fore anb'dy wor 'tirrin' 'bout de place."
    "Are you sure?" asked the planter, seriously stirred by the intelligence.
    "Satin shoo, Mass' Woodley. Dar's no hoss doins in dat ere 'table, ceppin de sorrel of Massa Cahoon. Spotty am in de 'closure outside. Massa Henry hoss ain't nowha."
    "It don't follow that Master Henry himself is not in his room. Go instantly, and see!"
    "Ho-ho! I'se go on de instum, massr but f'r all dat dis chile no speck find de young genl'um dar. Ho! ho! wha'ebber de ole hoss am, darr Massr Henry am too."
    "There's something strange in all this," pursued the planter, as Pluto shuffled out of the sala. "Henry from home; and at night too. Where can he have gone? I can't think of any one he would be visiting at such unseasonable hours! He must have been out all night, or very early, according to the nigger's account! At the Fort, I suppose, with those young fellows. Not at the tavern, I hope?"
    "Oh, no! He wouldn't go there," interposed Calhoun, who appeared as much mystified by the absence of Henry as was Poindexter himself. He refrained, however, from suggesting any explanation, or saying aught of the scenes to which he had been witness on the preceding night.
    "It is to be hoped he knows nothing of it," reflected the young Creole. "If not, it may still remain a secret between brother and myself. I think I can manage Henry. But why is he still absent? I've sate up all night waiting for him. He must have overtaken Maurice, and they have fraternized. I hope so even though the tavern may have been the scene of their reconciliation. Henry is not much given to dissipation, but after such a burst of passion, followed by his sudden repentance, he may have strayed from his usual habits? Who could blame him if he has? There can be little harm in it since he has gone astray in good company?"
    How far the string of reflections might have extended it is not easy to say since it did not reach its natural ending.
    It was interrupted by the reappearance of Pluto whose important air, as he re entered the room, proclaimed him the bearer of eventful tidings.
    "Well!" cried his master, without waiting for him to speak, "is he there?"
    "No, Mass' Woodley," replied the black, in a voice that betrayed a large measure of emotion, "he are not dar Massa Henry am not. But…but," he hesitatingly continued, "dis chile grieb to say dat… dat… him hoss am dar . "
    "His horse there! Not in his sleeping-room, I suppose?"
    "No, massa nor in de 'table neider, but out da, by de big gate."
    "His horse at the gate? And why, pray, do you grieve about that?"
    "'Ecause, Mass' Woodley, 'ecause do hoss, dat am Massa Henry hoss, 'ecause de animal…"
    "Speak out, you stammering nigger! What because? I suppose the horse has his head upon him? Or is it his tail that is missing?"
    "Ah, Mass' Woodley, dis nigga fear dat am missin' wuss dan eider him head or him tail. I'ze feer'd dat de ole hoss hab loss him rider!"
    "What! Henry thrown from his horse? Nonsense, Pluto! My son is too good a rider for that. Impossible that he should have been pitched out of the saddle, impossible!"
    "Ho! ho! I doan say he war trown out of de saddle. Gorramity! I fear do trouble wuss dan dat. O! dear ole Massa, I tell you no mo. Come to de gate of de hashashanty, and see fo youseff."
    By this time the impression conveyed by Pluto's speech, much more by his manner, notwithstanding its ambiguity, had become sufficiently alarming and not only the planter himself, but his daughter and nephew, hastily forsaking their seats, and preceded by the sable coachman, made their way to the outside gate of the hacienda.
    A sight was there awaiting them, calculated to inspire all three with the most terrible apprehensions.
    A negro man, one of the field slaves of the plantation, stood holding a horse, that was saddled and bridled. The animal wet with the dews of the night, and having been evidently uncared for in any stable, was snorting and stamping the ground, as if, but lately escaped from some scene of excitement, in which he had been compelled to take part.
    He was speckled with a color darker than that of the dew drops darker than his own coat of bay brown. The spots scattered over his shoulders the streaks that ran parallel with the downward direction of his limbs, the blotches showing conspicuously on the saddle flaps, were all of the color of coagulated blood. Blood had caused those spots, streaks, and blotches!
    Whence came that horse?
    From the prairies. The negro had caught him, on the outside plain, as, with the bridle trailing among his feet, he was instinctively straying towards the hacienda.
    To whom did he belong?
    The question was not asked. All present knew him to be the horse of Henry Poindexter.
    Nor did any one ask whose blood bedaubed the saddle flaps. The three individuals most interested could think only of that one, who stood to them in the triple relationship of son, brother, and cousin.
    The dark red spots, on which they were distractedly gazing, had spurted from the veins of Henry Poindexter. They had no other thought.
    
38. THE AVENGERS.
    
    Hastily, perhaps too truly, construing the sinister evidence, the half-frantic father leaped into the bloody saddle, and galloped direct for the Fort.
    Calhoun, upon his own horse, followed close after.
    The hue and cry soon spread abroad. Rapid riders carried it up and down the river, to the remotest plantations of the settlement.
    The Indians were out, and near at hand, reaping their harvest of scalps! That of young Poindexter was the first fruits of their sanguinary gleaning!
    Henry Poindexter the noble generous youth who had not an enemy in all Texas! Who but Indians could have spilled such innocent blood? Only the Comanches could have been so cruel?
    Among the horsemen, who came quickly together on the parade ground of Fort Inge, no one doubted that the Comanches had done the deed. It was simply a question of how, when, and where.
    The blood drops pretty clearly, proclaimed the first. He who had shed them must have been shot, or speared, while sitting in his saddle. They were mostly on the off side where they presented an appearance, as if something had been slaked over them. This was seen both on the shoulders of the horse, and the flap of the saddle. Of course it was the body of the rider as it slipped lifeless to the earth.
    There were some who spoke with equal certainty as to the time old frontiersmen experienced in such matters.
    According to them the blood was scarce "ten hours old," in other words, must have been shed about ten hours before.
    It was now noon. The murder must have been committed at two o'clock in the morning.
    The third query was, perhaps, the most important at least now that the deed was done.
    Where had it been done? Where was the body to be found?
    After that, where should the assassins be sought for?
    These were the questions discussed by the mixed council of settlers and soldiers, hastily assembled at Fort Inge, and presided over by the commandant of the Fort the afflicted father standing speechless by his side.
    The last was of special importance. There are thirty two points in the compass of the prairies, as well as in that which guides the ocean wanderer and, therefore, in any expedition going in search of a war party of Comanches, there would be thirty two chances to one against its taking the right track.
    It mattered not that the home of these nomadic savages was in the west. That was a wide word and signified anywhere within a semicircle of some hundreds of miles.
    Besides, the Indians were now upon the war-trail and, in an isolated settlement such as that of the Leona, as likely to make their appearance from the east. More likely, indeed, since such is a common strategic trick of these astute warriors.
    To have ridden forth at random would have been sheer folly with such odds against going the right way, as thirty two to one.
    A proposal to separate the command into several parties, and proceed in different directions, met with little favor from any one. It was directly negatived by the major himself.
    The murderers might be a thousand; the avengers were but the tenth of that number, consisting of some fifty dragoons who chanced to be in garrison, with about as many mounted civilians. The party must be kept together or run the risk of being attacked, and perhaps cut off, in detail!
    The argument was deemed conclusive. Even the bereaved father and cousin, who appeared equally the victim of a voiceless grief, consented to shape their course according to the counsels of the more prudent majority, backed by the authority of the major himself.
    It was decided that the searchers should proceed in a body.
    In what direction? This still remained the subject of discussion.
    The thoughtful captain of infantry, now became a conspicuous figure, by suggesting that some inquiry should be made, as to what direction had been last taken by the man who was supposed to be murdered. Who last saw Henry Poindexter?
    His father and cousin were first appealed to.
    The former had last seen his son at the supper table and supposed him to have gone thence to his bed.
    The answer of Calhoun was less direct, and, perhaps, less satisfactory. He had conversed with his cousin at a later hour, and had bidden him good night, under the impression that he was retiring to his room.
    Why was Calhoun concealing what had really occurred? Why aid he refrain from giving a narration of that garden scene to which he had been witness?
    Was it, that he feared humiliation by disclosing the part he had himself played?
    Whatever was the reason, the truth was shunned and an answer given, the sincerity of which was suspected by more than one who listened to it.
    The evasiveness might have been more apparent, had there been any reason for suspicion, or had the bystanders been allowed longer time to reflect upon it.
    While the inquiry was going on, light came in from a quarter hitherto unthought-of. The landlord of the Rough and Ready, who had come uncalled to the council, after forcing his way through the crowd, proclaimed himself willing to communicate some facts worth their hearing in short, the very facts they were endeavoring to find out when Henry Poindexter had been last seen, and what the direction he had taken.
    Oberdoffer's testimony, delivered in a semi Teutonic tongue, was to the effect that Maurice the mustanger who had been staying at his hotel ever since his fight with Captain Calhoun, had that night ridden out at a late hour, as he had done for several nights before.
    He had returned to the hotel at a still later hour and finding it open on account of a party of bons vivants , who had supped there, had done that which he had not done for a long time before, demanded his bill, and to Old Duffer's astonishment as the latter naively confessed settled every cent of it!
    Where he had procured the money "Gott" only knew, or why he left the hotel in such a hurry. Oberdoffer himself only knew that he had left it, and taken all his ' trapsh' along with him just as he was in the habit of doing, whenever he went off upon one of his horse catching expeditions.
    On one of these the village Boniface supposed him to have gone.
    What had all this to do with the question before the council? Much indeed though it did not appear till the last moment of his examination, when the witness revealed the more pertinent facts that about twenty minutes after the mustanger had taken his departure from the hotel, "Heinrich Poindexter" knocked at the door, and inquired after Mr. Maurice Gerald that on being told the latter was gone, as also the time, and probable direction he had taken, the "young gentleman" rode off at a quick pace, as if with the intention of overtaking him.
    This was all Mr. Oberdoffer knew of the matter and all he could be expected to tell.
    The intelligence, though containing several points, but ill understood, was nevertheless a guide to the expeditionary party. It famished a sort of clue to the direction they ought to take. If the missing man had gone off with Maurice the mustanger, or after him, he should be looked for on the road the latter himself, would be likely to have taken.
    Did any one know where the horse hunter had his home?
    No one could state the exact locality, though there were several who believed it was somewhere among the head waters of the Nueces, on a creek called the "Alamo."
    To the Alamo, then, did they determine upon proceeding in quest of the missing man, or his dead body perhaps, also, to find that of Maurice the mustanger and, at the same time, avenge upon the savage assassins two murders instead of one.
39. THE POOL OF BLOOD.
    Notwithstanding its number, larger than usual for a party of borderers merely in search of a strayed neighbor, the expedition pursued its way with considerable caution.
    There was reason. The Indians were upon the war-trail.
    Scouts were sent out in advance and professed "trackers" employed to pick up, and interpret the "sign."
    On the prairie, extending nearly ten miles to the westward of the Leona, no trail was discovered. The turf, hard and dry, only showed the tracks of a horse when going in a gallop. None such were seen along the route.
    At ten miles' distance from the Fort the plain is traversed by a tract of chapparal, running north-west and south-east. It is a true Texan jungle, laced by lianas, and almost impenetrable for man and horse.
    Through this jungle, directly opposite the Fort, there is an opening, through which passes a path the shortest that leads to the head waters of the Nueces. It is a sort of natural avenue among the trees that stand closely crowded on each side, but refrain from meeting. It may be artificial some old "war-trail" of the Comanches, first trodden by their expeditionary parties on the maraud to Tamaulipas, Coahuila, or New Leon.
    The trackers knew that it conducted to the Alamo and, therefore, guided the expedition into it.
    Shortly after entering among the trees, one of the latter, who had gone afoot in the advance, was seen standing by the edge of the thicket, as if waiting to announce some recently discovered fact.
    "What is it?" demanded the major, spurring ahead of the others, and riding up to the tracker. "Sign?"
    "Aye, that there is, major and plenty of it. Look there! In that bit of softish ground you see…"
    "The tracks of a horse."
    "Of two horses, major," said the man, correcting the officer with an air of deference.
    "True. There are two."
    "Farther on they become four, though they're all made by the same two horses. They have gone up this openin' a bit, and come back again."
    "Well, Spangler, my good fellow what do you make of it?"
    "Not much," replied Spangler, who was one of the paid scouts of the cantonment "not much of that ; I hav'n't been far enough up the openin' to make out what it means, only far enough to know that a man has been murdered . "
    "What proof have you of what you say? Is there a dead body?"
    "No. Not as much as the little finger; not even a hair of the head, so far as I can see."
    "What then?"
    "Blood, a regular pool of it, enough to have cleared out the carcass of a buffalo. Come and see for yourself. "But," continued the scout in a muttered undertone, "if you wish me to follow up the sign as it ought to be done; you'll order the others to stay back 'specially them as are now nearest you."
    This observation appeared to be more particularly pointed at the planter and his nephew as the tracker, on making it, glanced furtively towards both.
    "By all means," replied the major. "Yes, Spangler, you shall have every facility for your work. Gentlemen! may I request you to remain where you are for a few minutes. My tracker, here, has to go through a performance that requires him to have the ground to himself. He can only take me along with him."
    Of course the major's request was a command, courteously conveyed, to men who were not exactly his subordinates. It was obeyed, however, just as if they had been and one and all kept their places, while the officer, following his scout, rode away from the ground.
    About fifty yards further on, Spangler came to a stand.
    "You see that, major?" said he, pointing to the ground.
    "I should be blind if I didn't" replied the officer. "A pool of blood as you say, big enough to have emptied the veins of a buffalo. If it has come from those of a man, I should say, that whoever shed it is no longer in the land of the living."
    "Dead!" pronounced the tracker. "Dead before that blood had turned purple as it is now."
    "Whose do you think it is, Spangler?"
    "That of the man we're in search of the son of the old gentleman down there. That's why I didn't wish him to come forward."
    "He may as well know the worst. He must find it out in time."
    "True what you say, major but we had better first find out how the young fellow has come to be thrown in his tracks. That's what is puzzling me."
    "How? By the Indians, of course! The Comanches have done it?"
    "Not a bit of it," rejoined the scout, with an air of confidence.
    "Hu! Why do you say that, Spangler?"
    "Because, you see, if the Indians had been here, there would be forty horse tracks instead of four, and them made by only two horses."
    "There's truth in that. It isn't likely a single Comanche would have had the daring, even to assassinate…"
    "No Comanche, major, no Indian of any kind committed this murder. There are two horse tracks along the opening. As you see, both are shod; and they're the same that have come back again. Comanches don't ride shod horses, except when they've stolen them. Both these were ridden by white men. One set of the tracks has been made by a mustang, though it was a big 'un. The other is the hoof of an American horse. Goin' west the mustang was foremost; you can tell that by the overlap. Comin' back the States horse was in the lead, the other followin' him though it's hard to say how far behind. I may be able to tell better, if we keep on to the place where both must have turned back. It can't be a great ways off."
    "Let us proceed thither, then," said the major. "I shall command the people to stay where they are."
    Having issued the command, in a voice loud enough to be heard by his following, the major rode away from the blood-stained spot, preceded by the tracker.
    For about four hundred yards further on, the two sets of tracks were traceable, but by the eyes of the major, only where the turf was softer under the shadow of the trees. So far the scout said the horses had passed and returned in the order already declared by him that is, the mustang in the lead while proceeding westward, and in the rear while going in the opposite direction.
    At this point the trail ended, both horses, as was already known, having returned on their own tracks.
    Before taking the back track, however, they had halted, and stayed some time in the same place under the branches of a spreading cottonwood. The turf, much trampled around the trunk of the tree, was evidence of this.
    The tracker got off his horse to examine it and, stooping to the earth, carefully scrutinized the sign.
    "They've been here together," he said, after several minutes spent in his analysis, "and for some time though neither is been out of the saddle. They've been on friendly terms, too which makes it all the more unexplainable. They must have quarreled afterwards."
    "If you are speaking the truth, Spangler, you must be a witch. How on earth can you know all that?"
    "By the sign, major; by the sign. It's simple enough. I see the shoes of both horses lapping over each other a score of times and in such a way that shows they must have been together the animals, it might be, restless and movin' about. As for the time, they've taken long enough to smoke a cigar apiece close to the teeth too. Here are the stumps not enough left to fill a fellow's pipe."
    The tracker, stooping as he spoke, picked up a brace of cigar stamps, and handed them to the major.
    "By the same token," he continued, "I conclude that the two horsemen, whoever they were, while under this tree could not have had any very hostile feelings, the one to the other. Men don't smoke in company, with the design of cutting each other's throats, or blowing out one another's brains, the instant afterwards. The trouble between them must have come on, after the cigars were smoked out. That it did come there, can be no doubt. As sure, major, as you're sittin' in your saddle, one of them has wiped out the other. I can only guess which has been wiped out, by the errand we're on. Poor Mr. Poindexter will never more see his son alive."
    "'Tis very mysterious," remarked the major.
    "It is, by jingo!"
    "And the body, too where can it be?"
    "That's what perplexes me most of all. If't had been Indians, I wouldn't a thought much o' its being missin'. They might carried the man off with them to make a target of him, if only wounded and if dead, to eat him, maybe. But there's been no Indians here; not a redskin. Take my word for it, major, one o' the two men who rid these horses, has wiped out the other and startlingly, he have wiped him out in the literary sense of the word. What he's done with the body, beats me and perhaps only he can tell."
    "Most strange!" exclaimed the major, pronouncing the words with emphasis "most mysterious!"
    "It's possible we may yet unravel some o' the mystery," pursued Spangler. "We must follow up the tracks of the horses, after they started from this that is, from where the deed was done. We may make something out of that. There's nothing more to be learnt here. We may as well go back, major. Am I to tell him?"
    "Mr. Poindexter, you mean?"
    "Yes. You are convinced that his son is the man who has been murdered?"
    "Oh, no not so much as that comes to. Only convinced that the horse the old gentleman is now riding, is one of the two that's been over this ground last night, the States horse I feel sure. I have compared the tracks and if young Poindexter was the man who was on his bac k , I fear there's not much chance for the poor fellow. It looks ugly that the other rid after him."
    "Spangler! Have you any suspicion as to who the other may be?"
    "Not a spark, major. If't hadn't been for the tale of Old Duffer, I'd never have thought of Maurice the mustanger. True, it's the track o' a shod mustang but I don't know it to be his. Surely it can't be? The young Irishman aint the man to stand nonsense from nobody, but as little air he the one to do a deed like this, that is, if it's been cold-blooded killing."
    "I think as you about that."
    "And you may think so, major. If young Poindexter's been killed, and by Maurice Gerald, there's been a fair stand-up fight between them, and the planter's son has gone under. That's how I shed reckon it up. As to the disappearance o' the dead body for them two quarts o' blood could only have come out o' a body that's now dead, that trees me. We must follow the trail, howsoever and maybe it'll fetch us to some sensible conclusion. Am I to tell the old gentleman what I think o't?"
    "Perhaps better not. He knows enough already. It will at least fall lighter upon him, if he finds things out by piecemeal. Say nothing of what we've seen. If you can take up the trail of the two horses after going off from the place where the blood is, I shall manage to bring the command after you without any one suspecting what we've seen."
    "All right, major," said the scout, "I think I can guess where the off trail goes. Give me ten minutes upon it, and then come on to my signal."
    So saying the tracker rode back to the "place of blood" and after what appeared a very cursory examination, turned off into a lateral opening in the chapparal.
    Within the promised time, his shrill whistle announced that he was nearly a mile distant, and in a direction altogether different from the spot that had been profaned by some sanguinary scene.
    On hearing the signal, the commander of the expedition, who had in the meantime returned to his party, gave orders to advance while he himself, with Poindexter and the other principal men, moved ahead, without his revealing to any one of his retinue the chapter of strange disclosures for which he was indebted to the "instincts" of his tracker.
40. THE MARKED BULLET.
    Before coming up with the scout, an incident occurred to vary the monotony of the march. Instead of keeping along the avenue, the major had conducted his command in a diagonal direction through the chapparal. He had done this to avoid giving unnecessary pain to the afflicted father who would otherwise have looked upon the life blood of his son, or at least what the major believed to be so. The gory spot was shunned, and as the discovery was not yet known to any other, save the major himself, and the tracker who had made it. The party moved on in ignorance of the existence of such a dread sign.
    The path they were now pursuing was a mere cattle track, scarce broad enough for two to ride abreast. Here and there were glades, where it widened out for a few yards, again running into the thorny chapparal.
    On entering one of these glades, an animal sprang out of the bushes, and bounded off over the sward. A beautiful creature it was, with its fulvous coat ocellated with rows of shining rosettes, its strong lithe limbs supporting a smooth cylindrical body, continued into a long tapering tail, the very type of agility a creature rare even in these remote solitudes, the jaguar.
    Its very rarity rendered it the more desirable as an object to test the skill of the marksman and, notwithstanding the serious nature of the expedition, two of the party were tempted to discharge their rifles at the retreating animal.
    They were Cassius Calhoun, and a young planter who was riding by his side.
    The jaguar dropped dead in its tracks, a bullet having entered its body, and traversed the spine in a longitudinal direction.
    Which of the two was entitled to the credit of the successful shot? Calhoun claimed it, and so did the young planter.
    The shots had been fired simultaneously, and only one of them had hit.
    "I shall show you," confidently asserted the ex-officer, dismounting beside the dead jaguar, and unsheathing his knife. "You see, gentlemen, the ball is still in the animal's body? If it's mine, you'll find my initials on it: C. C. with a crescent. I mould my bullets, so that I can always tell when I've killed my game."
    The swaggering air with which ho held up the leaden missile after extracting it, told that he had spoken the truth. A few of the more curious, drew near and examined the bullet. Sure enough it was moulded as Calhoun had declared, and the dispute ended in the discomfiture of the young planter.
    The party soon after came up with the tracker, waiting to conduct them along a fresh trail.
    It was no longer a track made by two horses, with shod hooves. The turf showed only the hoof-marks of one and so indistinctly, that at times they were indiscernible to all eyes, save those of the tracker himself.
    The trace carried them through the thicket, from glade to glade after a circuitous march bringing them back into the lane-like opening, at a point still further to the west.
    Spangler, though far from being the most accomplished of his calling, took it up as fast as the people could ride after him. In his own mind he had determined the character of the animal whose footmarks he was following. He knew it to be a mustang, the same that had stood under the cottonwood, whilst its rider was smoking a cigar the same whose hoof-mark he had seen deeply indented in a sod saturated with human blood.
    The track of the States horse he had also followed for a short distance, in the interval, when he was left alone. He saw that it would conduct him back to the prairie through which they had passed and thence, in all likelihood, to the settlements on the Leona.
    He had forsaken it to trace the footsteps of the shod mustang more likely to lead him to an explanation of that red mystery of murder perhaps to the den of the assassin.
    Hitherto perplexed by the hoof-prints of two horses alternately overlapping each other, he was not less puzzled now, while scrutinizing the tracks of but one.
    They went not direct, as those of an animal urged onwards upon a journey but here and there zigzagging; occasionally turning upon themselves in short curves then forward for a stretch and then circling again, as if the mustang was either not mounted, or its rider was asleep in the saddle!
    Could these be the hoof-prints of a horse with a man upon his back an assassin skulking away from the scene of assassination, his conscience freshly excited by the crime?
    Spangler did not think so. He knew not what to think. He was mystified more than ever. So confessed him to the major, when being questioned, as to the character of the trail.
    A spectacle that soon afterwards came under his eyes simultaneously seen by every individual of the party so far from solving the mystery, had the effect of rendering it yet more inexplicable.
    More than this. What had hitherto been but an ambiguous affair, a subject for guess and speculation was suddenly transformed into a horror of that intense kind that can only spring from thoughts of the supernatural.
    No one could say that this feeling of horror had arisen without reason.
    When a man is seen mounted on a horse's back, seated firmly in the saddle, with limbs astride in the stirrups, body erect, and hand holding the rein in short, everything in air and attitude required of a rider when, on closer scrutiny, it is observed that there is something wanting to complete the idea of a perfect equestrian and, on still closer scrutiny, that this something is the head, it would be strange if the spectacle did not startle the beholder, terrifying him to the very core of his heart.
    And this very sight came before their eyes causing them simultaneously to rein up, and with as much suddenness, as if each had rashly ridden within less than his horse's length of the brink of an abyss!
    The sun was low down, almost on a level with the sward. Facing westward, his disc was directly before them. His rays, glaring redly in their eyes, hindered them from having a very accurate view, towards the quarter of the west. Still could they see that strange shape above described a horseman without a head!
    Had only one of the party declared himself to have seen it, he would have been laughed at by his companions as a lunatic. Even two might have been stigmatized in a similar manner.
    But what everybody saw at the same time could not be questioned; and only he would have been thought crazed, who should have expressed incredulity about the presence of the abnormal phenomenon.
    No one did. The eyes of all were turned in the same direction, their gaze intently fixed on what was either a horseman without the head, or the best counterfeit that could have been contrived.
    Was it this? If not, what was it?
    These interrogatories passed simultaneously through the minds of all. As no one could answer them, even to himself, no answer was vouchsafed. Soldiers and civilians sate silent in their saddles each expecting an explanation, which the other was unable to supply.
    There could be heard only mutterings, expressive of surprise and terror. No one even offered a conjecture.
    The headless horseman, whether phantom or real, when first seen, was about entering the avenue near the debaucher of which the searchers had arrived. Had he continued his course, he must have met them in the teeth, supposing their courage to have been equal to the encounter.
    As it was, he had halted at the same instant as themselves and stood regarding them with a mistrust that may have been mutual.
    There was an interval of silence on both sides, during which a cigar stump might have been heard falling upon the sward. It was then the strange apparition was most closely scrutinized by those who had the courage for the majority of the men sate shivering in their stirrups through sheer terror, incapable even of thought!
    The few who dared face the mystery, with any thought of accounting for it, were baffled in their investigation by the glare of the setting sun. They could only see that there was a horse of large size and noble shape, with a man upon his back. The figure of the man was less easily determined, on account of the limbs being inserted into overalls, while his shoulders were enveloped in an ample cloak like covering.
    What signified his shape, so long as it wanted that portion most essential to existence?" A man without a head on horseback, sitting erect in the saddle, in an attitude of ease and grace with spurs sparkling upon his heels, the bridle rein held in one hand the other where it should be, resting lightly upon his thigh!
    Great God! What could it mean?
    Was it a phantom? Surely it could not be human?"
    They who viewed it, were not the men to have faith either in phantoms, or phantasmagoria. Many of them had met Nature in her remotest solitudes, and wrestled with her in her roughest moods. They were not given to a belief in ghosts.
    But the confidence of the most incredulous was shaken by a sight so strange so absolutely unnatural and to such an extent, that the stoutest hearted of the party was forced mentally to repeat the words
    " Is it a phantom ? Surely it cannot he human ! "
    Its size favored the idea of the supernatural. It appeared double that of an ordinary man upon an ordinary horse. It was more like a giant on a gigantic steed, though this might have been owing to the illusory light under which it was seen the refraction of the sun's rays passing horizontally through the tremulous atmosphere of the parched plain.
    There was but little time to philosophize, not enough to complete a careful scrutiny of the unearthly apparition, which every one present, with hand spread over his eyes to shade them from the dazzling glare, was endeavoring to make.
    Nothing of color could be noted neither the garments of the man, nor the hairy coat of the horse. Only the shape could be traced, outlined in sable silhouette against the golden background of the sky and this in every change of attitude, whether fronting the spectators, or turned stern towards them, was still the same still that inexplicable phenomenon a horseman without a head !
    Was it a phantom? Surely it could not be human?
    "'Tis old Nick upon horseback!" cried a fearless frontiersman, who would scarce have quailed to encounter his satanic majesty even in that guise. "By the eternal Almighty, it's the devil himself!"
    The boisterous laugh which succeeded the profane utterance of the reckless speaker, while it only added to the awe of his less courageous comrades, appeared to produce an "effect on the headless horseman. Wheeling suddenly round his horse at the same time sending forth a scream that caused either the earth or the atmosphere to tremble he commenced galloping away.
    He went direct towards the sun and continued this course until only by his motion could he be distinguished from one of those spots, that have puzzled the philosopher at length altogether disappearing, as though he had ridden into the dazzling disc!
41. CUATRO CAVALLEROS.
    The party of searchers, under the command of the major, was not the only one that went forth from Fort Inge on that eventful morning.
    Nor was it the earliest to take saddle. Long before, in fact close following the dawn of day, a much smaller party, consisting of only four horsemen, was seen setting out from the suburbs of the village, and heading their horses in the direction of the Nueces.
    These could not be going in search of the dead body of Henry Poindexter. At that hour, no one suspected that the young man was dead, or even that he was missing. The riderless horse had not yet come in to tell the tale of woe. The settlement was still slumbering, unconscious that innocent blood had been spilt.
    Though setting out from nearly the same point, and proceeding in a like direction, there was not the slightest similarity between the two parties of mounted men. Those earliest astart were all of pure Iberian blood or this commingled with Aztecan. In other words they were Mexicans.
    It required neither skill, nor close scrutiny to discover this. A glance at themselves and their horses, their style of equitation, the slight muscular development of their thighs and hips more strikingly observable in their deep tree saddles, the gaily colored serapés shrouding their shoulders, the wide velveteen calzoneros on their legs, the big spurs on their boots, and broad brimmed sombreros on their heads, declared them either Mexicans, or men who had adopted the Mexican costume.
    That they were the former, there was not a question. The sallow hue; the pointed Vandyke beard, covering the chin, sparsely; though not from any thinning by the shears the black, close cropped chevelure , the regular facial outline, were all indisputable characteristics of the Hispano-Moro-Aztecan race, who now occupy the ancient territory of the Montezuma's.
    One of the four, was a man of larger frame, than any of his companions. He rode a better horse, was more richly appareled, carried upon his person arms and equipments of a superior finish and was otherwise distinguished, so as to leave no doubt about his being the leader of the cuartilla.
    He was a man of between thirty and forty years of age nearer to the latter than the former though a smooth, rounded cheek furnished with a short and carefully trimmed whisker gave him the appearance of being younger than he was.
    But for a cold animal eye, and a heaviness of feature that betrayed a tendency to behave with brutality, if not with positive cruelty the individual in question might have been described as handsome.
    A well formed mouth, with twin rows of white teeth between the lips, even when these were exhibited in a smile, did not remove this unpleasant impression. It but reminded the beholder of the sardonic grin, that may have been given by Satan, when, after the temptation had succeeded, he gazed contemptuously back upon the mother of mankind.
    It was not his looks, which had led to his having become known among his comrades by a peculiar nick-name that of an animal well known upon the plains of Texas.
    His deeds and disposition had earned for him the unenviable soubriquet "El Coyote?'
    How came he to be crossing the prairie at this early hour of the morning, apparently sober, and acting as the leader of others when on the same morning, but a few hours before, he was seen drunk in his jacalé, so drunk as to be unconscious of having a visitor, or, at all events, incapable of giving that visitor a civil reception?
    The change of situation, though sudden and to some extent strange, is not so difficult of explanation. It will be understood after an account has been given of his movements, from the time of Calhoun's leaving him, till the moment of meeting him in the saddle, in company with his three conpa is ano s .
    On riding away from his hut, Calhoun had left the door, as he had found it, ajar and in this way did it remain until the morning; El Coyote all the time continuing his sonorous slumber.
    At daybreak, he was aroused by the raw air that came drifting over him, in the shape of a chilly fog. This to some extent sobered him and, springing up from his skin covered truck, he commenced staggering over the floor all the while uttering anathemas against the cold, and the door for letting it in.
    It might be expected that he would have shut to the latter on the instant, but he did not. It was the only aperture, excepting some holes arising from dilapidation, by which light was admitted into the interior of the jacalé and light he wanted, to enable him to carry out the design that had summoned him to his feet.
    The grey dawn, just commencing to creep in through the open doorway, scarce sufficed for his purpose and it was only after a good while spent in groping about, interspersed with a series of stumblings, and accompanied by a string of profane exclamations, that he succeeded in finding that he was searching for a large two-headed gourd, with a strap around its middle, used as a canteen for carrying water, or more frequently mezcal.
    The odor escaping from its uncorked end told that it had recently contained this potent spirit but, that it was now empty, was announced by another profane ejaculation that came from the lips of its owner, as he made the discovery.
    " Sangre de Cr is to ! " he cried, in an accent of angry disappointment, giving the gourd a shake to assure him of its emptiness." Not a drop, not enough to drown a chiga! And my tongue sticking to my teeth. My throat feels as if I had bolted a b razero of red hot charcoal. Por Dios! I can't stand it. What's to be done? Daylight? It is. I must up to the pueblita. It's possible that Señor Doffer may have his trap open by this time to catch the early birds. If so, he'll find a customer in the Coyote. Ha, ha, ha!"
    Slinging the gourd strap around his neck, and thrusting his head through the slit of his serapé, he set forth for the village.
    The tavern was but a few hundred yards from his hut, on the same side of the river, and approachable by a path, that he could have traveled with his eyes under "tapojos." In twenty minutes after, he was staggering past the sign post of the "Rough and Ready."
    He chanced to be in luck. Oberdoffer was in his bar-room, serving some early customers, a party of soldiers who had stolen out of quarters to swallow their morning dram.
    "Mein Gott, Mishter Dees!" said the landlord, saluting the newly arrived guest, and without ceremony forsaking six credit customers, for one that he knew to be cash. "Mein Gott! Is it you I sees so, early ashtir? I knowsh vat you vant. You vant your pig coord fill mit ze Mexican spirits, ag- ag- vat you call it?"
    " Aguardiente! You've guessed it, cavallero. That's just what I want."
    "A tollar von tollar ish the price."
    " Carrambo! I've paid it often enough to know that. Here's the coin, and there's the canteen. Fill, and be quick about it!"
    "Ha! You ish in a hurry, mein herr. Fel- I won't keeps you waitin; I suppose you ish off for the wild horsh prairish. If there's anything goot among the droves, I'm afeart that the Irishmans will pick it up before you. He went off lasht night. He left my housh at a late hour after midnight it wash a very late hour, to go a shourney! But he's a queer cushtomer is that mushtanger, Mister Maurish Sherralt. Nobody knows his ways. I shouldn't say anythings againsht him. He hash been a goot cushtomer to me. He has paid his bill like a rich man, and he hash plenty peside. Mein Gott! His pockets wash cramm mit tollars!"
    On hearing that the Irishman had gone off to the "horsh prairish," as Oberdoffer termed them, the Mexican by his demeanor betrayed more than an ordinary interest in the announcement.
    It was proclaimed, first by a slight start of surprise, and then by an impatience of manner that continued to mark his movements, while listening to the long rigmarole that followed.
    It was clear that he did not desire anything of this to be observed. Instead of questioning his informant upon the subject thus started, or voluntarily displaying any interest in it, he rejoined in a careless drawl,
    "It doesn't concern me, cavallero. There are plenty of mustenos on the plains, enough to give employment to, all the horse-catchers in Texas. Look alive, señor, and let's have the aguardiente!"
    A little chagrined at being thus rudely checked in his attempt, at a gossip, the German Boniface hastily filled the gourd canteen and, without essaying further speech, handed it across the counter, took the dollar in exchange, chucked the coin into his till, and then moved back to his military customers, more amiable because drinking upon the score,
    Diaz, notwithstanding the eagerness he had lately exhibited to obtain the liquor, walked out of the bar-room, and away from the hotel, without taking the stopper from his canteen, or even appearing to think of it!
    His excited air was no longer that of a man merely longing for a glass of ardent spirits. There was something stronger stirring within, that for the time rendered him oblivious of the appetite.
    Whatever it may have been, it did not drive him direct to his home, for not until he had paid a visit to three other hovels somewhat similar to his own all situated in the suburbs of the pueblita, and inhabited by men like himself not till then, did he return to his jacalé.
    It was on getting back, that he noticed for the first time the tracks of a shod horse and saw where the animal had been tied to a tree that stood near the hut.
    " Carrambo ! " he exclaimed, on perceiving this sign, "the Capitan Americano has been here in the night. Por Dios! I remember something I thought I had dreamt it. I can guess his errand. He has heard of Don Mauricio's departure. Perhaps he'll repeat his visit, when he thinks I'm in a proper state to receive him? Ha! ha! It doesn't matter now. The thing's all understood; and I sha'n't need any further instructions from him, till I've earned his thousand dollars. Mil pesos! What a splendid fortune! Once gained, I shall go back to the Rio Grande, and see what can be done with Isidora."
    After delivering the above soliloquy, he remained at his hut only long enough to swallow a few mouthfuls of roasted tasajo washing them down with as many gulps of mezcal. Then having caught and caparisoned his horse, buckled on his huge heavy spurs, strapped his short carbine to the saddle, thrust a pair of pistols into their holsters, and belted the leathern sheathed machete on his hip, he sprang into the stirrups, and rode rapidly away.
    The short interval that elapsed, before making his appearance on the open plain, was spent in the suburbs of the village waiting for the three horsemen who accompanied him, and who had been forewarned of their being wanted to act as his coadjutors, in some secret exploit that required their assistance.
    Whatever it was, his trio of confr è res appeared to have been made acquainted with the scheme, or at all events that the scene of the exploit was to be on the Alamo. When a short distance out upon the plain, seeing Diaz strike off in a diagonal direction, they called out to warn him, that he was not going the right way.
    "I know the Alamo well," said one of them, himself a mustanger. "I've hunted horses there many a time. It's south-west from here. The nearest way to it is through an opening in the chapparal you see out yonder. You are heading too much to the west, Don Miguel!"
    "Indeed!" contemptuously retorted the leader of the cuartilla." You're a gringo, Señor Vicente Barajo! You forget the errand we're upon and that we are riding shod horses? Indians don't go out from Fort Inge and then direct to the Alamo to do no matter what. I suppose you understand me?"
    "Oh true!" answered Señor Vicente Barajo, "I beg your pardon, Don Miguel. Carrambo ! I did not think of that."
    And without further protest, the three coadjutors of El Coyote fell into his tracks, and followed him in silence scarce another word passing between him and them, till they had struck the chapparal, at a point several miles above the opening of which Barajo had made mention.
    Once under cover of the thicket, the four men dismounted and, after tying their horses to the trees,' commenced a performance that could only be compared to a scene in the gentlemen's dressing room of a suburban theatre, preliminary to the representation of some savage and sanguinary drama.
42. VULTURES ON THE WING.
    He who has traveled across the plains of Southern Texas cannot fail to have witnessed a spectacle of common occurrence, a flock of black vultures upon the wing.
    An hundred or more in the flock, swooping in circles, or wide spiral gyrations now descending almost to touch the prairie sward, or the spray of the chapparal, anon soaring upward by a power in which the wing bears no part their pointed pinions, sharply cutting against the clear sky; they constitute a picture of rare interest, one truly characteristic of a tropical clime.
    The traveler who sees it for the first time, will not fail to rein up his horse, and sit in his saddle, viewing it with feelings of curious interest. Even he who is accustomed to the spectacle will not pass on without indulging in a certain train of thought, which it is calculated to call forth.
    There is a tale told by the assemblage of base birds. On the ground beneath them, whether seen by the traveler or not, is stretched some stricken creature, quadruped, or it may be man dead, or it may be dying.
    On the morning that succeeded that somber night, when the three solitary horsemen made the crossing of the plain, a spectacle similar to that described might have been witnessed above the chapparal into which they had ridden. A flock of black vultures, of both species, was disporting above the tops of the trees, near the point where the avenue angled.
    At daybreak not one could have been seen. In less than an hour after, hundreds were hovering above the spot, on wide-spread wings, their shadows sailing darkly over the green spray of the chapparal.
    A Texan traveler entering the avenue, and observing the ominous assemblage, would at once have concluded, that there was death upon his track.
    Going farther, he would have found confirmatory evidence, in a pool of blood trampled by the hooves of horses.
    Not exactly over this were the vultures engaged in their aerial evolutions. The centre of their swoopings appeared to be a point, some distance off, among the trees and there, no doubt, would be discovered the quarry that had called them together.
    At that early hour there was no traveler, Texan, or stranger to test the truth of the conjecture but, for all that, it was true.
    At a point in the chapparal, about a quarter of a mile from the blood-stained path, lay stretched upon the ground the object that was engaging the attention of the vultures.
    It was not carrion, nor yet a quadruped, but a human being, a man!
    A young man, too, of noble lineaments and graceful shape so far as could be seen under the cloak that shrouded his recumbent form with a face fair to look upon, even in death.
    Was he dead?
    At first sight any one would have said so, and the black birds believed it. His attitude and countenance seemed to proclaim it beyond question.
    He was lying upon his back, with face upturned to the sky, no care being taken to shelter it from the sun. His limbs, too, were not in a natural posture, but extended stiffly along the stony surface, as if he had lost the power to control them.
    A colossal tree was near, a live-oak, but it did not shadow him. He was outside the canopy of its frontage and the sun's beams, just beginning to penetrate the chapparal, were slanting down upon his pale face, paler by reflection from a white Panama hat that but partially shaded it.
    His features did not seem set in death and as little was it like sleep. It had more the look of death than sleep. The eyes were but half closed and the pupils could be seen glancing through the lashes, glassy and dilated.
    Was the man dead?
    Beyond doubt, the black birds believed that he was.
    But the black birds were judging only by appearances. Their wish was parent to the thought. They were mistaken.
    Whether it was the glint of the sun striking into his half-screened orbs, or nature becoming restored after a period of repose, the eyes of the prostrate man, were seen to open to their full extent, while a movement was perceptible throughout his whole frame.
    Soon after he raised himself a little and, resting upon his elbow, stared confusedly around him.
    The vultures soared upward into the air, and for the time maintained a higher flight.
    "Am I dead, or living?" muttered he to himself. "Dreaming or awake? Which is it? Where am I?"
    The sunlight was blinding him. He could see nothing, till he had shaded his eyes, with his hand, then only indistinctly.
    "Trees above, around me! Stones underneath! That I can tell by the aching of my bones. A chapparal forest! How came I into it?
    "Now I have it," continued he, after a short spell of reflection. "My head was dashed against a tree. There it is, the very limb that lifted me out of the saddle. My left leg pains me. Ah! I remember it came in contact with the trunk. By heavens, I believe it is broken!"
    As he said this, he made an effort to raise himself into an erect attitude. It proved a failure. His sinister limb would lend him no assistance, it was swollen at the knee joint, either shattered or dislocated.
    "Where is the horse? Gone off, of course. By this time, in the stables of Casa del Corvo. I need not care now. I could not mount him, if he were standing by my side.
    "The other?" he added, after a pause. "Good heavens! What a spectacle it was! No wonder it scared the one I was riding!
    "What am I to do? My leg may be broken. I can't stir from this spot, without some one to help me. Ten chances to one a hundred a thousand against any one coming this way at least not till I've become food for those filthy birds. Ugh! The hideous brutes they stretch out their beaks, as if already sure of making a meal upon me!
    "How long have I been lying here? The sun doesn't seem very high. It was just daybreak, as I climbed into the saddle. I suppose I've been unconscious about an hour. By my faith, I'm in a serious scrape? In all likelihood a broken limb, it feels broken, with no surgeon to set it, a stony couch, in the heart of a Texan chapparal, the thicket around me, perhaps for miles; no chance to escape from it of myself, no hope of human creature coming to help me, wolves on the earth, and vultures in the air! Great God! Why did I mount, without making sure of the rein? I may have ridden my last ride!"
    The countenance of the young man became clouded and the cloud grew darker, and deeper, as he continued to reflect upon the perilous position in which a simple accident had placed him.
    Once more he essayed to rise to his feet, and succeeded only to find, that he had, but one leg on which he could rely! It was no use, standing upon it and he lay down again.
    Two hours were passed without any change in his situation during which he had caused the chapparal to ring with a loud hallooing. He only desisted from this, under the conviction that there was no one at all likely to hear him.
    The shouting caused thirst, or at all events hastened the advent of this appetite surely coming on as the concomitant of the injuries he had received.
    The sensation was soon experienced to such an extent that everything else even the pain of his wounds, became of trifling consideration.
    "It will kill me, if I stay here?" reflected the sufferer. "I must make an effort to reach water. If I remember aright, there's a stream somewhere in this chapparal, and not such a great way off. I must get to it, if I have to crawl upon my hands and knees. Knees! And only one in a condition to support me! There's no help for it, but try. The longer I stay here, the worse it will be. The sun grows hotter. It already burns into my brain. I may lose my senses, and then the wolves the vultures "
    The horrid apprehension caused silence and shuddering.
    After a time he continued
    "If I but knew the right way to go. I remember the stream well enough. It runs towards the chalk prairie. It should be south east, from here. I shall try that way. By good luck the sun guides me. If I find water all may yet be well. God, give me strength to reach it!"
    With this prayer upon his lips, he commenced making his way through the thicket creeping over the stony ground, and dragging after him his disabled leg, like some huge Saurian whose vertebras have been disjointed by a blow!
    Lizard like, he continued his crawl.
    The effort was painful in the extreme, but the apprehension from which he suffered was still more painful, and urged him to continue it.
    He well knew there was a chance of falling victim to thirst, almost a certainty, if he did not succeed in finding water.
    Stimulated by this knowledge he crept on.
    At short intervals, he was compelled to pause, and recruit his strength by a little rest. A man does not travel far, on his hands and knees, without feeling fatigued. Much more, when one of the four members cannot be employed in the effort.
    His progress was slow and irksome. Besides, it was being made under the most discouraging circumstances. He might not be going in the right direction? Nothing but the dread of death could have induced him to keep on.
    He had made about a quarter of a mile from the point of starting, when it occurred to him that a better plan of locomotion, might be adopted, one that would, at all events, vary the monotony of his march.
    "Perhaps," said he, "I might manage to hobble a bit, if I only had a crutch? Ho! My knife is still here. Thank fortune for that! And there's a sapling of the right size a bit of black-jack. It will do."
    Drawing the knife, a "bowie" from his belt, he cut down the dwarf-oak and soon reduced it, to a rude kind of crutch; a fork in the tree serving for the head.
    Then rising erect, and fitting the fork into his armpit, he proceeded with his exploration.
    He knew the necessity of keeping to one course and, as ho had chosen the south east, he continued in this direction.
    It was not so easy. The sun was his only compass, but this had now reached the meridian, and, in the latitude of Southern Texas, at that season of the year, the midday sun is almost in the zenith. Moreover, he had the chapparal to contend with, requiring constant devours to take advantage of its openings. He had a sort of guide in the sloping of the ground for he knew that downward he was more likely to find the stream.
    After proceeding about a mile, not in one continued march, but by short stages, with intervals of rest between, he came upon a track made by the wild animals, which frequent the chapparal. It was slight, but running in a direct line, a proof that it led to some point of peculiar consideration, in all likelihood a watering place stream, pond, or spring.
    Any of these three would serve his purpose and, without longer looking to the sun, or the slope of the ground, he advanced along the trail, now hobbling upon his crutch and at times, when tired of this mode, dropping down upon his hands and crawling as before.
    The cheerful anticipations he had indulged in, on discovering the trail, soon came to a termination. It became blind. In other words it ran out ending in a glade surrounded by impervious masses of underwood. He saw, to his dismay, that it led from the glade, instead of towards it. He had been following it the wrong way!
    Unpleasant as was the alternative, there was no other than to return upon his track. To stay in the glade would have been to die there.
    He retraced the trodden path, going on beyond the point where he had first struck it.
    Nothing but the torture of thirst could have endowed him with strength or spirit to proceed. And this was every moment becoming more unendurable.
    The trees through which he was making way, were mostly acacias, interspersed with cactus and wild agaves. They afforded scarce any shelter from the sun, which now in mid heaven, glared down through their gossamer foliage, with the fervor of fire itself.
    The perspiration, oozing through every pore of his skin, increased the tendency to thirst until the appetite became an agony!
    Within reach of his hand were the glutinous legumes of the mez q uite s , filled with mellifluous moisture. The agaves and cactus plants, if tapped, would have exuded an abundance of juice. The former was too sweet, the latter too acrid to tempt him.
    He was acquainted with the character of both. He knew that, instead of allaying his thirst, they would only have added to its intensity.
    He passed the depending pods, without plucking them. He passed the succulent stalks, without tapping them.
    To augment his anguish, he now discovered that the wounded limb was, every moment, becoming more unmanageable. It had swollen to enormous dimensions. Every step caused him a spasm of pain. Even if going in the direction of the doubtful streamlet, he might never succeed in reaching it? If not, there was no hope for him. He could but lie down in the thicket, and die!
    Death would not be immediate. Although suffering acute pain in his head, neither the shock it had received, nor the damage done to his knee, were like to prove speedily fatal. He might dread a more painful way of dying than from wounds. Thirst would be his destroyer, of all shapes of death perhaps the most agonizing.
    The thought stimulated him to renewed efforts and despite the slow progress he was able to make, despite the pain experienced in making it, he toiled on.
    The black birds hovering above, kept pace with his halting step and laborious crawl. Now more than a mile from the point of their first segregation, they were all of them, still there, their numbers even augmented by fresh detachments, that had become warned of the expected prey. Though aware that the quarry still lived and moved, they saw that it was stricken. Instinct perhaps, rather than experience, told them it must soon succumb.
    Their shadows crossed and re-crossed the track upon which he advanced filling him with ominous fears for the end.
    There was no noise, for these birds are silent in their flight even when excited by the prospect of a repast. The hot sun had stilled the voices of the crickets and tree-toads. Even the hideous "horned frog" reclined listless along the earth, sheltering its tuberculated body under the stones.
    The only sounds to disturb the solitude of the chapparal were those made by the sufferer himself, the swishing of his garments, as they brushed against the hirsute plants that beset the path and occasionally his cries, sent forth in the faint hope of their being heard.
    By this time, blood was mingling with the sweat upon his skin. The spines of the cactus, and the claw-like thorns of the agaves, had been doing their work and scarce an inch of the epidermis upon his face, hands, and limbs, that was not rent with a laceration.
    He was near to the point of despondence in real truth; he had reached it for after a spell of shouting he had flung himself prostrate along the earth, despairingly indifferent about proceeding farther.
    In all likelihood it was the attitude that saved him. Lying with his ear close to the surface, he heard a sound so slight, that it would not have been otherwise discernible.
    Slight as it was, he could distinguish it, as the very sound for which his senses were sharpened. It was the murmur of moving water!
    With an ejaculation of joy, he sprang to his feat, as if nothing were amiss and made direct towards the point whence proceeded the sound.
    He plied his improvised crutch with redoubled energy. Even the disabled leg appeared to sustain him. It was strength and the love of life, struggling against decrepitude and the fear of death.
    The former proved victorious and, in ten minutes after, he lay stretched along the sward, on the banks of a crystal streamlet wondering why the want of water could have caused him such indescribable agony!
43. THE CUP AND THE JAR.
    Once more the mustanger's hut! Once more his henchman, astride of a stool in the middle of the floor! Once more his hound lying astretch upon the skin covered hearth, with snout half buried in the cinders!
    The relative positions of the man and the dog are essentially the same as when seen on a former occasion, their attitudes almost identical. Otherwise there is a change in the picture since last painted a transformation at once striking and significant.
    The horse hide door, standing ajar, still hangs upon its hinges and the smooth coats of the wild steeds shine lustrously along the walls. The slab table too, is there, the trestle bedstead, the two stools, and the "shake down" of the servitor.
    But the other "chattels" wont to be displayed against the skin tapestry are either out of sight, or displaced. The double gun has been removed from its rack, the silver cup, hunting horn, and dog call, are no longer suspended from their respective pegs the saddle, bridles, ropes, and serapes are unslung; and the books, ink, pens, and papeterie have entirely disappeared.
    At first sight it might be supposed that Indians have paid a visit to the jacalé, and pillaged it of its penat es .
    But no. Had this been the case, Phelim would not be sitting so unconcernedly on the stool, with his carroty scalp still upon his head.
    Though the walls are stripped, nothing has been carried away. The articles are still there, only with a change of place and the presence of several corded packages, lying irregularly over the floor among which is the leathern portmanteau proclaims the purpose of the transposition.
    Though a clearing out has not been made, it is evident that one is intended.
    In the midst of the general displacement, one piece of plenishing was still seen in its accustomed corner, the demijohn. It was seen by Phelim, oftener than any other article in the room, for no matter in what direction he might turn his eyes, they were sure to come round again to that wicker covered vessel that stood so temptingly in the angle.
    "Ach! me jewel, it's there yez are!" said he, apostrophizing the demijohn for about the twentieth time, "wid more than two quarts av the crayther inside yer bewtifall belly, and not doin ' ye a bit av good, nayther. If the tinth part av it was inside av me, it wud be a moighty binnefit to me intistines. Trath wud it that same. Wudn't it, Tara?"
    On hearing his name pronounced, the dog raised his head and looked inquiringly around, to see what was wanted of him.
    Perceiving that his human companion was but talking to himself, he resumed his attitude of repose.
    "Faix! I don't want any answer to that, owld boy. It's meself that knows it, widout tillin'. A hape av good a glass of that same potyeen would do me; and I dar'n't touch a dhrap, afther fwhat the masther sid to me about it. Afther all that packin', too, till me throat is stickin' to me tongue, as if I had been thryin' to swallow a pitch plaster. Sowl! it's a shame av Masther Maurice to make me promise agaynst touchin' the dhrink eepacially when it's not goin' to be wanted. Didn't he say he wudn't stay more than wan night, whin he come back heeur an shure he won't conshume two quarts in wan night unless that owld sinner Stump comes along wid him. Bad luck to his greedy gut! He gets more av the Manongahayla than the masther himsilf.
    "There's wan consolashun, an' thank the Lard for it, we're goin' back to the owld sad, an' the owld place at Ballyballagh. Won't I have a skinful when I get thare av the raal stuff too, instid of this Amerikyan rotgut! Hooch-hoop-horoo! The thought av it's enough to sit a man mad wid deloight. Hooch-hoop-horoo!"
    Tossing his wide awake up among the rafters, and catching it as it came down again, the excited Galwegian several times repeated his ludicrous shibboleth. Then becoming tranquil he sat for awhile in silence his thoughts dwelling with pleasant anticipation on the joys that awaited him at Ballyballagh.
    They soon reverted to the objects around him more especially to the demijohn in the corner. On this once more his eyes became fixed in a gaze, in which increasing covetousness was manifestly visible.
    "Arrah, me jewel!" said he, again apostrophizing the vessel, "ye're extramely bewtifull to look at that same ye arr. Shure now, yez wudn't till upon me, if I gave yez a thrifle av a kiss? Ye wudn't be the thraiter to bethray me? Wan smack only. Thare can be no harum in that. Trath, I don't think the masther 'ud mind it, when he thinks av the trouble I've had wid this packin', an' the dhry dust gettin' down me throat. Shure he didn't mane me to kape that promise for this time which differs intirely from all the rest, by razon av our goin' away. A dhry flittin', they say, makes a short sittin'. I'll tell the masther that, whin he comes back an' shure it 'll pacify him. Besoides, there's another ixcuse. He's all av tin hours beyant his time an' I'll say I took a thriflin' dhrap to kape me from thinkin' long for him. Shure he won't say a word about it. Be Sant Pathrick! I'll take a smell at the dimmyjan, an' trust to good luck for the rist. Loy down, Tara! I'm not agoin' out."
    The staghound had risen, seeing the speaker step towards the door.
    But the dumb creature had misinterpreted the purpose which was simply to take a survey of the path by which the jacalé was approached, and make sure, that, his master was not likely to interrupt him in his intended dealings with the demijohn.
    Becoming satisfied that the coast was clear, he glided back across the floor uncorked the jar and, raising it to his lips, swallowed something more than a "thriflin' dhrap av its contints."
    Then putting it back in its place, he returned to his seat on the stool.
    After remaining quiescent for a considerable time, he once more proceeded to soliloquize now and then changing his speech to the apostrophic form Tara and the demijohn being the individuals honored by his discourse.
    "In the name av all the angels, an' the divils to boot, I wondher what's kapin' the masther! He sid he wud be heeur by eight av the clock in the marnin', and it's now good six in the afthernoon, if thare's any truth in a Tixas sun. Shure thare's somethin' detainin' him? Don't yez think so, Tara?"
    This time Tara did vouchsafe the affirmative "sniff" having poked his nose too far into the ashes.
    "See the powers! Then, I hope it's no harum that's befallen him! If there has, owld dog, fwhat 'ud become av you an' me? Thare might be no Ballyballagh for miny a month to come; unliss we cowld pay our passage wid these thraps av the masther's. The drinkm' cup raid silver it is wud cover the whole expinse av the voyage. Be japers! Now that it stroikes me, I niver had a dhrink out av that purty little vessel. I'm shure the liquor must taste swater that way. Does it, I won dher trath, now's just the time to thry."
    Saying this, he took the cup out of the portmanteau, in which he had packed it and, once more uncorking the demijohn, poured out a portion of its contents of about the measure of a wine glassful.
    Quaffing it off at a single gulp, he stood smacking his lips as if to assure himself of the quality of the liquor.
    "Sowl! I don't know that it does taste better," said he, still holding the cup in one hand, and the jar in the other. "Afther all, I think, it's swater out av the dimmyjan itself. That is, as far as I cyan remimber. But it isn't givin' the gawblet fair play. It's so long since I had the jar to me mouth, that I a'most forget how it tasted that way. I cowld till betther if I thryed thim thegither. I'll do that, before I decoide."
    The demijohn was now raised to his lips and, after several "glucks" was again taken away.
    Then succeeded a second series of smacking, in true connoisseur fashion, with the head held reflecting steadfast.
    "Trath! an' I'm wrong agane!" said he, accompanying the remark with another doubtful shake of the head. "Althegither asthray. It's swater from the silver. Or, is it only me imaginayshin that's desavin' me? It's worth while to make shure, an I can only do that by tastin' another thrifle out av the cup. That wud be givin' fair play to both av the vessels for I've dhrunk twice from the jar, an' only wanst from the silver. Fair play's a jewil all the world over and thare's no raison why this bewtiful little mug showldn't be trated as dacently as that big basket av a jar. Be japers! But it shall tho'!".
    The cup was again called into requisition and once more a portion of the contents of the demijohn were transferred to it to be poured immediately after down the insatiable throat of the unsatisfied connoisseur.
    Whether he eventually decided in favor of the cup, or whether he retained his preference for the jar, is not known. After the fourth potation, which was also the final one, he appeared to think he had tasted sufficiently for the time, and laid both vessels aside.
    Instead of returning to his stool, however, a new idea came across his mind which was to go forth from the hut, and see whether there was any sign to indicate the advent of his master.
    "Come, Tara!" cried he, striding towards the door. "Let us stip up to the bluff beyant, and take a look over the big plain. If masther's comin' at all, he shud be in sight by this. Gome along, ye owld dog! Masther Maurice 'll think all the betther av us, for bein' a little uneasy about his gettin' back."
    Taking the path through the wooded bottom with the stag hound close at his heels the Galwegian ascended the bluff, by one of its sloping ravines, and stood upon the edge of the upper plateau.
    From this point he commanded a view of a somewhat sterile plain that stretched away eastward, more than a mile, from the spot where he was standing.
    The sun was on his back, low down on the horizon, but shining from a cloudless sky. There was nothing to interrupt his view. Here and there, a stray cactus plant, or a solitary stem of the arborescent yucca, raised its hirsute form above the level of the plain. Otherwise the surface was smooth and a coyote could not have crossed it without being seen.
    Beyond, in the far distance, could be traced the darker outline of trees where a tract of chapparal, or the wooded selvedge of a stream stretched transversely across the llano.
    The Galwegian bent his gaze over the ground, in the direction in which he expected his master should appear and stood silently watching for him.
    Ere long his vigil was rewarded. A horseman was seen coming out from among the trees upon the other aide, and heading towards the Alamo.
    He was still more than a mile distant but, even at that distance, the faithful servant could identify his master. The striped serapé of brilliant hues a true Navajo blanket, which Maurice was accustomed to take with him when traveling was not to be mistaken. It gleamed gaudily under the glare of the setting sun its bands of red, white, and blue, contrasting with the somber tints of the sterile plain.
    Phelim only wondered, that his master should have it spread over his shoulders on such a sultry evening instead of folded up, and strapped to the cantle of his saddle!
    "Trath, Tara! It looks quare, doesn't it? It's hot enough to roast a stake upon these stones an' yit the masther don't seem to think so. I hope he hasn't caught a cold from stayin' in that close crib at owld Duffer's tavern. It wasn't fit for a pig to dwell in. Our own shanty 's a splendid parlor to it."
    The speaker was for a time silent, watching the movements of the approaching horseman by this time about half a mile distant, and still drawing nearer.
    When his voice was put forth again it was in a tone altogether changed. It was still that of surprise, with an approach towards merriment. But it was mirth that doubted of the ludicrous and seemed to struggle under restraint.
    "Mother av Moses!" cried he. "What can the masther mane? Not contint with havin' the blanket upon his shoulders, be japers, he's got it over his head!
    "He's playin' us a thrick, Tara. He wants to give you and me a surproise. He wants to have a joke agaynst ns!
    "Sowl! But it's quare anyhow. It looks as if he had no head. In faix does it! Ach! what cyan it mane? Be the Holly Virgin! it's enough to frighten wan, av they didn't know it was the masther!
    "Is it the masther? Be the powers, it's too short for him! The head? Saint Patrick presarve us, whare is it? It cyan't be smothered up in the blankyet? Thare's no shape thare! Be Jaysus, thare's somethin wrong! What does it mane, Tara?"
    The tone of the speaker had again undergone a change. It was now close bordering upon terror as was also the expression of his countenance.
    The look and attitude of the staghound were not very different. He stood a little in advance half cowering, half inclined to spring forward with eyes glaring wildly, while fixed upon the approaching horseman now scarce two hundred yards from the spot!
    As Phelim put the question that terminated his last soliloquy, the hound gave out a lugubrious howl, which seemed intended for an answer.
    Then, as if urged by some canine instinct, he bounded off towards the strange object, which puzzled his human companion, and was equally puzzling him.
    Bushing straight on, he gave utterance to a series of shrill yelps far different from the soft sonorous baying, with which he was accustomed to welcome the coming home of the mustanger.
    If Phelim was surprised at what he had already seen, he was still further astonished by what now appeared to him.
    As the dog drew near, still yelping as he ran, the blood-bay which the ex-groom had long before identified as his master's horse turned sharply round, and commenced galloping back across the plain!
    While performing the wheel, Phelim saw, or fancied he saw that, which not only astounded him, but caused the blood to run chill through his veins, and his frame to tremble to the very tips of his toes.
    It was a head that of the man on horseback but, instead of being in its proper place, upon his shoulders, it was held in the rider's hand, just behind the pommel of the saddle!
    As the horse turned side towards him, Phelim saw, or fancied he saw, the face ghastly and covered with gore half hidden behind the shaggy hair of the holster!
    He saw no more. In another instant his back was turned towards the plain and, in another, he was rushing down the ravine, as fast as his enfeebled limbs would carry him!
44. A QUARTETTE OF COMANCHES.
    With his flame-colored curls bristling upward, almost raising the hat from his head, the Galwegian continued his retreat pausing not scarce looking back, till he had re entered the jacalé, closed the skin door behind him, and barricaded it with several large packages that lay near.
    Even then he did not feel secure. What protection could there be in a shut door, barred and bolted besides, against that which was not earthly?
    And surely what he had seen was not of the earth, not of this world! Who on earth had ever witnessed such a spectacle, a man mounted upon horseback, and carrying his head in his hand? Who had ever heard of a phenomenon so unnatural? Certainly not "Phaylim Onale."
    His horror still continuing, he rushed to and from across the floor of the hut; now dropping down upon the stool, anon rising up, and gliding to the door but without daring either to open it, or look out through the chinks.
    At intervals he tore the hair out of his head, striking his clenched hand against his temples, and roughly rubbing his eyes as if to make sure that he was not asleep, but had really seen the shape that was horrifying him.
    One thing alone gave him a moiety of comfort though, it was of the slightest. While retreating down the ravine, before his head had sunk below the level of the plain, he had given a glance backward. He had derived some gratification from that glance as it showed the headless rider afar off on the prairie, and with back turned toward the Alamo, going on at a gallop.
    But for the remembrance of this, the Galwegian might have been still more terrified if that were possible while striding back and forth upon the floor of the jacalé.
    For a long time he was speechless not knowing what to say and only giving utterance to such exclamations as came mechanically to his lips.
    As the time passed, and he began to feel, not so much a return of confidence, as of the power of ratiocination, his tongue became restored to him and a continuous fire of questions and exclamations succeeded. They were all addressed to himself. Tara was no longer there, to take part in the conversation.
    They were put, moreover, in a low whispered tone, as if in fear that his voice might be heard outside the jackal.
    "Ochone! Ochone! it cyan't av been him! Sant Pathrick protict me, but fwhat was it thin?
    "Thare was iverything av his the horse the sthriped blankyet them spotted wather guards upon his legs an' the head itself all except the faytures. Thim I saw too, but wasn't shure about eyedintifycashin for who kud till a face all covered over wid rid blood?
    "Ach! it cudn't be Masther Maurice at all, at all!
    "It's all a dhrame. I must have been aslape, an' dhramin? Or, was it the whisky that did it?
    "Shure, I wasn't dhrunk enough for that. Two goes out av the little cup, an' two more from the dimmyjan not over a kupple av naggins in all! That wudn't make me dhrunk. I've taken twice that, widout as much as thrippin in my spache. Trath have I. Besoides, if I had been the worse for the liquor, why am I not so still?
    "Thare's not half an hour passed since I saw it an' I'm as sober as a judge upon the binch av magistrates.
    "Sowl! a dhrap 'ud do me a power av good just now. If I don't take wan, I'll not get a wink av slape. I'll be shure to kape awake all the night long thinkin' about it. Ochone! ochone! what cyan it be anyhow? An' where cyan the masther be, if it wasn't him? Howly Sant Pathrick! Look down an watch oyer a miserable sinner, that's lift all alone be himself, wid nothin' but ghosts an' goblins around him!"
    After this appeal to the Catholic saint, the Connemara man addressed himself with still more zealous devotion to the worship of a very different divinity, known among the ancients as Bacchus.
    His suit in this quarter proved perfectly successful for in less than an hour after he had entered upon his genuflexions at the shrine of the pagan god represented by the demijohn of Monongahela whisky he was shrived of all his sufferings if not of his sins and lay stretched along the floor of the jacalé, not only oblivious of the spectacle that had so late terrified him to the very centre of his soul, but utterly unconscious of his soul's existence.
    There is no sound within the hut of Maurice the mustanger not even a clock, to tell, by its continuous ticking, that the hours are passing into eternity, and that another midnight is mantling over the earth.
    There are Bounds outside but only as usual. The rippling of the stream close by, the whispering of the leaves stirred by the night wind, the chirrup of cicadas, the occasional cry of some wild creature, are but the natural voices of the nocturnal forest.
    Midnight has arrived, with a moon that assimilates it to morning. Her light illumines the earth here and there penetrating through the shadowy trees, and flinging broad silvery lists between them.
    Passing through these alternations of light and shadow apparently avoiding the former, as much as possible goes a group of mounted men.
    Though few in number, as there are only four of them, they are formidable to look upon. The vermilion glaring redly over their naked skins, the striped and spotted tattooing upon their cheeks, the scarlet feathers standing stiffly upright above their heads, and the gleaming of weapons held in their hands, all bespeak strength of a savage and dangerous kind.
    Whence come they?
    They are in the war costume of the Comanche. Their paint proclaims it. There is the skin fillet around the temples, with the eagle plumes stuck behind it. The bare breasts and arms the buckskin breech clouts, everything in the shape of sign by which these Ishmaelites of Texas may be recognized, when out upon the maraud.
    They must be Comanches and, therefore, have come from the west.
    Whither go they?
    This is a question more easily answered. They are closing in upon the hut, where lies the unconscious inebriate. The jacalé of Maurice Gerald is evidently the butt of their expedition.
    That their intentions are hostile; is to be inferred from the fact of their wearing, the war costume. It is also apparent from their manner of making approach. Still further, by their dismounting at some distance from the hut, securing their horses in the underwood, and continuing their advance on foot.
    Their stealthy tread taking care to plant the foot lightly upon the fallen leaves, the precaution to keep inside the shadow the frequent pauses, spent in looking ahead and listening the silent gestures with which these movements are directed by him who appears to be the leader all proclaim design, to reach the jacalé unperceived by whoever may chance to be inside it.
    In this they are successful so far as may be judged by appearances. They stand by the stockade walls, without any sign being given to show that they have been seen,
    The silence inside is complete, as that they are themselves observing. There is nothing heard not so much as the screech of a hearth cricket.
    And yet the hut is inhabited. But a man may get drunk beyond the power of speech, snoring, or even audibly breathing and in this condition is the tenant of the jackal.
    The four Comanches steal up to the door and in skulking attitudes scrutinize it.'
    It is shut but there are chinks at the sides.
    To these the savages set their ears all at the same time and stand silently listening.
    No snoring, no breathing, no noise of any kind! "It is possible," says their chief to the follower nearest him speaking in a whisper, but in good grammatical Castilian, "just possible he has not yet got home though by the time of hi starting he should have reached here long before this. He may have ridden out again? Now I remember there's a horse shed at the back. If the man be inside the house, the beast should be found in the shed. Stay here, camarados, till I go round and see."
    Six seconds suffice to examine the substitute for a stable. No horse in it.
    As many more are spent in scrutinizing the path that leads to it. No horse has been there at least not lately.
    These points determined, the chief returns to his followers still standing by the doorway in front.
    " Maldito ! " he exclaims, giving freer scope to his voice, "he's not here, nor has he been this day."
    "We had better go inside, and make sure?" suggests one of the common warriors, in Spanish fairly pronounced. "There can be no harm in our seeing how the Irlandes has housed himself out here?"
    "Certainly not!" answers a third, equally well versed in the language of Cervantes. "Let's have a look at his larder too. I'm hungry enough to eat raw tasajo."
    " Por Dios ! " adds the fourth and last of the quartette, in the same sonorous tongue. "I've heard that he keeps a cellar. If so…"
    The chief does not wait for his follower to finish the hypothetical speech. The thought of a cellar appears to produce a powerful effect upon him stimulating to immediate action.
    He sets his heel upon the skin door, with the intention of pushing it open.
    It resists the effort.
    " Carrambo ! It's barred inside! Done to keep out intruders in his absence! Lions, tigers, bears, buffaloes and perhaps Indians. Ha! ha! ha!"
    Another kick is given with greater force. The door still keeps its place.
    "Barricaded with something, something heavy too. It won't yield to kicking.' No matter. I'll soon see what's inside."
    The machete is drawn from its sheath and a large hole cut through the stretched skin, that covers the light framework of wood.
    Into this the Indian thrusts his arm and groping about, discovers the nature of the obstruction.
    The packages are soon displaced, and the door thrown open.
    The savages enter, preceded by a broad moonbeam, that lights them on their way, and enables them to observe the condition of the interior.
    A man lying in the middle of the floor!
    " Carajo! "
    "Is he asleep?"
    "He must be dead not to have heard us?"
    "Neither," says the chief, after stooping to examine him, "only dead drunk boracho , embriaguado ! He's the servitor of the Irlandes. I've seen this fellow before. From his manner, one may safely conclude, that his master is not at home, nor has been lately. I hope the brute hasn't used up the cellar in getting himself into this comfortable condition. Ah! a jar. And smelling like a rose! There's a rattle among these rods. There's stuff inside. Thank the Lady Guadaloupe for this!"
    A few seconds suffice for distributing what remains of the contents of the demijohn. There is enough to give each of the four a drink, with two to their chief who, notwithstanding his high rank, has not the superior politeness to protest against this unequal distribution. In a trice the jar is empty.
    What next?
    The master of the house must come home, some time or other. An interview with him is desired by the men, who have made a call upon him particularly desired, as may be told by the unseasonable hour of their visit. The chief is especially anxious to see him.
    What can four Comanche Indians want with Maurice the mustanger?
    Their talk discloses their intentions for among themselves they make no secret of their object in being there.
    They ha v e come to murder him !
    Their chief is the instigator, the others are only his instruments and assistants.
    The business is too important to permit of his trifling. He will gain a thousand dollars by the deed, besides a certain gratification independent of the money motive. His three braves will earn a hundred each, a sum sufficient to tempt the cupidity of a Comanche, and purchase him for any purpose.
    The travesty need not be carried any further. By this time the mask must have fallen off. Our Comanches are mere Mexicans; their chief, Miguel Diaz, the mustanger.
    "We must lie in, wait for him."
    This is the counsel of El Coyote.
    "He cannot be much longer now, whatever may have detained him. You, Barajo, go up to the bluff, and keep a look out over the plain. The rest remain here with me. He must come that way from the Leona. We can meet him at the bottom of the gorge under the big cypress tree. 'Tis the best place for our purpose."
    "Had we not better silence him? " hints the bloodthirsty Barajo, pointing to the Galwegian fortunately unconscious of what is transpiring around him.
    "Dead men tell no tales!" adds another of the conspirators, repeating the proverb in its original language.
    "It would tell a worse tale were we to kill him," rejoins Diaz. "Besides, it's of no use. He's silent enough as it is, the droll devil. Let the dog have his day. I've only bargained for the life of his master. Come, Barajo! Vayate! vayate ! Up to the cliff. We can't tell the moment Don Mauricio may drop in upon us. A miscarriage must not be made. We may never have such a chance again. Take your stand at the top of the gorge. From that point you have a view of the whole plain. He cannot come near without your seeing him, in such moonlight as this. As soon as you've set eyes on him, hasten down and let us know. Be sure you give us time to get under the cypress."
    Barajo is proceeding to yield obedience to this chapter of instructions, but with evident reluctance. He has, the night before, been in ill luck, having lost to El Coyote a large sum at the game of mon t e. He is desirous of having his revanche for he well knows how his confreres will spend the time in his absence.
    "Quick, Señor Vicente," commands Diaz, observing his dislike to the duty imposed upon him "if we fail in this business, you will lose more than you can gain at an albur of monté. Go, man!" continues El Coyote, in an encouraging way. "If he comes not within the hour, some one will relieve you. Go!"
    Barajo obeys, and, stepping out of the jackal, proceeds to his post upon the top of the cliff.
    The others seat themselves inside the hut having already established a light.
    Men of their class and calling generally go provided with the means of killing time, or, at all events, hindering it from hanging on their hands.
    The slab table is between them, upon which is soon displayed, not their supper, but a pack of Spanish cards, which every Mexican vagabondo carries under his serapé.
    Cavallo and soto (queen and knave) are laid face upward a monté table is established the cards are shuffled and the play proceeds.
    Absorbed in calculating the chances of the game, an hour passes without note being taken of the time.
    El Coyote is banker, and also croupier.
    The cries " Cavallo en la puertal " " Soto mozo! " ("The queen in the gate!" "The knave winner!") at intervals announced in set phrase echo from the skin covered walls.
    The silver dollars are raked along the rough table, their sharp chink contrasting with the soft shuffle of the cards.
    All at once a more stentorous sound interrupts the play, causing a cessation of the game.
    It is the screech of the inebriate, who, awaking from his trance of intoxication, perceives for the first time the queer company that share with him the shelter of the jacalé.
    The players spring to their feet, and draw their machetes. Phelim stands a fair chance of being skewered on three long Toledos.
    He is only saved by a contingency, another interruption that has the effect of staying the intent.
    Barajo appears in the doorway panting for breath.
    It is scarce necessary for him to announce his errand, though he contrives to gasp out,…
    "He is coming on the bluff already at the head of the c a ñ ada quick, comrades, quick!"
    The Galwegian is saved. There is scarce time to kill him even were it worth while.
    But it is not at least so think the masqueraders who leave him to resume his disturbed slumber, and rush forth to accomplish the more profitable assassination.
    In a score of seconds they are under the cliff, at the bottom of the sloping gorge by which it must be descended.
    They take stand under the branches of a spreading cypress and await the approach of their victim.
    They listen for the hoof strokes that should announce it. These are soon heard. There is the clinking of a shod hoof not in regular strokes, but as if a horse was passing over an uneven surface. One is descending the slope!
    He is not yet visible to the eyes of the ambuscaders. Even the gorge is in gloom like the valley below, shadowed by tall trees.
    There is but one spot where the moon throws light upon the turf a narrow space outside the somber shadow that conceals the assassins. Unfortunately this does not lie in the path of their intended victim. He must pass under the canopy of the cypress!
    "Don't kill him!" mutters Miguel Diaz to his men, speaking in an earnest tone. "There's no need for that just yet. I want to have him alive for the matter of an hour or so. I have my reasons. Lay hold of him and his horse. There can be no danger, as he will be taken by surprise, and unprepared. If there be resistance, we must shoot him down but let me fire first."
    The confederates promise compliance.
    They have soon an opportunity of proving the sincerity of their promise. He for whom they are waiting has accomplished the descent of the slope, and is passing under the shadow of the cypress.
    " Abajo las armas ! A tierra ! " (" Down with your weapons. To the ground!") cries El Coyote, rushing forward and seizing the bridle, while the other three fling themselves upon the man who is seated in the saddle.
    There is no resistance, either by struggle or blow, no blade drawn, no shot discharged, not even a word spoken' in protest!
    They see a man standing upright in the stirrups they lay their hands upon limbs that feel solid flesh and bond, and yet seem insensible to the touch!
    The horse alone shows resistance. He rears upon his hind legs, makes ground backward, and draws his captives after him.
    He carries them into the light, where the moon is shining outside the shadow. Merciful heaven! What does it mean? His captors let go their hold, and fall back with a simultaneous shout. It is a scream of wild terror!'
    Not another instant do they stay under the cypress, but commence retreating at top speed towards the thicket where their own steeds have been left tied.
    Mounting in mad haste, they ride rapidly away.
    They have seen that which has already stricken terror into hearts more courageous than theirs, a hor s eman without a head !
45. A TRAIL GONE BLIND.
    Was it a phantom? Sorely it could not be human?
    So questioned El Coyote and his terrified companions. So, too, had the scared Galwegian interrogated himself, until his mind, clouded by repeated appeals to the demijohn, became temporarily relieved of the terror.
    In a similar strain, had run the thoughts of more than a hundred others, to whom the headless horseman had shown himself the party of searchers who accompanied the major.
    It was at an earlier hour, and a point in the prairie five miles farther east, that to these the weird figure had made itself manifest.
    Looking westward, with the sun glare in their eyes, they had seen only its shape, and nothing more at least nothing to connect it with Maurice the mustanger.
    Viewing it from the west, with the sun at his back, the Galwegian had seen enough, to make out a resemblance to his master, if not an absolute identification.
    Under the light of the moon, the four Mexicans, who knew Maurice Gerald by sight, had arrived at a similar conclusion.
    If the impression made upon the servant, was one of the wildest awe, equally had it stricken the conspirators.
    The searchers, though less frightened by the strange phenomenon, were none the less puzzled to explain it.
    Up to the instant of its disappearance, no explanation had been attempted save that jocularly conveyed in the bizarre speech of the borderer.
    "What do you make of it, gentlemen?" said the major, addressing those that had clustered around him, "I confess it mystifies me."
    "An Indian trick?" suggested one. "Some decoy to draw us into an ambuscade?"
    "A most unlikely lure, then" remarked another "certainly the last that would attract me."
    "I don't think it's Indian," said the major "I don't know what to think. What's your opinion of it, Spangler?"
    The tracker shook his head, as if equally uncertain.
    "Do you think it's an Indian in disguise?" urged the officer, pressing him for an answer.
    "I know no more than you, major," replied he. "It should be something of that kind for what else can it be? It must either be a man, or a dummy!"
    "That's it a dummy!" cried several, evidently relieved by the hypothesis.
    "Whatever it is: man, dummy, or devil," said the frontiersman, who had already pronounced upon it, "that's no reason why we should be frightened from following its trail. Has it left any, I wonder?"
    "If it has," replied Spangler, "we'll soon see. Ours goes the same way so fur as can be judged from here. Shall we move forward, major?"
    "By all means. We must not be turned from our purpose by a trifle like that. Forward!"
    The horsemen again advanced, some of them not without a show of reluctance. There were among them men, who, if left to themselves, would have taken the back track. Of this number was Calhoun, who, from the first moment of sighting the strange apparition, had shown signs of affright even beyond the rest of his companions. His eyes had suddenly assumed an unnatural glassiness; his lips were white as ashes, while his drooping jaw laid bare two rows of teeth, which he appeared with difficulty to restrain from chattering!
    But for the universal confusion, his wild manner might have been observed. So long as the singular form was in sight, there were eyes only for it and when it had at length disappeared, and the party advanced along the trail, the ex-captain hung back, riding unobserved among the rearmost.
    The tracker had guessed aright. The spot upon which the ghostly shape had for the moment stood still, lay direct upon the trail they were already taking up.
    But, as if to prove the apparition a spirit, on reaching the place there were no tracks to be seen!
    The explanation, however, was altogether natural. Where the horse had wheeled round, and for miles beyond, the plain was thickly strewn with white shingle. It was, in trapper parlance, a "chalk prairie." The stones showed displacement and here and there an abrasion that appeared to have been made by the hoof of a horse. But these marks were scarce discernible, and only to the eyes of the skilled tracker.
    It was the case with the trail they had been taking up that of the shod mustang and as the surface had lately been disturbed by a wild herd, the particular hoof-marks could no longer be distinguished.
    They might have gone further, in the direction taken by the headless rider. The sun would have been their guide, and after that the evening star. But it was the rider of the shod mustang they were desirous to overtake and the half hour of daylight that followed was spent in fruitless search for his trail gone blind among the shingle.
    Spangler proclaimed himself at fault, as the sun disappeared over the horizon.
    They had no alternative but to ride back to the chapparal, and bivouac among the bushes.
    The intention was to make a fresh trial for the recovery of the trail, at the earliest hour of the morning.
    It was not fulfilled, at least as regarded time. The trial was postponed by an unexpected circumstance.
    Scarce had they formed camp, when a courier arrived, bringing a dispatch for the major. It was from the commanding officer of the district, whose head quarters were at San Antonio de Bexar. It had been sent to Fort Inge, and thence forwarded.
    The major made known its tenor by ordering "boots and saddles" to be sounded and before the sweat had become dry upon the horses, the dragoons were once more upon their backs.
    The dispatch had conveyed the intelligence, that the Comanches were committing outrage, not upon the Leona, but fifty miles farther to the eastward, close to the town of San Antonio itself.
    It was no longer a mere rumor. The maraud had commenced by the murder of men, women, and children, with the firing of their houses.
    The major was commanded to lose no time, but bring what troops he could spare to the scene of operations. Hence his hurried decampment.
    The civilians might have stayed, but friendship even parental affection, must yield to the necessities of nature. Most of them had set forth, without further preparation than the saddling of their horses, and shouldering their guns and hunger now called them home.
    There was no intention to abandon the search. That was to be resumed as soon as they could change horses, and establish a better system of commissariat. Then would it be continued as one and all declared, to the "bitter end."
    A small party was left with Spangler to take up the trail of the American horse, which according to the tracker's forecast would lead back to the Leona. The rest returned along with the dragoons.
    Before parting with Poindexter and his friends, the major made known to them what he had hitherto kept back the facts relating to the bloody sign, and the tracker's interpretation of it. As he was no longer to take part in the search, he thought it better to communicate to those who should, a circumstance so important.
    It pained him to direct suspicion upon the young Irishman, with whom in the way of his calling, he had held some pleasant intercourse. But duty was paramount and, notwithstanding his disbelief in the mustanger's guilt, or rather his belief in its improbability, he could not help acknowledging that appearances were against him.
    With the planter and his party it was no longer a suspicion. Now that the question of Indians was disposed of, men boldly proclaimed Maurice Gerald a murderer.
    That the deed had been done no one thought of doubting. Oberdoffer's story had furnished the first chapter of the evidence. Henry's horse returning with the blood stained saddle the last. The intermediate links were readily supplied partly by the interpretations of the tracker, and partly by conjecture.
    No one paused to investigate the motive, at least with any degree of closeness. The hostility of Gerald was accounted for by his quarrel with Calhoun, on the supposition that it might have extended to the whole family of the Poindexter!
    It was very absurd reasoning but men upon the track of a supposed murderer rarely reason at all. They think only of destroying him.
    With this thought did they separate intending to start afresh on the following morning, throw themselves once more upon the trail of the two men who were missing, and follow it up, till one or both should be found, living or dead.
    The party left with Spangler remained upon the spot which the major had chosen as a camping ground.
    They were in all less than a dozen. A larger number was deemed unnecessary. Comanches, in that quarter, were no longer to be looked for, nor was there any other danger that called for strength of men. Two or three would have been sufficient for the duty required of them.
    Nine or ten stayed, some out of curiosity, others for the sake of companionship. They were chiefly young men, sons of planters and the like. Calhoun was among them, the acknowledged chief of the party though Spangler, acting as guide, was tacitly understood to be the man to whom obedience should be given.
    Instead of going to sleep, after the others had ridden away, they gathered around a roaring fire, already kindled within the thicket glade.
    Among them, was no stint for supper, either of eatables or drinkables. The many who had gone back, knowing they would not need them had surrendered their haversacks, and the "heel taps" of their canteens, to the few who remained. There was liquor enough, to last through the night, even if spent in continuous carousing.
    Despite their knowledge of this, despite the cheerful crackling of the logs, as they took their seats around the fire they were not in high spirits.
    One and all appeared to be under some influence that, like a spell, prevented them from enjoying a pleasure perhaps not surpassed upon earth.
    You may talk of the tranquil joys of the domestic hearth. At times, upon the prairie, I have myself thought of, and longed to return to them. But now, looking back upon both, and calmly comparing them, one with the other, I cannot help exclaiming
    "Give me the circle of the camp fire, with half a dozen of my hunter comrades around it once again give me that, and be welcome to the wealth I have accumulated, and the trivial honors I have gained thrice welcome to the care and the toil that must still be exerted in retaining them."
    The somber abstraction of their spirits was easily explained. The weird shape was fresh in their thoughts. They were yet under the influence of an indefinable awe.
    Account for the apparition as they best could, and laugh at it as they at intervals affected to do, they could not clear their minds of this unaccountable incubus, nor feel satisfied with any explanation that had been offered.
    The guide Spangler partook of the general sentiment, as did their leader Calhoun.
    The latter, appeared more affected by it than any of the party! Seated, with moody brow, under the shadow of the trees, at some distance from the fire, he had not spoken a word since the departure of the dragoons. Nor did he seem disposed to join the circle of those who were basking in the blaze but kept himself apart, as if not caring to come under the scrutiny of his companions.
    There was still the same wild look in his eyes the same scared expression upon his features that had shown itself before sunset.
    "I say, Cash Calhoun!" cried one of the young fellows by the fire, who was beginning to talk "tall," under the influence of the oft repeated potations "come up, old fellow, and join us in a drink! We all respect your sorrow and will do what we can to get satisfaction, for you and yours. But a man mustn't always mope, as you're doing. Come along here, and take a 'smile' of the Monongaheela! It'll do you a power of good, I promise you."
    Whether it was that he was pleased at the interpretation put upon his silent attitude which the speech told mm had been observed or whether he had become suddenly inclined towards a feeling of good fellowship, Calhoun accepted the invitation and stepping up to the fire, fell into line with the rest of the roisterers. Before seating himself, he took a pull at the proffered flask.
    From that moment his air changed, as if by enchantment. Instead of showing somber, he became eminently hilarious, so much so as to cause surprise to more than one of the party. The behavior seemed odd for a man, whose cousin was supposed to have been murdered that very morning.
    Though commencing in the character of an invited guest, he soon exhibited himself as the host of the occasion. After the others had emptied their respective flasks, he proved himself possessed of a supply that seemed inexhaustible. Canteen after canteen came forth from his capacious saddle bags, the legacy left by many departed friends, who had gone back with the major.
    Partaking of these at the invitation of their leader encouraged by his example the young planter "bloods" who encircled the camp fire, talked, sang, danced, roared, and even rolled around it until the alcohol could no longer keep them awake. Then, yielding to exhausted nature, they sank back upon the sward, some perhaps to experience the dread slumber a first intoxication.
    The ex-officer of volunteers was the last of the number, who laid himself along the grass.
    If the last to lie down, he was the first to get up. Scarce had the carousal ceased scarce had the sonorous breathing of his companions proclaimed them asleep when he rose into an erect attitude, and with cautious steps stole out from among them.
    With like stealthy tread he kept on to the confines of the camp to the spot where his horse stood "bitched" to a tree.
    Releasing the rein from its knot, and throwing it over the neck of the animal, he clambered into the saddle, and rode noiselessly away.
    In all these actions, there was no evidence that he was intoxicated. On the contrary, they proclaimed a clear brain, bent upon some purpose previously determined.
    What could it be?
    Urged by affection, was he going forth to trace the mystery of the murder, by finding the body of the murdered man? Did he wish to show his zeal by going alone?
    Some such design might have been interpreted from a series of speeches that fell carelessly from his lips, as he rode through the chapparal.
    "Thank God, there's a clear moon and six good hours before those youngsters will think of getting to their feet! I'll have time to search every corner of the thicket, for a couple of miles around the place and if the body be there I cannot fail to find it. But what could that thing have meant? If I'd been the only one to see it, I might have believed myself mad. But they all saw it every one of them. Almighty heavens! What could it have been?"
    The closing speech ended in an exclamation of terrified surprise, elicited by a spectacle that at the moment presented itself to the eyes of the ex-officer, causing him to rein up his horse, as if some dread danger was before him.
    Coming in by a side path, he had arrived on the edge of the opening already described. He was just turning into it, when he saw, that he was not the only horseman, who at that late hour was traversing the chapparal.
    Another, to all appearance as well mounted as himself, was approaching along the avenue not slowly as he, but in a quick trot.
    Long before the strange rider had come near, the moonlight, shining rail upon him, enabled Calhoun to see that he was headless!
    There could be no mistake about the observation. Though quickly made, it was complete. The white moon beams, silvering his shoulders, were reflected from no face, above or between them! It could be no illusion of the moon's light. Calhoun had seen that same shape under the glare of the sun.
    He now saw more, the missing head, ghastly and gory, half shrouded behind the hairy holsters! More still, he recognized the horse, the striped serapé upon the shoulders of the rider, the water-guards upon his legs, the complete caparison, all the belongings of Maurice the mustanger!
    He had ample time to take in these details. At a stand in the embouchure of the side path, terror held him transfixed to the spot. His horse appeared to share the feeling. Trembling in its tracks, the animal made no effort to escape; even when the headless rider pulled up in front, and, with a snorting, rearing steed, remained for a moment confronting the frightened party.
    It was only after the blood bay had given utterance to a wild "whigher," responded to by the howl of a hound close following at his heels and turned into the avenue to continue his interrupted trot, only then that Calhoun became sufficiently released from the spell of horror to find speech.
    "God of heaven!" he cried, in a quivering voice, "what can it mean? Is it man, or demon, that mocks me? Has this whole day been a dream? Or am I mad-mad-mad?"
    The scarce coherent speech was succeeded by action, instantaneous but determined. Whatever (he purpose of his exploration, it was evidently abandoned: for, turning his horse with a wrench upon the rein, he rode back by the way he had come only at a far faster pace, pausing not till he had re-entered the encampment.
    Then stealing up to the edge of the fire, he lay down among the slumbering inebriates, not to sleep, but to stay trembling in their midst, till daylight disclosed a haggard pallor upon his cheeks, and ghastly glances sent forth from his sunken eyes.
46. A SECRET CONFIDED.
    The first dawn of day witnessed an unusual stir in and around the hacienda of Casa del Corvo.
    Its courtyard was crowded with men armed, though not in the regular fashion. They carried long hunting rifles, haying a caliber of sixty to the pound double barreled shot guns, single barreled pistols, revolvers knives with long blades and even tomahawks!
    In their varied attire of red flannel shirts, coats of colored blanket, and "Kentucky jeans," trousers of brown "homespun," and blue "cottonade," hats of felt and caps of skin, tall boots of tanned leather, and leggings of buck these stalwart men furnished a faithful picture of an assemblage, such as may be often seen in the frontier settlements of Texas.
    Despite the b izarrerie of their appearance, and the fact of their carrying weapons, there was nothing in either to proclaim their object in thus coming together. Had it been for the most pacific purpose, they would have been armed and appareled just the same.
    But their object is known.
    A number of the men so met, had been out on the day before, along with the dragoons. Others had now joined the assemblage settlers who lived farther away, and hunters who had been from home.
    The muster on this morning was greater than on the preceding day even exceeding the strength of the searching party when supplemented by the soldiers.
    Though all were civilians, there was one portion of the assembled crowd that could boast of an organization. Irregular it may be deemed, notwithstanding the name by which its members were distinguished. These were the " Regulators . "
    There was nothing distinctive about them, either in their dress, arms, or equipments. A stranger would not have known a Regulator from any other individual. They knew one another.
    Their talk was of murder, of the murder of Henry Poindexter coupled with the name of Maurice the mustanger.
    Another subject was discussed of a somewhat cognate character. Those who had seen it, were telling those who had not, of the strange spectacle that had appeared to them the evening before on the prairie.
    Some were at first incredulous, and treated the thing as a joke. But the wholesale testimony and the serious manner in which it was given could not long be resisted and the existence of the headless horseman became a universal belief.
    Of course there was an attempt to account for the odd phenomenon, and many forms of explanation were suggested. The only one, that seemed to give even the semblance of satisfaction, was that already set forward by the frontiersman, that the horse was real enough, but the rider was a counterfeit.
    For what purpose such a trick should be contrived, or who should be its contriver, no one pretended to explain.
    For the business that had brought them together, there was but little time wasted in preparation. All were prepared already.
    Their horses were outside, some of them held in hand by the servants of the establishment, but most "hitched" to whatever would hold them.
    They had come warned of their work, and only waited for Woodley Poindexter on this occasion their chief, to give the signal for setting forth.
    He only waited in the hope of procuring a guide one who could conduct them to the Alamo who could take them to the domicile of Maurice the mustanger.
    There was no such person present. Planters, merchants, shopkeepers, lawyers, hunters, horse and slave dealers, were all alike ignorant of the Alamo.
    There was but one man belonging to the settlement supposed to be capable of performing the required service, old Zeb Stump. But Zeb could not be found. He was absent, on one of his stalking expeditions and the messengers sent to summon him were returning, one after another, to announce a bootless errand.
    There was a woman, in the hacienda itself, who could have guided the searchers upon their track to the very hearthstone of the supposed assassin.
    Woodley Poindexter knew it not and perhaps well for him it was so. Had the proud planter suspected that in the person of his own child, there was a guide who could have conducted him to the lone hut on the Alamo, his sorrow for a lost son would have been stifled by anguish for an erring daughter.
    The last messenger sent in search of Stump came back to the hacienda without him. The thirst for vengeance could be no longer stayed, and the avengers went forth.
    They were scarce out of sight of Casa del Corvo, when the two individuals, who could have done them such signal service, became engaged in conversation within the walls of the hacienda itself.
    There was nothing clandestine in the meeting, nothing designed. It was a simple contingency, Zeb Stump having just come in from his stalking excursion, bringing to the hacienda a portion of the "plunder", as he was wont to term it, procured by his unerring rifle.
    Of course to Zeb Stump, Louise Poindexter was at home. She was even eager for the interview so eager, as to have kept almost a continual watch along the river road, all the day before, from the rising to the setting of the sun.
    Her vigil, resumed on the departure of the noisy crowd, was soon after rewarded by the sight of the hunter, mounted on his old mare the latter laden with the spoils of the chase slowly moving along the road on the opposite side of the river, and manifestly making for the hacienda.
    A glad sight to her, that rude, but grand shape of colossal manhood. She recognized in it the form of a true friend, one to whose keeping she could safely entrust her most secret confidence. And she had now such a secret to confide to him, that for a night and a day had been painfully pent up within her bosom.
    Long before Zeb had set foot upon the nagged pavement of the patio, she had gone out into the verandah to receive him.
    The air of smiling nonchalance with which he approached, proclaimed him still ignorant of the event which had cast its melancholy shadow over the house. There was just perceptible the slightest expression of surprise, at finding the outer gate shut, chained, and barred.
    It had not been the custom of the hacienda at least during its present proprietary.
    The somber countenance of the black, encountered within the shadow of the saguan, strengthened Zeb's surprise sufficiently to call forth an inquiry.
    "Why, Piute, ole fellur! whatsomdiver air the matter wi' ye? Yur lookin' like a 'coon wi' his tail chopped off clost to the stump at thet! An' why air the big gate shet an' barred in the middle o' breakfist time? I hope thur hain't nuthin' gone astray?"
    "Ho! ho! Mass 'Tump, dat's jess what dar hab goed stray, dat's preecise de ting, dis chile sorry t' say berry much goed stray. Ho! berry, berry much!"
    "Heigh!" exclaimed the hunter, startled at the lugubrious tone. "Thur air sommeat amiss? What is't, nigger? Tell me sharp quick. It can't be no wnss than yur face shows it. Nothin' happened to yur young mistress, I hope? Miss Lewaze"
    "Ho ho! nuffin' happen to de young Missa Looey. Ho ho! Bad enuf 'thout dat. Ho! de young missa inside de house yar. 'Tep in, Mass' 'Tump. She tell yon de drefful news herseff."
    "Ain't yur master inside, too? He's at home, ain't he?"
    "Golly, no. Dis time no. Massa ain't 'bout de house at all nowhar. He wa' hya a'most a quarrer of an hour ago. He no hya now. He off to de hoss prairas wha de hab de big hunt 'bout a momf ago. You know, Mass' Zeb?"
    "The hoss purayras! What's tuk him thur? Whose along wi' him?"
    "Ho! ho! dar's Mass Cahoon, and gobs o' odder white genlum. Ho! ho! Dar's a mighty big crowd of dem, dis nigga tell you."
    "An' yur young Master Henry air he gone too?"
    "O Mass' 'Tump! Dat's wha am be trubble. Dat's de whole of it. Mass' Hen' he gone too. Ho nebba mo' come back. De hoss he been brought home all kibbered over wif blood. Ho! ho! de folks say Massa Henry he gone dead."
    "Dead! Yur jokin'? Air ye in airnest, nigger?"
    "Oh! I is, Mass' "Tump. Sony dis chile am to hab say dat am too troo. Dey all gone to sarch atter de body."
    "Hyur! Take these things to the kitchen. Thur's a gobbler, an' some purayra chickens. Whar kin I find Miss Lewaze?"
    "Here, Mr. Stomp. Come this way!" replied a sweet voice well known to him, but now speaking in accents so sad he would scarce have recognized it.
    "Alas! It is too true what Pluto has been telling you. My brother is missing. He has not been seen since the night before last. His horse came home, with spots of blood upon the saddle. Zeb! It's fearful to think of it!"
    "Sure enuf that air ugly news. He rud out somewhar, and the hoss kim back 'ithout him? I don't weesh to gie ye un needcessary pain, Miss Lewaze but, as they air still sarchin', I mout be some help at that ere bizness; and maybe ye won't mind tellin' me the particklers?"
    These were imparted, as far as known to her. The garden scene and its antecedents were alone kept back. Oberdoffer was given as authority for the belief, that Henry had gone off after the mustanger.
    The narrative was interrupted by bursts of grief, changing to indignation, when she came to tell Zeb of the suspicion entertained by the people that Maurice was the murderer.
    " It air a lie!" cried the hunter, partaking of the same sentiment a false, perjured lie! an' he air a stinkin' skunk that invented it. The thing's impossible. The mowstanger ain't the man to a dud sech a deed as that. An' why shed he have dud it? If thur hed been an ill feelin' atween them. But thur wa'n't. I kin answer for the mowstanger for more'n oncest I've heern him talk o' your brother in the tallest kind o' tarms. In coorse he hated yur cousin Cash an' who doesn't, I shed like to know? Excuse me for savin' it. As for the other, it air different. Ef thar hed been a quarrel an' hot blood atween them"
    "No-no!" cried the young Creole, forgetting herself in the agony of her grief. "It was all over. Henry was reconciled. He said so; and Maurice…"
    The astounded look of the listener brought a period to her speech. Covering her face with her hands, she buried her confusion in a flood of tears.
    "Hoh-oh!" muttered Zeb "thur hev been somethin'? D'ye say, Miss Lewaze, thur war a quarrel atween yur brother"
    "Dear, dear Zeb!" cried she, removing her hands, and confronting the stalwart hunter with an air of earnest entreaty, "promise me, you will keep my secret? Promise it, as a friend a brave true hearted man! You will, you will?"
    The pledge was given by the hunter raising his broad palm, and extending it with a sonorous slap over the region of his heart.
    In five minutes more he was in possession of a secret, which a woman rarely confides to man, except to him who can profoundly appreciate the confidence.
    The hunter showed less surprise than might have been expected, merely muttering to himself
    "I thort it wud come to somethin' o' the sort specially arter thet ere chase acrost the purayra."
    "Wal, Miss Lewaze," he continued, speaking in a tone of kindly approval, "Zeb Stump don't see anythin' to be ashamed o' in all thet. Weemen will be weemen all the world over on the purayras or off o' them; an' ef ye have lost yur young heart to the mowstanger, it wud be the tallest kind o' a mistake to serpose ye hev displaced yur affeckshuns, as they calls it. Though he air Irish, he aint none o' the common sort thet he aint. As for the rest yi've been tellin' me, it only sarves to substantify what I've been savin' that it air parfickly unpossi ble for the mowstanger to hev dud the dark deed that is, ef thur's been one dud at all. Let's hope thur's nothin' o' the kind. What proof hez been found? Only the hoss comin' home wi' some rid spots on the seddle?"
    "Alas! there is more. The people were all out yesterday. They followed a trail, and saw something, they would not tell me what. Father did not appear as if he wished me to know what they had seen and I… I feared, for reasons, to ask the others. They've gone off again only a short while just as you came in sight on the other side."
    "But the mowstanger? What do he say for hisself?"
    "Oh, I thought you knew. He has not been found either. Mon Dieu! M on Dieu ! He, too, may have fallen by the same hand that has struck down my brother!"
    "Ye say they war on a trail? His'n I serpose? If he be livin' he oughter be foun' at his shanty on the crik. Why didn't they go thar? Ah! now I think o't, thur's nobody knows the adzack sittavashun o' that ere domycile 'ceptin' myself I reckon; an' if it war that greenhorn Spangler as war guidin' o' them he'd niver be able to lift a trail acrost the chalk purayra. Hev they gone that way agin?"
    "They have. I heard some of them say so."
    "Wal, if they're gone in sarch o' the mowstanger I reck'n I mout as well go too. I'll gie tall odds I find him afore they do."
    "It is for that I've been so anxious to see you. There are many rough men along with papa. As they went away I heard them use wild words. There were some of those called 'Regulators.' They talked of lynching and the like. Some of them swore terrible oaths of vengeance. O my God! If they should find him, and he cannot make clear his innocence, in the height of their angry passions cousin Cassius among the number you understand what I mean who knows what may be done to him? Dear Zeb, for my sake for his, whom you call friend go-go! Reach the Alamo before them, and warn him of the danger! Your horse is slow. Take mine any one you can find in the stable…"
    "Thur's some truth in what ye say," interrupted the hunter, preparing to move off. "Thur mout be a smell o' danger for the young fellur an' I'll do what I kin to avart it. Don't be uneezay, Miss Lewaze. Thur's not sech a partickler hurry. Thet ere shanty ain't agoin' ter be foun' 'ithouta spell o' sarchin'. As to ridin' yur spotty I'll manage better on my ole maar. Beside, the critter air reddy now if Piute hain't tuk off the saddle. Don't be greetin' yur eyes out thet's a good chile! Maybe it'll be all right yit 'bout yur brother and as to the mowstanger, I hain't no more surspishun o' his innersense than a unborn babby."
    The interview ended by Zeb making obeisance in backwoodsman style, and striding out of the verandah while the young Creole glided off to her chamber, to soothe her troubled spirit in supplications for his success.
47. AN INTERCEPTED EPISTLE.
    Urged by the most abject fear, had El Coyote and his three comrades rushed back to their horses, and scrambled confusedly into the saddle.
    They had no idea of returning to the jackal of Maurice Gerald. On the contrary, their only thought was to put space between themselves and that solitary dwelling whose owner they had encountered riding towards it in such strange guise.
    That it was "Don Mauricio" not one of them doubted. All four knew him by sight, Diaz better than any but all well enough to be sure it was the Irlandes. There was his horse, known to them his armas d e agua of jaguar skin his Navajo blanket, in shape differing from the ordinary serapé of Saltillo and his head!
    They had not stayed to scrutinize the features, but the hat was still in its place the sombrero of black glaze, which Maurice was accustomed to wear. It had glanced in their eyes, as it came under the light of the moon.
    Besides, they had seen the great dog, which Diaz remembered to be his. The staghound had sprung forward in the midst of the struggle, and with a fierce growl attacked the assailants though it had not needed this to accelerate their retreat.
    East as their horses could carry them, they rode through the bottom timber and, ascending the bluff by one of its ravines not that where they had meant to commit murder they reached the level of the upper plateau.
    Nor did they halt there for a single second but, galloping across the plain; re-entered the chapparal, and spurred on to the place where they had so skillfully transformed themselves into Comanches.
    The reverse metamorphosis, if not so carefully, was more quickly accomplished. In haste they washed the war paint from their skins availing themselves of some water carried in their canteens in haste they dragged their civilized habiliments from the hollow tree, in which they had hidden them and, putting them on in like haste, they once more mounted their horses, and rode towards the Leona.
    On their homeward way they conversed only of the headless horseman but, with their thoughts under the influence of a supernatural terror, they could not satisfactorily account for an appearance so unprecedented and they were still undecided as they parted company on the outskirts of the village each going to his own jacalé.
    " Carrai! " exclaimed the Coyote, as he stepped across the threshold of his, and dropped down upon his cane couch. "Not much chance of sleeping after that. Santos D ios ! Such a sight! It has chilled the blood to the very bottom of my veins. And nothing here to warm me. The canteen empty the posada, shut up, everybody in bed!
    " Madre de Dios! what can it have been? Ghost it could not be flesh and bones I grasped myself so did Vicente on the other side? I felt that, or something very like it, under the tiger skin. Santissima ! It could not be a cheat!
    "If a contrivance, why and to what end? Who cares to play carnival on the prairies except myself, and my camarados? Mil dem on io s ! What a grim masquerader!
    " Carajo ! Am I forestalled? Has some other had the offer, and earned the thousand dollars? Was it the Irlandes himself, dead, decapitated, carrying his head in his hand?
    "Bah! It could not be ridiculous, unlikely, and altogether improbable!
    "But what then?
    "Ha! I have it! A hundred to one, I have it! He may have got warning of our visit, or, at least, had suspicions of it. Twas a trick got up to try us! Perhaps himself in sight, a witness of our disgraceful flight? Maldito !
    "But who could have betrayed us? No one. Of course no one could tell of that intent. How then should he have prepared such an infernal surprise?
    "Ah! I forget. It was broad daylight as we made the crossing of the long prairie. We may have been seen, and our purpose snspected? Just so just so. And then, while we were making our toilet in the chapparal, the other could have been contrived and effected. That, and that only, can be the explanation!
    "Fools! to have been frightened at a scarecrow!
    " Carrambo ! It shan't long delay the event. Tomorrow I go back to the Alamo. I'll touch that thousand yet, if I should have to spend twelve months in earning it and, whether or not the deed shall be done all the same. Enough to have lost Isidora. It may not be true but the very suspicion of it puts me beside myself. If I but find out that she loves him that they have met since Mother of God! I shall go mad and in my madness destroy not only the man I hate, but the woman I love! O Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos! Angel of beauty, and demon of mischief! I could kill you with my caresses, I can kill you with my steel! One or other shall be your fate. It is for you to choose between them!"
    His spirit becoming a little tranquillized, partly through being relieved by this conditional threat and partly from the explanation he had been able to arrive at concerning the other thought that had been troubling it he soon after fell asleep.
    Nor did he awake until daylight looked in at his door and along with it a visitor.
    "José!" he cried out in a tone of surprise in which pleasure was perceptible "you here?"
    " Si, Señor ; yo e s toy. "
    "Glad to see you, good José. Is Doña Isidora here? On the Leona, I mean?"
    " Si, Señor . "
    "So soon again! She was here scarce two weeks ago, was she not? I was away from the settlement, but had word of it. I was expecting to hear from you, good José. Why did you not write?"
    "Only, Señor Don Miguel, for want of a messenger that could be relied upon. I had something to communicate that could not with safety be entrusted to a stranger. Something, I am sorry to say, you won't thank me for telling you but my life is yours, and I promised you should know all."
    The "prairie wolf" sprang to his feet, as if pricked with a sharp pointed thorn.
    "Of her and him? I know it by your looks. Your mistress has met him?"
    "No, Señor, she hasn't, not that I know of, not since the first time."
    "What, then?" inquired Diaz, evidently a little relieved. "She was here while he was at the posada. Something passed between them?"
    "True, Don Miguel, something did pass, as I well know, being myself the bearer of it. Three times I carried him a basket of dulce s , sent by the Doña Isidora, the last time also a letter."
    "A letter! You know the contents? You read it?"
    "Thanks to your kindness to the poor peon boy, I was able to do that, more still to make a copy of it."
    "You have one?"
    "I have. You see, Don Miguel, you did not have me sent to school for nothing. This is what Doña Isidora wrote to him."
    Diaz reached out eagerly, and, taking hold of the piece of paper, proceeded to devour its contents.
    It was a copy of the note that had been sent among the sweetmeats.
    Instead of further exciting, it seemed rather to tranquillize him.
    " Carram b o! " he carelessly exclaimed, as he folded up the epistle." There's not much in this, good José. It only proves that your mistress is grateful to one who has done her a service. If that's all…"
    "But it is not all, Señor Don Miguel; and that's why I've come to see you now. I'm on an errand to the pueblita. This will explain it."
    "Ha! Another letter?"
    " Si, Se ñ or ! This time the original itself, and not a poor copy scribbled by me."
    With a shaking hand Diaz took hold of the paper, spread it out, and read:
    AL Señor Don Mauricio Gerald.
    Querido amigol
    Otra vez aqui estoy , con tio Silvio quedando ! Sin novedades de V , no puedo mas tiempo existir. La incer t itud me mataba. Digame que es V, convalescente! Ojala, que estuviera asi! S us piro en vuestros ojos mirar, estos ojos tan lindos y tan espresivos , a ver, si es restablecido vuestra salud. Sea g raciosa darme este favor. Hay , opportunidad. E n una cortita media de hora, estuviera quedando en la cima de loma, sobre la cosa del tio. V en, cavallero, ven!
    Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos.
    With a curse El Coyote concluded the reading of the letter. Its sense could scarce be mistaken. Literally translated it.read thus:
    "Dear Friend, I am once more here, staying with uncle Silvio. Without hearing of you, I could not longer exist. The uncertainty is killing me. Tell me if you are convalescent. Oh! that it may be so. I long to look into your eyes, those eyes so beautiful, so expressive to make sure that your health is perfectly restored. Be good enough to grant me this favor. There is an opportunity. In a short half hour from this time, I shall be on the top of the hill, above my uncle's house. Come, sir, come!
    Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos.
    " Carajo ! an assignation!" half shrieked the indignant Diaz. "That and nothing else! She, too, the proposer. Ha! Her invitation shall be answered though not by him for whom it is so cunningly intended. Kept to the hour, to the very minute and by the Divinity of Vengeance.
    "Here, José"! This note's of no use. The man to whom it is addressed isn't any longer in the pueblita, or anywhere about here. God knows where he is! There's some mystery about it. No matter. You go on to the posada, and make your inquiries all the same. You must do that to fulfill your errand. Never mind the papelcito ; leave it with me. You can have it to take to your mistress, as you come back this way. Here's a dollar to get you a drink at the inn. Señor Doffer keeps the best kind of aguardiente. H asta l ue g o ! "
    Without staying to question the motive for these directions given to him, José, after accepting the douceur, yielded tacit obedience to them, and took his departure from the jacalé.
    He was scarce out of sight, before Diaz also stepped over its threshold. Hastily setting the saddle upon his horse, he sprang into it, and rode off in the opposite direction.
    
48. ISIDORA.
    
    The sun has just raised clear above the prairie horizon, his round disc still resting upon the sward, like a buckler of burnished gold. His rays are struggling into the chapparal, which here and there diversifies the savanna. The dew beads yet cling upon the acacias, weighting their feathery fronds, and causing them to droop earthward, as if grieving at the departure of the night, whose cool breeze and moist atmosphere are more congenial to them than the fiery sirocco of day. Though the birds are stirring, for what bird could sleep under the shine of such glorious sunrise? It is almost too early to expect human beings abroad elsewhere than upon the prairies of Texas. There, however, the hour of the sun's rising is the most enjoyable of the day and few there are who spend it upon the unconscious couch, or in the solitude of the chamber.
    By the banks of the Leona, some three miles below Fort Inge, there is one who has forsaken both, to stray through the chapparal. This early wanderer is not afoot, but astride a strong, spirited horse, that seems impatient at being checked in his paces. By this description, you may suppose the rider to be a man but, remembering that the scene is in Southern Texas still sparsely inhabited by a Spano-Mexican population, you are equally at liberty to conjecture that the equestrian is a woman. And this, too, despite the round hat upon the head, despite the serapé upon the shoulders, worn as a protection against the chill morning air, despite the style of equitation, so outr é to European ideas, since the days of La Duchesse de Berri; and still farther, despite the crayon like colouring on the upper lip, displayed in the shape of a pair of silken moustaches. More especially may this last mislead and you may fancy yourself looking upon some Spanish youth, whose dark but delicate features are the hijo de algo, with a descent traceable to the times of Cid.
    If acquainted with the character of the Spano-Mexican physiognomy, this last sign of virility does not decide you as to the sex. It may be that the rider in the Texan chapparal, so distinguished, is, after all, a woman!
    On closer scrutiny, this proves to be the case. It is proved by the small hand clasping the bridle rein by the little foot, whose tiny toes just touch the "estribo", looking less in contrast with the huge wooden block that serves as a stirrup, by a certain softness of shape, and pleasing rotundity of outline, perceptible even through the thick serapé of Saltillo and lastly, by the grand luxuriance of hair coiled up at the back of the head, and standing out in shining clump beyond the rim of the sombrero.
    After noting these points, you become convinced that you are looking upon a woman, though it may be one distinguished by certain idiosyncrasies. You are looking upon the Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos.
    You are struck by the strangeness of her costume still more by the way she aids her horse. In your eyes, unaccustomed to Mexican modes, both may appear odd, unfeminine, perhaps indecorous.
    The Doña Isidora has no thought, not even a suspicion, of there being anything odd in either. Why should she? She is but following the fashion of her country and her kindred. In neither respect is she peculiar.
    She is young, but yet a woman. She has seen twenty summers, and perhaps one more. Passed under the sun of a Southern sky, it is needless to say that her girlhood is long since gone by.
    In her beauty there is no sign of decadence. She is fair to look upon, as in her "buen quince" (beautiful fifteen). Perhaps fairer. Do not suppose that the dark lining on her lip damages the feminine expression of her face. Rather add to its attractiveness. Accustomed to the glowing complexion of the Saxon blonde, you may at first sight deem it a deformity. Do not so pronounce, till you have looked again. A second glance, and my word for it, you will modify your opinion. A third will do away with your indifference, a fourth change it to admiration!
    Continue the scrutiny, and it will end in your becoming convinced that a woman wearing a moustache young, beautiful, and brunette is one of the grandest sights which a beneficent Nature offers to the eye of man.
    It is presented in the person of Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos. If there is anything unfeminine in her face, it is not this though it may strengthen a wild, almost fierce, expression, at times discernible, when her white teeth gleam conspicuously under the sable shadow of the "bigotite."
    Even then is she beautiful but, like that of the female jaguar, 'tis a beauty that inspires fear rather than affection.
    At all times it is a countenance that bespeaks for its owner, the possession of mental attributes, not ordinarily bestowed upon her sex. Firmness, determination, courage carried to the extreme of reckless, daring are all legible in its lines. In those cunningly carved features, slight, sweet, and delicate, there is no sign of fainting or fear. The crimson that has struggled through the brown skin of her cheeks, would scarce forsake them in the teeth of the deadliest danger.
    She is riding alone, through the timbered bottom of the Leona. There is a house, not far off, but she is leaving it behind her. It is the hacienda of her uncle, Don Silvio Martinez, from the portals of which she has late issued forth.
    She sits in her saddle as firmly as the skin that covers it. It is a spirited horse, and has the habit of showing it by his prancing paces. But have no fear for the rider, you are satisfied of her power to control him.
    A light lasso, suited to her strength, is suspended from the saddle bow. Its careful coiling shows that it is never neglected. This almost assures you, that she understands how to use it. She does can throw it, with the skill of a mustanger.
    The accomplishment is one of her conceits a part of the idiosyncrasy already acknowledged.
    She is riding along a road, not the public one, that follows the direction of the river. It is a private way, leading from the hacienda of her uncle, running into the former near the summit of a hill, the hill itself being only the bluff that abuts upon the bottom lands of the Leona.
    She ascends the sloping path steep enough to try the breathing of her steed. She reaches the crest of the ridge, along which trends the road belonging to everybody.
    She reins up, though not to give her horse an opportunity of resting. She has halted, because of having reached the point where her excursion is to terminate.
    There is an opening on one side of the road, of circular shape, and having a surface of some two or three acres. It is grass covered and treeless, a prairie in pe tto . It is surrounded by the chapparal forest, very different from the bottom timber out of which she has just emerged. On all sides is the enclosing thicket of spinous plants, broken only by the embouchures of three paths, their triple openings scarce perceptible from the middle of the glade.
    Near its centre she has pulled up, patting her horse upon the neck to keep him quiet. It is not much needed. The scaling of the "cuesta" has done that for him. He has no inclination either to go on, or tramp impatiently in his place.
    "I' am before the hour of appointment," mutters she, drawing a gold watch from under her serapé, "if, indeed, I should expect him at all. He may not come? God grant that he be able!"
    "I am trembling! Or is it the breathing of the horse V a lga me Dios, no! 'Tis my own poor nerves!"
    " I never felt so before! Is it fear? I suppose it is."
    "'Tis strange though, to fear the man I love, the only one I ever have loved, for it could not have been love I had for Don Miguel. A girl's fancy. Fortunate for me to have got cured of it! Fortunate my discovering him to be a coward. That disenchanted me, quite dispelled, the romantic dream in which he was the foremost figure. Thank my good stars, for the disenchantment, for now I hate him, now that I hear he has grown, San ti s sima ! Can it be true that he has become a salteador?"
    "And yet I should have no fear of meeting him, not even in this lone spot!
    " Ay de mi ! Fearing the man I love, whom I believe to be of kind, noble nature and having no dread of the one I hate, and know to be cruel and remorseless! 'Tis strange, incomprehensible!"
    "No there is nothing strange in it. I tremble not from any thought of danger, only the danger of not being beloved. That is why I now shiver in my saddle, why I have not had one night of tranquil sleep since my deliverance from those drunken savages."
    "I have never told him of this, nor do I know how he may receive the confession. It must, and shall be made. I can endure the uncertainty no longer. In preference I choose despair, death if my hopes deceive me!"
    "Ha! There is a hoof stroke! A horse comes down the road! It is his? Yes. I see glancing through the trees the bright hues of our national costume. He delights to wear it. No wonder it so becomes him!"
    " Santa Virgin ! I'm under a serapé", with a sombrero on my head. He'll mistake me for a man! Off, ye ugly disguises, and let me seem what I am: a woman."
    Scarce quicker could be the transformation in a pantomime. The casting off the serapé" reveals a form that Hebe might have envied, the removal of the hat, a head that would have inspired the chisel of Canova!"
    A splendid picture is exhibited in that solitary glade; worthy of being framed, by its bordering of spinous trees, whose hirsute arms seem stretched out to protect it.
    A horse of symmetrical shape, half backed upon his haunches, with nostrils spread to the sky, and tail sweeping the ground on his back one whose aspect and attitude suggest a commingling of grand, though somewhat incongruous ideas, uniting to form a picture, statuesque as beautiful.
    The pose of the rider is perfect. Half sitting in the saddle, half standing upon the stirrup, every undulation of her form is displayed, the limbs just enough relaxed to show that she is a woman.
    Notwithstanding what she has said, on her face there is no fear, at least no sign to betray it. There is no quivering lip, no blanching of the cheeks.
    The expression is altogether different. It is a look of love, couched under a proud confidence, such as that with which the she eagle awaits the wooing of her mate.
    You may deem the picture overdrawn perhaps pronounce it unfeminine.
    And yet it is a copy from real life, true as I can remember it and more than once had I the opportunity to fix it in my memory.
    The attitude is altered, and with the suddenness of a coup d 'éclair; the change being caused by recognition of the horseman who comes galloping into the glade. The shine of the gold laced vestments had misled her. They are worn not by Maurice Gerald, but by Miguel Diaz!
    Bright looks become black. From her firm seat in the saddle she subsides into an attitude of listlessness, despairing rather than indifferent and the sound that escapes her lips, as for an instant they part over her pearl like teeth, is less a sigh than an exclamation of chagrin.
    There is no sign of fear in the altered attitude, only disappointment, dashed with defiance.
    El Coyote speaks first.
    " H'l a ! Señorita , who'd have expected to find your ladyship in this lonely place, wasting your sweetness on the thorny chapparal?"
    "In what way can it concern you, Don Miguel Diaz?"
    "Absurd question, Señorita! You know it can, and does, and the reason why. You well know how madly I love you. Fool was I to confess it, and acknowledge myself your slave. 'Twas that that cooled you so quickly."
    "You are mistaken, Señor. I never told you I loved you. If I did admire your feats of horsemanship, and said so, you had no right to construe it, as you've done. I meant no more than that I admired them , not you. "Tis three years ago. I was a girl then, of an age when such things have a fascination for our sex, when we are foolish enough to be caught by personal accomplishments rather than moral attributes. I am now a woman. All that is changed, as it ought to be."
    " Carr ai ! Why did you fill me with fake hopes? On the day of the herradero, when I conquered the fiercest bull and tamed the wildest horse in your father's herds, a horse not one of his vaquero s dared so much as lay hands upon, on that day you smiled, aye, looked with love upon me. You need not deny it, Doña Isidora! I had experience, and could read the expression, could tell your thoughts, as they were then. They are changed, and why? Because I was conquered by your charms, or rather because I was the silly fool to acknowledge it and you, like all women, once you had won and knew it, no longer cared for your conquest. It is true, Señorita it is true."
    "It is not, Don Miguel Diaz. I never gave you word, or sign to say that I loved, or thought of you otherwise than as an accomplished cavalier. You appeared so then, perhaps were so. What are you now? You know what's said of you, both here and on the Rio Grande!"
    "I scorn to reply to calumny, whether it proceeds from false friends or lying enemies. I have come here to seek explanations, not to give them."
    "From whom?"
    "From your sweet self, Doña Isidora."
    "You are presumptive, Don Miguel Diaz! Think, Señor, to whom you are addressing yourself. Remember, I am the daughter of…"
    "One of the proudest haciendado s in Tamaulipas, and niece to one of the proudest in Texas. I have thought of all that; and thought too that I was once a haciendado myself and am now only a hunter of horses. Carrambo ! what of that? You're not the woman to despise a man for the inferiority of his rank. A poor mustanger stands as good a chance in your eyes as the owner of a hundred herds. In that respect, I have proof of your generous spirit ! "
    "What proof?" asked she, in a quick, entreating tone, and for the first time showing signs of uneasiness. "What evidence of the generosity you are so good as to ascribe to me?"
    "This pretty epistle I hold in my hand, written by Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos, to one who, like me, is but a dealer in horseflesh. I need not submit it to very close inspection. No doubt you can identify it at some distance? "
    She could, and did; as was evinced by her starting in the saddle by her look of angry surprise directed upon Diaz.
    "Señor! How came you in possession of this?" she asked, without any attempt to disguise her indignation.
    "It matters not. I am in possession of it, and of what for many a day I have been seeking a proof, not that you had ceased to care for me, for this I had good reason to know, but that you had begun to care for him. This tells that you love him, words could not speak plainer. You long to look into his beautiful eyes. Mil demonio s! s hall never see them again!"
    "What means this, Don Miguel Diaz?"
    The question was put not without a slight quivering of the voice that seemed to betray fear. No wonder it should. There was something in the aspect of El Coyote at that moment, well calculated to inspire the sentiment.
    Observing it, he responded, "You may well show fear, you have reason. If I have lost you, my lady, no other shall enjoy you. I have made up my mind about that."
    "About what?"
    "What I have said that no other shall call you his, and least of all, Maurice the mustanger."
    "Indeed!"
    "Ay, indeed! Give me a promise that you and he shall never meet again, or you depart not from this place!"
    "You are jesting, Don Miguel?"
    "I am in earnest, Doña Isidora."
    The manner of the man too truly betrayed the sincerity of his speech. Coward as he was, there was a cold cruel determination in his looks, whilst his hand was seen straying towards the hilt of his machete.
    Despite her Amazonian courage, the woman could not help a feeling of uneasiness. She saw there was a danger, with but slight chance of averting it. Something of this, she had felt from the first moment of the encounter, but she had been sustained by the hope, that the unpleasant interview might be interrupted by one who would soon change its character.
    During the early part of the dialogue she had been eagerly listening for the sound of a horse's hoof casting occasional and furtive glances through the chapparal, in the direction where she hoped to hear it.
    This hope was no more. The sight of her own letter told its tale; it had not reached its destination.
    Deprived of this hope, hitherto sustaining her, she next thought of retreating from the spot.
    But this too presented both difficulties and dangers. It was possible for her to wheel round and gallop off, but it was equally possible for her retreat to be intercepted by a bullet. The butt of El Coyote's pistol was as near to his hand as the hilt of his machete.
    She was fully aware of the danger. Almost any other woman would have given way to it. Not so Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos. She did not even show signs of being affected by it.
    "Nonsense!" she exclaimed, answering his protestation with an air of well dissembled incredulity. "You are making sport of me, Señor. You wish to frighten me. Ha! ha! ha! Why should I fear you ! I can ride as well, fling my lasso as sure and far as you. Look at this! See how skillfully 1 can handle it!"
    While so speaking smiling as she spoke she had lifted the lasso from her saddle bow and was winding it round her head, as if to illustrate her observations.
    The act had a very different intent, though it was not perceived by Diaz who, puzzled by her behavior, sate speechless in his saddle.
    Not till he felt the noose closing around his elbows did he suspect her design and then too late to hinder its execution. In another instant his arms were pinioned to his sides both the butt of his pistol and the hilt of his machete beyond the grasp of his fingers!
    He had not even time to attempt releasing him from the loop. Before he could lay hand upon the rope, it tightened around his body, and with a violent pluck jerked him out of his saddle throwing him stunned and senseless to the ground.
    "Now, Don Miguel Diaz!" cried she who had caused this change of situation, and who was now seen upon her horse, with head turned homeward, the lasso strained taut from the saddle tree. "Menace me no more! Make no attempt to release your self. Stir but a finger, and I spur on! Cruel villain! Coward as you are, you would have killed me, I saw it in your eyes. Ha! The tables are turned, and now."
    Perceiving that there was no rejoinder, she interrupted her speech, still keeping the lasso at a stretch, with her eyes fixed upon the fallen man.
    El Coyote lay upon the ground, his arms enlaced in the loop, without stirring, and silent as a stick of wood. The fall from his horse had deprived him of speech, and consciousness at the same time. To all appearance he was dead his steed alone showing life by its_ loud neighing, as it reared back among the bushes.
    "Holy Virgin! Have I killed him?" she exclaimed, reining her horse slightly backward, though still keeping him headed away, and ready to spring to the spur. "Mother of God! I did not intend it, though I should be justified in doing even that for too surely did he intend to kill me ! Is he dead, or is it a ruse to get me near? By our good Guadalupe! I shall leave others to decide. There's not much fear of his overtaking me, before I can reach home and if he's in any danger the people of the hacienda will get back soon enough to release him. Good day, Don Miguel Diaz! H asta luego ! "
    With these words upon her lips the levity of which proclaimed her conscience clear of having committed a crime she drew a small sharp bladed knife from beneath the bodice of her dress severed the rope short off from her saddle bow and, driving the spur deep into the flanks of her horse, galloped off out of the glade leaving Diaz upon the ground, still encircled by the loop of the lasso!
49. THE LASSO UNLOOSED.
    An eagle, scared from its perch on a scathed cottonwood, with a scream, soars upward into the air.
    Startled by the outbreak of angry passions, it has risen to reconnoiter.
    A single sweep of its majestic wing brings it above the glade. There, poised on tremulous pinions, with eyes turned to earth, it scans both the open space and the chapparal that surrounds it. In the former it beholds that which may, perhaps, be gratifying to its glance a man thrown from his horse that runs neighing around him prostrate apparently dead. In the latter two singular equestrians one a woman, with bare head and chevelure spread to the breeze, astride a strong steed, going away from the glade in quick earnest gallop the other, also a woman, mounted on a spotted horse, in more feminine fashion, riding towards it attired in hat and habit, advancing at a slower pace, but with equal earnestness in her looks.
    Such is the coup d' o eil presented to the eye of the eagle.
    Of these fair equestrians both are already known. She galloping away, is Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos she who approaches, Louise Poindexter.
    It is known why the first has gone out of the glade. It remains to be told for what purpose the second is coming into it.
    After her interview with Zeb Stump, the young Creole re entered her chamber, and kneeling before an image of the Madonna, surrendered her spirit to prayer.
    It is needless to say that, as a Creole, she was a Catholic, and therefore a firm believer in the efficacy of saintly intercession. Strange and sad was the theme of her supplication the man who had been marked as the murderer of her brother! "She had not the slightest idea that he was guilty of the horrid crime. It could not be. The very suspicion of it would have lacerated her heart.
    Her prayer was not for pardon, but protection. She supplicated the Virgin to save him from his enemies her own friends!
    Tears and choking sobs were mingled with her words, low murmured in the ear of Heaven. She had loved her brother with the fondest sisterly affection. She sorrowed sorely but her sorrow could not stifle that other affection, stronger than the ties of blood. While mourning her brother's loss she prayed for her lover's safety.
    As she rose from her knees her eye fell upon the bow that implement so cunningly employed to dispatch sweet messages to the man she loved.
    "Oh! That I could send one of its arrows to warn him of his danger! I may never use it again!"
    The reflection was followed by a thought of cognate character. Might there not remain some trace of that clandestine correspondence in the place where it had been carried on?
    She remembered that Maurice swam the stream, instead of re crossing in the skiff, to be drawn back again by her own lasso. His must have been left in the boat!
    On the day before, in the confusion of her grief, she had not thought of this. It might become evidence of their midnight meeting of which, as she supposed, no tongue but theirs and that for ever silent could tell the tale.
    The sun was now fairly up, and gleaming garishly through the glass. She threw open the casement and stepped out, with the design of proceeding towards the skin. In the balcon her steps were arrested, on hearing voices above.
    Two persons were conversing. They were her maid Florinde, and the sable groom, who, in the absence of his master, was taking the air of the azotea,
    Their words could be heard below, though their young mistress did not intentionally listen to them. It was only on their pronouncing a name, that she permitted their patois to make an impression upon her ear.
    "Dey calls de voung fella Jerrad. Mors Jerrad am de name. Dey do say he Irish, but if folks 'peak de troof, he an't bit like dem Irish dat works on de Lebee at New Orlean. Ho, ho! He more like bos gen'lum planter. Dat's what he like."
    "You don't tink, Pluto, he been gone kill Massa Henry?"
    "I doan't tink nuffin of de kind. Ho, ho! He kill Massa Henry! no more dan dis chile hab done dat same. Goramity, Goramity! 'Peak of de debbil and he dar, de berry individible we talkin' 'bout. Ho, ho! look Florinde look yonner!"
    "What?"
    "Dar, out dar, on todder side of de ribba. You see man on horseback. Dat's Mors Jerrad, de berry man we meet on de brack praira. De same dat gub Missa Loo de 'potted hoss, de same dey've all gone to sarch for. Ho, ho! Dey gone dey wrong way. Dey no find him out on dem prairas dis day."
    "O, Pluto! an't you glad? I'm sure he innocent dat brave bewful young gen'lum. He nebba could been de man…"
    The listener below stayed to hear no more. Gliding back into her chamber she made her way towards the azotea. The beating of her heart was almost as loud as the fall of her footsteps while ascending the escalera. It was with difficulty she could conceal her emotion from the two individuals whose conversation had caused it.
    "What have you seen, that you talk so loudly?" said she, trying to hide her agitation under a pretended air of severity."
    "Ho, ho! Missa Looey look ober dar. De young fella!"
    "What young fellow?"
    "Him as dey be gone sarch for him dat"
    "I see no one."
    "Ho, ho! He jess gone in among de tree. See yonner yonner! Tou see de black glaze hat, de shinin' jacket of velvet, an de glancin' silver buttons dat's him. I sartin sure dat's de same young fella."
    "You may be mistaken for all that, Master Pluto. There are many here who dress in that fashion. The distance is too great for you to distinguish and now that he's almost out of sight Never mind, Florinde. Hasten below get out my hat and habit. I'm going out for a ride. You, Pluto! Have the saddle on Luna in the shortest time. I must not let the sun get too high. Haste, Haste!
    As the servants disappeared down the stairway, she turned once more towards the parapet, her bosom heaving under the revulsion of thoughts. Unobserved she could now freely scan the prairie and chapparal.
    She was too late. The horseman had ridden entirely out of sight.
    "It was very like him, and yet it was not? It can scarce be possible? If it be he, why should he be going that way?"
    A new pang passed through her bosom. She remembered once before having asked herself the same question.
    She no longer stayed upon the azotea to watch the road. In ten minutes' time she was across the river, entering the chapparal where the horseman had disappeared.
    She rode rapidly on, scanning the causeway far in the advance.
    Suddenly she reined up, on nearing the crest of the hill that overlooked the Leona. The act was consequent on the hearing of voices.
    She listened. Though still distant, and but faintly heard, the voices could be distinguished as those of a man and woman.
    What man? What woman? Another pang passed through her heart at these put questions.
    She rode nearer again halted again listened.
    The conversation was carried on in Spanish. There was no relief to her in this. Maurice Gerald would have talked in that tongue to Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos. The Creole was acquainted with it sufficiently to have understood what was said, had she been near enough to distinguish the words. The tone was animated on both sides, as if both speakers were in a passion. The listener was scarce displeased at this.
    She rode nearer once more pulled up and knee more sate listening.
    The man's voice was heard no longer. The woman's sounded clear and firm, as if in menace!
    There was an interval of silence, succeeded by a quick trampling of horses another pause another speech on the part of the woman, at first loud like a threat, and then subdued as in a soliloquy then another interval of silence, again broken by the sound of hoofs, as if a single horse was galloping away from the ground.
    Only this and the scream of an eagle that startled by the angry tones, had swooped aloft, and was now soaring above the glade.
    The listener knew of the opening to her a hallowed spot. The voices had come out of it. She had made her last halt a little way from its edge. She had been restrained from advancing by a fear the fear of finding out a bitter truth.
    Her indecision ending, she spurred on into the glade.
    A horse saddled and bridled rushing to and from a man prostrate upon the ground, with a lasso looped around his arms, to all appearance dead a sombrero and serapé lying near, evidently not the man's! What could be the interpretation of such a tableau?
    The man was dressed in the rich costume of the Mexican ranchero the horse also caparisoned in this elaborate and costly fashion.
    At sight of both, the heart of the Louisianan leaped with joy. Whether dead or living, the man was the same she had seen from the azotea and he was not Maurice Gerald.
    She had doubted before, had hoped that it was not he; and her hopes were now sweetly confirmed.
    She drew near and examined the prostrate form. She scanned the face, which was turned up the man lying upon his back. She fancied she had seen it before, but was not certain.
    It was plain that he was a Mexican. Not only his dress but his countenance, every line of it betrayed the Spanish-American physiognomy.
    He was far from being ill featured. On the contrary, he might have been pronounced handsome.
    It was not this that induced Louise Poindexter to leap down from her saddle, and stoop over him with a kind pitying look.
    The joy caused by his presence, by the discovery that he was not somebody else, found gratification in performing an act of humanity.
    "He does not seem dead? Surely he is breathing."
    The cord appeared to hinder his respiration.
    It was loosened on the instant the noose giving way to a woman's strength.
    "Now, he can breathe more freely. Pardieu! What can have caused it? Lassoed in his saddle and dragged to the earth? That is most probable. But who could have done it? It was a woman's voice. Surely it was? I could not be mistaken about that.
    "And yet there is a man's hat, and a serapé, not this man's! Was there another, who has gone away with the woman? Only one horse went off?
    "Ah! He is coming to himself! Thank Heaven for that! He will be able to explain all. You are recovering, sir?"
    "Señorita! Who are you?" asked Don Miguel Diaz, raising his head, and looking apprehensively around.
    "Where is she?" he continued.
    "Of whom do you speak?' I have seen no one but you."
    " C arrambo ! That's queer. Haven't you met a woman astride a grey horse?"
    "I heard a woman's voice, as I rode up."
    "Say rather a she devil's voice for that, sure, is Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos.
    "Was it she who has done this?"
    " Maldito! Where is she now? Tell me that, señorita."
    "I cannot. By the sound of the hoofs, I fancy she has gone down the hill. She must have done so, as I came the other way myself."
    "Ah, gone down the hill home. You've been very kind, señorita, in loosening this lasso as I make no doubt you've done. Perhaps you will still further assist me by helping me into the saddle? Once in it, I think I can stay there. At all events, I must not stay here. I have enemies, not far off. Come, Carlito!" he cried to his horse, at the same time summoning the animal by a peculiar whistle. "Come near! Don't be frightened at the presence of this fair lady. She's not the same that parted you and me so rudely en verdad, almost for ever! Come on, cavallo! Come on!"
    The horse, on hearing the whistle, came trotting up, and permitted his master now upon his feet to lay hold of the bridle rein.
    "A little help from you, kind señorita, and I think I can climb into my saddle. Once there, I shall be safe from their pursuit."
    "You expect to be pursued?"
    " Quien s abe ? I have enemies, as I told you. Never mind that. I feel very feeble. You will not refuse to help me?"
    "Why should I? You are welcome, sir, to any assistance I can give you."
    Mil gracias, señorita ! Mil, mil gracias! "
    The Creole, exerting all her strength, succeeded in helping the disabled horseman into his saddle where, after some balancing, he appeared to obtain a tolerably firm seat.
    Gathering up his reins, he prepared to depart.
    "Adios, señorita!" said he, "I know not who you are. I see you are not one of our people. Americano, I take it. Never mind that. You are good as you are fair and if ever it should chance to be in his power, Miguel Diaz will not be unmindful of the service you have this day done him."
    Saving this El Coyote rode off, not rapidly, but in a slow walk, as if he felt some difficulty in preserving his equilibrium.
    Notwithstanding the slowness of the pace, he was soon out of sight, the trees screening him as he passed the glade.
    He went not by any of the three roads, but by a narrow track, scarce discernible where it entered the underwood.
    To the young Creole the whole thing appeared like a dream, strange, rather than disagreeable.
    It was changed to a frightful reality, when, after picking up a sheet of paper left by Diaz, where he had been lying, she read what wag written upon it. The address was "Don Mauricio Gerald" the signature, "Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos."
    To regain her saddle Louise Poindexter was almost as much in need of a helping hand, as the man who had ridden away.
    As she forded the Leona, in returning to Casa del Corvo, she halted her horse in the middle of the stream and for some time sate gazing into the flood that foamed up to her stirrup. There was a wild expression upon her features that betokened deep despair. One degree deeper, and the waters would have covered as fair a form, as was ever sacrificed to their Spirit!
50. A CONFLICT WITH COYOTES.
    The purple shadows of a Texan twilight were descending upon the earth, when the wounded man, whose toilsome journey through the chapparal has been recorded, arrived upon the banks of the streamlet.
    After quenching his thirst to a surfeit, he stretched himself along the grass, his thoughts relieved from the terrible strain so long and continuously acting upon them.
    His limb for the time pained him, but little and his spirit was too much worn to be keenly apprehensive as to the future.
    He only desired repose and the cool evening breeze, sighing through the feathery fronds of the acacias, favored his chances of obtaining it.
    The vultures had dispersed to their roosts in the thicket and, no longer disturbed by their boding presence, he soon after fell asleep.
    His slumber was of short continuance. The pain of his wounds, once more returning, awoke him.
    It was this and not the cry of the coyote that kept him from sleeping throughout the remainder of the night.
    Little did he regard the sneaking wolf of the prairies a true jackal that attacks but the dead the living, only when dying.
    He did not believe that he was dying.
    It was a long dismal night to the sufferer it seemed as if day would never dawn.
    The light came at length, but revealed nothing to cheer him. Along with it came the birds, and the beasts went not away.
    Over him, in the shine of another sun, the vultures once more extended their shadowy wings. Around him he heard the howl bark of the coyote, in a hundred hideous repetitions. Crawling down to the stream, he once more quenched his thirst. He now hungered and looked round for something to eat.
    A pecan tree stood near. There were nuts upon its branches, within six feet of the ground.
    He was able to reach the pecan upon his hands and knees though the effort caused agony.
    With his crutch he succeeded in detaching some of the nuts and on these broke his fast.
    What was the next step to be taken?
    To stir away from the spot was simply impossible. The slightest movement gave him pain at the same time assuring him of his utter inability to go anywhere.
    He was still uncertain as to the nature of the injuries he had sustained, more especially that in his leg, which was so swollen that he could not well examine it. He supposed it to be either a fracture of the knee cap, or a dislocation of the joint. In either case, it might be a day before he could use the limb and what, meanwhile, was he to do?
    He had but little expectation of any one coming that way. He had shouted himself hoarse and though, at intervals, he still continued to send forth a feeble cry, it was but the intermittent effort of hope, struggling against despair.
    There was no alternative but stay where he was and, satisfied of this, he stretched himself along the sward, with the resolve to bens patient as possible.
    It required all the stoicism of his nature to boar up against the acute agony he was enduring. Nor did he endure it altogether in silence. At intervals it elicited a groan.
    Engrossed by his sufferings, he was for a while unconscious of what was going on around him. Still above him wheeled the black birds but he had become accustomed to their presence, and no longer regarded it not even when, at intervals, some of them swooped so near, that he could hear the "wheep" of their wings close to his ears.
    Ha! What was that that sound of different import?
    It resembled the pattering of little feet upon the sandy channel of the stream, accompanied by quick breathings, as of animals in a state of excitement.
    He looked around for an explanation.
    "Only the coyotes!" Was his reflection, on seeing a score of these animals flitting to and fro, skulking along both banks of the stream, and "squatting" upon the grass.
    Hitherto he had felt no fear only contempt for these cowardly creatures.
    But his sentiments underwent a change, on his noticing their looks and attitudes. The former were fierce, the latter earnest and threatening. Clearly did the coyotes mean mischief!
    He now remembered having heard, that these animals, ordinarily innocuous, from sheer cowardice will attack man when disabled beyond the capability of defending himself. Especially will they do so when stimulated by the smell of blood.
    His had flowed freely, and from many veins punctured by the spines of the cactus. His garments were saturated with it, still but half dry.
    On the sultry atmosphere it was sending forth its peculiar odor. The coyotes could not help scenting it.
    Was it this that was stirring them to such excited action apparently making them mad?
    Whether or not, he no longer doubted that it was their inclination to attack him.
    He had no weapon but a bowie knife, which fortunately had kept its place in his belt. His rifle and pistols, attached to the saddle, had been carried off by his horse.
    He drew the knife and, resting upon his right knee, prepared to defend himself.
    He did not perform the action a second too soon. Emboldened by having been so long left to make their menaces unmolested, excited to courage by the smell of blood, stronger as they drew nearer stimulated by their fierce natural appetites, the wolves had by this time reached the turning point of their determination, which was to spring forward upon the wounded man.
    They did so, half a dozen of them simultaneously, fastening their teeth upon his arms, limbs, and body, as they made their impetuous attack.
    With a vigorous effort he shook them off, striking out with his knife. One or two were gashed by the shining blade, and went howling away. But a fresh band, had by this time entered into the fray, others coming up, till the assailants counted a score.
    The conflict became desperate, deadly. Several of the animals were slain. But the fate of their fallen comrades did not deter the survivors, from continuing the strife. On the contrary, it but maddened them the more.
    The struggle became more and more confused, the coyotes crowding over one another to lay hold of their victim. The knife was wielded at random the arm wielding it every moment becoming weaker, and striking with less fatal effect.
    The disabled man was soon further disabled.
    He felt fear for his life. No wonder death was staring him in the face.
    At this crisis a cry escaped his lips. Strange it was not one of terror, but joy! And stranger still that, on hearing it, the coyotes for an instant desisted from their attack!
    There was a suspension of the strife a short interval of silence. It was not the cry of their victim that had caused it, but that which had elicited the exclamation.
    There was the sound of a horse's hoofs going at a gallop, followed by the loud haying of a hound.
    The wounded man continued to exclaim, in shouts calling for help. The horse appeared to be close by. A man upon his back could not fail to hear them.
    But there was no response. The horse, or horseman, had passed on.
    The hoof strokes became less distinct. Despair once more returned to the antagonist of the coyotes.
    At the same time, his skulking assailants, felt a renewal of their courage and hastened to renew the conflict.
    Once more it commenced, and was soon raging fiercely as before the wretched man believing himself doomed, and only continuing the strife through sheer desperation.
    Once more was it interrupted, this time by an intruder whose presence inspired him with fresh courage and hope.
    If the horseman had proved indifferent to his calls for help, not so the hound. A grand creature of the staghound species of its rarest and finest breed, was seen approaching the spot, uttering a deep sonorous bay, as with impetuous bound it broke through the bushes.
    " A friend ! Thank Heaven, a friend /"
    The baying ceased, as the hound cleared the selvage of the chapparal, and rushed open mouthed among the cowed coyotes already retreating at his approach!
    One was instantly seized between the huge jaws, jerked upward from the earth shaken as if it had been only a rat and let go again, to writhe over the ground with a shattered spine!
    Another was served in a similar manner but ere a third could be attacked, the terrified survivors dropped their tails to the sward, and went yelping away one and all retreating, whence they had come into the silent solitudes of the chapparal.
    The rescued man saw no more. His strength was completely spent. He had just enough left to stretch forth his arms, and with a smile close them around the neck of his deliverer. Then, murmuring some soft words, he fainted gradually away.
    His syncope was soon over, and consciousness once more assumed sway.
    Supporting himself on his elbow, he looked inquiringly around.
    It was a strange, sanguinary spectacle that met his eyes. But for his swoon, he would have seen a still stranger one. During its continuance a horseman had ridden into the glade, and gone out ' again. He was the same whose hoof-stroke had been heard, and who had lent a deaf ear to the cries for help. He had arrived too late, and then without any idea of offering assistance. His design appeared to be the watering of his horse.
    The animal plunged straight into the streamlet, drank to its satisfaction, climbed out on the opposite bank, trotted across the open ground, and disappeared in the thicket beyond.
    The rider had taken no notice of the prostrate form the horse only by snorting, as he saw it, and springing from side to side, as he trod amidst the carcasses of the coyotes.
    The horse was a magnificent animal, not large, but perfect in all his parts. The man was the very reverse, having no head!
    There was a head, but not in its proper place. It rested against the holster, seemingly held in the rider's hand!
    A fearful apparition.
    The dog barked, as it passed through the glade, and followed it to the edge of the underwood. He had been with it for a long time, straying where it strayed, and going where it went.
    He now desisted from this fruitless fellowship and, returning to the sleeper, lay down by his side.
    It was then that the latter was restored to consciousness, and remembered what had made him for the moment oblivious.
    After caressing the dog, he again sank into a prostrate position and, drawing the skirt of the cloak over his face to shade it from the glare of the sun, he fell asleep.
    The staghound lay down at his feet, and also slumbered but only in short spells. At intervals it raised its head, and uttered an angry growl, as the wings of the vultures came switching too close to its ears.
    The young man muttered in his sleep. They were wild words that came from his unconscious lips, and betokened a strange commingling of thoughts, now passionate appeals of love now disjointed speeches, that pointed to the committal of murder!
51. TWICE INTOXICATED.
    Our story takes us back to the lone hut on the Alamo, so suddenly forsaken by the gambling guests, who had made themselves welcome in the absence of its owner.
    It is near noon of the following day, and he has not yet come home. The ci - devant stable boy of Bally-ballagh is once more sole occupant of the jacalé once more stretched alone the floor, in a state of inebriety; though not the same from which we have seen him already aroused. He has been sober since, and the spell now upon him has been produced by a subsequent appeal to the Divinity of drink.
    To explain, we must go back to that hour between midnight and morning, when the monté players made their abrupt departure.
    The sight of three red savages, seated around the slab table, and industriously engaged in a game of cards, had done more to restore Phelim to a state of sobriety, than all the sleep he had obtained.
    Despite certain grotesqueness in the spectacle, he had not seen it in a ludicrous light, as was proved by the terrific screech with which he saluted them.
    There was nothing laughable in what followed. He had no very clear comprehension of what did follow. He only remembered that the trio of painted warriors suddenly gave up their game, flung their cards upon the floor, stood over him for a time with naked blades, threatening his life and then, along with a fourth who had joined them, turned their backs abruptly, and rushed pell-mell out of the place!
    All this occupied scarce twenty seconds of time and when he had recovered from his terrified surprise, he found himself once more alone.
    Was he sleeping, or awake? Drunk, or dreaming? Was the scene real? Or was it another chapter of incongruous impossibilities, like that still fresh before his mind?
    But no. The thing was no fancy. It could not be. He had seen the savages too near to be mistaken as to their reality. He had heard them talking in a tongue unknown to him. What could it be but Indian jargon? Besides, there were the pieces of pasteboard strewn over the floor!
    He did not think of picking one up to satisfy himself of their reality. He was sober enough, but not sufficiently courageous for that. He could not be sure of their not burning his fingers those queer cards? They might belong to the devil?
    Despite the confusion of his senses, it occurred to him that the hut was no longer a safe place to stay in. The painted players might return to finish their game. They had left behind not only their cards, but everything else the jacalé contained and though some powerful motive seemed to have caused their abrupt departure, they might re appear with equal abruptness.
    The thought prompted the Galwegian to immediate action and, blowing out the candle, so as to conceal his movements, he stole softly out of the hut.
    He did not go by the door. The moon was shining on the grass plat in front. The savages might still be there?
    He found means of exit at the back, by pulling one of the horse hides from its place, and squeezing himself through the stockade wall.
    Once outside, he skulked off under the shadow of the trees.
    He had not gone far when a clump of dark objects appeared before him. There was a sound, as of horses champing their bitts, and the occasional striking of a hoof. He paused in his steps, screening his body behind the trunk of a cypress.
    A short observation convinced him, that what he saw was a group of horses. There appeared to be four of them no doubt belonging to the four warriors, who had turned the mustanger's hut into a gaming house. The animals appeared to be tied to a tree, but for all that, their owners might be beside them.
    Having made this reflection, he was about to turn back and go the other way but just at that moment he heard voices in the opposite direction the voices of several men speaking in tones of menace and command.
    Then came short, quick cries of affright, followed by the baying of a hound, and succeeded by silence, at intervals interrupted by a swishing noise, or the snapping of a branch as if several men were retreating through the underwood in scared confusion!
    As he continued to listen, the noises sounded nearer. The men who made them were advancing towards the cypress tree.
    The tree was furnished with buttresses all around its base, with shadowy intervals between. Into one of these he stepped hastily and, crouching close, was completely screened by the shadow.
    He had scarce effected his concealment, when four men came rushing up; and, without stopping, hastened on towards the horses.
    As they passed by him, they were exchanging speeches which the Irishman could not understand but their tone betrayed terror. The excited action of the men confirmed it. They were evidently retreating from some enemy that had filled them with fear.
    There was a glade where the moon beams fell upon the grass. It was just outside the shadow of the cypress. To reach the horses they had to cross it and, as they did so, the vermilion upon their naked skins flashed red under the moonlight.
    Phelim identified the four gentlemen who had made so free with the hospitality of the hut.
    He kept his place till they had mounted, and rode off till he could tell by the tramp of their horses that they had ascended the upper plain, and gone off in a gallop as men who were not likely to come back again.
    "Doesn't that bate Banagher?" muttered he, stepping out from his hiding place, and throwing up his arms in astonishment. "Be japers! it diz. Mother av Moses! fwhat cyan it mane anyhow? What are them divils afther? An fwhat's afther them? Shure somethin' has given them a scarr that's plain as a pikestaff. I wondher now if it's been that same. Be me sowl it's jist it theyve encounthered. I heerd the hound gowlin, an didn't he go afther it. O Lard! what cyan it be? May be it'll be comin' this way in purshoot av them?"
    The dread of again beholding the unexplained apparition, or being beheld by it, caused him to shrink once more under the shadow of the tree where he remained for some time longer in a state of trembling suspense.
    "After all, it must be some thriek av Masther Maurice? Maybe to give me a scar; an comin' back he's jist been in time to frighten off these ridskins that intinded to rub 'an' beloike to murther us too. Sowl! I hope it is that. How long since I saw it first? Trath! it must be some considerable time. I renumber haying four full naggins, an' that's all gone off. I wondher now if them Indyins has come acrass av the dmimyjan? I've heerd that they're as fond of the crayther as if their skins was white. Sowl! if they've smelt the jar there won't be a dhrap in it by this time. I'll jist slip back to the hut an' see. If thare's any danger now it won't be from them. By that tarin' gallop, I cyan tell they've gone for good."
    Once more emerging from the shadowy stall, he made his way back towards the jacalé .
    He approached it with caution, stopping at intervals to assure himself that no one was near.
    Notwithstanding the plausible hypothesis he had shaped out for himself, he was still in dread of another encounter with the headless horseman who twice on his way to the hut might now be inside of it.
    But for the hope of finding a "dhrap" in the demijohn, he would not have ventured back that night. As it was, the desire to obtain a drink was a trifle stronger than his fears and yielding to it, he stepped doubtfully into the darkness.
    He made no attempt to rekindle the light. Every inch of the floor was familiar to him and especially that corner where he expected to find the demijohn.
    He tried for it. An exclamation uttered in a tone of disappointment told that it was not there.
    "Be dad!" muttered he, as he grumblingly groped about "it looks as if they'd been at it. Av coorse they hav, else fwhy is it not in its place? I lift it thare, shure I lift it thare."
    "Ach, me jewel! an' it's thare yez are yet," he continued, as his hand came in contact with the wickerwork; "an' bad luck to their imperence, impty as an eggshill! Ach! ye greedy gutted bastes! If I'd a known yez were goin' to do that, I'd av slipped a thrifle av shumach juice into the jar, an' made raal firewater av it for ye, jist fwhat yez wants. Divil burn ye for a set av rid skinned thieves, stalin' a man's liquor when he's aslape! Och an-anee! fwhat am I to do now? Go to slape agane? I don't belave I cyan, thinkin' av them an' the tother, widout a thrifle av the crayther to comfort me. An' thare isn't a dhrap widin twenty Fwhat fwhat! Howly Mary! Mother av Moses! Sant Pathrick and all the others to boot, fwhat am I talkin' about? The pewther flask the pewther flask! Be japers! it's in the thrunk full to the very neck! Didn't I fill it for Masther Maurice to take wid him the last time he went to the sittlements? And didn't he forget to take it? Lard have mercy on me! If the Indyins have laid their dhirty claws upon t hat I shall be afther takin' lave av me sinses."
    "Hoo-hoop-hoorro!" he cried, after an interval of silence, during which he could be heard fumbling among the contents of the portmanteau. "Hoo-hoop-hoorro! Thanks to the Lard for all his mercies. The rid skins haven't been cunnin' enough to look thare. The flask as full as a tick not wan av them has had a finger on it. Hoo-hoop-hoorro!"
    For some seconds the discoverer of the spirituous treasure, giving way to a joyous excitement, could be heard in the darkness, dancing over the floor of the jaca .
    Then there was an interval of silence, succeeded by the screwing of a stopper, and after that a succession of "glucks," that proclaimed the rapid emptying of a narrow necked vessel.
    After a time this sound was suspended, to be replaced by a repeated smacking of lips, interlarded with grotesque ejaculations.
    Again came the gluck-gluck, again the smackings, and so on alternately, till an empty flask was heard falling upon the floor.
    After that there were wild shouts scraps of song intermingled with cheers and laughter incoherent ravings about red Indians and headless horsemen, repeated over and over again, each time in more subdued tones, till the maudlin gibberish at length ended in a loud continuous snoring!
    
52. AN AWAKENER.
    
    Phel i m's second slumber was destined to endure for a more protracted term than his first. It was nearly noon when he awoke from it and then only on receiving a bucket of cold water full in his face that sobered him almost as quickly as the sight of the savages.
    It was Zeb Stump who administered the douche.
    After parting from the precincts of Casa del Corvo, the old hunter had taken the road, or rather t ra il , which he knew to be the most direct one leading to the head waters of the Nueces.
    Without staying to notice tracks or other "sign," he rode straight across the prairie, and into the avenue already mentioned.
    From what Louise Poindexter had told him from knowledge of the people who composed the party of searchers he knew that Maurice Gerald was in danger.
    Hence his haste to reach the Alamo before them coupled with caution to keep out of their way.
    He knew that if he came up with the Regulators, equivocation would be a dangerous game and, nolen s volens, he should be compelled to guide them to the dwelling of the suspected murderer. On turning the angle of the avenue, he had the chagrin to see the searchers directly before him, clumped up in a crowd, and apparently engaged in the examination or "sign."
    At the same time, he had the satisfaction to know that his caution was rewarded, by remaining unseen.
    "Durn them!" he muttered, with bitter emphasis. "I mout a know'd they'd a bin hyur. I must go back an' roun' the tother way. It'll deelay me better'n a hour. Come, ole maar! This air an obstruckshun you won't like. It'll gi'e ye the edition o' six more mile to yur journey. Ee up, ole gal! Roun' an' back we go!"
    With a strong pull upon the rein, he brought the mare short round, and rode back towards the embouchure of the avenue.
    Once outside, he turned along the edge of the chapparal, again entering it by the path which on the day before had been taken by Diaz and his trio of confederates. From this point he proceeded without pause or adventure until he had descended to the Alamo bottom land, and arrived within a short distance, though still out of sight of the mustanger's dwelling.
    Instead of riding boldly up to it, he dismounted from his mare and leaving her behind him, approached the jacalé with his customary caution.
    The horse hide door was closed but there was a large aperture in the middle of it, where a portion of the skin had been cut out. What was the meaning of that?
    Zeb could not answer the question, even by conjecture.
    It increased his caution and he continued his approach with as much stealth, as if he had been stalking an antelope.
    He kept round by the rear so as to avail himself of the cover afforded by the trees and at length, having crouched into the horse shed at the back, he knelt down and listened.
    There was an opening before his eyes where one of the split posts had been pushed out of place, and the skin tapestry torn off. He saw this with some surprise but, before he could shape any conjecture as to its cause, his ears were saluted with a sonorous breathing, which came out through the aperture. There was also a snore, which he fancied he could recognize, as proceeding from Irish nostrils.
    A glance through the opening settled the point. The sleeper was Phelim.
    There was an end to the necessity for stealthy maneuvering. The hunter rose to his feet, and stepping round to the front, entered by the door which he found unbolted.
    He made no attempt to rouse the sleeper, until after he had taken stock of the paraphernalia upon the floor.
    "Thur's been packin' up for some purpose," he observed, after a cursory glance. "Ah! Now I reccollex. The young fellur saved he war goin' to make a move from hyur some o' these days. Thet ere anymal air not only soun' asleep, but dead drunk. Sartin he air, drunk as Backis. I kin tell that by the smell o' him. I wonder if he hev left any o' the licker? It air dewbious. Not a drop, dog-gone him! Thur's the jar, wi' the stop plug out o' it, lyin' on its side an' thur's the flask, too, in the same preedikamint both on 'em full o' empiness. Durn him for a drunken cuss! He kin suck up as much moister as a chalk purayra.
    "Spanish curds! A hul pack on 'em scattered abeout the place. What kin he ha' been doin' wi' them? S'pose he's been havin' a game o' sollatury along with his licker."
    "But what's cut the hole in the door, an' why's the tother broken out at the back? "I reckon he kin tell. I'll roust him, an' see. Pheelum! Pheelum!"
    Phelim made no reply.
    "Pheelum, I say! Pheelum!' 1
    Still no reply. Although the last summons was delivered in a shout loud enough to have been heard half a mile off, there was no sign made by the slumberer to show that he even heard it.
    A rude shaking administered by Zeb had no better effect. It only produced a grunt, immediately succeeded by a return to the same stentorous respiration.
    "If 'twa'n't for his snoring I mout believe him to be dead. He air dead drunk, an' no mistake intoxicated to the very ends o' his toe nails. Kickin' him would be no use. Dog-goned, if I don't try this . "
    The old hunter's eye, as he spoke, was resting upon a pail that stood in a corner of the cabin. It was full of water, which Phelim, for some purpose, had fetched from the creek. Unfortunately for himself, he had not wasted it.
    With a comical expression in his eye, Zeb took up the pail and swilled the whole of its contents right down upon the countenance of the sleeper.
    It had the effect intended. If not quite sobered, the inebriate was thoroughly awakened and the string of terrified ejaculations that came from his lips formed a contrasting accompaniment to the loud cachinnations of the hunter.
    It was some time before sufficient tranquility was restored, to admit of the two men entering upon a serious conversation.
    Phelim, however, despite his chronic inebriety, was still under the influence of his late fears, and was only too glad to see Zeb Stump, notwithstanding the unceremonious manner in which he had announced himself.
    As soon as an understanding was established between them, and without waiting to be questioned, he proceeded to relate in detail, as concisely as an unsteady tongue and disordered brain would permit, the series of strange sights and incidents that had almost deprived him of his senses.
    It was the first that Zeb Stump had heard of the Headle ss Hor s e man .
    Although the report concerning this imperfect personage was that morning broadly scattered around Fort Inge, and along the Leona, Zeb, having passed through the settlement at an early hour, and stopped only at Casa del Corvo, had not chanced upon any one who could have communicated such a startling item of intelligence. In fact, he had exchanged speech only with Pluto and Louise Poindexter neither of whom had at that time heard anything of the strange creature encountered, on the evening before, by the party of searchers. The planter, for some reason or another, had been but little communicative, and his daughter had not held converse with any of the others.
    At first Zeb was disposed to ridicule the idea of a man without a head. He called it "a fantasy of Pheelum's brain, owin' to his havm' tuk too much of the corn juice."
    He was puzzled, however, by Phelim's persistence in declaring it to be a fact, more especially when he reflected on the other circumstances known to him.
    "Arrah, now, how could I be mistaken?" argued the Irishman. "Didn't I see Masther Maurice, as plain as I see yourself at this minute? All except the hid, and that I had a peep at as he turned to gallop away. Besides, thare was the Mexican blanket, an' the saddle wid the rid cloth, and the wather guards av spotted skin and who could mistake thai purty horse? An' havn't I towld yez that Tara went away afther him, an' thin I heerd the dog gowlin', jist afore the Indians…"
    "Indyins!" exclaimed the hunter, with a contemptuous toss of the head. "Indyins playin with Spanish curds! White Indyins, I reck'n."
    "Div yez think they waren't Indyins, afther all?"
    "Ne'er a matter what I think. Thur's no time to talk o' that now. Go on, an' tell me o' all ye seed an' heern."
    When Phelim had at length unburdened his mind, Zeb ceased to question him and, striding out of the hut, squatted down, Indian fashion, upon the grass.
    His object was, as he said himself, to have "a good think" which, he had often declared, he could not obtain while "hampered wi' a house about him."
    It is scarcely necessary to say, that the story told by the Galwegian groom only added to the perplexity he already experienced.
    Hitherto there was but the disappearance of Henry Poindexter to be accounted for, now there was the additional circumstance of the non return of the mustanger to his hut, when it was known that he had started for it, and should, according to a notice given to his servant, have been there at an early hour on the day before.
    Far more mystifying was the remarkable story of his being seen riding about the prairie without a head, or with one carried in his hands! This last might be a trick. What else could it be?
    Still was it a strange time for tricks when a man had been murdered, and half the population of the settlement were out upon the track of the murderer more especially improbable, that the supposed assassin should be playing them!
    Zeb Stump had to deal with a difficult concatenation or rather conglomeration of circumstances events without causes without sequence crimes committed without any probable motive mysteries that could only be explained by an appeal to the supernatural.
    A midnight meeting between Maurice Gerald and Louise Poindexter a quarrel with her brother, occasioned by its discovery Maurice having departed for the prairies Henry having followed to sue for forgiveness, in all this the sequence was natural and complete.
    Beyond began the chapter of confusions and contradictions.
    Zeb Stump knew the disposition of Maurice Gerald in regard to Henry Poindexter. More than once he had heard the mustanger speak of the young planter. Instead of having hostility towards him, he had frequently expressed admiration of his ingenuous and generous character.
    That he could have changed from being his friend to become his assassin, was too improbable for belief. Only by the evidence of his eyes could Zeb Stump have been brought to believe it.
    After spending a full half hour at his "think," he had made but little progress towards unraveling the network of cognate, yet unconnected, circumstances. Despite an intellect unusually clear, and the possession of strong powers of analysis, he was unable to reach any rational solution of this mysterious drama of many acts.
    The only thing clear to him was that four mounted men he did not believe them to be Indians had been making free with the mustanger's hut and that it was most probable that these had something to do with the murder that had been committed. But the presence of these men at the jacalé , coupled with the protracted absence of its owner, conducted his conjectures to a still more melancholy conclusion: that more than one man had fallen a sacrifice to the assassin, and that the thicket might be searched for two bodies, instead of one!
    A groan escaped from the bosom of the backwoodsman as this conviction forced itself upon his mind. He entertained for the young Irishman a peculiar affection, strong almost as that felt by a father for his son and the thought that he had been foully assassinated in some obscure corner of the chapparal, his flesh to be torn by the beak of the buzzard and the teeth of the coyote, stirred the old hunter to the very core of his heart.
    He groaned again, as he reflected upon it until, without action, he could no longer bear the agonizing thought, and, springing to his feet, he strode to and fro over the ground, proclaiming, in loud tones, his purpose of vengeance.
    So absorbed was he with his sorrowful indignation, that he saw not the staghound as it came skulking up to the hut.
    It was not until he heard Phelim caressing the hound in his grotesque Irish fashion that he became aware of the creature's presence and then he remained indifferent to it, until a shout of surprise, coupled with his own name, attracted his attention.
    "What is it, Pheelum? What's wrong? Hes a snake bit ye?"
    "Oh, Misther Stump, luk at Tara! See! Thare's somethin' tied about his neck. It wasn't there when he lift. What do yez think it is?"
    The hunter's eyes turned immediately upon the hound. Sure enough there was something around the animal's neck a piece of buckskin thong. But there was something besides a tiny packet attached to the thong, and hanging underneath the throat!
    Zeb drawing his knife, glided towards the dog. The creature recoiled in fear.
    A little coaxing convinced him that there was no hostile intent and he came up again.
    The thong was severed, the packet laid open; it contained a card!
    There was a name upon the card, and writing in what appeared to be red ink but it was blood!
    The rudest backwoodsman knows how to read. Even Zeb Stump was no exception and he soon deciphered the characters traced upon the bit of pasteboard.
    As he finished, a cry rose from his lips, in strange contrast with the groans he had been just uttering. It was a shout of gladness, of joy!
    "Thank the Almighty for this!" he added and thank my ole Katinuck schoolmaster for puttin' me clar through my Webster's spellin' book. He lives, Pheelum! He lives! Look at this. Oh, you can't read. No matter. He lives! He lives!"
    "Who? Masther Maurice? Thank the Lord."
    "Wagh! thur's no time to thank him now. Get a blanket an' some pieces o' horse hide thong. Ye kin do it while I catch up the ole maar. Quick! Half an hour lost, an' we may be too late!"
    
53. JUST IN TIME.
    
    "Half an hour lost, and we may be too late!"
    They were the last words of the hunter, as he hurried away from the hut.
    They were true, except as to the time. Had he said half a minute, he would have been nearer the mark. Even at the moment of their utterance, the man, whose red writing had summoned assistance, was once more in dread danger once more surrounded by the coyotes.
    But it was not these he had need to fear. A far more formidable foe was threatening his destruction.
    Maurice Gerald, by this time recognized as the man in the cloak and Panama hat after doing battle with the wolves, as already described, and being rescued by his faithful Tara, had sought repose in sleep.
    With full confidence in the ability of his canine companion to protect him against the black birds, or the more dangerous quadrupeds, with which he had been in conflict, he soon found, and for several hours enjoyed it.
    He awoke of his own accord. Finding his strength much restored, he once more turned his attention to the perils that surrounded him.
    The dog had rescued him from the jackals, and would still protect him against their attacks, should they see fit to renew it. But to what end? The faithful creature could not transport him from the spot and to stay there would be to die of hunger perhaps of the wounds he had received?
    He rose to his feet, but found that he could not stand upright. Feebleness was now added to his other infirmity and after struggling a pace or two, he was glad to return to a recumbent position.
    At this crisis a happy thought occurred to him. Tara might take a message to the hut!
    "If I could but get him to go," said he, as he turned inquiringly towards the dog. "Come hither, old fellow!" he continued, addressing himself to the dumb animal, "I want you to play postman for me, to carry a letter. You understand? Wait till I've got it written. I shall then explain myself more fully."
    "By good luck I've got a card," be added, feeling for his case. "No pencil! That doesn't matter. There's plenty of ink around and for a pen I can use the thorn of yonder maguey."
    He crept up to the plant thus designated broke off one of the long spines terminating its great leaves dipped it in the blood of a coyote that lay near and drawing forth a card, traced some characters upon it.
    With a strip of thong, the card was then attached to the neck of the stag hound, after being wrapped up in a piece of oil-cloth torn from the lining of the Panama hat.
    It only remained to dispatch the canine post upon his errand.
    This proved a somewhat difficult task. The dumb creature, despite a wondrous intelligence, could not comprehend why he should forsake the side of one he had so faithfully befriended and for a long time resisted the coaxing and chidings, meant to warn him away.
    It was only after being scolded in a tone of assumed anger, and beaten by the black jack crutch stricken by the man whose life he had so lately saved, that he had consented to leave the spot.
    Even canine affection could not endure this and with repeated looks of reproach, cast backwards as he was chased off, he trotted reluctantly into the chapparal.
    "Poor fellow!" soliloquized Maurice, as the dog disappeared from his view. "Tis like beating one's self, or one's dearest friend! Well, I shall make up for it in extra kindness if I have the good fortune to see him again."
    "And now, that he is gone, I must provide against the coming back of these villainous coyotes. They will be sure to come,.once they discover that I'm alone."
    A scheme had been already considered.
    A tree stood near the pecan already alluded to having two stout branches that extended horizontally and together, at six or seven feet from the ground.
    Taking off his cloak, and spreading it out upon the grass, with his knife he cut a row of holes along each edge.
    Then unwinding from his waist the sash of china crape, he tore it up the middle, so as to make two strips, each several yards long.
    The cloak was now extended between the branches, and fast tied by the strips of crape thus forming a sort of hammock capable of containing the body of a man laid out at full length.
    The maker of it knew that the coyotes are not tree climbers and, reclining on his suspended couch, he could observe with indifference their efforts to assail him.
    He took all this trouble, feeling certain they would return. If he had any doubt, it was soon set at rest, by seeing them, one after the other, come skulking out of the chapparal, loping a pace or two, at intervals, pausing to reconnoitre, and then advancing towards the scene of their late conflict.
    Emboldened by the absence of the enemy most dreaded by them, the pack was soon reassembled, once more exhibiting the truculent ferocity for which these cowardly creatures are celebrated.
    It was first displayed in a very unnatural manner, by the devouring of their own dead which was done in less times than it would have taken the spectator in the tree to have counted a score.
    To him their attention was next directed. In swinging his hammock, he had taken no pains to conceal it. He had suspended it high enough to be out of their reach; and that he deemed sufficient for his purpose.
    The cloak of dark cloth was conspicuous, as well as the figure outlined within it. The coyotes clustered underneath their appetites whetted by the taste of blood. It was a sight to make them lick their red lips after their unnatural repast, a fearful sight!
    He who saw it scarce regarded them not even when they were springing up to lay hold of his limbs, or at times attempting to ascend by the trunk of the tree! He supposed there was no danger.
    There was danger, however, on which he had not reckoned; and not till the coyotes has desisted from their idle attempts, and stretched themselves, panting, under the tree, did he begin to perceive it.
    Of all the wild denizens, either of prairie or chapparal, the coyote is that possessed of the greatest cunning. The trapper will tell you it is the " cunningest varmint in creation." It is a fox in astuteness, a wolf in ferocity. It may be tamed, but it will turn at any time to tear the hand that caresses it. A child can scare it with a stick, but a disabled man may dread its attack. Alone it has the habit of a hare, but in packs and it hunts only in packs, its poltroonery is less observable sometimes under the influence of extreme hunger, giving place to a savageness of disposition that assumes the semblance of courage.
    It is the coyotes' cunning that is most to be feared and it was this that had begun to excite fresh apprehension in the mind of the mustanger.
    On discovering that they could not reach him, a discovery they were not long in making instead of scattering off from the spot, the wolves, one and all, squatted down upon the grass while others, stragglers from the original troop, were still coming into the glade. He saw that they intended a siege.
    This should not have troubled him, seeing that he was secure in his suspended couch.
    Nor would it, but for another source of trouble, every moment making itself more manifest that from which he had so lately had such a narrow escape. He was once more on the eve of being tortured by thirst.
    He blamed himself for having been so simple, as not to think of this before climbing up to the tree. He might easily have carried up a supply of water. The stream was there and for want of a better vessel, the concave blades of the maguey would have served as a cistern.
    His self reproaches came too late. The water was under his eyes, only to tantalize him and by so doing, increase his eagerness to obtain it. He could not return to the stream, without running the gauntlet of the coyotes, and that would be certain death. He had but faint hopes that the hound would return and rescue him a second time fainter still that his message would reach the man for whom it was intended. A hundred to one against that.
    Thirst is quick in coming to a man whose veins are half emptied of their blood. The torture proclaimed itself apace. How long was it to continue?
    This time it was accompanied by a straying of the senses. The wolves, from being a hundred, seemed suddenly to have increased their number tenfold. A thousand appeared to encompass the tree, filling the whole ground of the glade! They came nearer and nearer. Their eyes gave out a lurid light. Their red tongues lapped the hanging cloth they tore it with their teeth. He could feel their fetid breath, as they sprang up among the branches!
    A lucid interval told him that it was all fancy. The wolves were still there but only a hundred of them, as before reclining upon the grass, pitiably awaiting a crisis! It came before the period of lucidity had departed to the spectator unexpected as inexplicable. He saw the coyotes suddenly spring to their feet, and rush off into the thicket, until not one remained within the glade.
    Was this, too, a fancy? He doubted the correctness of his vision. He had begun to believe that his brain was distempered.
    But it was clear enough now. There were no coyotes. What could have frightened them off?
    A cry of joy was sent forth from his lips, as he conjectured a cause. Tara had returned? Perhaps Phelim along with him? There had been time enough for the delivery of the message. For two hours he had been besieged by the coyotes.
    He turned upon his knee, and bending over the branch, scanned the circle around him. Neither hound nor henchman was in sight. Nothing but branches and bushes!
    He listened. No sound, save an occasional howl, sent back by the coyotes that still seemed to continue their retreat! More than ever was it like an illusion. What could have caused their scampering?
    No matter. The coast was clear. The streamlet could now be approached without danger. Its water sparkled under his eyes its rippling sounded sweet to his ears.
    Descending from the tree, he staggered towards its bank, and reached it.
    Before stooping to drink, he once more looked around him. Even the agony of thirst could not stifle the surprise, still fresh in his thoughts. To what was he indebted for his strange deliverance?
    Despite his hope that it might be the hound, he had an apprehension of danger.
    One glance and he was certain of it. The spotted yellow skin shining among the leaves the long, lithe form crawling like a snake out of the underwood was not to be mistaken. It was the tiger of the New World, scarce less dreaded than his congener of the Old, the dangerous jaguar.
    Its presence accounted for the retreat of the coyotes.
    Neither could its intent be mistaken. It, too, had scented blood, and was hastening to the spot where blood had been sprinkled, with that determined air that told it would not be satisfied till after partaking of the banquet.
    Its eyes were upon him, who had descended from the tree its steps were towards him now in slow, crouching gait but quicker and quicker, as if preparing for a spring.
    To retreat to the tree would have been sheer folly. The jaguar can climb like a cat. The mustanger knew this.
    But even had he been ignorant of it, it would have been all the same, as the thing was no longer possible. The animal had already passed that tree, upon which he had found refuge, and there was no other near that could he reached in time.
    He had no thought of climbing to a tree, no thought of anything, so confused were his senses partly from present surprise, partly from the bewilderment already within his brain.
    It was a simple act of unreasoning impulse that led him to rush on into the stream, until he stood up to his waist in the water.
    Had he reasoned, he would have known that this would do nothing to secure his safety. If the jaguar climbs like a cat, it also swims with the ease of an otter and is as much to be dreaded in the water as upon the land.
    Maurice made no such reflection. He suspected that the little pool, towards the centre of which he had waded, would prove but poor protection. He was sure of it when the jaguar, arriving upon the bank above him, set itself in that cowering attitude that told of its intention to spring.
    In despair he steadied himself to receive the onset of the fierce animal.
    He had naught wherewith to repel it no knife no pistol no weapon of any kind not even his crutch! A struggle with his bare arms could, but end in his destruction.
    A wild cry went forth from his lips, as the tawny form was about launching itself for the leap.
    There was a simultaneous scream from the jaguar. Something appeared suddenly to impede it and instead of alighting on the body of its victim, it fell short, with a dead plash upon the water! Like an echo of his own, a cry came from the chapparal, close following a sound that had preceded it the sharp "spang" of a rifle.
    A huge dog broke through the bushes, and sprang with a plunge into the pool, where the jaguar had sunk below the surface. A man of colossal size advanced rapidly towards the bank, another of lesser stature treading close upon his heels, and uttering joyful shouts of triumph.
    To the wounded man these sights and sounds were more like a vision than the perception of real phenomena. They were the last thoughts of that day that remained in his memory. His reason, kept too long upon the rack, had given way. He tried to strangle the faithful hound that swam fawningly around him and struggled against the strong arms that, raising him out of the water, bore him in friendly embrace to the bank!
    His mind had passed from a horrid reality, to a still more horrid dream, the dream of delirium.
    
54. A PRAIRIE PALACE
    
    The friendly arms, flung around Maurice Gerald, were those of Zeb Stump.
    Guided by the instructions written upon the card, the hunter had made all haste towards the rendezvous there given.
    He had arrived within sight, and fortunately within rifle range, of the spot, at that critical moment when the jaguar was preparing to spring.
    His bullet did not prevent the fierce brute from making the bound the last of its life though it had passed right through the animal's heart.
    This was a thing thought of afterwards, there was no opportunity then.
    On rushing into the water, to make sure that his shot had proved fatal, the hunter was himself attacked not by the claws of the jaguar, but the hands of the man just rescued from them.
    Fortunate for Zeb, the mustanger's knife had been left upon land. As it was, he came near being throttled and only after throwing aside his rifle, and employing all his strength, was he able to protect himself against the unlooked-for assault.
    A struggle ensued, which ended in Zeb flinging his colossal arms around the young Irishman, and bearing him bodily to the bank.
    It was not all over. As soon as the latter was relieved from the embrace, he broke away and made for the pecan tree as rapidly as if the injured limb no longer impeded him.
    The hunter suspected his intent. Standing over six feet, he saw the bloody knife blade lying along the cloak. It was for that, the mustanger was making!
    Zeb bounded after and once more enfolding the madman in his bear like embrace and drew him back from the tree.
    "Speel up thur, Pheelum!" shouted he. "Git that thing out of sight. The young fellur hev tuck leeve o' his seven senses. Thur's fever in the feel of him. He air gone delirious!"
    Phelim instantly obeyed and, scrambling up the tree trunk, took possession of the knife.
    Still, the struggle was not over. The delirious man wrestled with his rescuer not in silence, but with shouts and threatening speeches his eyes all the time rolling and glaring with a fierce, demoniac light.
    For full ten minutes did he continue the mad wrestling match?
    At length from sheer exhaustion he sank back upon the grass; and after a few tremulous shivering, accompanied by sighs heaved from the very bottom of his breast, he lay still, as if the last spark of life had departed from his body!
    The Galwegian, believing it so, began uttering a series of lugubrious cries, the "keen" of Connemara.
    "Stop yur gowlin, ye durned cuss!" cried Zeb. "It air enuf to scare the breath out o' his karkidge. He's no more dead than you air, only fented. By the way he hev fit me, I reck'n there ain't much the matter wi' him. No," he continued, after stooping down and giving a short examination, "I kin see no wound worth makin a muss about. Thur's a consid'able swellin o' the knee but the leg ain't fructered, else he kudn't a stud up on it. As for them scratches, they ain't much. What kin they be? 'Twarnt the jegwur that gin them. They air more like the claws o' a torn cat. Ho, ho! I sees now. Thur's been a bit o' a scrimmage, afore the spotted beest kim up. The young fellur's been attakted by coyoats! Who'd a surposed that the cowardly varmints would a had the owdacity to attakt a human critter? But they will, when they gits the chance o' one krippled as he air durn 'em!"
    The hunter had all the talking to himself. Phelim, now overjoyed to know that his master still lived and furthermore was in no danger of dying, suddenly changed his melancholy whine to a jubilant hullaballoo, and commenced dancing, over the ground, all the while snapping his fingers in the most approved Connemara fashion.
    His frenzied action provoked the hound to a like pitch of excitement and the two became engaged in a sort of wild Irish jig.
    Zeb took no notice of these grotesque demonstrations but, once more bending over the prostrate form, proceeded to complete the examination already begun.
    Becoming satisfied that there was no serious wound, he rose to his feet, and commenced taking stock of the odd articles around him. He had already noticed the Panama hat, that still adhered to the head of the mustanger and a strange thought at seeing it there, had passed through his mind.
    Hats of Guayaquil grass, erroneously called Panama, were not uncommon. Scores of Southerners wore them, in Texas as elsewhere. But he knew that the young Irishman was accustomed to carry a Mexican sombrero , a very different kind of head gear. It was possible he might have seen fit to change the fashion.
    Still, as Zeb continued to gaze upon it, he fancied he had seen that hat before, and on some other head.
    It was not from any suspicion of its being honestly in possession of him now wearing it, that the hunter stooped down, and took it off with the design to examine it. His object was simply to obtain some explanation of the mystery, or series of mysteries, hitherto baffling his brain.
    On looking inside the hat he read two names first, that of a New Orleans hatter, whose card was pasted in the crown and then, in writing, another well known to him:
    
"HENRY POINDEXTER."
    
    The cloak now came under his notice. It too, carried marks, by which he was able to identify it as belonging to the same owner.
    "Dog-goned kewrious, all this!" muttered the backwoodsman, as he stood with his eyes turned upon the ground, and apparently buried in a profound reflection.
    "Hats, heads, an' everythin'. Hats on the wrong head, heads in the wrong place! By the 'tarnal thur's somethin' goed astray! Ef 'twa'nt that I feel a putty consid'able smartin' whar the young fellur gin me a lick over the left eye, I mout be arter believin' my own skull-case wa'nt any longer atween my shoulders!"
    "It air no use lookin' to him," he added, glancing towards Maurice "for an explanation leastwise till he's slep' off this dullerium thet's on him. When that'll be, ole Nick only knows."
    "Wal," he continued after another interval spent in silent reflection, "It won't do no good our stayin' hyur. We must git him to the shanty, an' that kin only be did by toatin' him. He sayed on the curd, he cud'nt make neer a track. It war only the anger kep' him up a bit. That leg looks wusser and wusser. He's. boun to be toated."
    The hunter seemed to cogitate on how he was to effect this purpose.
    "'Taint no good expektin' him to help think it out," he continued looking at the Galwegian, who was busy talking to Tara. "The dumb brute hev more sense than he. Never mind. I'll make him take his full share o' the carryin' when it comes to that. How air it to be done? We must git him on a stretcher. That I reck'n we kin make out o' a kupple o' poles an' the cloak or wi' the blanket Pheelum fetch'd from the shanty. Ye-es! a streetcher. That's the eydentikul eyedee."
    The Connemara man was now summoned to lend assistance.
    Two saplings of at least ten feet in length were cut from the chapparal, and trimmed clear of twigs. Two shorter ones were also selected, and lashed crosswise over the first and upon these were spread, first the serapé, and afterwards the cloak, to give greater strength.
    In this way a rude stretcher was constructed, capable of earning either an invalid or an inebriate.
    In the mode of using it, it more resembled the latter than the former since he who was to be borne upon it, again deliriously raging, had to be strapped to the trestles!
    Unlike the ordinary stretcher, it was not carried between two men, but a man and a' mare the mare at the head, the man bearing behind.
    It was he of Connemara who completed the ill-matched team. The old hunter had kept his promise, that Phelim should "take his full share o' the carryin, when it kum to thet."
    He was taking it, or rather getting it, Zeb having appointed himself to the easier post of conductor.
    The idea was not altogether original. It was a rude copy from the Mexican lit e ra, which in Southern Texas Zeb may have seen differing from the latter only in being without screen, and instead of two mules, having for its at e lage a mare and a man!
    In this improvised palanquin was Maurice Gerald transported to his dwelling.
    It was night when the grotesque looking group arrived at the jacalé .
    In strong, but tender arms, the wounded man was transferred from the stretcher to the skin couch, on which he had been accustomed to repose.
    He was unconscious of where he was, and knew not the friendly faces bending over him. His thoughts were still astray, though no longer exciting him to violent action. He was experiencing an interval of calm.
    He was not silent, though he made no reply to the kind questions addressed to him, or only answered them with an inconsequence that might have provoked mirth. But there were wild words upon his lips that forbade it, suggesting only serious thoughts.
    His wounds received such rude dressing as his companions were capable of administering to them and nothing more could be done but await the return of day.
    Phelim went to sleep upon his shake down while the other sate up to keep watch by the bedside of the sufferer.
    It was not from any unfaithfulness on the part of the foster brother, that he seemed thus to disregard his duty, but simply because Zeb had requested him to lie down, telling him there was no occasion for both to remain awake.
    The old hunter had his reasons. He did not desire that those wild words should be heard even by Phelim. Better he should listen to them alone.
    And alone he sates listening to them, throughout the live long night.
    He heard speeches that surprised him, and names that did not. He was not surprised to hear the name "Louise" often repeated, and coupled with fervent protestations of love.
    But there was another name also often pronounced with speeches less pleasant to his ear.
    It was the name of Louise's brother.
    The speeches were disjointed incongruous, and almost unintelligible.
    Comparing one with the other, however, and assisted by the circumstances already known to him, before the morning light had entered the jaca , Zeb Stump had come to the conclusion that Henry Poindexter was no longer a living man!
55. UN DIA DE NOVEDADES.
    Don Silvio Martinez was one of the few Mexican rico s , who had chosen to remain in Texas, after the conquest of that country by the stalwart colonizers from the North.
    A man of more than mature age, of peaceful habits, and taking no part in politics, he accepted the new situation without any great regret. He was the more easily reconciled to it, from knowledge, that his loss of nationality was better than counterbalanced by his gain of security against Comanche incursions which, previous to the coming of the new colonists, had threatened the complete depopulation of the country.
    The savage was not yet entirely subdued but his maraud was now intermittent, and occurred only at long intervals. Even this, was an improvement on the old regime,
    Don Silvio was a ganadero, a grazier, on a grand scale. So grand that his ganaderia was leagues in length and breadth, and contained within its limits many thousands of horses and horned cattle.
    He lived in a large rectangular one storied house, more resembling a jail than a dwelling surrounded by extensive enclosures (corrale s ).
    It was usually a quiet place, except during the time of the herradero, or cattle branding, when for days it became the scene of a festivity almost Homeric.
    These occasions were only of annual occurrence.
    At all other times the old haciendado, who was a bachelor to boot, led a tranquil and somewhat solitary life, a sister older than him being his only companion. There were occasional exceptions to this rule when his charming sobrina rode across from the Rio Grande, to pay him and his sister a visit. Then the domicile of Don Silvio became a little livelier.
    Isidora was welcome whenever she came; welcome to come and go when she pleased and do as she pleased, while under her uncle's roof. The sprightliness of her character was anything but displeasing, to the old haciendado, who was himself far from being of a somber disposition. Those traits, that might have appeared masculine in many other lands, were not so remarkable in one, where life is held by such precarious tenure where the country house is oft transformed into a fortress, and the domestic hearth occasionally bedewed with the blood of its inmates!
    Is it surprising that in such a land women should be found, endowed with those qualities that have been ascribed to Isidora? If so, it is not the less true that they exist.
    As a general thing, the Mexican woman is a creature of the most amiable disposition; douce if we may be allowed to borrow from a language that deals more frequently with feminine traits, to such an extent, as to have become a national characteristic. It is to the denizens of the great cities, secure from Indian incursion, that this character more especially applies. On the frontiers, harried for the last half century by the aboriginal freebooter, the case is somewhat different. The amiability still exists but often combined with a b ravourie and hardihood masculine in seeming, but in reality heroic.
    Since Malinché, more than one fair heroine has figured in the history of Anahuac.
    Don Silvio Martinez had himself assisted at many wild scene and ceremony. His youth had been passed amid perils and the courage of Isidora at times degenerating into absolute recklessness so far from offending, rather gave him gratification.
    The old gentleman loved his darling sobrina, as if she had been his own child and had she been so, she would not have been more certain of succeeding to his possessions.
    Every one knew that, when Don Silvio Martinez should take leave of life, Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos would be the owner of not his broad acres, but his leagues of land, as also his thousands of horses and horned cattle.
    With this understanding, it is needless to say, that the señorita carried respect with her wherever she went, or that the vassals of the Hacienda Martinez honored her as their future mistress.
    Independently of this was she regarded. Hers were just the qualities to win the esteem of the dashing rancheros and there was not one upon the estate, but would have drawn his machete at her nod, and used it to the shedding of blood.
    Miguel Diaz spoke the truth, when he said he was in danger. Well might he believe it. Had it pleased Isidora to call together her uncle's vaqueros, and send them to chastise him, it would have been speedily done even to hanging him upon the nearest tree!
    No wonder he had made such haste to get away from the glade.
    As already stated, the real home of Isidora was upon the other side of the Rio Grande, separated by some three score miles from the Hacienda Martinez. But this did not hinder her from paying frequent visits to her relations upon the Leona.
    There was no selfishness in the motive. The prospect of the rich inheritance had nothing to do with it. She was an expectant heiress without that, for her own father was a rico. But she liked the company of her uncle and aunt. She also enjoyed the ride from river to river, oft made by her between morning and night, and not infrequently alone!
    Of late, these visits had become of much more frequent occurrence.
    Had she grown fonder of the society of her Texan relatives fonder as they grew older? If not, what was her motive?
    Imitating her own frankness of character, it may at once be declared.
    She came oftener to the Leona, in the hope of meeting with Maurice Gerald.
    With like frankness may it be told, that she loved him.
    Beyond doubt, the young Irishman was in possession of her heart. As already known, he had won it by an act of friendship; though it may have been less the service he had done, than the gallantry displayed in doing it, that had put the love spell on the daring Isidora.
    Perhaps, too, she saw in him other captivating qualities, less easily defined. Whether these had been un-designedly exhibited, or with the intention to effect a conquest, he alone can tell. He has himself said, No; and respect is due to his declaration. But it is difficult to believe, that mortal man could have gazed into the eyes of Isidora de los Llanos, without wishing them to look longingly upon him.
    Maurice may have spoken the truth, but we could better believe him, had he seen Louise Poindexter before becoming acquainted with Isidora.
    The episode of the burnt prairie was several weeks subsequent to the adventure with the intoxicated Indians.
    Certainly something appears to have occurred between him and the Mexican maiden, that leads her to believe she has a hope if not a claim upon his affections.
    It has come to that crisis, that she can no longer rest satisfied. Her impulsive spirit cannot brook ambiguity. She knows that she loves him. She has determined to make frank confession of it and to ask with like frankness, whether her passion be reciprocated. Hence her having made an appointment that could not be kept.
    For that day Don Miguel Diaz had interfered between her and her purpose.
    So thought she, as she galloped out of the glade, and hastened back to the hacienda of her uncle.
    Astride her grey steed she goes at a gallop.
    Her head is bare, her coiffure disarranged her rich black tresses streaming back beyond her shoulders, no longer covered by scarf, or serapé. The last she has left behind her, and along with it her vicuna hat.
    Her eyes are flashing with excitement; her cheeks flushed to the color of carmine.
    The cause is known.
    And also why she is riding in such hot haste. She has herself declared it.
    On nearing the house, she is seen to tighten her rein. The horse is pulled in to a slower pace a trot slower still a walk and, soon after, he is halted in the middle of the road.
    His rider has changed her intention or stops to reflect whether she should.
    She sits reflecting.
    "On second thoughts, perhaps, better not have him taken? It would create a terrible scandal, everywhere. So far, no one knows of… Besides, what can I say myself, the only witness? Ah! Were I to tell these gallant Texans the story, my own testimony would be enough to have him punished with a harsh hand. No! Let him live. Ladron as he is, I do not fear him. After what's happened, he will not care to come near me. Santa Virgen ! to think that I could have felt a fancy for this man short lived as it was!
    "I must send some one back to release him. One who can keep my secret, who? Benito, the mayor-domo, faithful and brave. G racias a dios! Yonder's my man, as usual busied in counting his cattle. Benito! Benito!"
    "At your orders, señorita?"
    "Good Benito, I want you to do me a kindness. You consent?"
    "At your orders, señorita?" repeats the mayor-domo, bowing low.
    "Not orders, good Benito. I wish you to do me a favour . "
    "Command me, señorita!"
    "You know the spot of open ground at the top of the hill where the three roads meet?"
    "As well as the corral of your uncle's hacienda."
    "Good! Go there. You will find a man lying upon the ground, his arms entangled in a lasso. Release him, and let him go free. If he is hurt, by the harsh fall he has had, do what you can to restore him, but don't tell him who sent you. You may know the man, I think you do. No matter for that. Ask him no questions, nor answer his, if he should put any. Once you have seen him on his legs, let him make use of them after his own fashion. You understand?"
    " Perfectamente, se ñ orita . Your orders shall be obeyed to the letter."
    "Thanks, good Benito. Uncle Silvio will like you all the better for it; though you mustn't tell him of it. Leave that to me. If he shouldn't, if he shouldn't, well! One of these days there may be an estate on the Rio Grande that will stand in need of a brave, faithful steward, such one as I know you to be."
    "Every one knows that the Señora Isidora is gracious, as she is fair."
    "Thanks! One more request. The service I ask you to do for me must be known, only to three individuals. The third is he whom you are sent to succor. You know the other two?"
    "Señorita, I comprehend. It shall be as you wish it."
    The mayor-domo is moving off, on horseback, it need scarce be said. Men of his calling rarely set foot to the earth, never upon a journey of half a league in length.
    "Stay! I had forgotten!" calls out that lady, arresting him. "You will find a hat and serapé. They are mine. Bring them to me. I shall wait for you here, or meet you somewhere along the road."
    Bowing, he again rides away. Again he is summoned to stop.
    "On second thoughts, Señor Benito, I've made up my mind to go along with you. Vamos ! "
    The steward of Don Silvio, is not surprised at caprice, when exhibited by the niece of his employer. Without questioning, he obeys her command, and once more heads his horse for the hill.
    The lady follows. She has told him to ride in the advance. She has her reason for departing from the aristocratic custom.
    Benito is astray in his conjecture. It is not to caprice that he is indebted for the companionship of the señorita. A serious motive takes her back along the road.
    She has forgotten something more than her wrapper and hat, that little letter that has caused her so much annoyance.
    The "good Benito" has not had all her confidence, nor can he be entrusted with this. It might prove a scandal, graver than the quarrel with Don Miguel Diaz.
    She rides back in hopes of repossessing herself of the epistle. How stupid not to have thought of it before!
    How had El Coyote got hold of it? He must have had it from José!
    Was her servant a traitor? Or had Diaz met him on the way, and forced the letter from him?
    To either of these questions an affirmative answer might be surmised.
    On the part of Diaz such an act would have been natural enough and as for José, it is not the first time she has had reason for suspecting his fidelity.
    So run her thoughts as she re-ascends the slope, leading up from the river bottom.
    The summit is gained, and the opening entered Isidora now riding side by side with the mayor-domo.
    No Miguel Diaz there, no man of any kind and what gives her far greater chagrin, not a scrap of paper!
    There is her hat of vicuna wool, her serapé of Saltillo, and the loop end of her lasso; nothing more.
    "You may go home again, Señor Benito! The man thrown from his horse must have recovered his senses and, I suppose, his saddle too. Blessed be the virgin! But remember, good Benito Secrecy all the s ame. Entiende , V? "
    " Yo en t iendo, Doña Isidora "
    The mayor-domo moves away, and is soon lost to sight behind the crest of the hill.
    The lady of the lasso is once more alone in the glade.
    She springs out of her saddle; dons serapé and sombrero; and is again the beau - ideal of a youthful hidalgo.
    She remounts slowly, mechanically, as if her thoughts do not accompany the action. Languidly she lifts her limb over the croup. The pretty foot is for a second or two poised in the air. Her ankle, escaping from the skirt of her enag u a, displays a tour-nure to have crazed Praxiteles. As it descends on the opposite side of the horse, a cloud seems to overshadow the sun. Simon Stylites could scarce have closed his eyes on the spectacle.
    But there is no spectator of this interesting episode, not even the wretched José; who, the moment after, comes skulking into the glade.
    He is questioned, without circumlocution, upon the subject of the strayed letter.
    "What have you done with it, sirrah?"
    "Delivered it, my lady."
    "To whom?"
    "I left it at… at… the posada " he replies, stammering and turning pale. "Don Mauricio had gone out."
    "A lie, lepero! You gave it to Don Miguel Diaz. No denial, sir! I've seen it since."
    "O Señora, pardon! Pardon! I am not guilty, indeed I am not."
    "Stupid, you should have told your story better. You have committed yourself. How much did Don Miguel pay you for your treason?"
    "As I live, lady, it was not treason. He-he-forced it from me by threats blows. I-I-was not paid."
    "You shall be, then! I discharge you from my service and for wages take that, and that, and that…"
    For at least ten times are the words repeated, the riding whip at each repetition descending upon the shoulders of the dishonest messenger.
    He essays to escape by running off. In vain. He is brought up again by the dread of being ridden over, and trampled under the hoofs of the excited horse.
    Not till the blue wheals appear upon his brown skin, does the chastisement cease.
    "Now, sirrah; from my sight! And let me see you no more. A l monte! Al monte ! "
    With ludicrous alacrity the command is obeyed. Like a scared cat, the discharged servitor rushes out of the glade, only too happy to hide himself, and his shame, under the shadows of the thorny thicket.
    But a little while longer does Isidora remain upon the spot her anger giving place to a profound chagrin. Not only has she been baffled from carrying out her design, but her heart's secret is now in the keeping of traitors!
    Once more she heads her horse homeward.
    She arrives in time to be present at a singular spectacle.
    The people peons, vaqueros, and employee's of every kind are hurrying to and fro, from field to corral, from corral to courtyard one and all giving tongue to terrified ejaculations.
    The men are on their feet, arming in confused haste, the women on their knees, praying pitifully to heaven through the intercession of a score of those saints, profusely furnished by the Mexican hierarchy to suit all times and occasions.
    "What is causing the commotion?"
    This is the question asked by Isidora.
    The mayor-domo who chances to be the first to present himself, is the individual thus interrogated.
    A man has been murdered somewhere out upon the prairie.
    The victim is one of the new people who have lately taken possession of Casa del Corvo, the son of the American haciendado himself.
    Indians are reported to have done the deed.
    Indians! In this word is the key to the excitement among Don Silvio's servitors.
    It explains both the praying and the hurried rushing to arms.
    The fact that a man has been murdered a slight circumstance in that land of unbridled emotions, would have produced no such response more especially when the man was a stranger, an "Americano."
    But the report that Indians are abroad, is altogether a different affair. In it there is an idea of danger.
    The effect produced on Isidora is different. It is not fear of the savages. The name of the "asasinado" recalls thoughts that have already given her pain. She knows that there is a sister, spoken of as being wonderfully beautiful. She has herself looked upon this beauty, and cannot help believing in it.
    A keener pang proceeds from something else she has heard that this peerless maiden has been seen in the company of Maurice Gerald. There is no fresh jealousy inspired by the news of the brother's death only the old unpleasantness for the moment revived.
    The feeling, soon gives place to the ordinary indifference felt for the fate of those with whom we have no acquaintance.
    Some hours later, and this indifference becomes changed to a painful interest in short, an apprehension. There are fresh reports about the murder. It has been committed, not by Comanches but by a white man, by Maurice the mustanger!
    There are no Indians near.
    This later edition of "novedades," while tranquilizing Don Silvio's servants, has the contrary effect upon his niece. She cannot rest under the rumor and half an hour afterwards, she is seen reining up her horse in front of the village hotel.
    For some weeks, with motive unknown, she has been devoting herself to the study of La lengua Americana. Her vocabulary of English words, still scanty, is sufficient for her present purpose, which is to acquire information, not about the murder, but the man accused of committing it.
    The landlord, knowing who she is, answers her inquiries with obsequious politeness.
    She learns that Maurice Gerald is no longer his guest, with "full particulars of the murder," so far as known.
    With a sad heart, she rides back to the Hacienda Martinez.
    On reaching the house, she finds its tranquility again disturbed. The new cause of excitement might have been deemed ludicrous though it is not so regarded by the superstitious peons.
    A rare rumor has reached the place. A man without a head, un hombre descabezado , has been seen riding about the plains, somewhere near the Rio Nueces!
    Despite its apparent absurdity, there can be no doubting about the correctness of the report. It is rife throughout the settlement.
    But there is still surer confirmation of it. A party of Don Silvio's own people herdsmen, out in search of strayed cattle have seen the cavallero descabezado and, desisting from their search, had ridden away from him, as they would have done from the devil!
    The vaqueros , there are three of them, are all ready to swear to the account given. But their scared looks furnish a more trustworthy evidence of its truthfulness.
    The sun goes down upon a congeries of frightful rumors.
    Neither these, nor the protestations of Don Silvio and his sister, can prevent their capricious niece from carrying out a resolution she seems suddenly to have formed, which is, to ride back to the Rio Grande. It makes no difference to her, that a murder has been committed on the road she will have to take much less that near it has been seen the ghastly apparition of a headless horseman! What to any other traveler should cause dismay seems only to attract Isidora.
    She even proposes making the journey alone! Don Silvio offers an escort half a score of his vaqueros, armed to the teeth. The offer is rejected.
    Will she take Benito?
    No. She prefers journeying alone?
    In short, she is determined upon it.
    Next morning she carries out this determination. By day break she is in the saddle and, in less than two hours after, riding, not upon the direct road to the Rio Grande, but along the banks of the Alamo!
    Why has she thus deviated from her route? Is she straying?
    She looks not like one who has lost her way. There is a sad expression upon her countenance, but not one of inquiry. Besides, her horse steps confidently forward, as if under his rider's direction, and guided by the rein."
    Isidora is not straying. She has not lost her way.
    Happier for her, if she had.
56. A SHOT AT THE DEVIL.
    All night long, the invalid lay awake at times tranquil, at times giving way to a paroxysm of unconscious passion.
    All night long the hunter sate by his bedside, and listened to his incoherent utterances.
    They but confirmed two points of belief already impressed upon Zeb's mind that Louise Poindexter was beloved that her brother had been murdered!
    The last was a belief that, under any circumstances, would have been painful to the backwoodsman. Coupled with the facts already known, it was agonizing.
    He thought of the quarrel the hat the cloak. He writhed as he contemplated the labyrinth of dark ambiguities that presented itself to his mind. Never in his life had his analytical powers been so completely baffled. He groaned as he felt their impotence.
    He kept no watch upon the door. He knew that if they came, it would not be in the night.
    Once only he went out but that was near morning, when the light of the moon was beginning to mingle with that of the day.
    He had been summoned by a sound. Tara, straying among the trees, had given utterance to a long dismal "growl," and come running scared-like into the hut.
    Extinguishing the light, Zeb stole forth, and stood listening.
    There was an interruption to the nocturnal chorus but that might have been caused by the howling of the hound?" What had caused it?
    The hunter directed his glance first upon the open lawn then around its edge, and under the shadow of the trees.
    There was nothing to be seen there, except what should be.
    He raised his eyes to the cliff that in a dark line trended along the horizon of the sky broken at both ends by the tops of some tall trees that rose above its crest. There were about fifty paces of clear space, which ho knew to be the edge of the upper plain terminating at the brow of the precipice.
    The line separating the chiaro from the oscuro could be traced distinctly as in the day. A brilliant moon was beyond it. A snake could have been seen crawling along the top of the cliff.
    There was nothing to be seen there.
    But there was something to be heard. As Zeb stood listening, there came a sound from the upper plain that seemed to have been produced not far back from the summit of the cliff. It resembled the clinking of a horse's shoe struck against a loose stone.
    So conjectured, Zeb as with open ears, he listened to catch its repetition.
    It was not repeated, but he soon saw what told him his conjecture was correct, a horse, stepping out from behind the tree tops, and advancing along the line of the bluff.
    There was a man upon his back both horse and man distinctly seen in dark silhouette against the clear sapphire sky.
    The figure of the horse was perfect, as in the outlines of a skillfully cast medallion.
    That of the man could be traced only from the saddle to the shoulders. Below, the limbs were lost in the shadow of the animal though the sparkle of spur and stirrup told that they were there. Above, there was nothing; not even the semblance of a head!
    Zeb Stump rubbed his eyes and looked, and rubbed them and looked again. It did not change the character of the apparition. If he had rubbed them four score times, he would have seen the same: a horseman without a head.
    This very sight he saw, beyond the possibility of disbelieving, saw the horse advancing along the level line, in a slow but steady pace, without footfall, without sound of any kind, as if gliding rather than walking, like the shifting scene of a cosmo-rama!
    Not for a mere instant had he the opportunity of observing the spectral apparition, but a period long enough to enable him to note every detail, long enough to satisfy him that it could be no illusion of the eye, or in any way a deception of his senses.
    Nor did it vanish abruptly from his view, but slowly and gradually first the head of the horse then the neck and shoulders then the shape, half ghastly, half grotesque, of the rider then the hind quarters of the animal the hips and last of all the long tapering tail!
    "Geehosophat!"
    It was not surprise at the disappearance of the headless horseman that extorted this exclamation from the lips of Zeb Stump. There was nothing strange about this. The spectacle had simply passed behind the proscenium represented by the tope of tree tops rising above the bluff.
    "Geehosophat!"
    Twice did the backwoodsman give utterance to this, his favorite expression of surprise both times with an emphasis that told of an unlimited astonishment.
    His looks betrayed it. Despite Ids undoubted courage, a shiver passed through his colossal frame while the pallor upon his lips was perceptible through their brown priming of tobacco juice.
    For some time he stood speechless, as if unable to follow up his double ejaculation.
    His tongue at length returned to him.
    "Dog-gone my cats!" he muttered, but in a very low tone, and with eyes still fixed upon the point where the horse's tail had been last seen. "If that ere don't whip the hul united creashun, my name ain't Zeb'lon Stump! The Irish hev been right arter all. I tho't he hed dreemt o' it in his drink. But no. He hev seed somethin' and so hev I meself. No wonner the cuss wur skeeart. I feel jest a spell shaky in my own narves beout this time. Geehosophat! What kin the durned thing be?"
    "What kin it be?" he continued, after a period spent in silent reflection. "Dog-goned, ef I kin detarmine one way or the tother. Ef 't had been only I' the daylight, and I ked a got a good sight on't or eft hed been a leetle bit cloaster! Ha! Why moutn't I git cloaster to it ? Dog-goned, ef I don't hev a try! I reck'n it won't eet me not ef it air ole Nick an' ef it air him, I'll jest satersfy meself whether a bullet kin go custrut thro his infernal karkidge 'ithout throwin' him out o' the seddle. Hyur go for a cloaster akwaintance wi' the varmint, whatsomiver it be."
    So saying, the hunter stalked off through the trees upon the path that led up to the bluff.
    He had not needed to go inside for his rifle, having brought that weapon out with him, on hearing the howl of the hound.
    If the headless rider was real flesh and blood earthly and not of the other world Zeb Stump might confidently count upon seeing him again.
    When viewed from the door of the jacalé , he was going direct towards the ravine, which permitted passage from the higher level to the bottom lands of the Alamo. As Zeb had started to avail himself of the same path, unless the other should meantime change direction, or his tranquil pace to a trot or gallop, the backwoodsman would be at the head of the pass as soon as he.
    Before starting, Zeb had made a calculation of the distance to be done, and the time to do it in.
    His estimate proved correct to a second, and an inch. As his head was brought nearly on a level with the upland plain, he saw the shoulder s of the horseman rising above it.
    Another step upward and the body was in view. Another and the horse was outlined against the sky, from hoof to forelock.
    He stood at a halt. He was standing, as Zeb first came in sight of him. He was fronting towards the cliff, evidently intending to go down into the gorge. His rider appeared to have pulled him up as a measure of precaution or he may have heard the hunter scrambling up the ravine or, what was more likely, scented him.
    For whatever reason, he was standing, front face to the spectator.
    On seeing him thus, Zeb Stump also came to a stand. Had it been many another man, the same might have been said of his hair and it is not to be denied, that the old hunter was at that moment, as he acknowledged himself, "a spell shaky 'be out the narves."
    He was firm enough, however, to carry out the purpose that had prompted him to seek that singular interview which was, to discover whether he had to deal with a human being, or the devil!
    In an instant his rifle was at his shoulder, his eye glancing along the barrel the sights, by the help of a brilliant moonlight, bearing upon the heart of the Headless Horseman.
    In another, a bullet would have been through it but for a thought that just then flashed across the brain of the backwoodsman.
    Maybe he was about to commit murder ?
    At the thought he lowered the muzzle of his piece, and remained for a time undecided.
    "It mout be a man?" muttered he, "though it don't look like it air. Thur ain't room enuf for a head under that ere Mexikin blanket, no how. Ef it be a human critter he hev got a tongue I reck'n, though he ain't much o' a head to hold it in. Hilloo strenger! Yere out for a putty lateish ride, ain't ye? Hain't ye forgot to fetch yur head wi ye?"
    There was no reply. The horse snorted, on hearing the voice. That was all.
    "Lookee hyur, strenger! Ole Zeb Stump from the State o' Kintucky, air the individooal who's now speakin' to ye. He ain't one o' thet sort ter be trifled wi'. Don't try to kum none o' yer damfoolery over this hyur coon. I warn ye to declur yur game. If ye're play in possum, ye'd better throw up yur hand or by the jumpin' Geehosophat, ye may lose both yur stake an' yur curds! Speak out now, afore ye gits plugged wi' a piece o' lead!"
    Less response than before. This time the horse, becoming accustomed to the voice, only tossed up his head.
    "Then dog-gone ye!" shouted the hunter, exasperated by what he deemed an insulting silence. "Six seconds more I'll gie ye six more an' ef ye don't show speech by that time, I'll let drive at yur guts. Ef ye're but a dummy it won't do ye any harm. No more will it, I reckun, ef ye air the devil. But ef ye're a man plavin' possum, durn me ef ye don't desarve to be shot for bein' seen a damn fool. Sing out!" he continued with increasing anger, "sing out, I tell ye! Ye won't? Then hyur goes! One two three four five six!"
    Where "seven" should have come in, had the count been continued, was heard the sharp crack of a rifle, followed by the sibillation of a spinning bullet then the dull "thud" as the deadly missile buried itself in some solid body.
    The only effect produced by the shot, appeared to be the frightening of the horse. The rider still kept his seat in the saddle!
    It was not even certain the horse was scared. The clear neigh that responded to the detonation of the rifle, had something in it that sounded derisive!
    For all that, the animal went off at a tearing gallop leaving Zeb Stump a prey to the profoundest surprise he had ever experienced.
    After discharging his rifle, he remained upon his knees, for a period of several seconds.
    If his nerves were unsteady before the shot, they had become doubly so now. He was not only surprised at the result, but terrified. He was certain that his bullet had passed through the man's heart or where it should be as sure as if his muzzle had been held close to the ribs.
    It could not be a man? He did not believe it to be one and this thought might have reassured him, but for the behavior of the horse. It was that wild unearthly neigh that was now chilling his blood, and causing his limbs to shake, as if under an ague.
    He would have retreated but, for a time, he felt absolutely unable to rise to his feet and he remained kneeling, in a sort of stupefied terror, watching the weird form till it receded out of sight far off over the moonlit plain. Not till then did he recover sufficient courage, to enable him to glide back down the gorge, and on towards the jackal .
    And not till he was under its roof, did he feel sufficiently himself, to reflect with any calmness on the odd encounter that had occurred to him.
    It was some time before his mind became disabused of the idea that he had been dealing with the devil. Reflection, however, convinced him of the improbability of this though it gave him no clue as to what the thing really was.
    "Shurly," muttered he, his conjectural form of speech showing that he was still undecided, "Shurlv arter all it can't be a thing o' the tother world, else I kedn't a heern the cothug o' my bullet? Sartin the lead struck agin somethin' solid an' I reck'n thur's nothin' solid in the karkidge o' a ghost?"
    "Wagh!" he concluded, apparently resigning the attempt to obtain a solution of the strange physical phenomenon. "Let the durned thing slide! One o' two things it air boun' to be eyther a bunnel o' rags, or ole Harry from hell!"
    As he re entered the hut, the blue light of morning stole in along with him.
    It was time to awaken Phelim, which he might take his turn by the bedside of the invalid.
    The Connemara man, now thoroughly restored to sobriety, and under the impression of having been a little derelict in his duty, was ready to undertake the task.
    The old hunter, before consigning his charge to the care of his unskilled successor, made a fresh dressing of the scratches availing himself of the knowledge that a long experience had given him in the pharmacopoeia of the forest.
    The nopal was near and its juice inspissated into the fresh wounds would not fail to affect their speedy cure.
    Zeb knew that in twenty four hours after its application, they would be in process of healing and in three days, entirely cicatrized.
    With this confidence common to every denizen, of the cactus covered land of Mexico, he felt defiant as to doctors and if a score of them could have been procured upon the instant, he would not have summoned one. He was convinced that Maurice Gerald was in no danger, at least not from his wounds.
    There was a danger, but that was of a different kind.
    "And now, Mister Pheelum," he said, on making a finish of his surgical operations" we hev dud all thet kin be dud for the outard man, an' it air full time to look arter the innard. Ye say thur ain't nuthin to eet?"
    "Not so much as a purtaty, Misther Stump. An' what's worse thare's nothin' to dhrink not a dhrap lift in the whole cyabin."
    "Durn ye, that's yur fault," cried Stump, turning upon the Irishman with a savage scowl that showed equal regret at the announcement. "Ef't hadn't a been for you, thur war licker enough to a lasted till the young fellur got roun' agin. What's to be dud now?"
    "Sowl, Misther Stump! yez be wrongin' me althegither intirely. That same yez are. I hadn't a taste exciptin what came out av the little flask. It wus thim Indyins that imptied the dimmy-jan. Trath was it."
    "Wagh! ye cudn't a got drunk on what wur contained i' the flask. I know yur durned guts too well for thet. Ye must a had a good pull at the tother, too."
    "Be all the saints…"
    "Durn yur stinkin' saints! D'you s'pose any man o' sense believes in sech varmint as them?
    "Wal; 'tain't no use talkin' any more beout it. Ye've sucked up the corn juice, an' thur's an end o't. Thur ain't no more to be hed 'ithin twenty mile, an' we must go 'ithout."
    "Be Jaysus, but it's bad!"
    "Shet up yur head, durn ye, an' hear what I've got to say. We'll hev to go 'ithout drinkin', but thet air no reezun for sturvin' ourselves for want o' somethin' to eet. The young fellur, I don't misdoubt, air by this time half sturved hisself. Thur's not much on his stummuk, I reck'n, though thur may be on his mind. As for meself, I'm jest hungry enough to eat coyoat; an' I ain't very sure I'd turn away from turkey buzzart which, as I reck'n, wud be a wusser victual than coyoat. But we ain't obleeged to eet turkey buzzart, whar thur's a chance o' gettin' turkey; an' thet ain't so dewbious along the Alamo. You stay hyur, an' take care o' the young fellur, whiles I try up the crik, an' see if I kin kum acrosst a gobbler."
    "I'll do that, Misther Stump, an' no mistake. Be me trath…"
    "Keep yur palaver to yurself, till I've finished talkin' to ye."
    "Sowl! I won't say a word."
    "Then don't, but lissen! Thur's somethin 'bout which I don't want ye to make any mistake. It air this. Ef there shed anybody stray this way dyurih my absince, yell let me know. Ye musn't lose a minnit o' time, but let me know."
    "Shure I will sowl, yis."
    "Wal, I'll depend on ye."
    "Trath, yez may, but how Misther Stump? How am I to lit yez know, if youre beyant hearin' av me voice? How thin?"
    "Wal, I reck'n, I shan't need to go so fur as thet. Thur ought to be gobblers cloast by, at this time o' the mornin."
    "An yit there moutent," continued Zeb, after reflecting a while. "Ye ain't got sech a thing as a gun in the shanty? A pistol 'ud do."
    "Nayther wan, nor the tother. The masther tuk both away wid him, when he went last time to the sittlements. He must have lift them thare."
    "It air awk'ard. I mout not heer yur shout."
    Zeb, who had by this time passed through the doorway, again stopped to reflect.
    "Heigh!" he exclaimed, after a pause of six seconds. "I've got it. I've treed the eydee. Ye see my ole maar, tethered out thur on the grass?"
    "Shure I do, Misther Stump. Av coorse I do."
    "Wal, ye see thet ere prickly cacktis plaint growin' cloast to the edge o' the openin'?"
    "Faith, yis."
    "Wal, that's sensible o' ye. Now lissen to what I say. Ye must keep a look out at the door, an ef anybody kums up whiles I'm gone, run straight custrut for the cacktis, cut off one o' its branches the thorniest ye kin see an' stick it unner the maar's tail."
    "Mother av Moses! For what div yez want me to do that?"
    "Wal, I reck'n I'd better explain" said Zeb, reflectingly "otherwise ye'll be makin' a mess o' it."
    "Ye see, Pheelum, ef anybody interlopes durin' my absince I hed better be hyur. I ain't a goin' fur off. But howsomediver near, I mout'nt hear yur screech thurfore the maar's 'll do better. You clap the cacktis under her tail, cloast up to the fundament and ef she don't squeal loud enuf to be heern by me, then ye may konklude that this coon air, eyther rubbed out, or hev both his lugs plugged wi picket pins. So, Pheelum; do adzactlv as I've tolt ye."
    "I'll do it, be Japers!"
    "Be sure now. Yur master's life may depend upon it."
    After delivering this last caution, the hunter shouldered his long rifle, and walked away from the hut.
    "He's a cute owld chap that same," said Phelim as soon as Zeb was out of hearing. "I wondher what he manes by the master bein' in danger from any wan comin' to the cyabin. He sed, that his life moight depend upon it? Yis he sed that."
    "He towlt me to kape a luk out. I suppose he maned me to begin at wance. I must go to the inthrance thin."
    So saying, he stepped outside the door and proceeded to make an ocular inspection of the paths by which the jaca might be approached.
    After completing this, he returned to the threshold and there took stand, in the attitude of one upon the watch.
57. SOUNDING THE SIGNAL.
    Phelim's vigil was of short duration. Scarce ten minutes had he been keeping it, when he became warned by the sound of a horse's hoof, that some one was coming up the creek in the direction of the hut.
    His heart commenced hammering against his ribs.
    The trees, standing thickly, hindered him from having a view of the approaching horseman and he could not tell what sort of guest was about to present himself at the jacalé . But the hoof stroke told him there was only one and this it was that excited his apprehension. He would have been less alarmed to hear the trampling of a troop. Though well assured it could no longer be his master, he had no stomach for a second interview with the cavalier who so closely resembled him, in everything except the head.
    His first impulse was to rush across the lawn, and carry out the scheme entrusted to him by Zeb. But the indecision springing from his fears kept him to his place long enough to show him that they were groundless. The strange horseman had a head.
    "Sure an' that same he hez," said Phelim, as the latter rode out from among the trees, and halted on the edge of the opening; "a raal hid, an' a purty face in front av it. An' yit it don't show so plazed nayther. He luks as if he'd jist buried his grandmother. Sowl! what a quare young chap he is, wid them toiny mowstaches loike the down upon a two days' goslin! O Lard! Luk at his little fut! Be Jaysus, he's a woman ! "
    While the Irishman was making these observations partly in thought, partly in muttered speech the equestrian advanced a pace or two, and again paused.
    On a nearer view of his visitor, Phelim saw that he had correctly guessed the sex, though the moustache, the manner of the mount, the hat, and serapé, might for the moment have misled a keener intellect than his of Connemara.
    It was a woman. It was Isidora.
    It was the first time that Phelim had set eyes on the Mexican maiden, the first that hers had ever rested upon him. They were equally unknown to one another. He had spoken the truth, when he said that her countenance did not display pleasure. On the contrary, the expression upon it was sad almost disconsolate.
    It had shown distrust, as she was riding under the shadow of the trees. Instead of brightening as she came out into the open ground, the look only changed to one of mingled surprise and disappointment.
    Neither could have been caused by her coming within sight of the jacalé . She knew of its existence. It was the goal of her journey. It must have been the singular personage standing in the doorway. He was not the man she expected to see there.
    In doubt she advanced to address him
    "I may have made a mistake?" said she, speaking in the best "Americana" she could command. "Pardon me, but I… I… thought that, Don Mauricio lived here."
    "Dan Marryshow, yez say? Trath, no. Thare's nobody av that name lives heeur. Dan Marryshow? Thare was a man they called Marrish had a dwillin' not far out av Ballyballagh. I re remimber the chap will, bekase he chated me wanst in a horse thrade. But his name wasn't Dan. No; it was Pat. Pat Marrish was the name divil burn him for a desaver!"
    "Don Mauricio, Mor-rees… Mor-ees."
    "Oh! Maurice! Maybe ye'd be after spakin' av the masther Misther Gerrald!"
    "Si-Si! Señor Zyerral."
    "Shure, thin, an' if that's fwhat ye're afther, Misther Gerrald diz dwill in this very cyabin that is, whin he comes to divart hisself, by chasin' the wild horses. He only kapes it for a huntin' box, ye know. Arrah, now; if yez cud only see the great big cyastle he lives in whin he's at home, in owld Ireland; an' the bewtiful crayther that's now cryin' her swate blue eyes out, bekase he won't go back thare. Sowl, if yez saw her! "
    Despite its patois, Phelim's talk was too well understood by her, to whom it was addressed. Jealousy is an apt translator. Something like a sigh escaped from Isidora, as he pronounced that little word "her."
    "I don't wish to see her , " was the quick rejoinder, "but him you mention. Is he at home? Is he inside?"
    "Is he at home? Thare now, that's comin' to the point, straight as a poike staff. An' supposin' I wuz to say yis, fwhat ud yez be afther wantin' wid him?"
    "I wish to see him."
    "Div yez? Maybe now ye'il wait till yez be asked. Ye're a purty crayther, notwithstandin' that black strake upon yer lip. But the masther isn't in a condishun jist at this time to see any wan, unless it was the praste or a docthur. Yez cyant see him."
    "But I wish very much to see him, señor."
    "Trath div yez. Ye've sayed that alriddy. But yez cyant, I till ye. It isn't Phaylim Onale ud deny wan av the fair six, espacially a purty black eyed colleen loike yerself. But for all that yez cyant see the masther now."
    "Why can I not?"
    "Why cyant yez not? Will thare's more than wan rayzon why yez cyant. In the first place, as I've towlt you, he's not in a condishun to resave company, the liss so av its bein' a lady."
    "But why, señor? Why?"
    "Bekase he's not dacently drissed. He's got nothin' on him but his shirt exceptin' the rags that Misther Stump's jist tied all roun' him. Be japers! thare's enough av them to make him a whole shoot coat, waiscoat, and throwsers trath is thare."
    "Senor, I don't understand you."
    "Yez don't? Shure an' I've spoke plain enough! Don't I till ye that the masther's in bid?"
    "In bed! At this hour? I hope there's nothing…"
    "The matther wid him, yez wur goin' to say? Alannah, that same is there a powerful dale the matther wid him, enough to kape him betwane the blankets for weeks to come."
    "Oh, señor! Do not tell me that he is ill?"
    "Don't I till ye! Arrah now me honey; fwhat ud be the use av consalin' it? It ud do it no good nayther cyan it do him any harm to spake about it? Yez moight say it afore his face, an' he wont conthradict ye."
    "He i s ill, then. O, sir, tell me, what is the nature of his illness what has caused it?"
    "Shure an' I cyant answer only wan av thim interrogataries the first yez hiv phut. His disaze pursades from some ugly tratement he's been resaving, the Lard only knows what, or who administhered it. He's got a bad lig; an' his skin luks as if he'd been tied up in a sack along wid a score av angry cats. Sowl! thare's not the brenth av yer'purty little hand widout a scratch upon it. Worse than all, he's beside himself."
    "Beside himself?"
    "Yis, that same. He's ravin' loike wan that had a dhrap too much overnight, an' thinks thare's the man wid the poker afther him. Be me trath, I belave the very bist thing for him now, ud be a thrifle av potheen if wan end only lay hands upon that same. But thare's not the smell av it in the cyabin. Both the dimmy-jan an' flask. Arrah, now you wouldn't be afther havin' a little flask upon yer swate silf? Some av that agwardinty, as yer people call it. Trath, I've tasted worse stuff than it. I'm shure a dhrink av it ud do the masther good. Spake the truth, misthress! Hiv yez any about ye?"
    "No, señor. I have nothing of the kind. I am sorry, I have not."
    "Faugh! The more's the pity for poor Masther Maurice. It ud a done him a dale av good. Wil he must put up widout it."
    "But, señor surely I can see him?"
    "Divil a bit. Besides fwhat ud be the use? He wouldn't know ye from his great grandmother. I till yez agane, he's been badly thrated, an as now besoide hisself!"
    "All the more reason why I should see him. I may be of service. I owe him a debt of…"
    "Oh! yez be owin him somethin? Yez want to pay it? Faith, that makes it intirely different. But yez needn't see him for that. I'm his head man, an thransact all that sort av bizness for him. I cyant write myself, but I'll give ye a resate on the crass wid me mark which is jist as good, among the lawyers. Yis, misthress; yez may pay the money over to me, an I promise ye the masther 'll niver ax ye for it agane. Trath! it'll come handy jist now, as we're upon the ave av a flittin, an may want it. So if yez have the pewther along wid ye, thare's pins, ink, an paper insoide the cyabin. Say the word, an I'll giv ye the resate!"
    "No-no-no! I did not mean money. A debt of gratitude."
    "Faugh! only that. Sowl, it's eezy paid, an don't want a resate. But yez needn't return that sort av money now for the masther woudn't be sinsible av fwhat ye wur sayin. Whin he comes to his sinses, I'll till him yez hiv been heeur, and wiped out the score."
    "Surely I can see him?"
    "Shurely now yez cyant."
    "But I must, señor!"
    "Divil a must about it. I've been lift on guard, wid sthrict ordhers to lit no wan go inside."
    "They couldn't have been meant for me. I am his friend, the friend of Don Mauricio."
    "How is Phaylum Onale to know that? For all yer purty face, yez moight be his didliest innemy. Be Japers! its loike enough, now that I take a second luk at ye."
    "I must see him I must I will I shall!"
    As Isidora pronounced these words, she flung herself out of the saddle, and advanced in the direction of the door.
    Her air of earnest determination combined with the fierce scarce feminine expression upon her countenance, convinced the Galwegian, that the contingency had arrived for carrying out the instructions left by Zeb Stump, and that he had been too long neglecting his cue.
    Turning hurriedly into the hut, he came out again, armed with a tomahawk and was about to rush past, when he was brought to a sudden stand, by seeing a pistol in the hands of his lady visitor, pointed straight at his head!
    " Abajo la ha c ha ! " (Down with the hatchet), cried she. " pero ! lift your aim to strike me, and it will be for the last time!"
    "Stroike ye, misthress! Stroike you ! " blubbered the ci devan t stable boy, as soon as his terror permitted him to speak. "Mother av the Lard! I didn't mane the waypon for you at all, at all! I'll sware it on the crass, or a whole stack av Bibles if yez say so. In trath misthress; I didn't mane the tammyhauk for you!"
    "Why have you brought it forth?" inquired the lady, half suspecting that she had made a mistake, and lowering her pistol as she become convinced of it. "Why have you thus armed yourself? w
    "As I live, only to ixecute the ordhers, I've resaved, only to cut a branch off av the cyacktus yez see over yander, an phut it undher the tail av the owld mare. Shure yez won't ohject to my doin'that?"
    In her turn, the lady became silent surprised at the singular proposition.
    The odd individual she saw before her could not mean mischief. His looks, attitude, and gestures were grotesque, rather than threatening, provocative of mirth, not fear, or indignation.
    "Silince gives consint. Thank ye," said Phelim, as, no longer in fear of being shot down in his tracks, he ran straight across the lawn, and carried out to the letter, the parting injunctions of Zeb Stump.
    The Mexican maiden hitherto held silent by surprise, remained so, on perceiving the absolute idleness of speech.
    Further conversation was out of the question. "What with the screaming of the mare continuous from the moment the spinous crupper was inserted under her tail the loud trampling of her hoofs as she "cavorted" over the turf, the dismal howling of the hound and the responsive cries of the wild forest denizens birds, beasts, insects, and reptiles only the voice of a Stentor could have been heard!
    What could be the purpose of the strange proceeding? How was it to terminate?
    Isidora looked on in silent astonishment. She could do nothing else. So long as the infernal fracas continued, there was no chance to elicit an explanation from the queer creature that had caused it.
    He had returned to the door of the jacalé and once more taken his stand upon the threshold where he stood, with the tranquil satisfied air of an actor who has completed the performance of his part in the play, and feels free to range himself among the spectators!
58. RECOILING FROM A KISS.
    For full ten minutes was the wild chorus kept up, the mare all the time squealing like a stuck pig, while the dog responded in a series of lugubrious howls, that reverberated along the cliffs on both sides of the creek.
    To the distance of a mile might the sounds have been heard and as Zeb Stump was not likely to be so far from the hut, he would be certain to hear them.
    Convinced of this, and that the hunter would soon respond to the signal he had himself arranged, Phelim stood square upon the threshold, in hopes that the lady visitor would stay outside at least, until he should be relieved of the responsibility of admitting her.
    Notwithstanding her earnest protestations of amity, he was still suspicious of some treasonable intention towards his master else why should Zeb have been so particular about being summoned back?
    Of himself, he had abandoned the idea of offering resistance. That shining pistol, still before his eyes, had cured him of all inclination for a quarrel with the strange equestrian and so far as the Connemara man was concerned, she might have gone unresisted inside.
    But there was another from Connemara, who appeared more determined to dispute her passage to the hut, one whom a whole battery of great guns would not have deterred from protecting its owner. This was Tara.
    The staghound was not acting as if under the excitement of a mere senseless alarm. Mingling with his prolonged sonorous "growl" could be heard in repeated interruptions a quick sharp bark, that denoted anger. He had witnessed the attitude of the intruder its apparent hostility and drawing his deductions, had taken stand directly in front of Phelim and the door, with the evident determination that neither should be reached except over his own body, and after running the gauntlet of his formidable incisors.
    Isidora showed no intention of undertaking the risk. She had none. Astonishment was, for the time, the sole feeling that possessed her.
    She remained transfixed to the spot, without attempting to say a word.
    She stood expectantly. To such an eccentric prelude there should be a corresponding finale. Perplexed, but patiently, she awaited it.
    Of her late alarm there was nothing left. What she saw was too ludicrous to allow of apprehension though it was also too incomprehensible to elicit laughter.
    In the mien of the man, who had so oddly comported himself, there was no sign of mirth. If anything, a show of seriousness, oddly contrasting with the comical act he had committed and which plainly proclaimed that he had not been treating her to a joke.
    The expression of helpless perplexity that had become fixed upon her features, continued there until a tall man, wearing a faded blanket coat, and carrying a six foot rifle, was seen striding among the tree trunks, at the rate of ten miles to the hour.
    He was making direct for the jacalé .
    At sight of the new comer her countenance underwent a change. There was now perceptible upon it a shade of apprehension and the little pistol was clutched with renewed nerve by the delicate hand that still continued to hold it.
    The act was partly precautionary, partly mechanical. Nor was it unnatural, in view of the formidable looking personage who was approaching, and the earnest excited manner with which he was hurrying forward to the hut.
    All this became altered, as he advanced into the open ground, and suddenly stopped on its edge a look of surprise quite as great as that upon the countenance of the lady, supplanting his earnest glances.
    Some exclamatory phrases were sent through his teeth, unintelligible in the tumult still continuing, though the gesture that accompanied them, seemed to proclaim them of a character anything but gentle.
    On giving utterance to them, he turned to one side, strode rapidly towards the screaming mare and, laying hold of her tail which no living man save himself would have dared to do he released her from the torments she had been so long enduring.
    Silence was instantly restored since the mare, abandoned by her fellow choristers, as they became accustomed to her wild neighs, had been, for some time, keeping up the solo by herself.
    The lady was not yet enlightened. Her astonishment continued though a side glance given to the droll individual in the doorway told her, that he had successfully accomplished some scheme with which he had been entrusted.
    Phelim's look of satisfaction was of short continuance. It vanished, as Zeb Stump, having affected the deliverance of the tortured quadruped, faced round to the hut as he did so, showing a cloud upon the corrugations of his countenance, darkly ominous of an angry storm.
    Even the presence of beauty did not hinder it from bursting.
    "Durn, an' dog-gone ye, for a Irish eedyit! Air this what ye've brought me back for! An' jest as I wur takin' sight on a turkey, not less 'n thirty poun' weight, I reck'n skeeart afore I ken touch trigger, wi' the skreek o' thet cussed critter o' a maar. Damned little chance for breakfust now."
    "But, Misther Stump, didn't yez till me to do it? Ye sid if any wan showld come to the cyabin…"
    "Bah! ye fool! Ye don't serpose I meened weemen, did ye?"
    "Trath! I didn't think it wus wan, whin she furst presented hersilf. Yez showld a seen the way she rid up sittin' astraddle on her horse."
    "What matter it, how she wur sittin'! Hain't ye seed thet afore, ye greenhorn? It's thur usooal way 'mong these hyur Mexikin sheemales. Ye're more o' a woman than she air, I guess an' twenty times more o' a fool. Thet I'm sartint o'. I know her a leetle by sight, an' somethin' more by reeport. What hev fetched the critter hyur ain't so difeequilt to comprehend; tho' it may be to git it out o' her, seein' as she kin only talk thet thur Mexikin lingo, the which this chile can't, nor wudn't ef he kud."
    "Sowl, Misther Stump! yez be mistaken. She spakes English too. Don't yez, misthress?"
    "Little Inglees," returned the Mexican, who up to this time had remained listening. "Inglees poco pocito "
    "Oah!" exclaimed Zeb, slightly abashed at what he had been saying. "I beg your pardin, saynoritta. Ye kin habla a bit o' Amerikin, kin ye? Moocho bono , so much the betterer. Ye'll be able to tell me what ye mout be a wantin' out hyur. Ye hain't lost yur way, hev ye?"
    "No, señor," was the reply, after a pause.
    "In that case, ye know whar ye air?"
    " Si, señor yes, of Don Mauricio Zyerral, this the house?"
    "Thet air the name, near as a Mexikin mouth kin make it, I reck'n. 'Tain't much o' a house but it air his'n. Preehaps ye want to see the master o't?"
    "O, señor; yes that is for why I here am, por esta yo soy aqui "
    "Wal I reck'n, thur kin be no objecshun to yur seein' him. Yur intenshuns ain't noways hostile to the young fellur, I kalklate. But thur ain't much good in yur talkin' to him now. He won't know ye from a side o' sole leather."
    "He is ill? Has met with some misfortune? El g ü ero has said so."
    "Yis. I towlt her that," interposed Phelim, whose carroty hair had earned for him the appellation "El güero."
    "Sartin," answered Zeb. "He air wounded a bit an jest now a leetle dulleerious. I reck'n it ain't o' much consekwence. He'll be hisself agin soon's the ravin fit's gone off o' him."
    "O, sir! Can I be his nurse till then? Por amor dios ! Let me enter, and watch over him? I am his friend un amigo m uy a f ficionado "
    "Wal I don't see as thu's any harm in it. Weemen makes the best o' nusses I've heern say tho', for meself, I hain't hed much chance o' tryin em sincst I kivered up my 'ole gurl unner the sods o' Massissipi. Ef ye want to take a spell by the side o' the young fellur, ye're welkim seein ye're his friend. Ye kin look arter him, till we git back, an see thet he don't tummel out o' the bed, or claw off them thur bandidges, I've tied roun him.
    "Trust me, good sir; I shall take every care of him. But tell me what has caused it? The Indians? No, they are not near? Has there been a quarrel with any one?"
    "In thet, saynoritta ye're beout as wise as I air meself. Thur's been a quarrel wi' coyoats, but that ain't what's gin him the ugly knee. I foun' him yesterday, clost upon sun down, in the chapparal beyont. When we kim upon him, he war up to his waist in the water o' a crik as runs through thur, jest beout to be attakted by one o' them spotty critters yur people call tigers. Wal, I relieved him o' that bit o' danger, but what happened afore air a mystery to me. The young fellur had tuk leeve o' his senses, an' ked gie no account o' hisself. He hain't rekivered them yet; an, thurfore, we must wait till he do."
    "But you are sure, sir, he is not badly injured? His wounds they are not dangerous?"
    "No danger whatsomediver. Nuthin' beyont a bit o' a fever, or maybe a touch o' the agey, when that goes off o' him. As for the wounds, they're only a wheen o' scratches. When the wanderin' hev gone out o' his senses, hell soon kum roun, I reck'n. In a week's time, ye'll see him as strong as a buck."
    "Oh! I shall nurse him tenderly!"
    "Wal, that's very kind o' you but… but…"
    Zeb hesitated, as a queer thought came before his mind. It led to a train of reflections kept to himself. They were these:
    "This air the same she, as sent them kickshaws to the tavern of Rough an' Ready. Thet she air in love wi' the young fellur is clur as Massissipi mud in love wi' him to the eends o' her toe nails. So's the tother. But it air equally clur that he's thinkin' o' the tother, an' not o' her. Now ef she hears him talk about tother, as he hev been a doin' all o' the night, thur'll be a putty consid'able rumpus riz inside o' her busom. Poor thing! I pity her. She ain't a bad sort. But the Irish, Irish tho' he is, can't belong to both an' I know he freezes to the critter from the States. It air durned awkurd. Better of I ked pursuade her not to go near him leastwise till he gets over ravin' about Lewaze.
    "But, miss," he continued, addressing himself to the Mexican, who during his long string of reflections had stood impatiently silent, "don't ye think ye'd better ride home again and come back to see him arter he gits well. He won't know ye, as I've sayed an' it would be no use yur stayin', since he ain't in any danger o'makin a die of it."
    "No matter, that he may not know me. I should tend him all the same. He may need some things which I can send, and procure for him."
    "Ef ye're boun' to stay then," rejoined Zeb, relentingly, as if some new thought was causing him to consent, "I won't interfere to say, no. But don't you mind what he'll be palaver in' about. Ye may hear some queer talk out o' him, beout a man being murdered, an the like. That's natural for any one as is delirious. Don't be skeeart at it. Beside, ye may hear him talkin' a deal about a woman, as he's got upon his mind."
    "A woman!"
    "Jest so. Ye'll hear him make mention o' her name."
    "Her name! Señor, what name?"
    "Wal, it air the name o' his sister, I reck'n. Fact, I'm sure o' it bein' his sister."
    "Oh! Misther Stump. If yez be spakin' av Masther Maurice…"
    "Shut up, ye dumed fool! What is't to you what I'm speaking beout? You can't unncrstan sech things. Kum along!" he continued, moving off, and motioning the Connemara man to follow him. "I want ye a leetle way wi' me. I killed a rattle as I wur goin' up the crik, an' left it thur. Kum you, an' toat it back to the shanty hyur, lest some varmint may make away wi' it an' lest, arter all, I moutn't strike turkey agin."
    "A rattle. Div yez mane a rattle-snake?"
    "An'what shed I mean?"
    "Shure, Misther Stump, yez wudn't ate a snake. Lard! wudn't it poison yez?"
    "Pisen be durned! Didn't I cut the pisen out, soon 's I killed the critter, by cuttin' off o' its head?"
    "Trath! an' for all that, I wudn't ate a morsel av it, if I was starvin'."
    "Sturve, an' be durned to ye! Who axes ye to eet it. I only want ye to toat it home. Kum then, an' do as I tell ye, or Dog-goned, ef don't make ye eet the head o' the reptile, pisen, angs an all!"
    "Be japers, Misther Stump, I didn't mane to disobey you at all, at all. Shure its Phaylim O'Nale that's reddy to do your biddin' anyhow. I'm wid ye for fwhativer yez want aven to swallowin' the snake whole. Saint Pathrick forgive me!"
    "Saint Patrick be durned! Kum along!"
    Phelim made no farther remonstrance, but, striking into the tracks of the backswoodsman, followed him through the wood.
    Isidora entered the hut advanced towards the invalid reclining upon his couch with fierce fondness kissed his fevered brow fonder and fiercer kissed his unconscious lips and then recoiled from them, as if she had been stung by a scorpion!
    Worse than scorpion's sting was that which had caused her to spring back.
    And yet 'twas but a word, a little word, of only two syllables!
    There was nothing strange in this. Oft, on one word that soft short syllabic "Yes" rests the happiness of a life; while oft, too oft, the harsher negative is the prelude to a world of woe!
59. ANOTHER WHO CANNOT REST.
    A dark day for Louise Poindexter, perhaps the darkest in the calendar of her life, was that in which she released Don Miguel Diaz from the lasso.
    Sorrow for a brother's loss, with fears for a lover's safety, were yesterday commingled in the cup. To day it was further embittered by the blackest passion of all. Jealousy. Grief, fear, jealousy; what must be the state of the soul in which these emotions are coexistent. A tumult of terrible imaginings.
    So was it in the bosom of Louise Poindexter after deciphering the epistle, which contained written evidence of her lover's disloyalty.
    True, the writing came not from him, nor was the proof conclusive.
    But in the first burst of her frenzied rage, the young Creole did not reason thus. In the wording of the letter there was strong presumption, that the relationship between Maurice Gerald and the Mexican was of a more affectionate character than he had represented it to be that he had, in fact, been practicing a deception.
    Why should that woman write to him in such free strain, giving bold, almost unfeminine, license to her admiration of his eyes " E s o s ojos tan li ndo s y tan espresivos ? "
    These were no phrases of friendship, but the expressions of a prurient passion. As such only could the Creole understand them since they were but a paraphrase of her own feelings.
    And then, there was the appointment itself solicited, it is true, in the shape of a request. But this was mere courtesy the coquetry of an accomplished ma î tres s e. Moreover, the tone of solicitation was abandoned towards the close of the epistle, which terminated in a positive command: "Come, sir! Come!"
    Something more than jealousy was aroused by the reading of this. A spirit of revenge seemed to dictate the gesture that followed, and the stray sheet was crushed between the aristocratic fingers into which it had fallen.
    "Ah, me!" reflected she, in the acerbity of her soul, "I see it all now. Tis not the first time he has answered a similar summons, not the first they have met on that same ground, 'the hill above my uncle's house', slightly described, but well understood oft visited before."
    Soon the spirit of vengeance gave place to a profound despair. Her heart had its emblem in the piece of paper that lay at her feet upon the floor like it, crushed and ruined.
    For a time she surrendered herself to sad meditation. Wild emotions passed through her mind, suggesting wild resolves. Among others she thought of her beloved Louisiana, of going back there to bury her secret sorrow in the cloisters of the Sacr é C ur. Had the Creole convent been near, in that hour of deep despondency, she would, in all probability, have forsaken the paternal home, and sought an asylum within its sacred walls.
    In very truth was it the darkest day of her existence.
    After long hours of wretchedness her spirit became calmer, while her thoughts returned to a more rational tone. The letter was re-read, its contents submitted to careful consideration.
    There was still a hope, the hope that, after all, Maurice Gerald might not be in the Settlement.
    It was at best, but a faint ray. Surely 'die should know she who had penned the appointment, and spoken so confidently of his keeping it? Still, as promised, he might have gone away; and upon this supposition hinged that hope, now scintillating like a star through the obscurity of the hour.
    It was a delicate matter to make direct inquiries about to one in the position of Louise Poindexter. But no other course appeared open to her and as the shadows of twilight shrouded the grass covered square of the village, she was seen upon her spotted palfrey, riding silently through the streets, and reining up in front of the hotel on the same spot occupied but a few hours before by the gray steed of Isidora!
    As the men of the place were all absent some on the track of the assassin, others upon the trail of the Comanche, Oberdoffer was the only witness of her indiscretion. But he knew it not as such. It was but natural that the sister of the murdered man should be anxious to obtain news and so did he construe the motive for the interrogatories addressed to him.
    Little did the stolid German suspect the satisfaction which his answers at first gave to his fair questioner, much less the chagrin afterwards caused by that bit of information volunteered by himself, and which abruptly terminated the dialogue between him and his visitor.
    On hearing she was not the first of her sex who had that day made inquiries respecting Maurice the mustanger, Louise Poindexter rode back to Casa del Corvo, with a heart writhing under fresh laceration.
    A night was spent in the agony of unrest, sleep only obtained in short snatches, and amidst the phantasmagoria of dreamland.
    Though the morning restored not her tranquility, it brought with it a resolve, stern, daring, almost reckless.
    It was, at least, daring, for Louise Poindexter to ride to the Alamo alone and this was her determination.
    There was no one to stay her, none to say nay. The searchers out all night had not yet returned. No report had come back to Casa del Corvo. She was sole mistress of the mansion, as of her own actions sole possessor of the motive that was impelling her to this bold step.
    But it may be easily guessed. Hers was not a spirit to put up with mere suspicion. Even love, that tames the strongest, had not yet reduced it to that state of helpless submission. Unsatisfied it could no longer exist and hence her resolve to seek satisfaction.
    She might find peace she might chance upon ruin. Even the last appeared preferable to the agony of uncertainty."
    How like to the reasoning of her rival!
    It would have been idle to dissuade her, had there been any one to do it. It is doubtful even if parental authority could at that moment have prevented her from carrying out her purpose. Talk to the tigress when frenzied by a similar feeling. With a love unhallowed, the will of the Egyptian queen, was not more imperious than is that of the American Creole, when stirred by its holiest passion. It acknowledges no right of contradiction regards; no obstruction save death.
    It is a spirit rare upon earth. In its tranquil state, soft as the rays of the Aurora, pure as the prayer of a child but when stirred by love, or rather by its too constant concomitant it becomes proud and perilous as the light of Lucifer!
    Of this spirit Louise Poindexter was the truest type. Where love was the lure, to wish was to have, or perish in the attempt to obtain. Jealousy resting upon doubt, was neither possible to her nature, or compatible with her existence. She must find proofs to destroy, or confirm it proofs stronger than those already supplied by the contents of the strayed epistle, which, after all, were only presumptive.
    Armed with this, she was in a position to seek them and they were to be sought upon the Alamo.
    The first hour of sunrise saw her in the saddle, riding out from the enclosures of Casa del Corvo, and taking a trail across the prairie already known to her.
    On passing many a spot, endeared to her sacred by some of the sweetest souvenirs of her life, her thoughts experienced more than one revulsion.
    These were moments when she forgot the motive that originally impelled her to the journey when she thought only of reaching the man she loved, to rescue him from enemies that might be around him!
    Ah! These moments despite the apprehension for her lover's safety were happy, when compared with those devoted to the far more painful contemplation of his treachery.
    From the point of starting to that of her destination, it was twenty miles. It might seem a journey, to one used to European traveling that is in the saddle. To the prairie equestrian it is a ride of scarce two hours quick as a scurry across country, after a stag or fox.
    Even with an unwilling steed it is not tedious hut with that lithe limbed, ocellated creature, Luna, who went willingly towards her prairie home, it was soon over, too soon perhaps, for the happiness of her rider.
    Wretched as Louise Poindexter may have felt before, her misery had scarce reached the point of despair. Through her sadness there still shone a scintillation of hope.
    It was extinguished as she set foot upon the threshold of the jacalé and the quick suppressed scream that came from her lips, was like the last utterance of a heart parting in twain.
    There was a woman within the hut!
    From the lips of this woman an exclamation had already escaped, to which her own might have appeared an echo so closely, did the one follow the other so alike were they in anguish.
    Like a second echo, still more intensified, was the cry from Isidora as turning, she saw in the doorway that woman, whose name had just been pronounced the "Louise" so fervently praised, so fondly remembered, amidst the vagaries of a distempered brain.
    To the young Creole, the case was clear, painfully clear. She saw before her the writer of that letter of appointment which, after all, had been kept. In the strife, whose sounds had indistinctly reached her, there may have been a third party Maurice Gerald? That would account for the condition in which she now saw him for she was far enough inside the hut to have a view of the invalid upon his couch.
    Yes it was the writer of that bold epistle, who had called Maurice Gerald "querido" who had praised his eyes who had commanded him to come to her side and who was now by his side, tending him with a solicitude that proclaimed her his! Ah! The thought was too painful to be symbolized in speech.
    Equally clear were the conclusions of Isidora equally agonizing. She already knew that she was supplanted. She had been listening too long to the involuntary speeches that told her so, to have any doubt as to their sincerity. On the door step stood the woman who had succeeded her!
    Face to face, with flashing eyes, their bosoms rising and falling as if under one impulse, both distraught with the same dire thought, the two stood eyeing each other.
    Alike in love with the same man, alike jealous they were alongside the object of their burning passion, unconscious of the presence of either!
    Each believed the other successful, for Louise had not heard the words, that would have given her comfort those words yet ringing in the ears, and torturing the soul, of Isidora!
    It was an attitude of silent hostility all the more terrible for its silence. Not a word was exchanged between them. Neither deigned to ask explanation of the other neither needed it. There are occasions when speech is superfluous, and both intuitively felt that this was one. It was a mutual encounter of fell passions that found expression only in the flashing of eyes, and the scornful curling of lips.
    Only for an instant was the attitude kept up. In fact, the whole scene, inside, scarce occupied a score of seconds.
    It ended by Louise Poindexter turning round upon the doorstep, and gliding off to regain her saddle. The hut of Maurice Gerald was no place for her!
    Isidora too came out, almost treading upon the skirt of the other's dress. The same thought was in her heart, perhaps more emphatically felt. The hut of Maurice Gerald was no place for her!
    Both seemed equally intent on departure alike, resolved on forsaking the spot, which had witnessed the desolation of their hearts.
    The gray horse stood nearest, the mustang farther out. Isidora was the first to mount, the first to move off, but as she passed, her rival had also got into the saddle, and was holding the ready rein.
    Glances were again interchanged neither triumphant, but neither expressing forgiveness. That of the Creole, was a strange mixture of sadness, anger, and surprise while the last look of Isidora, that accompanied a spiteful " carajo ! " a fearful phrase from female lips was such as the Ephesian goddess may have given to Athenaia, after the award of the apple.
    
60. A FAIR INFORMER.
    
    If things physical may be compared with things moral, no greater contrast could have been found, than the bright heavens beaming over the Alamo, and the black thoughts in the bosom of Isidora, as she hastened away from the jacalé . Her heart was a focus of fiery passions, revenge predominating over all.
    In this there was a sort of demoniac pleasure, that hindered her from giving way to despair otherwise she might have sunk under the weight of her woe.
    With gloomy thoughts, she rides under the shadow of the trees. They are not less gloomy, as she gazes up the gorge, and sees the blue sky smiling cheerfully above her. Its cheerfulness seems meant, but to mock her!
    She pauses before making the ascent. She has reined up under the umbrageous cypress fit canopy for a sorrowing heart. Its somber shade appears more desirable than the sunlight above.
    It is not this that has caused her to pull up. There is a thought in her soul darker than the shadow of the cypress. It is evinced by her clouded brow, by her black eyebrows contracted over her black flashing eyes above all, by an expression of fierceness in the contrast of her white teeth gleaming under the mustached lip.
    All that is good of woman, except beauty, seems to have forsaken all that is bad, except ugliness, to have taken possession of her!
    She has paused at the prompting of a demon, with an infernal purpose half formed in her mind. Her muttered speeches proclaim it.
    "I should have killed her upon the spot! Shall I go back, and dare her to deadly strife?"
    "If I killed her, what would it avail? It could not win me back his heart lost, lost, without hope! Yes those words were from the secret depths of his soul where her image alone has found an abiding place! Oh! There is no hope for me!
    "'Tis he who should die, he who has caused my ruin. If I kill him? Ah, then what would life be to me? From that hour an endless anguish!
    "Oh! It is anguish now! I cannot endure it. I can think of no solace if not in revenge. Not only she, he also both must die!
    "But not yet not till he know, by whose hand it is done. Oh! He shall feel his punishment, and know whence it comes. Mother of God, strengthen me to take vengeance!"
    She lances the flank of her horse, and spurs him, up the slope of the ravine.
    On reaching the upper plain, she does not stop even for the animal to breathe itself but goes on at a reckless gait, and in a direction that appears undetermined. Neither hand nor voice are exerted in, the guidance of her steed only the spur to urge him on Left to himself, he returns in the track by which he came. It leads to the Leona. Is it the way he is wanted to go?
    His rider seems neither to know nor care. She sits in the saddle, as though she were part of it with head bent down, in the attitude of one absorbed in a profound reverie, unconscious of outward things even of the rude pace at which she is riding! She does not observe that black cohort close by until warned of its proximity by the snorting of her steed, that suddenly comes to a stand.
    She sees a c a v allada out upon the open prairie!
    Indians? No. White men, less by their color, than the caparison of their horses, and their style of equitation. Their beards, too, show it but not their skins, discolored by the "stoor" of the parched plain.
    " Los Tejanos! " is the muttered exclamation, as she becomes confirmed in regard to their nationality.
    "A troop of their rangers scouring the country for Comanches, I suppose? The Indians are not here? If I've heard aright at the Settlement, they should be far on the other side."
    Without any strong reason for shunning them, the Mexican maiden has no desire to encounter "Los Tejanos." They are nothing to her or her purposes and at any other tune, she would not go out of their way. But in this hour of her wretchedness, she does not wish to run the gauntlet of their questionings, nor become the butt of their curiosity.
    It is possible to avoid them. She is yet among the bushes. They do not appear to have observed her. By turning short round, and diving back into the chapparal, she may yet shun being seen.
    She is about to do so, when the design is frustrated by the neighing of her horse. A score of theirs respond to him and he is seen, along with his rider.
    It might be still possible for her to escape the encounter, if so inclined. She would be certain of being pursued, but not so sure of being overtaken especially among the winding ways of the chapparal, well known to her.
    At first she is so inclined and completes the turning of her steed. Almost in the same instant, she reins round again and faces the phalanx of horsemen, already in full gallop towards her.
    Her muttered words proclaim a purpose in this sudden change of tactics.
    "Rangers, no! Too well dressed for those ragged vagabundos ? Must be the party of 'searchers,' of which I've heard led by the father of… Yes, yes it is they. Ay Dios ! Here is a chance of revenge, and without my seeking it God wills it to be so!"
    Instead of turning back among the bushes, she rides out into the open ground and with an air of bold determination advances to wards the horsemen, now near.
    She pulls up, and awaits their approach; a black thought in her bosom.
    In another minute she is in their midst the mounted circle close drawn around her.
    There are a hundred horsemen, oddly armed, grotesquely attired uniform only in the coating of clay colored dust which adheres to their habiliments, and the stern seriousness observable in the bearing of all scarce relieved by a slight show of curiosity.
    Though it is an entourage to cause trembling, especially in a woman, Isidora does not betray it. She is not in the least alarmed. She anticipates no danger from those who have so unceremoniously surrounded her. Some of them she knows by sight; though not the man of more than middle age, who appears to be their leader, and who confronts, to question her.
    But she knows him otherwise. Instinct tells her he is the father of the murdered man of the woman, she may wish to see slain, but assuredly, shamed.
    Oh! What an opportunity!
    "Can you speak French, mademoiselle?" asks Woodley Poindexter, addressing her in this tongue in the belief that it may give him a better chance of being understood.
    "Speak better Inglees, very little, sir."
    "Oh! English. So much the better for us. Tell me, miss have you seen anybody out here that is have you met any one, riding about, or camped, or halted anywhere?"
    Isidora appears to reflect, or hesitate, before making reply.
    The planter pursues the interrogative, with such politeness as the circumstances admit.
    "May I ask where you live?"
    "On the El Grande, señor?"
    "Have you come direct from there? "
    "No from the Leona."
    "From the Leona!"
    "It's the niece of old Martinez," interposes one of the party. "His plantation joins yours, Mister Poindexter."
    "Yes true that. Sobrina , niece of Don Silvio Martinez. To soy. "
    " Then you've come from his place, direct? Pardon me for appearing rude. I assure you, miss, we are not questioning you out of any idle curiosity, or impertinence. We have serious reasons more than serious they are solemn."
    "From the Hacienda Martinez direct," answers Isidora, without appearing to notice the last remark. "Two hours ago, un pocito mas , my uncle's house I leave."
    "Then, no doubt, you have heard that there has been a murder committed?"
    "Si, señor. Yesterday at uncle Silvio's it was told."
    "But to day when you left, was there any fresh news in the Settlement? We've had word from there but not so late as you. may bring. Have you heard anything, miss?"
    "That people were gone after the asesinado. Your party, señor?"
    "Yes, yes, it meant us, no doubt. You heard nothing more?"
    "Oh, yes something very strange señores, so strange, you may think I am jesting."
    "What is it?" inquire a score of voices in quick simultaneity while the eyes of all turn with eager' interest towards the fair equestrian.
    "There is a story of one being seen without a head on horseback out here too. V a lga me Dios ! we must now be near the place? It was by the Nueces not far from the ford where the road crosses for the Rio Grande. So the vaqueros said."
    "Oh some vaqueros have seen it?"
    "Si, señores three of them will swear to having witnessed the spectacle."
    Isidora is a little surprised at the moderate excitement which such a strange story causes among the "Tejanos." There is an exhibition of interest, but no astonishment. A voice explains
    "We've seen it too that, headless horseman at a distance. Did your vaqueros get close enough to know what it was?"
    " Santissima! No."
    "Can you tell us, miss?"
    "I? Not I. I only heard of it, as I've said. What it may be, quien s abe ? "
    There is an interval of silence, during which all appear to reflect on what they have heard.
    The planter interrupts it, by a recurrence to his original interrogatory.
    "Have you met, or seen, any one, miss out here, I mean?"
    " Si , yes I have."
    "You have! What sort of person? Be good enough to describe"
    "A lady."
    "Lady!" echo several voices.
    "Si, señores."
    "What sort of a lady?"
    "Una Americana."
    "An American lady! Out here? Alone?"
    "Si, señores."
    "Who?"
    " Quien sa b e ? "
    "You don't know her? What was she like?"
    "Like?…like?"
    "Yes how was she dressed?"
    " Vettido de cabal lo. "
    "On horseback, then?"
    "On horseback."
    "Where did you meet the lady you speak of?"
    "Not far from this; only on the other side of the chapparal."
    "Which way was she going? Is there any house on the other side?"
    "A jacalé . I only know of that."
    Poindexter to one of the party, who understands Spanish "A jacalé ? "
    "They give that name to their shanties."
    "To whom does it belong this jacalé ? "
    " Don Mauricio, el m uste ñ ero "
    "Maurice the mustanger!" translates the ready interpreter.
    A murmur of mutual congratulation runs through the crowd. After two days of searching fruitless, as earnest they have struck a trail, the trail of the murderer!
    Those who have alighted, spring back into their saddles. All take up their reins, ready to ride on.
    "We don't wish to be rude, Miss Martinez if that be your name but you must guide us to this place you speak of."
    "It takes me a little out of my way though not far. Come on, cavalleros! I shall show you, if you are determined on going there."
    Isidora re-crosses the belt of chapparal followed by the hundred horsemen, who ride straggling after her.
    She halts on its western edge between which and the Alamo there is a stretch of open prairie.
    "Yonder!" says she, pointing over the plain "you see that black spot on the horizon? It is the top of an alhuehuet é . Its roots are in the bottom lands of the Alamo. Go there! There is a canon leading down the cliff. Descend. You will find, a little beyond, the jacalé of which I've told you."
    The searchers are too much in earnest to stay for further directions. Almost forgetting her who has given them, they spur off across the plain, riding straight for the cypress.
    One of the party alone lingers not the leader, but a man equally interested in all that has transpired. Perhaps more so, in what has been said in relation to the lady seen by Isidora. He is one who knows Isidora's language, as well as his own native tongue.
    "Tell me, ni ñ a " says he, bringing his horse alongside hers, and speaking in a tone of solicitude almost of entreaty "Did you take notice of the horse ridden by this lady?"
    " Carrambo ! Yes. What a question, cavallero! Who could help noticing it?"
    "The color?" gasps the inquirer.
    " U n musteho pint o jo. "
    "A spotted mustang! Holy Heaven!" exclaims Cassius Calhoun, in a half shriek, half groan, as he gallops after the searchers leaving Isidora in the belief, that, besides her own, there is one other heart burning with that fierce fire which only death can extinguish!
    
61. ANGELS ON EARTH.
    
    The retreat of her rival, quick and unexpected, held Louise Poindexter, as if spell bound. She had climbed into the saddle, and was seated, with spur ready to pierce the flanks of the fair Luna. But the stroke was suspended, and she remained in a state of indecision, bewildered by what she saw.
    But the moment before, she had looked into the jacalé had seen her rival there, apparently as home mistress, both of the mansion and its owner.
    What was she to think of that sudden desertion? Why that look of spiteful hatred? Why not the imperious confidence, that should spring from a knowledge of possession?
    In place of giving displeasure, Isidora's looks and actions had caused her a secret gratification. Instead of galloping after, or going in any direction, Louise Poindexter once more slipped down from her saddle, and re-entered the hut.
    At the sight of the pallid cheeks and wild rolling eyes, the young Creole for the moment forgot her wrongs.
    "Mon dieu! Mon dieu! " she cried, gliding up to the catr é . Maurice, wounded, dying! Who has done this?" There was no reply only the mutterings of a madman. "Maurice! Maurice! Speak to me! Do you not know me? Louise! You're Louise! You have called me so? Say it… O say it again!"
    "Ah! You are very beautiful, you angels here in heaven! Very beautiful. Yes, yes; you look so to the eyes… to the eyes. But don't say there are none like you upon the Earth for there are… there are. I know one ah! More but one that excels you all, you angels in heaven! I mean in beauty in goodness, that's another thing. I'm not thinking of goodness no; no."
    "Maurice! Dear Maurice! Why do you talk thus? You are not in heaven; you are here with me, with Louise."
    "I am in heaven yes, in heaven! I don't wish it, for all they say that is, unless I can have her with me. It may be a pleasant place. Not without her. If she were here, I could be content. Hear it, ye angels that come hovering around me! Very beautiful, you are, I admit but none of you like her my angel. Oh! There's a devil, too a beautiful devil, I don't mean that, I'm thinking only of the angel of the prairies."
    "Do you remember her name?"
    Perhaps never was question put to a delirious man, where the questioner showed so much interest in the answer.
    She bent over him with ears upon the strain with eyes that marked every movement of his lips.
    "Name? Name? Did some one say, name? Have you any names here? Oh! I remember Michael, Gabriel, Azrael men, all men. Angels, not like my angel who is a woman. Her name is…"
    "Is?"
    "Louise, Louise, Louise. Why should I conceal it from you; you up here, who know everything that's down there? Surely you know her, Louise? You should, you could not help loving her ah! With all your hearts, as I with all mine, all… all!"
    Not when these last words, were once before spoken, first spoken under the shade of the acacia trees, the speaker in full consciousness of intellect, in the full fervor of his soul, not then were they listened to with such delight. O, happy hour for her who heard them!
    Again were soft kisses lavished upon that fevered brow, upon those wan lips, but this time by one who had no need to recoil after the contact.
    She only stood up erect, triumphant, her hand pressing upon her heart, to stay its wild pulsations. It was pleasure, too complete, too ecstatic, for there was pain in the thought that it could not be felt for ever, in the fear of its being too soon interrupted.
    The last was but the shadow thrown before, and in such shape it appeared a shadow that came darkling through the doorway.
    The substance that followed, was a man who, the moment after, was seen standing upon the stoup.
    There was nothing terrible in the aspect of the new comer. On the contrary, his countenance and costume were types of the comical, heightened by contrast with the wild associations of the time and place. Still further, from juxtaposition with the odd objects carried in his hands, in one a tomahawk, in the other a huge snake with its tail terminating in a string of bead like rattles, which betrayed its species.
    If anything could have added to his air of grotesque drollery, it was the expression of puzzled surprise that came over his countenance as, stepping upon the threshold; he discovered the change that had taken place in the occupancy of the hut.
    "Mother av Moses!" he exclaimed, dropping both snake and tomahawk, and opening his eyes as wide as the lids would allow them "Shure I must be dhramin? Trath must I! It cyant be yersilf, Miss Pointdixther? Shure now it cyant?"
    "But it is, Mr. O'Neal. How very ungallant in you to have forgotten me, and so soon!"
    "Forgotten yez! Trath, miss, yez needn't accuse me of doin' that which is intirely impossible. The Oirishman that hiz wance looked in yer swate face, will be undher the necessity iver afther to remimber it. Sowi! thare's wan that cyant forgit it, even in his dhrames!"
    The speaker glanced significantly towards the couch. A delicious thrill passed through the bosom of the listener.
    "But fwhat diz it all mane?" continued Phelim, returning to the unexplained puzzle of the transformation." Fwhare's the tother the young chap, or lady, or wuman whichsomiver she arr?' Did'nt yez see nothin' av a wuman, Miss Pointdixther?"
    "Yes yes."
    "Oh! yez did. An fwhere is she now?"
    "Gone away, I believe."
    "Gone away! Be japers, thin, she hasent remained long in the wan mind. I lift her heeur in the cyabin not tin minnits ago, taking aff her bonnit that was only a man's hat an' sittlin' hersilf down for a stay. Gone, yez say? Sowl! I'm not sorry to hear it. That's a young lady whose room's betther than her company, any day in the twilmonth. She's a dale too handy wid her shootin' iron. Wud yez belave it, Miss Pointdixther she prisinted a pistol widin six inches av me nose?"
    " Pardieu ! For what reason?"
    "Fwhat rayzun? Only that I thried to hindher her from in thrudin' into the cyabin. She got in for all that for whin owld Zeb come back, he made no objecshun to it. She sayed she was a frind av the masther, an' wanted to nurse him."
    "Indeed! Oh! It is strange very strange!" muttered the Creole, reflecting.
    "Trath, is it. And so is iverything in these times, exciptin yez own swate silf; that I hope will niver be sthrange in a cyabin frequinted by Phaylim Onale. Shore, now, I'm glad to see yez, miss an' shure so wud the masther, if…"
    "Dear Phelim! Tell me all that has happened.
    "Trath! Thin miss, if I'm to till all, ye'll hiv to take off your bonnet, and make up your moind for a long stay seem' as it 'ud take the big ind av a whole day to relate all the quare things that's happened since the day afore yesthirday."
    "Who has been here since then?"
    "Who has been heeur?"
    "Except the, the…"
    "Exceptin the man wuman, ye mane?"
    "Yes. Has any one else been to this place?"
    "Trath has thare plinty besoides. An av all sorts, an colours too. First an foremost there was wan comin' this way, though he didn't git all the way to the cyabin. But I daren't tell you about him, for it moight frighten ye, miss."
    "Tell me. I have no fear."
    "Be dad! And I can't make it out meself quite intirety. It was a man upon horseback widout a hid."
    "Without a head!"
    "Divil a bit av that same on his body."
    The statement caused Phelim to be suspected of having lost his.
    "An' what's more, miss, he was for all the world like Masther Maurice himself. Wid his horse undher him, an' his Mexikin blanket about his showlders, an' everything just as the young masther looks, when he's mounted, Sowl! wasn't I scared, whin I sit my eyes on him."
    "But where did you see this, Mr. O'Neal?"
    "Up thare on the top av the bluff. I was out lookin' for the masther to come back from the Sittlement, as he'd promised he wud that mornin', an' who showld I see but hisself, as I supposed it to be. An' thin he comes ridin' up, widout his hid, an' stops a bit, an' thin goes off at a tarin' gallop, wid Tara growlin' at his horse's heels, away acrass the big plain, till I saw no more av him. Thin I made back for the cyabin heeur, an' shut meself up, and wint to slape; and just in the middle av mo dhrames, whin I was dhramin' av… but trath, miss, yez'll be toired standin' on yer feet all this time. Won't yez take aff yer purty little ridin' hat, an' sit down on the thrunk thare? It's asier than the stool. Do plaze take a sate; for if I'm to tell yez all…"
    "Never mind me go on. Please tell me who else has been here besides this strange cavalier, who must have been some one playing a trick upon you, I suppose."
    "A thrick, miss! Trath that's just what owld Zeb sayed."
    "He has been here, then?"
    "Yis-yis, but not till long afther the others."
    "The others?"
    "Yis, miss. Zeb only arroived yestherday marnin'. The others paid their visit the night afore, an' at a very unsayzonable hour too, wakin' me out av the middle av my slape."
    "But who? What others?"
    "Why the Indyens, to be shure."
    "There have been Indians, then?"
    "Trath was there a whole tribe av thim. Well, as I've been tillin' yez, miss, jest as I wus in a soun' slape, I heerd talkin' in the cyabin heern, right over my hid, an' the shufflin' av paper, as if somebody was daun' a pack av cards, an Mother av Moses! fwhat's that?"
    "What?"
    "Didn't yez heear somethin'? Wheesht! Thare it is agane! Trath, it's the trampin' av horses! They're jist outside."
    Phelim rushed towards the door.
    "Be Sant Pathrick! The place is surrounded wid men on horseback. Thare's a thousand av them! An' more comin' behind! Be japers! them's the chaps owld Zeb Now for a frish spell av squeelin! O Lard! I'll be too late!"
    Seizing the cactus branch that for convenience he had brought inside the hut he dashed out through the doorway.
    " Mon Dieu! " cried the Creole, "'tis they! My father and I am here! How shall I explain it? Holy Virgin, save me from shame!"
    Instinctively she sprang towards the door, closing it, as she did so. But a moment's reflection showed her how idle was the act. They who were outside would make light of such obstruction. Already she recognized the voices of the Regulators!
    The opening in the skin wall came under her eye. Should she make a retreat through that, undignified as it might be?
    It was no longer possible. The sound of hoofs also in the rear! There were horsemen behind the hut!
    Besides, her own steed was in front, that ocellated creature not to be mistaken. By this time they must have identified it!
    But there was another thought that restrained her from attempting to retreat one more generous.
    H e was in danger, from which even the unconsciousness of it, might not shield him! Who but she could protect him?
    " Let my good name go!" thought she. "Father, friends all… all but him, if God so wills it! Shame, or no shame, to him will I be true!"
    As these noble thoughts passed through her mind, she took her stand by the bedside of the invalid, like a second Dido, resolved to risk all even death itself for the hero of her heart.
62. WAITING FOR THE CUE.
    Never, since its erection, was there such a trampling of hoofs around the hut of the horse-catcher, not even when its corral was filled with fresh taken mustangs.
    Phelim, rushing out from the door, is saluted by a score of voices that summon him to stop.
    One is heard louder than the rest, and in tones of command that proclaim the speaker to be chief of the party.
    "Pull up, damn you! It's no use your trying to escape. Another step, and ye'll go tumbling in your tracks. Pull up, I say!"
    The command takes effect upon the Connemara man, who has been making direct for Zeb Stump's mare, tethered on the other side of the opening. He stops upon the instant.
    "Shure, gintlemen, I don't want to escyape," asseverates he, shivering at the sight of a score of angry faces, and the same number of gun barrels bearing upon his person. "I had no such intinshuns. I was only goin' to…"
    "Hun off, if ye'd got the chance. Ye'd made a good beginning. Here, Dick Tracey! Half a dozen turns of your trail rope round him. Lend a hand, Shelton! Damned queer looking curse he is! Surely, gentlemen, this can't be the man we're in search of?"
    "No, no! It isn't. Only his man John."
    "Ho! Hilloa, you round there at the back! Keep your eyes skinned. We havn't got him yet. Don't let as much as a cat creep past you. Now, sirree! who's inside?"
    "Who's insoide? The cyabin div yez mane?"
    "Damn ye! answer the question that's put to ye!" says Tracey, giving his prisoner a touch of the trail-rope. "Who's inside the shanty?"
    "O Lard! Needs must whin the divvel dhrives. Wil, then, thare's the masther for wan…"
    "Ho! What's this?" inquires Woodley Poindexter, at this moment, riding up, and seeing the spotted mare. "Why… it it's Looey's mustang!"
    "It is, uncle," answers Cassius Calhoun, who has ridden up along with him.
    "I wonder who's brought the beast here?"
    "Loo herself, I reckon."
    "Nonsense! You're jesting, Cash?''
    "No, uncle I'm in earnest.
    "You mean to say my daughter has been here?"
    "Has been still is, I take it."
    "Impossible!
    "Look yonder, then!"
    The door has just been opened. A female form is seen inside.
    "Good God, it is my daughter!"
    Poindexter drops from his saddle, and hastens up to the hut close followed by Calhoun. Both go inside.
    "Louise, what means this? A wounded man! Is it he… Henry?"
    Before an answer can be given, his eye falls upon a cloak and hat Henry's!
    "It is he's alive! Thank heaven!"
    He strides towards the couch.
    The joy of an instant is in an instant gone. The pale face upon the pillow is not that of his son. The father staggers back with a groan.
    Calhoun seems equally affected. But the cry from him is an exclamation of horror after which he slinks cowed like out of the cabin.
    "Great God!" gasps the planter "what is it? Can you explain, Louise?"
    "I cannot, father. I've been here but a few minutes. I found him as you see. He is delirious."
    "And Henry?"
    "They have told me nothing. Mr Gerald was alone when I entered. The man outside was absent, and has just returned. I have not had time to question him."
    "But… but, how came you to be here?"
    "I could not stay at home. I could not endure the uncertainty any longer. It was terrible alone, with no one at the house and the thought that my poor brother Mon dieu ! Mon dieu! "
    Poindexter regards his daughter with a perplexed, but still inquiring, look.
    "I thought I might find Henry here."
    "Here! But how did you know of this place? Who guided you? You are by yourself!"
    "Oh, father! I knew the way. Do you remember the day of the hunt, when the mustang ran away with me? It was beyond this place, I was carried. On returning with Mr. Gerald, he told me he lived here. I fancied I could find the way back."
    Poindexter's look of perplexity does not leave him, though another expression becomes blended with it. His brow contracts the shadow deepens upon it though whatever the dark thought, he does not declare it.
    "A strange thing for you to have done, my daughter. Imprudent, indeed dangerous. You have acted like a silly girl. Come, come away! This is no place for a lady, for you. Get to your horse, and ride home again. Some one will go with you. There may be a scene here, you should not be present at. Come, come!"
    The father strides forth from the hut, the daughter following with reluctance scarce concealed and, with like unwillingness, is conducted to her saddle.
    The searchers, now dismounted, are upon the open ground in front.
    They are all there. Calhoun has made known the condition of things inside and there is no need for them to keep up their vigilance.
    They stand in groups some silent, some conversing. A larger crowd is around the Connemara man who lies upon the grass, fast tied in the trail rope. His tongue is allowed liberty and they question him, but without giving much credit to his answers.
    On the re appearance of the father and daughter, they face towards them, but stand silent. For all this, they are burning with eagerness to have an explanation of what is passing. Their looks proclaim it.
    Most of them know the young lady by sight, all by fame, or name. They feel surprise almost wonder at seeing her there. The sister of the murdered man under the roof of his murderer!
    More than ever are they convinced that this is the state of the case. Calhoun, coming forth from the hut, has spread fresh intelligence among them, facts that seem to confirm it. He has told them of the hat, the cloak of the murderer himself, injured in the death-struggle!
    But why is Louise Poindexter there alone, unaccompanied by white or black, by relative or slave? A guest, too for in this character does she appear!
    Her cousin does not explain it; perhaps he cannot.
    Her father; can he? Judging by his embarrassed air, it is doubtful.
    Whispers pass from lip to ear, from group to group. There are surmises many, but none spoken aloud. Even the rude frontiersmen respect the feelings filial as parental and patiently await the é clairci s sement.
    "Mount, Louise! Mr. Yancey will ride home with you."
    The young planter thus pledged was never more ready to redeem himself. He is the one who most envies the supposed happiness of Cassius Calhoun. In his soul he thanks Poindexter for the opportunity.
    "But, father!" protests the young lady, "why should I not wait for you? You are not going to stay here?" Yancey experiences a shock of apprehension. "It is my wish, daughter, that you do as I tell you. Let that be sufficient."
    Yancey's confidence returns. Not quite. He knows enough of that proud spirit to be in doubt whether it may yield obedience even to the parental command.
    It gives way, but with unwillingness ill disguised, even in the presence of that crowd of attentive spectators.
    The two ride off the young planter taking the lead, his charge slowly following the former scarce able to conceal his exultation, the latter her chagrin.
    Yancey is more distressed than displeased, at the melancholy mood of his companion. How could it be otherwise, with such a sorrow at her heart? Of course he ascribes it to that.
    He but half interprets the cause. Were he to look steadfastly into the eyes of Louise Poindexter, he might there detect an expression, in which sorrow for the past is less marked, than fear for the future.
    They ride on through the trees but not beyond ear shot of the people they have left behind them.
    Suddenly a change comes over the countenance of the Creole her features lighting up, as if some thought of joy, or at least of hope, had entered her soul.
    She stops reflectingly, her escort constrained to do the same.
    "Mr. Yancey," says she, after a short pause, "my saddle has got loose. I cannot sit comfortably in it. Have the goodness to look to the girths!"
    Yancey leaps to the ground, delighted with the duty thus imposed upon him.
    He examines the girths. In his opinion they do not want tightening. He does not say so but, undoing the buckle, pulls upon the strap with all his strength.
    "Stay!" says the fair equestrian, "let me alight. You will get better at it then."
    Without waiting for his assistance, she springs from her stirrup, and stands by the side of the mustang.
    The young man continues to tug at the straps, pulling with all the power of his arms.
    After a prolonged struggle, that turns him red in the face, he succeeds in shortening them by a single hole.
    "Now, Miss Poindexter I think it will do."
    "Perhaps it will," rejoins the lady, placing her hand upon the horn of her saddle, and giving it a slight shake. "No doubt it will do now. After all 'tis a pity to start back so soon. I've just arrived here after a fast gallop and my poor Luna has scarce had time to breathe herself. What if we stop here a while, and let her have a little rest? 'Tis cruel to take her back without it."
    "But your father? He seemed desirous you should…"
    "That I should go home at once. That's nothing. 'Twas only to get me out of the way of these rough men that was all. He won't care, so long as I'm out of sight. 'Tis a sweet place, this so cool, under the shade of these fine trees just now that the sun is blazing down upon the prairie. Let us stay a while, and give Luna a rest! We can amuse ourselves by watching the symbols of these beautiful silver fish in the stream. Look there, Mr. Yancey! What pretty creatures they are!" The young planter begins to feel flattered. Why should his fair companion wish to linger there with him? Why wish to watch the iodons, engaged in their aquatic cotillion, amorous at that time of the year?
    He conjectures a reply conformable to his own inclinations.
    His compliance is easily obtained.
    "Miss Poindexter," says he," it is for you to command me. I am but too happy to stay here, as long as you wish it."
    "Only till Luna is rested. To say the truth, sir, I had scarce got out of the saddle, as the people came up. See! The poor thing is still panting after our long gallop."
    Yancey does not take notice whether the spotted mustang is panting or no. He is but too pleased to comply with the wishes of its rider.
    They stay by the side of the stream.
    He is a little surprised to perceive, that his companion gives, but slight heed, either to the silver fish, or the spotted mustang. He would have liked this all the better, had her attentions been transferred to himself.
    But they are not. He can arrest neither her eye nor her ear. The former seems straying upon vacancy the latter eagerly bent to catch every sound that comes from the clearing.
    Despite his inclinations towards her, he cannot help listening himself. He suspects that a serious scene is there being enacted a trial before Judge Lynch, with a jury of "Regulators."
    Excited talk comes echoing through the tree trunks. There is an earnestness in its accents that tells of some terrible determination.
    Both listen, the lady like some tragic actress, by the side scene of a theatre, waiting for her cue.
    There are speeches in more than one voice as if made by different men then one longer than the rest a harangue.
    Louise recognizes the voice. It is that of her cousin Cassius. It is urgent at times angry, at times argumentative as if persuading his audience to something they are not willing to do.
    His speech comes to an end and immediately after it; there are quick sharp exclamations cries of assent one louder than the rest, of fearful import.
    While listening, Yancey has forgotten the fair creature by his side.
    He is reminded of her presence, by seeing her spring away from the spot, and, with a wild but resolute air, glide towards the jacalé
63. A JURY OF REGULATORS.
    The cry, that had called the young Creole so suddenly from the side of her companion, was the verdict of a jury in whose rude phrase was also included the pronouncing of the sentence.
    The word "hang" was ringing in her ears, as she started away from the spot.
    While pretending to take an interest in the play of the silver fish, her thoughts were upon that scene, of less gentle character, transpiring in front of the jacalé.
    Though the trees hindered her from having a view of the stage, she knew the actors that were on it and could tell by their speeches how the play was progressing.
    About the time of her dismounting, a tableau had been formed that merits a minute description.
    The men, she had left behind, were no longer in scattered groups but drawn together into a crowd, in shape roughly resembling the circumference of a circle.
    Inside it, some half score figures were conspicuous among them the tall form of the Regulator Chief, with three or four of his "marshals." Woodley Poindexter was there, and by his side Cassius Calhoun. These no longer appeared to act with authority, but rather as spectators, or witnesses, in the judicial drama about being enacted.
    Such in reality was the nature of the scene. It was a trial for murder, a trial before Justice Lynch , this grim dignitary being typified in the person of the Regulator Chief with a jury composed of all the people upon the ground all except the prisoners.
    Of these there are two: Maurice Gerald and his man Phelim.
    They are inside the ring, both prostrate upon the grass both fast bound in raw hide ropes, that hinder them from moving hand or foot.
    Even their tongues are not free. Phelim has been cursed and scared into silence while to his master speech is rendered impossible by a piece of stick fastened bitt like between his teeth. It has been done to prevent interruption by the insane ravings, that would otherwise issue from his lips.
    Even the tight drawn thongs cannot keep him in place. Two men, one at each shoulder, with a third seated upon his knees, hold him to the ground. His eyes alone are free to move and these rolling in their sockets glare upon his guards with wild unnatural glances, fearful to encounter.
    Only one of the prisoners is arraigned on the capital charge; the other is but doubtfully regarded as an accomplice.
    The servant alone has been examined, asked to confess all he knows, and what he has to say for himself. It is no use putting questions to his master.
    Phelim has told his tale too strange to be credited though the strangest part of it that relating to his having seen a horseman without a head is looked upon as the least improbable!
    He cannot explain it and his story but strengthens the suspicion already aroused that the spectral apparition is a part of the scheme of murder!
    "All stuff, his tales about tiger fights and Indians!" say those to whom he has been imparting them. "A pack of lies, contrived to mislead us nothing else."
    The trial has lasted scarce ten minutes and yet the jury has come to their conclusion.
    In the minds of most already predisposed to it, there is a full conviction that Henry Poindexter is a dead man, and that Maurice Gerald is answerable for his death.
    Every circumstance already known has been reconsidered while to these have been added the new facts discovered at the jacalé the ugliest of which is the finding of the cloak and hat.
    The explanations given by the Galwegian, confused and incongruous, carry no credit. Why should they? They are the inventions of an accomplice.
    There are some who will scarce stay to hear them some who impatiently cry out, "Let the murderer be hanged!"
    As if this verdict had been anticipated, a rope lies ready upon the ground, with a noose at its end. It is only a lasso but for the purpose Calcraft could not produce a more perfect piece of cord.
    A sycamore standing near offers a horizontal limb good enough for a gallows.
    The vote is taken viv i d voce.
    Eighty out of the hundred jurors express their opinion that Maurice Gerald must die. His hour appears to have come.
    And yet the sentence is not carried into execution. The rope is suffered to lie guileless on the grass. No one seems willing to lay hold of it!
    Why that hanging back, as if the thong of horse hides was a venomous snake, that none dares to touch?
    The majority, the plurality, to use a true Western word has pronounced the sentence of death, some strengthening it with rude, even blasphemous, speech. Why is it not carried out?
    Why? For want of that unanimity, that stimulates to immediate action for want of the proofs to produce it.
    There is a minority not satisfied that with less noise, but equally earnest emphasis, have answered "No."
    It is this that has caused a suspension of the violent proceedings.
    Among this minority is Judge Lynch himself, Sam Manly, the Chief of the Regulators. He has not yet passed sentence or even signified his acceptance of the acclamatory verdict.
    "Fellow citizens!" cries he, as soon as he has an opportunity of making himself heard, "I'm of the opinion, that there's a doubt in this case" and I reckon we ought to give the accused the benefit of it, that is, till he be able to say his own say about it. It's no use questioning him now, as ye all see. We have him tight and fast and there's not much chance of his getting clear if guilty. Therefore, I move we postpone the trial, till…"
    "What's the use of postponing it?" interrupts a voice already loud for the prosecution, and which can be distinguished as that of Cassius Calhoun. "What's the use, Sam Manly? It's all very well for you to talk that way, but if you had a friend foully murdered, I won't say cousin, but a son, a brother you might not be so soft about it. What more do you want to show that the skunk 's guilty? Further proofs?"
    "That's just what we want, Captain Calhoun."
    "Can you give them, Misther Cassius Calhoun?" inquires a voice from the outside circle, with a strong Irish accent.
    "Perhaps I can."
    "Let's have them, then!"
    "God knows you've had evidence enough. A jury of his own stupid countrymen…"
    "Bar that appellation!" shouts the man, who has demanded the additional evidence. "Just remember, Misther Calhoon, ye're in Texas, and not Mississippi. Bear that in mind, or ye may run your tongue into trouble, sharp as it is."
    "I don't mean to offend any one," says Calhoun, backing out of the dilemma into which his Irish antipathies had led him; "even an Englishman, if there's one here."
    "Thare ye're welcome, go on!" cries the mollified Milesian.
    "Well, then, as I was saying, there's been evidence enough and more than enough, in my opinion. But if you want more, I can give it."
    "Give it! Give it!" cry a score of responding voices that keep up the demand, while Calhoun seems to hesitate.
    "Gentlemen!" says he, squaring himself to the crowd, as if for a speech, "what I've got to say now I could have told you long ago. But I didn't think it was needed. You all know what's happened between this man and myself and I had no wish to be thought revengeful. I'm not and if it wasn't that I'm sure he has done the deed, sure as the head's on my body…"
    Calhoun speaks stammering, seeing that the phrase, involuntarily escaping from his lips, has produced a strange effect upon his auditory as it has upon himself.
    "If not sure I should still say nothing of what I've seen, or rather heard for it was in the night, and I saw nothing."
    "What did you hear, Mr. Calhoun?" demands the Regulator Chief, resuming his judicial demeanor, for a time forgotten in the confusion of voting the verdict. "Your quarrel with the prisoner, of which I believe everybody has heard, can have nothing to do with your testimony here. Nobody 's going to accuse you of false swearing on that account. Please proceed, sir. What did you hear? And where, and when, did you hear it?"
    "To begin, then, with the time. It was the night my cousin was missing though, of course, we didn't miss him till the morning. Last Tuesday night."
    "Tuesday night. Well?"
    "I'd turned in myself and thought Henry had done the same. But what with the heat, and the infernal mosquitoes, I couldn't get any sleep.
    "I started up again; lit a cigar and, after smoking it awhile in the room, I thought of taking a turn upon the top of the house."
    "You know the old hacienda has a flat roof, I suppose? Well, I went up there to get cool and continued to pull away at the weed."
    "It must have been then about midnight, or maybe a little earlier. I can't toll for I'd been tossing about on my bed, and took no note of the time."
    "Just as I had smoked to the end of my cigar, and was about to take a second out of my case, I heard voices. There were two of them."
    "They were up the river, as I thought on the other side. They were a good way off, in the direction of the town."
    "I mightn't have been able to distinguish them, or tell one from the other, if they'd been talking in the ordinary way. But they weren't. There was loud angry talk and I could tell that two men were quarrelling.
    "I supposed it was some drunken rowdies, going home from Oberdoffer's tavern, and I should have thought no more about it. But as I listened, I recognized one of the voices and then the other. The first was my cousin Henry's the second that of the man who is there, the man who has murdered him."
    "Please proceed, Mr. Calhoun! Let us hear the whole of the evidence you have promised to produce. It will be time enough then to state your opinions."
    "Well, gentlemen as you may imagine, I was no little surprised at hearing my cousin's voice supposing him asleep in his bed. So sure was I of its being him, that I didn't think of going to his room, to see if he was there. I knew it was his voice and I was quite as sure that the other was that of the horse-catcher. "I thought it uncommonly queer, in Henry being out at such a late hour as he was, never much given to that sort of thing. But out he was. I couldn't be mistaken about that.
    "I listened to catch what the quarrel was about, but though I could distinguish the voices, I couldn't make out anything that was said on either side. What I did hear was Henry calling him by some strong names, as if my cousin had been first insulted and then I heard the Irishman threatening to make him rue it. Each loudly pronounced the other's name and that convinced me about its being them.
    "I should have gone out to see what the trouble was, but I was in my slippers and before I could draw on a pair of boots, it appeared to be all over.
    "I waited for half an hour, for Henry to come home. He didn't come but, as I supposed he had gone back to Oberdoffer's and fallen in with some of the fellows from the Fort, I concluded he might stay there a spell, and I went back to my bed.
    "Now, gentlemen, I've told you all I know. My poor cousin never came back to Casa del Corvo, never more laid his side on a bed, for that we found by going to his room next morning. His bed that night must have been somewhere upon the prairie or in the chapparal and there's the only man who knows where."
    With a wave of his hand the speaker triumphantly indicated the accused whoso wild straining eyes told how unconscious he was of the terrible accusation, or of the vengeful looks with which, from all sides, he was now regarded.
    Calhoun's story was told with a circumstantiality, that went far to produce, conviction of the prisoner's guilt. The concluding speech appeared eloquent of truth, and was followed by a clamorous demand for the execution to proceed.
    "Hang! Hang!" is the cry from fourscore voices.
    The judge himself seems to waver. The minority has been diminished, no longer eighty, out of the hundred, but ninety repeat the cry. The more moderate are overborne by the inundation of vengeful voices.
    The crowd sways to and fro resembling a storm fast increasing to a tempest.
    It soon comes to its height. A ruffian rushes towards the rope. Though none seem to have noticed it, he has parted from the side of Calhoun with whom he has been holding a whispered conversation. One of those "border ruffians" of Southern descent, ever ready by the stake of the philanthropist, or the martyr such as have been late typified, in the military mur derer s of Jamaica, who have disgraced the English name to the limits of all time.
    He lays hold of the lasso, and quickly arranges its loop around the neck of the condemned man alike unconscious of trial and condemnation.
    No one steps forward to oppose the act. The ruffian, bristling with bowie knife and pistols, has it all to himself or, rather, is he assisted by a scoundrel of the same kidney, one of the ci devant guards of the prisoner.
    The spectators stand aside, and look tranquilly upon the proceedings. Most express a mute approval some encouraging the executioners with earnest vociferations of "Up with him! Hang him!"
    A few seem stupefied by surprise, a less number show sympathy, but not one dares to give proof of it, by taking part with the prisoner.
    The rope is around his neck the end with the noose upon it. The other is being swung over the sycamore.
    "Soon must the soul of Maurice Gerald go back to its God!"
64. A SERIES OF INTERLUDES.
    "Soon the soul of Maurice Gerald must go back to its God!"
    It was the thought of every actor in that tragedy among the trees. No one doubted that, in another moment, they would see his body hoisted into the air, and swinging from the branch of the sycamore.
    There was an interlude, not provided for in the programme. A farce was being performed simultaneously and, it might be said, on the same stage. For once the tragedy was more attractive, and the comedy was progressing without spectators.
    Not the less earnest were the actors in it. There were only two: a man and a mare. Phelim was once more re enacting the scenes that had caused surprise to Isidora.
    Engrossed by the arguments of Calhoun by the purposes of vengeance which his story was producing the Regulators only turned their attention to the chief criminal. No one thought of his companion whether he was, or was not, an accomplice. His presence was scarce perceived all eyes being directed with angry intent upon the other.
    Still less was it noticed, when the ruffians sprang forward, and commenced adjusting the rope. The Galwegian was then altogether neglected.
    There appeared an opportunity of escape, and Phelim was not slow to take advantage of it.
    Wriggling himself clear of his fastenings, he crawled off among the legs of the surging crowd.
    No one seemed to see, or care about, his movements. Mad with excitement, they were pressing upon each other the eyes of all turned upward to the gallows tree.
    To have seen Phelim skulking off, it might have been supposed, that he was profiting by the chance offered for escape saving his own life, without thinking of his master.
    It is true, he could have done nothing, and he knew it. He had exhausted his advocacy and any further interference on his part would have been an idle effort, or only to aggravate the accusers. It was but slight disloyalty that he should think of saving himself a mere instinct of self-preservation to which he seemed yielding, as he stole off among the trees. So one would have conjectured.
    But the conjecture would not have done justice to him of Connemara. In his flight the faithful servant had no design to forsake his master, much less leave him to his fate, without making one more effort to effect his delivery from the human bloodhounds who had hold of him. He knew he could do nothing of himself. His hope lay in summoning Zeb Stump, and it was to sound that signal which had proved so effective before that he was now stealing off from the scene, alike of trial and execution.
    On getting beyond the selvedge of the throng, he had glided in among the trees and keeping these between him and the angry crowd, he ran on toward the spot where the old mare still grazed upon her tether.
    The other horses standing "hitched" to the twigs formed a tolerably compact tier all round the edge of the timber. This aided in screening his movements from observation, so that he had arrived by the side of the mare, without being seen by any one.
    Just then he discovered that he had come without the apparatus necessary to carry out his design. The cactus branch had been dropped where he was first captured, and was still kicking about among the feet of his captors. He could not get hold of it, without exposing himself to a fresh seizure, and this would hinder him from effecting the desired end.
    He had no knife no weapon of any kind wherewith he might procure another nopal.
    He paused, in painful uncertainty as to what he should do. Only for an instant. There was no time to be lost. His master's life was in imminent peril, menaced at every moment. No sacrifice would be too great to save him and with this thought the faithful Phelim rushed towards the cactus plant and, seizing one of its spinous branches in his naked hands, wrenched it from the stem.
    His fingers were fearfully lacerated in the act, but what mattered that, when weighed against the life of his beloved master? With equal recklessness he ran up to the mare and, at the risk of being kicked back again, took hold of her tail, and once more applied the instrument of torture!
    By this time the noose had been adjusted around the mustanger's neck, carefully adjusted to avoid fluke or failure. The other end, leading over the limb of the tree, was held in hand by the brace of bearded bullies whose fingers appeared itching to pull upon it. In their eyes and attitudes was an air of deadly determination. They only waited for the word.
    Not that any one had the right to pronounce it. And just for this reason was it delayed. No one seemed willing to take the responsibility of giving that signal, which was to send a fellow creature to his long account. Criminal as they might regard him, murderer as they believed him to be, all shied from doing the sheriff's duty. Even Calhoun instinctively held back.
    It was not for the want of will. There was no lack of that on the part of the ex-officer, or among the Regulators. They showed no sign of retreating from the step they had taken. The pause was simply owing to the informality of the proceedings. It was but the lull in the storm that precedes the grand crash.
    It was a moment of deep solemnity every one silent as the tomb. They were in the presence of death, and knew it, death in its most hideous shape, and darkest guise. Most of them felt that they were abetting it. All believed it to be nigh.
    With hushed voice, and hindered gesture, they stood rigid as the tree trunks around them. Surely the crisis had come?
    It had but not that crisis by everybody expected, by themselves decreed. Instead of seeing Maurice Gerald jerked into the air, far different was the spectacle they were called upon to witness, one so ludicrous as for a time to interrupt the solemnity of the scene, and cause a suspension of the harsh proceedings.
    The old mare that they knew to be Zeb Stump's appeared to have gone suddenly mad. She had commenced dancing over the sward, flinging her heels high into the air, and screaming with all her might. She had given the cue to the hundred horses that stood tied to the trees and all of them had commenced imitating her wild capers, while loudly responding to her screams!
    Enchantment could scarce have produced a quicker transformation than occurred in the tableau formed in front of the jacalé hut. Not only was the execution suspended, but all other proceedings that regarded the condemned captive.
    Nor was the change of a comical character. On the contrary, it was accompanied by looks of alarm, and cries of consternation!
    The Regulators rushed to their arms some towards their horses.
    "Indians!" was the exclamation upon every lip, though unheard through the din. Nought but the coming of Comanches could have caused such a commotion threatening to result in a stampede of the troop!
    For a time men ran shouting over the little lawn, or stood silent with scared countenances.
    Most having secured their horses, cowered behind them using them by way of shield against the chances of an Indian arrow.
    There were but few upon the ground, accustomed to such prairie escapades and the fears of the many were exaggerated by their inexperience to the extreme of terror.
    It continued, till their steeds, all caught up, had ceased their wild whighering and only one was heard the wretched creature that had given them the cue.
    Then was discovered the true cause of the alarm as also that the Connemara man had stolen off.
    Fortunate for Phelim he had shown the good sense to betake himself to the bushes. Only by concealment had he saved his skin for his life was now worth scarce so much as that of his master.
    A score of rifles were clutched with angry energy, their muzzles brought to bear upon the old mare.
    But before any of them could be discharged, a man standing near threw his lasso around her neck, and choked her into silence.
    Tranquility is restored, and along with it a resumption of the deadly design. The Regulators are still in the same temper.
    The ludicrous incident, whilst perplexing, has not provoked their mirth, but the contrary.
    Some feel shame at the sorry figure they have cut, in the face of a false alarm while others are chafed at the interruption of the solemn ceremonial.
    They return to it with increased vindictiveness as proved by their oaths, and angry exclamations.
    Once more the vengeful circle closes around the condemned the terrible tableau is reconstructed.
    Once more the ruffians lay hold of the rope and for the second time every one is impressed with the solemn thought
    "Soon must the soul of Maurice Gerald go back to its God!"
    Thank heaven, there is another interruption to that stern ceremonial of death.
    How unlike to death is that bright form flitting under the shadows, flashing out into the open sunlight.
    "A woman! A beautiful woman!"
    'Tis only a silent thought for no one essays to speak. They stand rigid as ever, but with strangely altered looks. Even the rudest of them respect the presence of that fair intruder. There is submission in their attitude, as if from a consciousness of guilt.
    Like a meteor she passes through their midst glides on without giving a glance on either side without speech, without cry till she stoops over the condemned man, still lying gagged upon the grass.
    With a quick move she lays hold of the lasso which the two hangmen, taken by surprise, have let loose.
    Grasping it with both her hands, she jerks it from theirs.
    "Texans! Cowards!" she cries, casting a scornful look upon the crowd. "Shame! Shame!"
    They cower under the stinging reproach.
    She continues.
    "A trial, indeed! A fair trial! The accused without counsel, condemned without being heard! And this you call justice? Texan justice? My scorn upon you not men, but murderers!"
    "What means this?" shouts Poindexter, rushing up, and seizing his daughter by the arm. "You are mad Loo, mad! How come you to be here? Did I not tell you to go home? Away this instant away and do not interfere with what does not concern you!"
    "Father, it does concern me!"
    "How? How? Oh true as a sister! This man is the murderer of your brother."
    "I will not, cannot believe it. Never, never! There was no motive. O men! If you be men, do not act like savages. Give him a fair trial, and then… then…"
    "He's had a fair trial," calls one from the crowd, who seems to speak from instigation, "Ne'er a doubt about his being guilty. It's him that's killed your brother, and nobody else. And it don't look well, Miss Poindexter excuse me for saying it; but it don't look just the thing, that you should be trying to screen him from his deservings."
    "No, that it don't," chime in several voices.
    "Justice must take its course!" shouts one, in the hackneyed phrase of the law courts.
    "It must! It must!" echoes the chorus.
    "We are sorry to disoblige you miss, but we must request you to leave. Mr. Poindexter, you'd do well to take your daughter away."
    "Come, Loo! 'Tis not the place for you. You must come away. You refuse! Good God! My daughter do you mean to disobey me? Here, Cash take hold of her arm, and conduct her from the spot. If you refuse to go willingly, we must use force you Loo. A good girl now. Do as I tell you. Go! Go!"
    "No, father, I will not! I shall not till you have promised, till these men promise."
    "We can't promise you anything; miss however much we might like it. It ain't a question for women, no how. There's been a crime committed a murder, as ye yourself know. There must be no cheating of justice. There's no mercy for a murderer!"
    "No mercy!" echoes a score of angry voices. "Let him be hanged, hanged, hanged!"
    The Regulators are no longer restrained by the fair presence.
    Perhaps it has, but hastened the fatal moment. The soul of Cassius Calhoun is not the only one in that crowd stirred by the spirit of envy. The horse hunter is now hated for his supposed good fortune.
    In the tumult of revengeful passion, all gallantry is forgotten, that very virtue for which the Texan is distinguished.
    The lady is led aside, dragged rather than led, by her cousin and at the command of her father. She struggles in the hated arms that hold her, wildly weeping, loudly protesting against the act of inhumanity.
    "Monsters! Murderers!" are the phrases that fall from her lips.
    Her struggles are resisted her speeches unheeded. She is borne back beyond the confines of the crowd beyond the hope of giving help to him, for whom she is willing to lay down her life!
    Bitter are the speeches Calhoun is constrained to hear heartbreaking the words now showered upon him. Better for him he had not taken hold of her.
    It scarce consoles him, that certainty of revenge. His rival will soon be no more, but what matters it? The fair form writhing in his grasp, can never be consentingly embraced. He may kill the hero of her heart, but not conquer for himself its most feeble affection!
65. STILL ANOTHER INTERLUDE.
    For a third time is the tableau reconstructed; spectators and actors in the dread drama taking their places as before.
    The lasso is once more passed over the limb, the same two scoundrels taking hold of its loose end, this time drawing it towards them till it becomes taut.
    For the third time arises the reflection:
    "Soon must the soul of Maurice Gerald go back to its God!"
    Now nearer than ever, does the unfortunate man seem to his end. Even love has proved powerless to save him! What power on earth can be appealed to after this? None likely to avail.
    But there appears no chance of succour, no time for it. There is no mercy in the stern looks of the Regulators only impatience. The hangmen, too, appear in a hurry as if they were in dread of another interruption. They manipulate the rope with the ability of experienced executioners. The physiognomy of either would give color to the assumption, that they had been accustomed to the calling.
    In less than sixty seconds they shall have finished the "job."
    "Now then, Bill! Are ye ready?" shouts one to the other, by the question proclaiming, that they no longer intend to wait for the word.
    "All right!" responds Bill. "Up with the son of a skunk! Up with him!"
    There is a pull upon the rope, but not sufficient to raise the body into an erect position. It tightens around the neck lifts the head a little from the ground, but nothing more!
    Only one of the hangmen has given his strength to the pull.
    "Haul, damn you!" cries Bill, astonished at the inaction of his assistant. "Why the hell don't you haul?"
    Bill's back is turned towards an intruder that, seen by the other, has hindered him from lending a hand. He stands as if suddenly transformed into stone!
    "Come!" continues the chief executioner. "Let's go again, both together. Yee up! Up with him!"
    " No ye don't." calls out a voice in the tones of a stentor; while a man of colossal frame, carrying a six foot rifle, is seen rushing out from among the trees, in strides that bring him almost instantly into the thick of the crowd.
    "No ye don't!" he repeats, stopping over the prostrate body, and bringing his long rifle to bear upon the ruffians of the rope. "Not yet a bit, as this coon kalkerlates. You, Bill Griffin pull that piece o' pleeted hoss-hair but the eighth o' an inch tighter, and ye'll git a blue pill in yer stummuk as won't agree wi' ye. Drop the rope, durn ye! Drop it!"
    The screaming of Zeb Stump's mare scarce created a more sudden diversion, than the appearance of Zeb himself for it was he, who had hurried upon the ground.
    He was known to nearly all present, respected by most and feared by many.
    Among the last were Bill Griffin, and his fellow rope holder. No longer holding it for at the command to drop it, yielding to a quick perception of danger, both had let go and the lasso lay loose along the sward.
    "What durned tom-foolery's this, boys?" continues the colossus, addressing himself to the crowd, still speechless from surprise. "Ye don't mean hangin', do ye?"
    "We do," answers a stern voice.
    "And why not?" asks another.
    "Why not! Ye'd hang a fellur citizen 'ithout trial, wud ye?"
    "Not much of a fellow citizen, so far as that goes. Besides, he's had a trial, a fair trial."
    "Indeed. A human critter to be condem ned wi' his brain in a state o' delirium! Sent out o' the world 'ithout knowin that he's in it! Ye call that a fair trial, do ye?"
    "What matters, if we know he's guilty? We're all satisfied about that."
    "The hell ye air! Wagh! I aint goin' to waste words wi' sech as you, Jim Stoddars. But for you, Sam Manly, an' yourself, Mister Peintdexter shurly ye aint agreed to this hyur proceeding which, in my opeenyun, 'ud be neyther more nor less 'n murder?"
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