Richard Hurdis, volume 2
by William Gilmore Simms
I will recall
Some facts of ancient date: he must remember
When on Cithæron we together fed
Our several flocks.
Villain, I know thou com'st to murder me.
—— Marlowe——Edward the Second.
Matthew Webber was no trifler. Though represented by his comrades,
as we have seen in a previous dialogue, as unwilling to shed blood, it
may be added that his unwillingness did not arise from any scruples of
humanity which are always unnecessary to the profession of the outlaw.
He was governed entirely by a selfish policy, which calmly deliberated
upon its work of evil, and chose that course which seemed to promise
the greatest return of profit with the greatest security. To avoid
bloodshed was simply to avoid one great agent of detection. Hence his
forbearance. To the moral of the matter none could have been more
thoroughly indifferent. We beheld him giving instructions toan
associate the moment that William Carrington fell by an unknown hand,
to pursue the murderer, not with a view to his punishment, but with a
desire to secure a prompt associate. It was not the wish of the
fraternity of robbers, herding on the Choctaw frontier, that any body
should take up the trade in that region, of which they desired the
monopoly. When the fellow, thus instructed, had gone, Webber with his
remaining associates at once proceeded to examine the body, which was
lifeless when they reached it. They wasted no time in idle wonder, and
gave but a single glance at the wound, which they saw was inflicted by
a rifle bullet; then lifting the inanimate form into the wood, they
rifled it of the large sum of money which Carrington had concealed in
his bosom, and taking it into a little crevice in the hill-side which
could not hide it, they threw it down indifferently, trusting to the
wolves, of which that neighbourhood had numerous herds, to remove it in
due season. Poor youth! with such a heart——so noble, so brave——with
affections so warm, and hopes so full of promise, to be shot down in
the sun-light——in the bloom of manhood——by an obscure ruffian, and be
denied a grave!
When they had possessed themselves of the money, the amount of
which gave them no small pleasure, they put spurs to their horses and
rode back with as great speed as they had used in the pursuit. It was
necessary that they should do so, and hasten their flight from the spot
where their evil doings had been begun. My horse had continued on his
course with a speed which had been increased by his alarm and
unrestraint after the fall of his rider; and Webber saw with no small
anxiety that he was in the direct road to Colonel Grafton's, to which
place he did not doubt that he would return, having been so lately
lodged there. The scoundrels who were guarding me had, in the mean
time, become greatly disquieted by their apprehensions at the delay of
the pursuers, and not small was their relief when they saw them safe,
and felt themselves once more secure in their united strength. They
consulted together apart, and frequently pointed to me where I lay, on
my back, and bound rigidly to an exposed joist of the floor. What had
taken place in the pursuit, they did not reveal in my hearing, and
bitter indeed were my feelings as I lay in this doubly evil state of
incapacity and suspense. The doubtfulness of my own, was not less a
subject of concern in my mind than was his fate——for my strongest
impression with regard to Carrington was, that he had escaped in safety
to Grafton's. All then that I had to fear might be the present rage of
my captors. They might sacrifice me before relief could come. I strove
not to think of this——still less was I willing that the villains should
see that I fearedthem——yet, to confess a truth, it required no small
effort to conceal the apprehensions which I could not subdue, and my
success, with all my efforts, was partial only. They must have beheld
the struggle of my bosom in my face. But of this they seemed to take no
heed. They were too much interested in their own situation and
apprehensions, to give much regard to mine. They consulted together
earnestly with the air of men who had need of haste in their
resolutions. "We must be off at once," I heard Webber say at one
time——"there will be no help for us now if he gets to Grafton's." This
last sentence brought warmth and assurance to my heart, I did not now
doubt of my friend's safety. "But this lark?" said Geoffrey——and I saw
from the quick malignant glance which my gambler acquaintance bestowed
upon me when these words were uttered, that it was of me they spoke.
The latter bent forward to hear the resolve of Webber——whose word here
seemed to be law——with an air of anxiety not less great than that which
I might have shown myself. The answer of Webber did not seem to satisfy
"What of him?" said the latter. "Shall we stretch him?" was the
farther inquiry of Geoffrey—— an equivocal phrase which I suppose
coolly meant "shall we cut his throat?"
"Pshaw——no!" replied the other. "What's the good of it?——let the
fellow lie where he is and cool himself. By to-morrow, somebody will
cut his strings, and help him turn over. He will get hungry in the mean
time, for he didn't eat a hearty dinner——all his own fault. Come——let
Ten minutes had not elapsed when they were all ready, and I saw
them prepare to depart, leaving me as I lay, bound to the floor by my
body and arms, and capable of moving my legs only. Webber took leave of
me with the composure of one who has nothing with which to reproach
"Grafton will be here after a while," said he, "and set you free.
You may tell him I'm sorry, but it don't suit me to wait for him now.
He will see me, however, at his daughter's marriage. Good bye."
The man called Geoffrey said something to me in a similar spirit;
the gambler grinned only upon me as he passed, but with such an
expression of malice in his visage that, though I did not fear the
reptile, it yet made me shudder to behold him. In a few moments more I
was left alone to muse over my disconsolate condition. I heard the
trampling of their horses die away in the distance, and such was the
cheerlessness of my situation that I positively seemed to be chilled by
their departure. This, however, was but the feeling of the moment, and
I was allowed a brief time for its indulgence. To mysurprise the
gambler reappeared when I had thought him with the rest of his
companions full a half mile off, and the increased malignity embodied
and looking green in his visage, left me little doubts as to the motive
which had made him lag behind. If I had doubts at the beginning, he did
not suffer me to entertain them long. His words removed them.
"And now," he said, "my brave fellow, the time is come for your
quittance. You have had the word of me long enough. You are in my
power. What have you to say for yourself?"
"What should I say?" was my ready and indignant reply. Truly and
miserably did I feel at the conviction, that I was indeed in the power
and at the mercy of this vile wretch——but if worlds had depended upon
it, I could not have answered him other than in language of the most
"Ha! do you not understand me?" he cried. "Your life, I tell you,
is in my power! The only man in the world who could have kept me from
taking it, is Mat Webber, and he's out of reach and hearing. It is but
a blow, and with all your pride and insolence I let your blood out upon
this floor. What do you say that I should not?——what prayer will you
make to me that I should spare your life?"
The fellow leaned upon the table which, occupying the middle of the
floor, stood between him andthe place where I lay. My feet were half
under it. He leaned over it, and shook at me a long knife—— bared,
ready for the stroke——in sundry savage movements. I gave him look for
look, and a full defiance for all his threatenings.
"Prayer to you!" I exclaimed——"that were putting myself indeed
within your power. You may stab——I cannot help myself——but you shall
only murder, wretch——you shall have no triumph;" and, grown utterly
reckless as I believed there was no hope of escape and that I must die,
I lifted my feet, and thrusting them with all my might against the
table, I sent it forward with such force as to hurl it upon him, when
both came to the floor together. The fellow was not much hurt, and a
few moments sufficed for his extrication. With accumulated fury, that
foamed but did not speak, he was about to rush upon me, when a sudden
footstep behind him drew all his attention to the new comer. Never
could I have believed, till then, that fear could so suddenly succeed
to rage in any bosom. The villain grew white as a sheet the moment that
he heard the sound and saw the person. It was Webber who looked upon
him with the eye of a master.
"You're a pretty fellow! a'nt you? So you kept behind for this?
Geoffrey warned me to expect it, as soon as I found you missing; and
it's well I got back in time. You are a fool, Bully boy, and you'llbe
stretched for it. Mount before me, and if you're wise, forget you've
ever seen this chap. Come—— begone, I say——no word——not one——Grafton's
under way already."
The assassin was actually incapable of answer. Certainly he made
none. The main villain of this precious set must have seen a various
life of service. The whole train of proceedings which he had this day
witnessed——the first assault upon William and myself——the pursuit of
the former——his death——and the subsequent attempt of my enemy upon my
person, all seemed to awaken in him but little emotion. There was but
one subject upon which he could not preserve his temper, and that was
his old employer, Colonel Grafton——but with regard to all others, his
selfishness had schooled him successfully to suffer no feeling or
passion to interfere in the slightest degree with what might be his
prevailing policy. With the inflexibility of a superior, suspicious of
his slave, he waited until he saw my enemy mount and set forth, then
nodding to me with the freedom of an old friend, he left the entrance,
and I was once more left alone.
When Lycabas his Athis thus beheld
How was his friendly heart with sorrow fill'd!
A youth so noble, to his soul so dear,
To see his shapeless look——his dying groans to hear.
Hour after hour rolled on, night was approaching, and yet no aid
came. What could this mean? What had become of my friend? Had he grown
indifferent to my fate——did he fear to encounter a second time with the
wretches who had pursued him for his life? I dismissed this doubt as
soon as it was suggested to my mind; but I conceived any but the true
occasion for his delay. I knew William too well to fear that he would
desert me. I knew that he had no pusillanimous fears to deter him from
a proper risk. He had probably not been able to get assistance readily,
and to come without an adequate force, was to commit a rashness and
incur a danger, without any corresponding advantage. I tried to solace
myself with the conviction that he would not be much longer absent, but
how cheerless did I feel the while. The very inability underwhich I
laboured to do any thing for myself, was, to a mind and body like
mine——accustomed to do for themselves always——enough to discourage the
hope of being effectually relieved by others. The approach of night did
not diminish my apprehensions. The sun had now set, and there was a
brief interval of dusk and silence between its disappearance and the
rising of the moon, which was particularly gloomy. How dreadfully
active my imagination grew in that interval, and what effect it had
upon my nerves, I almost shame to say; but I felt a degree of fear in
that brief space of time, which I had never suffered before, and trust,
that, in no situation, I shall ever be compelled to endure again. A
state of conscious helplessness suggests a thousand fears and fancies
that could not be forced upon the mind under other circumstances. Forms
of danger that would seem impossible even in our dreams, become, at
such a period, unquestionable foes; and the mind losing its balance,
after a brief contest, foregoes all examination of the danger and
yields up the contest in utter imbecility. But now the moon rose to
cheer me. Light is always cheerful. I could not see her orb where I
lay, but her smiles, like those of some benign and blessed spirit,
streamed through the thousand cracks and openings of the log hovel
which was now a prison as secure to keep me as the donjon of the feudal
baron. Her beams fellaround me in little spots that dimpled the whole
apartment with shining and bright glances. Yet even this cheering
spectacle impressed me with added disquiet when I found myself so
securely fastened to the floor, as not to be able with all my writhings
to avoid the occasional rays that fell upon my face and eyes. How
bitterly did this make me feel my incapacity——and when, at moments, I
heard the faint but protracted bay of the wolf in his leafy den not far
off, which I did as soon as the night set in, I could not doubt that he
would soon make his appearance in the deserted hovel; and I, who could
not shelter my face from the light of the moon, had still fewer hopes
of being able to protect myself from him. With every sound in the
neighbouring thickets I imagined him approaching, under the instinct of
a scent as keen as that of the vulture, to his bloody feast; and I
vainly asked myself what I should do in my defence, when his gaunt and
shaggy body was stretched out upon my own, and his slobbering snout was
thrust into my face. I strove, but could not lift an arm——I could only
shout in the hope to scare him from his prey, and, such was my
conscious impotence, that it struck me as not impossible but that I
might have lost the use of my voice also. Such was the vivid force of
this childish apprehension in my mind that I actually shouted aloud to
convince myself that it was groundless——I shoutedaloud, and, to my
great joy——without any such hope or expectation——I heard my shouts
returned. Another and another! Never were there sweeter echoes to the
cry for relief. In a few minutes more I was surrounded by a troop——a
half dozen at least——all friends——yet where was William Carrington——the
dearest friend of all! Where? Where? My demand was quickly answered.
Colonel Grafton, who led the company, told his story which was
painfully unsatisfactory. My horse, freed from his rider, had brought
the only intelligence which Colonel Grafton had received. He had seen
nothing of my friend. He was not at home when the horse came to his
gate, and the animal was taken in by a servant. When he did return, he
immediately proceeded to my assistance; though not before calling up a
patrol of such of his neighbours as he could rely upon, to assist him
in an inquiry in which he not only feared foul play, but apprehended an
issue with more than the one villain into whose clutches we had fallen.
I was soon freed from my bonds, but how much more unhappy than I was
before. How puerile had been my selfish apprehensions to those which
now filled my heart when I thought of Carrington. What had been his
fate?——where was he? How icy cold in my bosom did my blood run, as I
mediated these doubts and dreaded the increase of knowledge which I was
yet compelled to seek.
Let me pass over this dreadful interval of doubt, and hurry on to
the palsying conviction of the truth which followed. Our search that
night was unavailing, but the next morning the woods were scoured, and
it was my fortune to be the first to fall upon traces which led me to
the body of my friend. I saw where he had fallen——where the horse had
evidently shyed as the shot was given and the rider fell. The earth was
still smooth where he had lain, for Webber was too much hurried or too
indifferent, to endeavour to remove the marks of the event. It was not
now difficult to find the body. They had not carried it far; and I
removed a clump of bushes which grew over the hollow in which they had
thrown it, and started with a convulsion of horror to find it lying at
my feet. Cold, silent, stiff——there he lay——the friend of my heart;
battered and bruised ——his noble face covered with blood and dust——one
of his eyes protruding from its socket, and the limbs, once so
symmetrical and straight, now contracted and fixed in deformity by the
sudden spasms of death.
All my strength left me as this dreadful spectacle met my eyes. I
sunk down beside it incapable of speech or action. My knees were
weakened——my very soul dead within me. I could only sob and moan, and
my choking utterance might well havemoved the wonder and pity of those
about me, to behold one who seemed otherwise so strong and bold, now
sunk into such a state of woman-like infirmity. Colonel Grafton
condoled with me like a father, but what could he, or any one say to me
in the way of consolation. Who could declare the amount of my own
loss——and yet, what was my loss to hers——the poor girl who waited for
his return? From me she was to hear that he never could return? ——that
he lay cold in his gore——his voice silent——his body mangled——his noble
figure stiffened into deformity. I shivered as with an ague fit when I
remembered that it was from my lips she was to hear all this.
An examination of the body proved two things which struck me with
surprise. It was found that the fatal wound had been received in front,
and that it had been inflicted by a rifle bullet. How to account for
this I knew not. I had seen no rifle among the weapons carried by any
of the outlaws; and even if there had been, how should the shot have
taken effect in front, he flying from them—— evidently in rapid flight
when shot, and they some distance behind him. There was only one way at
that moment to account for this, and that was to suppose that some
associate of the pursuers had either been stationed in front, or had,
opportunely for them, appeared there as he approached the pointwhere he
had fallen. Though still unsatisfactory to me, and perhaps to all, we
were yet compelled, in the absence of all better knowledge, to content
ourselves with a conjecture, which, though plausible enough, did not
content us. I felt that there was some mystery still in the
transaction, and that William had not been slain willingly by the
pursuers. Webber had headed them, and why should he have been so prompt
to murder one, and spare another——ay, even protect him from harm——who
was so completely in his power. There was as little personal hostility
towards William in the mind of Webber as towards me——and yet, the
blood, warmed by pursuit, might have grown too rash for the deliberate
resolve even of one so habitually cool as the master villain on this
Doubts thickened in my mind with every added moment of conjecture,
and at length I strove to think no more upon it. I resolved to do so,
though I soon found my resolution idle. How could I forbear the
thought, when I found it had made my hair gray in that single night.
Either that or my fears had done so, and I fain would believe it was
not the latter. I could think now of nothing else. That mangled body
lay before me whichever way I turned. I saw the ghastly glaze upon the
starting eye that bulged half way from its socket. I saw that mouth
whose smile it had been a pleasure to see,distorted from its natural
shape and smeared with dust and mire. There too was the narrow orifice
through which life had rushed, prayerless perhaps, and oh! with such
terrific abruptness. I thought then of all his ways——his frank, hearty
laugh, his generous spirit, his free bold character, his love of truth,
his friendship, and the sweet heart-ties which had bound him to life
and earth, and warmed him with promising hopes, never to be fulfilled.
That last thought was the pang above all. Poor William ——Poor
Catharine! Little, in the gushing fulness of their united hopes, did
their hearts dream of a destiny like this.
Well! he is dead——
Murdered perhaps! and I am faint, and feel
As if it were no painful thing to die!
With a stunned mind and most miserable feelings, I was almost led
away by Colonel Grafton to his dwelling. For three days I could resolve
on nothing. In that time we committed William to the earth. A quiet
spot under a clump of venerable oaks, which the Colonel had chosen for
his own final resting place, afforded one to my friend. The heavy moss
depended from the trees above him, and the warm sun came to his turf in
subdued glances through the withered leaves. Birds had built their
nests from time immemorial in their boughs, and the constant rabbit
might be seen leaping in the long yellow grasses beneath them when the
dusky shadows of evening were about to fall. The hunter never crept to
this spot to pursue his game of death. The cruel instrument of his
sport was forbidden to sound therein. The place was hallowed to solemn
sleep and to the brooding watchfulness of happyspirits, and in its
quiet round we left the inanimate form of one whose heart had been as
lovely in its performances, as to the eye were the serene shadows of
the spot where we laid him. I envied him the peace which I was sure his
spirit knew, when we put his body out of sight. God help me, for truly
there was little that felt like peace in mine.
For three days, as I said before, I was like one stunned and
deafened. I had no quickness to perceive, nor ability to examine. My
thoughts were a perfect chaos, and continual and crowding images of
death were passing before my eyes. The kind friends with whom I
lingered during this brief but most painful period, did all in their
power to console me. They spared no attentions, they withheld no
consideration, that might have been gratifying to the bruised and
broken spirit. And yet no ministerings could have been more judicious
than were theirs. The work of kindness was never out of place. There
was nothing intrusive in their 'tendance, but a general fitness of
speech and gesture, so far as I perceived them, extended through the
movements of the whole family. Colonel Grafton, with a proper
considerateness, entirely forbore the subject of my loss; his words
were few and well timed; and though they were not directly addressed to
my griefs, their tendency was to administer to them. If his good sense
made him avoid a rude tenting ofthe wound, he did not fall into the
opposite error of seeking to make light of it. His countenance had a
subdued gravity upon it, which softened into sweetness a face in which
benignity and manliness were evenly mingled, elevating and qualifying
one another, and his language was given to subjects belonging to the
general interests of humanity which the mourner might very well apply
to his affliction without being curiously seen to do so. Mrs. Grafton's
cares were no less considerate than his. My mother could not so keenly
have studied my feelings nor so kindly have administered to them.
Julia, too, seemed to grow less shy than usual, and sat down like a
confiding child beside me, bringing me her work to look at, and
unfolding to me the most valued stores of her little library. Sorrow
has no sex, and woman becomes courageous to serve in affliction, the
man whom she would tremble, in prosperity, barely to encounter. Her
lover made his appearance but once during my stay, and remained but a
short time, so that I had her company in several of my sad rambles.
Somehow, I felt my greatest source of consolation in her. It is
probable that we derive strength from the contemplation of a weakness
which is greater than our own. I felt it so with me. The confiding
dependence of this lovely girl——her appeals to my superior information
——taught me at moments to lose sight of my cares:and, perhaps, as she
saw this, with the natural arts of her sex, she became more
confiding——more a child.
At length, I started from my stupor. I grew ashamed of my weakness.
To feel our losses is becoming enough——to yield to them and sink under
their pressure is base and unmanly. I was vexed to think that Colonel
Grafton should have so long beheld me in the feeble attitude of grief.
I was determined to resume my character.
"I must go," I exclaimed; "I must leave you to-morrow, Colonel."
It was thus I addressed him on the evening of the third day after
the family had retired for the night.
"Where will you go?" he asked. The question staggered me. Where was
I to go? Should I return to Marengo? Should I be the one to carry
suffering to the poor girl whom fate had defrauded of her lover? Could
I have strength to speak the words of doom and misery? Impossible! On
my own account I had no reason to return. I had nothing to seek in that
quarter——no hopes to invite my steps——no duty (so I fancied then) to
impel me to retrace a journey begun with so much boldness, and, so far,
pursued with so much ill fortune.
"I will not return," my heart said within me. "I dare not. I cannot
look on Catharine again. It was my pleadings and persuasions, that made
herlover my companion in this fatal adventure, and how can I meet her
eye of reproach? How can I hear her ask——'Where is he?——why have you
not brought him back to me?' Well did I remember her parting
directions——'Take care of one another.' Had I taken care of him? I was
the more prudent, the more thoughtful and suspicious. I knew him to be
careless, frank, free, confiding. Had I taken due care of him? Had I
been as watchful as I should have been? Had I not suffered him
heedlessly to plunge into the toils when a resolute word of mine would
have kept him from them?"
I could not satisfy myself by my answer to these self proposed
questions, and I resolved to go forward.
"In the wilds of Mississippi I will bury myself. The bosom of the
'Nation' shall receive me. I will not look on Marengo again. I will
write to Catharine——I will tell her in a letter what I dare not look
her in the face and speak."
Such was my resolve——a resolve made in my weakness and unworthy of
a noble mind. When I declared it to Colonel Grafton, with the
affectionate interest and freedom of a father, he opposed it.
"Pardon me, my young friend, but are you right in this resolution?
Is it not your duty to go back and declare the circumstances to all
those who are interested in the fate of your friend? It will beexpected
of you. To take any other course will seem to show a consciousness of
error with which you cannot reproach yourself. Suspicion will become
active, and your reluctance, which springs from a natural dislike to
give pain, will be set down to other and far less honourable motives.
Go back, Mr. Hurdis——seek the friends of Mr. Carrington and your own.
Though it wring your heart to tell the cruel story, and rend theirs to
hear it, yet withhold nothing. Take the counsel of one who has seen too
much of the world not to speak with due precaution, and avoid
concealment in all matters of this sort. Suppress nothing——let nothing
that is at all equivocal be coupled with your conduct where it affects
the interests of others. I have never yet known an instance of
departure from duty in which the person did not suffer from such
departure. And it is your duty to relate this matter at large to those
who were connected with your friend."
"But I will write, Colonel Grafton——I will write all and withhold
nothing. My duty to the friends and relatives of William Carrington
cannot call for more."
"Your duty to yourself does. It requires that you should not shrink
from meeting them. Your letter would tell them nothing but bald facts.
They must see you when you give your testimony. They must see that you
feel the pain, that your dutycalls upon you to inflict. When you show
them that, you give them the only consolation which grief ever demands;
you give them sympathy, and their sorrows become lessened as they look
on yours. To this poor maiden, in particular, you owe it."
"Ah! Colonel Grafton, you cannot know the torture which must follow
such an interview. It was I who persuaded him to go on this hapless
journey. She heard me plead with him to go——my arguments convinced him.
She will look on me as the cause of all——she will call me his
"You must bear it all, and bear it with humility and without reply.
If she loved this youth, what is your torture to that which your words
will inflict on her? You have the selfish strength and resources of the
man to uphold you——what has she? Nothing——nothing but the
past.——Phantoms of memory are all that are left to her, and these
torture as often as they soothe. Do not speak then of your sufferings
in comparison with hers. She must, of necessity, be the greatest
sufferer, and you must submit to see her griefs, and, it may be, to
listen to her reproaches. These will fall lightly on your ears when you
can reproach yourself with nothing. If you did not submit to them——if
you fled from the task before you——in place of her reproaches you would
have her suspicions, and your own self rebuke in all future time."
He had put the matter before me in a new light, and, with a sigh, I
changed my purpose, resolving to start for Marengo in the morning.
Meanwhile, let me relate the progress of other parties to this
I've done the deed.
The murderer of William lay close in the thicket after he had done
the deed. That murderer was Ben Pickett, and, as the reader may have
divined already, his victim had perished through mistake. The fatal
cause of this was in his employment of my horse ——a circumstance forced
upon him by the necessities of his flight. Pickett knew the horse and
looked no farther. It was a long shot, from a rising ground above,
where the umbrage was thick, and at such a distance that features were
not clearly distinguishable. The dress of William unfortunately helped
the delusion. It was almost entirely like mine. We had been so
completely associated together for years, that our habits and tastes in
many respects had become assimilated. The murderer, having satisfied
himself——which he did at a glance——that the horse was mine, it was the
prompt conclusion of his mind that I was the rider. Crime is seldom
deliberate——the mere act I mean——the determinationmay be deliberately
enough made; but the blow is most usually given in haste, as if the
criminal dreaded that he might shrink from an act already resolved
upon. Pickett did not trust himself to look a second time before
pulling trigger. Had he suffered the rider to advance ten paces more,
he would have withdrawn the sight. The courage of man is never certain
but when he is doing what he feels to be right. The wrong doer may be
desperate and furious, but he has no composed bearing. Pickett was of
this sort. He shot almost instantly after seeing the horse. He was
about to come forward when he saw the rider tumble; but the sudden
approach of the pursuers whose forms had been concealed by the narrow
and enclosed "blind" through which they passed, compelled him to resume
his position, and remain quiet. He saw them take charge of the body,
but had little idea that their aim, like his own, had been vulturous.
He saw them busy about the prey which his blow had struck down, but
concluded that they were friends seeking to succour and to save. Under
any circumstances his hope of plunder was now cut off, and he silently
withdrew into the forest, where his horse had been hidden, and
hurriedly remounting commenced his return to Marengo. But an eye was
upon him that never lost sight of him. The keen hunter that Matthew
Webber had set upon his path had found his track, andpursued it with
the unerring scent of the blood hound. More than once the pursuer could
have shot down the fugitive with a weapon as little anticipated, and as
unerring as that which he himself had employed; but he had no purpose
of this sort in view. He silently followed on——keeping close watch upon
every movement, yet never suffering himself to be seen. When the
murderer paused by the way side, he halted also; when he sped towards
evening, he too relaxed his reins; and he drew them up finally only,
when he beheld the former, with an audacity which he never showed while
I dwelt in Marengo, present himself at the entrance of my father's
plantation, and request to see my brother. The pursuer paused also at
this moment, and entering a little but dense wood on one side of the
road, quietly dismounted from his horse which he fastened in the
deepest thicket, and, under cover of the under brush, crept forward as
nearly as he could, to the place where Pickett waited, without
incurring any risk of detection.
It was not long before John Hurdis came to the gate, and his coward
soul made its appearance in his face, the moment that he saw his
confederate. His lips grew livid and quivered——his cheeks were whiter
than his shirt, and his voice so feeble, when he attempted to speak,
that he could only articulateat all by uttering himself with vehemency
"Ah, Pickett, that you?——well! what?"
The murderer had not alighted from his horse, and he now simply
bent forward to the other, as he half whispered——
"It's all fixed, 'Squire. The nail's clinched. You can take the
road now when you please, and find nothing to trip you."
"Ha! but you do not mean it, Ben?——It is not as you say?——You have
not done it? Are you sure? Did you see?"
"It's done——I tell you, as sure's a gun."
"He's dead then?" said John Hurdis in a husky whisper——"Richard
Hurdis is dead you say?" and he tottered forward to the rider with a
countenance in which fear and eagerness were so mingled as to produce
an unquiet shrinking even in the bosom of his confederate.
"I've said it, 'Squire, and I'll say it again to please you. I had
dead aim on his button——just here, (he laid his hand on his
breast)——and I saw him tumble and come down all in a heap like a bag of
feathers. There's no doctors can do him good now, I tell you. He's laid
up so that they won't take him down again——nobody. You can go to sleep
now when you please."
The greater felon of the two shrank back as he heard these words,
and covered his face with his hands. He seemed scarce able to stand,
and leaned against the posts of the gate for his support. A sudden
shivering came over him, and when that passed off, he laughed brokenly
as if with a slight convulsion, and the corners of his mouth were
twitched until the tears started in his eyes. To what particular
feeling, whether of remorse or satisfaction, he owed these emotions, it
would be difficult for me to say, as it was certainly impossible for
his comrade to conceive. Pickett looked on with wondering, and was half
inclined to doubt whether his proprietor was not out of his wits. But a
few moments reassured him as John Hurdis again came forward. His tones
were more composed, though still unsubdued, when he addressed him: and,
perhaps, something more of human apprehension dwelt upon his
"You have told me, Ben Pickett, but I am not certain. Richard
Hurdis was a strong man——he wouldn't die easily. He would fight——he
would strike to the last. How could you stand against him? Why, Ben, he
would crush you with a blow of his fist. He was monstrous strong."
"Why, 'Squire, what are you talking about? Dick Hurdis was strong,
I know, and stout hearted. He would hold on 'till his teeth met, for
there was no scare in him. But that's nothing to the matternow, for you
see there was no fight at all. The rifle did the business——long shot
and steady aim—— so, you see, all his strength went for nothing."
"But how could he let you trap him, Ben Pickett? Richard was
suspicious_and always on the watch. He wouldn't fall easily into trap.
There must be some mistake, Ben——some mistake. You're only joking with
me, Ben——you have not found him? he was too much ahead of you, and got
off——well——it's just as well you let him go——I don't care——indeed, I'm
almost glad you didn't reach him. He's in the 'Nation' I suppose by
"But I did reach him, 'Squire," replied the other, not exactly
knowing how to account for the purposeless tenor of John Hurdis's
speech, and wondering much at the unlooked for relenting of purpose
which it implied. There was something in this last sentence which
annoyed Pickett as much as it surprised him. It seemed to imply that
his employer might not be altogether satisfied with him when he became
persuaded of the truth of what he said. He hastened therefore to
reiterate his story.
"He'll never get nearer to the 'Nation' than he is now. I tell you,
'Squire, I come upon him on a by-road leading out from Tuscaloosa, that
run along among a range of hills where I kept. There was a double hill
close by, and the road run through it——it was a dark road. I tracked
him and Bill Carringtontwice over the ground. They had business farther
down with a man named Webber, and they stopt all night with a Colonel
Grafton. I got from one of his negroes all about it. Well, I watched
when he was to come back. When I heard them making tracks, I put myself
in the bush, clear ahead, in a place where they couldn't come upon me
till I was clean out of reach. Soon he came running like mad, then I
give it him, and down he come, I tell you, like a miller's bag struck
all in a heap."
"But that didn't kill him? He was only hurt? You're not sure, Ben,
that he's dead? You didn't look at him closely?"
"No——dickens——they were too hard upon me for that. But I saw where
I must hit him, and I saw him tumble."
"Who were upon you?" demanded Hurdis.
"Why, Bill Carrington, and the man he went to see, I suppose. I
didn't stop to look, for, just as I sprawled him out, they came from
the road behind him, and I saw no more. You didn't tell me that Bill
Carrington was going with him."
"No——I wasn't certain. I didn't know. But didn't Carrington come
after you, when you shot Richard?"
"I reckon he was too much frightened——he jumped down beside the
body, and that was all I stopped to see. I made off, and fetched a
compassthrough the woods that brought me out with dry feet into another
road. Then I kept on without stopping, and that's all I can tell you.'
"It was strange Bill Carrington didn't take after you——he's not a
man to be frightened easily?"
"He didn't though."
"But you're not sure, Ben, after all? Perhaps you've only hurt him?
You have not killed him I think? It's a hard thing to shoot certain at
a great distance——you were far off you say?"
"A hundred yards or so, and that's nothing being down hill too."
"Richard was a tough fellow."
"Tough or not, I tell you, 'Squire, he'll never trouble you again.
It's all over with him. They've got him under ground before this
time——I know by the sort of fall he gave that he hadn't any life left——
he didn't know what hurt him."
John Hurdis seemed convinced at last.
"And yet to think, Ben, that a man so strong as Richard should die
so sudden? It was only four days ago that he had his hand on my
throat——he had me down upon the ground——he shook me like a feather. And
he spoke with a voice that went through me. I was like an infant in his
hands—— I felt that he could have torn me in two. And now, you say, he
cannot lift an arm to help himself?"
"No, not to wave off a buzzard from his carrion," was the reply.
The arm of John Hurdis fell on the neck of Pickett's horse at these
words, and his eyes with a vacant stare were fixed upon the rider.
After a brief pause, he thus proceeded in a muttered soliloquy rather
than an address to his hearer.
"If Richard would have gone off quietly and let me alone——if——but
what's the use to talk of that now?" He paused, but again began in
similar tones and a like spirit. "He was too rash——too tyrannical.
Flesh and blood could not bear with him, Ben. He would have mastered
all around him if he could ——trampled upon all——suffered no life to
any——spared no feelings. He was cruel——cruel to you, and to me and to
all; and then to drag me from my horse and take me——his own brother——by
the throat! But, it's all over now. He has paid for it, Ben——I wish he
hadn't done it, though——for then——but no matter ——this talk's all very
Here he recovered himself, and in more direct and calmer language,
thus continued, while giving his agent a part of the money which he had
"Go now, Pickett——to your own home. Let us not be seen together
much. Take this money—— 'tisn't all I mean to give you. I will bring
The willing fellow pocketed the price of blood, and made his
acknowledgments. Thanks too were given by the murderer, as if the
balance of credit lay with him who paid in money for the life of his
"I will come to you to night," continued Hurdis——"I would hear all
of this business. I would know more——stay! What is that? Some one comes
——hear you nothing, Ben?"
Guilt had made my wretched brother doubly a coward. The big sweat
came out and stood upon his forehead, and his eyes wore the irresolute
expression of one about to fly. The composure with which his companion
looked round, half reassured him.
"No——there's nobody," said the other——"a squirrel jumped in the
"Well——I'll come to night, Ben——I'll meet you at the Willows."
"Won't you come to the house, 'Squire?"
"No!" was the abrupt reply. The speaker recollected his late
interview with the stern wife of his colleague, and had no desire to
encounter her again——"No——Ben, I'll be at the Willows."
"What time, 'Squire?"
"I can't say, now——but you'll hear my signal. Three hoots and a
"Very good——I'll be sure."
John Hurdis remained at the gate a long time after Pickett rode
away. He watched his retreating form while it continued in sight, then
seated himself on the ground where he had been standing, and
unconsciously, with a little stick, began to draw characters in the
sand. To the labours of his fingers his mind seemed to be utterly
heedless, until, aroused to a sense of what he was doing and where he
sat, by the approach of some of the field negroes returning from the
labours of the day. he started to his feet as he heard their voices,
but how did his guilty heart tremble, when his eye took in the letters
that he had unwittingly traced upon the sand. The word "murderer" was
distinctly written in large characters, before his eyes. With a
desperate but trembling haste as if he dreaded lest other eyes should
behold it too, he dashed his feet over the letters, nor stayed his
efforts even when they were perfectly obliterated. Fool that he was——of
what avail was all his toil? He might erase the guilty letters from the
sand, but they were written upon his soul in characters that no hand
could reach, and no labours obliterate. The fiend was there in full
possession, and his tortures were only now begun.
Let the earth hide thee.
The murderer hurried homewards when this dark conference was ended.
The affair in which he had acted so principal, yet secondary a part,
had exercised a less obvious influence upon him than upon the yet baser
person who had egged him on to the deed. There was no such revulsion of
feeling in his bosom, as in that of John Hurdis. Endowed with greater
nerve at first, and rendered obtuse from habit and education, the nicer
sensibilities——the keener apprehensions of the mind——were not
sufficiently active in him to warm at any recital, when the deed
itself, which it narrated, had failed to impress him with terror or
repentance. If he did not tremble to do, still less was he disposed to
tremble at the bare story of his misdoings; and he rode away with a due
increase of scorn for the base spirit and cowardly heart of his
employer. And yet, perhaps, Pickett had never beheld John Hurdis in any
situation in which his better feelings had been more prominent. The
weaknesses, which the one despised, were the only shows of virtue in
the other. The cowardly wretch, when he supposed the deed to have been
done on which he had sent his unhesitating messenger——felt, for the
first time, that it would not only have been wiser but better, to have
borne patiently with his wrong, rather than so foully to have revenged
it. He felt that it would have been easier to sleep under the operation
of injustice than to become one's self a criminal. Bitterly indeed did
this solemn truth grow upon him in the end, when sleep, at length,
utterly refused to come at his bidding.
But, though the obvious fears and compunctious visitings of his
employer had provoked the scorn of the murderer, it was decreed that he
himself should not be altogether free from similar weaknesses. They
developed themselves before he reached his home. It was nearly dusk
when he entered the narrow by-road which led to his habitation——night
was fast coming on, yet the twilight was sufficiently clear to enable
him to distinguish objects. Without a thought, perhaps, of the crime of
which he had been guilty; or rather, without a regretful thought, he
pursued his way until the road opened upon his dwelling. The habitation
of his wife and child stood before him. He could now see the smoke
rising from the leaning clay chimney, and his heart rose with the
prospect——for the very basest of mankindhave hearts for their
homes——but, all on a sudden, he jerked his bridle with a violence that
whirled the animal out from his path; and then his grasp became
relaxed. He had strength for no more——he had neither power to advance
nor fly. In an instant, the avenues to all his fears were in possession
of a governing instinct. Guilt and terror spoke in all his features.
His glazed eyes seemed starting from their sockets——his jaws
relaxed——his mouth opened ——his hair started up and the cold dews
gathered at its roots! What sees he?——what is in his path to make him
fear? Why does the bold ruffian, ready at all times to stab or
shoot——why does he lift no weapon now? He is sinewless, aimless,
strengthless. There rose before him, even at the gate of his hovel, a
fearful image of the man he supposed himself to have murdered. It stood
between him and the narrow gateway so that he could not go forward in
his progress. The gaze of the spectre was earnestly bent upon him with
such a freezing glance of death and doom as the victim might well be
supposed to wear in confronting his murderer. The bloody hole in his
bosom was awfully distinct to the eyes of the now trembling criminal,
who could see little or nothing else. His knees knocked together
convulsively——his wiry hair lifted the cap upon his brow.——Cold as the
mildewed marble, yet shivering like an autumn branch waving in the
sudden winds,he was frozen to the spot where it encountered him ——he
could neither speak nor move. Vainly did he attempt to lift the weapon
in his grasp——his arms were stiffened to his side——his will was not
powerful enough to compel its natural agents to their duty. He strove
to thrust the rowel into his horse's flanks, but even to this effort he
found himself unequal. Twice did he strive to cry aloud to the
threatening aspect before him, in words of entreaty or defiance, but
his tongue refused its office. The words froze in his throat, and it
was only able in a third and desperate effort to articulate words which
denoted idiocy rather than resolve.
"Stand aside, Richard Hurdis——stand aside, or I'll run over you.
You would tie me to the tree ——you would try hickories upon me, would
you? Go——go to John Hurdis now, and he'll tell you, I'm not afraid of
you. No——d——n my eyes if I am, though he is! I'm not afraid of your
bloody finger ——shake it away——shake it away. There's a hole in your
jacket wants mending, man——you'd better see to it 'fore it gets worse.
I see the red stuff coming out of it now. Go——stand off or I'll hurt
And, as he uttered this wandering and incoherent language, his
limbs strengthened sufficiently to enable him, with one hand, to employ
the action of a person hallooing hogs out of his enclosure. Thesound of
his own voice seemed to unfix the spell upon him. The ghostly figure
sank down before his mazed eyes and advancing footsteps, in a heap,
like one suddenly slain, and as he had seen his victim fall. It lay
directly before him——he pressed his horse upon it, but it disappeared
before he reached the spot. A brief space yet lay between the gate and
the hovel, and, passing through the former, he was about to plunge,
with a like speed towards the latter, when another figure, and one,
too, much more terrific to the fears of the ruffian than the
first——took its place, and the person of William Carrington emerged at
that moment from the dwelling itself, and stood before him in the
doorway. If Pickett trembled before under his superstitious imaginings,
he trembled now with apprehensions of a more human description. It was
the vulgar fear of the fugitive that possessed him now. He felt that he
was pursued. He saw before him the friend of the man he had murdered,
speeding in hot haste to wreak vengeance on his murderer. In the dread
of cord or shot, he lost, in a single instant, all his former and
paralysing terror arising from the blighting visitation of the world of
spirits. He was no longer frozen by fear. He was strengthened and
stimulated for flight by the appearance of Carrington. He turned the
head of his horse, and with the movement, the avenger advanced upon
him. He felt that there was no escape. There was no hope in flight. In
desperation, he threw himself from the animal—— lifted his rifle, and,
in taking deadly aim upon the figure, was surprised to see it move away
with rapid footsteps and sink into the neighbouring woods, in the
shadow of which it was soon lost from sight. The conduct of Carrington
was more mysterious to the criminal than was the appearance of the
spectre just before. If he came as the avenger of his friend, how
strange that he should fly! And how could such timidity be believed of
one so notoriously brave as the man in question? The wonder grew in his
mind the more he reviewed it, and he found it easier to continue in his
wonderment, than to seek by any reference to his past experience and
present thoughts for any solution of the mystery.
Pale and cold with fright he at last entered his hovel without
farther interruption. The anxious and searching eyes of his wife beheld
in an instant the disordered emotion so prominent in his; and her fears
"What is it Ben——what disturbs you? Why do you look around so?" she
"How long has he been here?——when did he come?——what does he want?"
were the rapid questions which the criminal uttered in reply.
"Who?——who has been here? of whom do you ask?" was the response of
the astonished wife.
"Why, Bill Carrington, to be sure——Who else? I saw him come out of
the door just this minute and take to the woods. What did he
want?——where's he gone? Who's he looking for? eh!"
"Your're sick, Ben," said the wife——"your head's disordered. You'd
better lie down."
"Can't you answer me a plain question?" was his peremptory answer
to her suggestion——"I ask you what Bill Carrington wanted with me or
"He?——nothing that I know of. He hasn't been here, Ben."
"The devil you say? Better tell me I'm drunk ——when I saw him, with
my own eyes, come out just a moment ago and take to the woods!"
"You may have seen him in the woods, but I'm sure you didn't see
him come out of this house. I've been in this room for the last
hour——never once out of it——and nobody but myself and Jane in it—— and
nobody's been here that either of us has seen."
The man turned to Jane, and reading in her eyes a confirmation of
her mother's speech, he looked vacantly around him for a few moments,
then lifting his rifle, which he had leaned up within the entrance,
rushed out of the house, and hurried to the woods in search of the
person whom he had seen disappear there. He was gone for an hour when
he returned exhausted. In that time hissearch had been close and
thorough for a circuit of several miles, in all those recesses which he
had been accustomed to regard as hiding places, and which, it may be
added, he had repeatedly used as such. The exhaustion that followed his
disappointment was an exhaustion of mind rather than of body. The
vagueness and mystery which attended all these incidents had utterly
confounded him, and when he returned to the presence of his wife, he
almost seemed to lack the facilities of speech and hearing. He spoke
but little, and, observing his fatigue, and probably ascribing his
strange conduct to a sudden excess in drink, his wife prudently
forebore all unnecessary remarks and questions. Night hurried on
——darkness had covered the face of the earth, and in silence the wife
and idiot child of the criminal had commenced their evening meal,
Pickett keeping his place at the fireside without heeding the call to
supper. A stupor weighed down all his faculties, and he almost seemed
to sleep, but a slight tap at the entrance——a single tap, gentle as if
made by a woman-hand soliciting admission——awakened, in an instant, all
the guilty consciousness that could not sleep in the bosom of the
criminal. He started to his feet in terror. The keen and searching
glance of his wife was fixed upon his face, and heedful of every
movement of his person. She said nothing, but her looks were so full of
inquiry that it neededno words to make Pickett aware that her soul was
alarmed and apprehensive. She looked as if feeling that all her
previous fears were realised. The knock at the entrance was repeated.
"Shall I open it, Ben?" was her question, and her eyes motioned him
to a window in the rear. But he did not heed the obvious suggestion.
Gathering courage as he beheld her glance, and saw her suspicions, he
crossed the floor to the entrance, boldly lifted the bar which secured
it, and, in firm tones, bade the unknown visiter "come in."
Is not for salutation——we have business."
The stranger boldly stepped into the light as the door was opened
for him. The heart of Pickett sank within him on the instant; for guilt
is a thing of continual terrors; but his glance was fixed on the person
without recognition, and there was nothing in the air or visage of the
intruder, to excite alarm. His dark swarthy features and sinister eye
were, it is true, sufficiently unprepossessing; but these were
evidently the habitual features of the man, and being in repose, gave
no occult expression to his countenance. His guise was common enough,
consisting of the common blue and white homespun of the country; and
this, bespattered with mud as if he had been long a traveller. He
demanded traveller's fare, and begged to be accommodated for the night.
There was no denial of so small a boon, even in the humblest cottage of
Alabama; and though Pickettwould rather have had no company, he could
not yet refuse.
"Well," said Pickett, "we are not in the habit of taking in
travellers, but if you can make out with a blanket by the chimney, you
can have it——it's all I can give you."
"Good enough," said the stranger; "I'm not particular. Room by the
chimney, and light wood enough for a blaze, and I'm satisfied."
"Have you had supper?" demanded Mrs. Pickett——"we can give you some
hoe cake and bacon."
"Thank you, ma'am, but I took a bite from my bag about an hour ago,
as I crossed a branch coming on, which baited my hunger. I won't
trouble you to get any thing more."
"You're from below?" asked Pickett with some show of curiosity.
"Do you go much farther?"
"I think not——I've got business in these parts, and shall return
when it's over."
"You've a horse to see to?"
"No——I foot it——I'm a very poor man."
The lie was uttered with habitual readiness. The emissary had
hidden and hobbled his horse in the neighbouring woods. He was too well
practised in his art to forego every precaution. Pickett had no
otherquestions, and but little more was said for the time, by either of
the parties, all of whom seemed equally taciturn. The wife of Pickett
alone continued anxious. The searching glance of the stranger did not
please her, though it appeared to have its impulse in curiosity alone.
Perhaps, suspecting her husband's guilt, all circumstances, removed
from those of ordinary occurrence, provoked her apprehensions. With a
just presentiment she had trembled on the stranger's knock and
entrance, and every added moment of his stay increased her fears. She
had as yet had no conference with Pickett, touching the business which
carried him abroad; and the presence of their guest denied her all
opportunity for the satisfaction of her doubts. Her evident disquiet
did not escape the notice of her husband, but, he ascribed it, in his
own mind, to her desire to go to bed; which, as they all slept in the
same apartment, was rendered somewhat difficult, by the presence of the
new comer. His coarse mind, however, soon made this difficulty light.
"Go to bed, Besty——don't mind us; or to make the matter easy, what
say you, stranger, to a bit of a walk——the night's clear and not cold
neither. We'll just step out till the old woman lies down, if you
"To be sure," said the other——"I was about to propose the same
thing to you."
The fears of Pickett were newly roused by this seemingly innocent
declaration of the stranger——a declaration, which, at another time,
would not have tasked a thought.
"Why should he wish to take me out to walk with him at night——why
should he propose such a thing?"——was his inward inquiry; and with
hesitating steps, he conducted the suspicious guest from the hovel into
the open ground before it.
"I was just going to propose the same thing to you," said the
stranger the moment they had got there——"for do you see, it isn't to
lodge with you only that I come. I have business with you, my
friend——business of great importance."
If Pickett was alarmed before, he was utterly confounded now.
"Business with me!" he cried in undisguised astonishment.——"What
business——what business can you have with me?" and he stopped full and
confronted the stranger as he spoke.
"Well, that's what I'm going to tell you now—— but, not here——walk
farther from the house, if you please——let's go into this thicket."
"Into the thicket!——No——I'm d——d if I do!——" cried the now
thoroughly alarmed Pickett.—— "I'll go into the thicket with no
stranger that I don't know. I don't see what business you can have with
me at all; and if you have any you can just as well out with it here,
as any where else."
"Oh, that's just as you please," said the other coolly——"It was for
your sake only that I proposed to go into the thicket, for the business
is not exactly proper for every body to hear; and there's no use in
calling the high road to counsel."
"For my sake! What the d——I do you mean, my friend? It's your
business not mine——why is it for my sake that you would have me go into
"Because it might bring you into trouble, if any ears beside our
own were to hear me," replied the stranger with indifference. "For my
part, I don't care much where it is said, only to save you from any
"Me from trouble——me from trouble! I don't know what you can mean;
but if you're serious—— where would you have me go?"
"There——that thicket will do. It looks dark enough for our
The stranger pointed to a dense grove in the neighbourhood, but on
the opposite side of the road——a part of the same forest in which the
reader will remember to have witnessed an interview between John
Hurdis, and Jane the idiot girl. Not knowing what to fear yet fearing
every thing, the murderer followed the stranger, whom he now regardedas
his evil genius. The other was passing more deeply into the woods,
after having entered them, than Pickett seemed to think necessary for
his object, and the voice of the latter arrested him.
"Dark enough for your business, it may be, but quite too dark for
mine. I'll go no further——you can say here, all you've got to say, no
matter what it is. I'm not afraid, and I think it something strange,
that you should want me to go into the bush in a dark night, with a
person I don't know. I don't somehow like it altogether. I'm not sure
that it's safe. I mean no harm, but it's not the best sense in the
world, to trust people one don't know."
"Lord love you!" said the other with a quiet tone of
contempt——"you're more scary than I thought you. There's nothing to be
frightened at, in me——my business is peaceable——and I'm a peaceable
man. I don't carry a rifle, and I never tumbled a fellow from his horse
at a hundred yards, in all my life, so far as I can recollect now."
These words were uttered with the utmost coolness, and as if they
were entirely without peculiar signification. The effect upon the
hearer was almost paralysing, as it was instantaneous. He started, as
if he had been himself shot——for a moment was silent under the obvious
imputation contained in the last sentence of his companion's
speech——then, recovering himself, with the blustering manner of the
bully, he addressed the other, who saw, in the dim light which
surrounded them, that Pickett's hand was thrust into the bosom of his
vest, as if in search of some concealed weapon.
"How! you do not mean to say, that I ever did such a thing? If you
"Put up your knife, brother——and keep your hand and voice down.
Lift either too high, and I have that about me which would drive you
into the middle of next summer, if you only looked at me to strike."
Such was the stern reply of the stranger, whose tones changed
promptly with the circumstances. Pickett felt himself in the presence
of a master. He was cowed. He released his hold upon the weapon, which
he had grasped in his bosom, and lowering the sounds of his voice in
obedience to the stranger's requisition, he replied in more
"What mean you, my friend? What is the business that brings you
here? What would you have with me; and why do you threaten me?"
"Your hand!" said the other deliberately, while extending his own.
"There it is; and now, what——?" Pickett reluctantly complied.
"Only that you are one of us now, that's all."
"One of us——how! who are you?——What mean you?"
"Every thing. You are a made man——your fortunes are made. You've
become one of a family that can do every thing for you, and will do it,
if you'll let them."
The silence of Pickett expressed more wonder than his words could
have done. The other went on without heeding a feeble attempt which he
made at reply.
"You've volunteered to do some of our business, and have,
therefore, joined our fraternity."
"Your business——what business——what fraternity?——I don't know, my
friend, what you possibly can mean."
"I'll tell you then, and put you out of suspense. You're just from
Tuscaloosa where you've taken some trouble off our hands. I've come to
thank you for it, and to do you some kindness in return. One good turn
deserves another you know, and this that you have done for us, deserves
The wonder of Pickett was increased. He almost gasped in uttering
another request to hear all that the other had to say.
"Why it's soon said," he replied. "You shot a lad two days ago near
the 'Shade' up beyond Tuscaloosa——"
"Who says——who saw——it is a lie——a d——d lie;" cried the criminal in
husky and feeble accents, while quivering at the same time with mingled
rage and fear.
"Oh, pshaw!" said the other——"What's the use of beating about the
bush. I saw you tumble the lad myself, and I've followed upon your
trail ever since——"
"But you shall follow me no more. One of us must give way to the
other," cried the criminal in screaming accents, and while, drawing his
knife with one hand, he aimed to grasp the throat of the stranger with
the other. But the latter was too wily a scout to become an easy
victim. He had watched his man, even as the cat watches the destined
prey ——to whom she suffers a seeming freedom, and sacrifices at the
very moment of its greatest apparent security. With the movement of
Pickett to strike, was that of the stranger to defend himself——nor to
defend himself only. The strength of the former was far inferior to
that of the man whom he assailed, and instead of taking him by the
throat, he found his grasp eluded, and at the same moment, the arm
which held the weapon, was secured in a gripe which effectually baffled
all his efforts at release.
"Don't be rash!" said the stranger, with a laugh in which there was
no sign of anger. "Don't be rash——it's of no use. You're only fighting
againstyour own good, and your powder's wasted on me. I'm too much for
you, and that's enough to make you quiet. But there's another, and a
better reason than that to keep you quiet. I'm your friend, I tell
you——your best friend, and I can bring you many friends. I'm come all
this distance to befriend you, and if you'll have patience and be
civil, you'll soon see how."
"Let go my arm," said Pickett, chafing furiously, but still
ineffectually, so far as his own efforts to release himself were
"Well, I'll do that," said the stranger, releasing him at the same
instant; "but, mind me, if you try to use it again, as you did just
now, it will be worse for you. I never suffer a dog to worry me
twice.—— I'm sure to draw his teeth, so that he will bite no other——and
if you lift that knife at me again, I'll put a plug into your bosom,
that will go quite as deep, if not deeper, than your bullet did in the
bosom of that young fellow."
"You know not what you say——you saw not that!" was the faint
answere of Pickett.
"It's a true bill, man, and I'll swear to it. How should I know it,
if I did not see it? I saw the lad tumble——saw you scud from the place,
rifle in hand, and take to your creature, which was fastened to a dwarf
poplar in a little wood of poplars. What say you to that? Is it not
Pickett leaned against a tree, silent and exhausted. He had no
answer. The fates had tracked him to his den.
"Nay——fear nothing, though I know your secret,"——said the other,
approaching him——"You are in no sort of danger; not from me at least;
on the contrary, you have done our friends a service——have saved them
from the trouble of doing the very thing that we would have had to do
for ourselves. Three of us pursued the man that you shot, and if he had
got away, which he must have done but for your bullet, it would have
been an ugly and losing matter for us. You did us good service then I
tell you——you volunteered to be one of our strikers, and we have got
the game. The search of the body gave us a rich booty, and his death a
degree of safety, which we might not else have enjoyed."
"Well——wasn't that enough for you? Why did you come after me?"
demanded Pickett bitterly. "Why follow me with your infernal secret?"
"Lord love you——to give you your share of the spoil, to be sure,
what else? Do you think us so mean as to keep all for ourselves, and
give none to a man who did, I may say, the dirtiest part of the
business? Oh, no! brother——no! I've brought you your share of the
booty. Here it is. You will see when you come to look at it, that we
are quite as liberal as we should be. You have, here, a largeramount,
than is usually given to a striker." And, as the stranger spoke these
words, he pulled out something from his pocket, which he presented to
his astonished auditor. Pickett thrust away the extended hand, as he
"I want none of it. I will have no share——I am not one of you."
"But, that's all nonsense, my brother. You must take it. You must
be one of us. When a striker refuses his share, we suspect that
something's going wrong, and he takes his share, or he pays for it, by
our laws;" was the reply of the stranger who continto press the money
"Your laws!——of what laws——of whom do you speak?"
"Of our fraternity, to be sure——of the Mystic Brotherhood. Perhaps,
you have never heard of the Mystic Brotherhood?"
"You are fortunate to have lived long enough to be wise. Let me
enlighten you. The Mystic Brotherhood consists of a parcel of bold
fellows, who don't like the laws of the state exactly, and of other
societies, and who have accordingly associated together, for the
purpose of making their own, and doing business under them. As we have
no money of our own, and as we must have money, we make it legal to
take it from other people. When they will notshut their eyes and suffer
us take it without trouble, we shut them up ourselves; a task for the
proper doing of which, we have a thousand different modes. One of
these, the task of a striker, you employed in our behalf, and very
effectually shut up for us, the eyes of that foolish young fellow, who
had already given us some trouble, and, but for you, might have given
us a great deal more. Having done so well, we resolved to do you
honor——to make you one of us, and give you all the benefits of our
institution, as they are enjoyed by every other member. We have our
brethren in all the states from Virginia to Louisiana, and beyond into
the territories. Some of our friends keep agencies for us, even so far
as the Sabine, and we send negroes to them daily."
"Negroes——what negroes——have you negroes?"
"Yes——when we take them——we get the negroes to run away from their
owners, then sell them to others, get them to run away again, and in
this way, we probably sell the same negro, half a dozen times. This is
one branch of our business and might suit you. When the affair gets too
tangled, and we apprehend detection, we tumble the negro into a river,
and thus rid ourselves of a possession that has paid good interest
already, and which it might not be any longer safe to keep."
"What——you kill the negro?
"Yes, you may say so.——We dispose of him."
"And how many persons have you in the Brotherhood?"
"Well, I reckon we stretch very nigh on to fifteen hundred."
"Fifteen hundred——is it possible!——so many?"
"Yes, and we are increasing daily. Let me give you the first sign,
brother; the sign of a striker."
"No!"——cried Pickett shrinking back. "I will not join you. I do not
know the truth of what you say. I never heard the like before. I will
have nothing to do in this business."
"You must!" was the cool rejoinder——"you must! Nobody shall strike
for us, without becoming one of us."
"And suppose I refuse?" said Pickett.
"Then I denounce you as a murderer, to the grand jury," was the
cool reply. "I will prove you to have murdered this youth, and bring
half a dozen beside myself to prove it."
"What if I tell all that you have told me of your brotherhood?"
"Pshaw, brother, you are dreaming. What if you do tell——who will
you get to believe you——where's your proofs? But I will prove all that
I charge you with, by a dozen witnesses. Even if it were not true, yet
could I prove it."
The discomfited murderer perspired in his agony. The net was
completely drawn around him.
"Don't be foolish, brother," said the emissary of a fraternity,
upon the borders of the new states, the history of which, already in
part given to the public, is a dreadful chronicle of desperate crime,
and insolent incendarism——"Don't be foolish—— you can't help
yourself——you must be one of us, whether you will or not. We can't do
without you ——we have bought you out. If you take our business from us,
you must join partnership, or we must shut up your shop. We can't have
any opposition going on. The thing's impossible——insufferable! Here——
take your share of the money. It will help you to believe in us, and
that's a great step towards making you comply with my demand;
nay——don't hold back——I tell you, brother, you must go with us now,
body and soul, or you hang, by the eternal."
Base and wretched as was the miserable Pickett, in morals and in
condition, he was not yet so utterly abandoned as to feel easy, under a
necessity so imperatively presented to him. The character of his wife,
noble amidst poverty and all its consequent forms of wretchedness, if
it had not lifted his own standards of feeling and of thought, beyond
his own nature, had the effect, at least, of making him conceal, as
much as he could, his deficiencies from her. Here was something more to
conceal, and this necessity was, of itself, a pang to one, having but
the one person to confide in, and feeling so great a dependenceupon
that one. This step estranged him still farther from her, and while he
passionately took the proffered money, and looked upon the uncouth, and
mystic sign which the other made before him, in conferring his first
degree of membership, the cold sweat stood upon his face in heavy
drops, and an icy weight seemed contracting about his heart. He felt as
if he had bound himself, hand and foot, and was about to be delivered
over to the executioner.
We should know each other——
As to my character for what men call crime,
Seeing I please my senses, as I list,
And vindicate that right with force or guile,
It is a public matter, and I care not
If I discuss it with you.
—— The Conet
The emissary of the Mystic Brotherhood, which had just conferred
the honors of its membership on one who so richly deserved them, though
pursuing his labours with the rigid directness of an ordinary business
habit, and confining himself thereto, with a degree of strictness and
method not common to the wicked, was yet, by no means a niggard in his
communications. He unfolded much of the history of that dangerous
confederacy, which it is not thought necessary to deliver here; and his
hearer became gradually and fully informed of the extent of its
resources and ramifications. Yet these gave him but little
satisfaction. He found himself one of a clan numbering many hundred
persons, having the means of procuring wealth, which had been limitedto
him heretofore simply because of his singleness, and not because of any
better principle which he possessed; and yet he shuddered to find
himself in such a connection. The very extensiveness of the
association, confounded his judgment, and filled him with terrors. He
was one of those petty villains who rely upon cunning and trick, rather
than audacity and strength, to prosecute their purposes; and while the
greater number of the clan found their chief security in a unity of
purpose and a concentration of numbers, which, in the end, enabled them
for a season, to defy, and almost overthrow the laws of society, he
regarded this very circumstance as that, which, above all others, must
greatly contribute to the risk and dangers of detection. The glowing
accounts of his companion, which described their successes——their
profitable murders, fearless burglaries, and a thousand minor offences,
such as negro, horse stealing, and petty thefts——only served to enlarge
the vision with which he beheld his fears; and, dull and wretched, he
returned with his guest to the miserable hovel, now become doubly so
since his most humiliating enlightenment, and the formation of his new
ties. His wife and daughter, meanwhile, had retired for the night; but
the woman did not sleep. She was filled with apprehensions for her
husband, scarcely less imposing than those which troubled him for
himself; yet little did shedream how completely he was in the thrall of
that power from which her own severe and fruitless virtues had been
utterly unable at all times to restrain him. Her wildest fear never
imagined a bond so terrible as that which had been imposed upon him in
the last half hour.
"Whenever you want to lie down, stranger, you can do so. There's
your blanket. I'm sorry there's no better for you." It was with
difficulty that Pickett brought himself to utter these common words of
"Good enough," said the other——"I'll take it a little closer by the
fire; and, if you have no objection, I'll throw a stick or two on. I've
slept in a better bed, it's true, but I'll be satisfied if I never
sleep in a worse."
The hesitating utterance of her husband, and the cool and ready
reply of their guest, did not escape the keen hearing of the woman.
Pickett muttered something in answer to this speech, and then threw
himself, without undressing, upon the bed. The other followed the
example, and, in a few moments, his form, stretched at length before
the fire place, lay as quietly as if he were already wrapped in the
deepest slumbers. This appearance, was, however, deceptive. The
emissary had not yet fulfilled all his duties; and he studiously
maintained himself in watchfulness, the better to effect his objects.
Believinghim to be asleep, however, the anxieties of Pickett's wife,
prompted her, after awhile, to speak to her miserable husband, with
whom, as yet, she had had no opportunity of private speech; but her
whispered accents, were checked by the apprehensive criminal on the
first instant of their utterance. With a quick and nervous gripe, he
grasped her arm in silence, and, in this manner, without a word, put a
stop to her inquiries. In silence, thus, and yet with equal
watchfulness, did the three remain, for the space of two goodly hours.
The night was advancing, and Pickett began to hope that John Hurdis
would fail to keep his promise; but the hope had not well been formed
in his mind, before he heard the signal agreed upon between them——three
hoots and a bark——and in a cold agony that found in every movement a
pitfall, and an enemy in every bush, he prepared to rise and go forth
to his employer.
"Where would you go?" demanded the woman in a hurried whisper,
which would not be repressed, and she grasped his arm as she spoke.
She, too, had heard the signal, and readily divined its import when she
saw her husband preparing to leave her.
"Nowhere——what's the matter——lie still; and don't be foolish," was
his reply, uttered also in a whisper, while, with some violence, he
disengaged his arm from her grasp. She would have still detained him.
"Oh, Ben!" was all she said, and the still whispered accents, went
through him with a warning emphasis, that well reminded him of that
good counsel, which he had before rejected; and which he bitterly
cursed himself for not having followed.
"She was right," he muttered to his own heart. "She was right——had
I listened to what she said, and let John Hurdis do his own dirty work,
I would have had no such trouble. But——it's too late now—— too late. I
must now get through it as I may."
He rose, and silently opening the door, disappeared in the night.
He had scarcely done so, when the emissary prepared to follow him. The
wife saw the movement with terror, and coughing aloud, endeavoured, in
this way, to convince the stranger, that she was wakeful like himself;
but her effort to discourage him from going forth proved fruitless—— he
gave her no heed, and she beheld him, with fear and trembling, depart
almost instantly after her husband. She could lie in bed no longer; but
rising, hurried to the door, which she again opened, and gazed
anxiously out upon the dim and speechless trees of the neighbouring
forests, with eyes that seemed to penetrate into the very dimmest of
their recesses. She looked without profit. She saw nothing. The forms
of both her husband and his guest were no where visible. Should she
pursue them? This was at once her thought, but she dismissed itas idle,
a moment after. Shivering with cold, and under the nameless terrors in
her apprehension, she re-entered the hovel, and closed the entrance.
"God be with me," she cried, sinking on her knees, beside the
miserable pallet, where she had passed so many sleepless nights.——"God
be with me, and with him. We have need of thee, Oh, God—— both of us
have need of thee. Strengthen me, oh, God, and save him from his
enemies.——The hand of the tempter is upon him——is upon him, even now.——
I have striven with him, and I plead with him in vain. Thou only,
Blessed Father——Thou, only, who art in heaven, and art all merciful on
earth——thou only canst save him. He is weak, and yielding where he
should be strong, timid when he should be bold, and bold only, where it
is virtue to be fearful. Strengthen him, when he is weak, and let him
be weak where he would be wicked. Cut him not off in thy wrath, but
spare him to me——to this poor child——to himself. He is not fit to
perish. Protect him!——He's——What is this——who? Is it you Jane? Is it
you, my poor child?"
The idiot girl had crawled to her, unseen, during her brief, but
energetic apostrophe to the Eternal, and with a simpering, half-sobbing
accent, testified her surprise at the unwonted vehemence and seeming
unseasonableness of her mother's prayers. With increasing energy of
action, the woman clasped thegirl around the waist——and dragged her
down upon the floor beside her.
"Put up your hands, Jane!" was her exclamation ——"put up your hands
with me! pray——pray with me. Pray to God, to deliver us from evil——your
father from evil——from his own, and the evil deeds of other men——speak
out child, speak fast, and pray ——pray!"
"Our father who art in heaven!" The child went on with the usual
adjuration which had been a possession of mere memory from her infancy;
while the mother, with uplifted hands, but silent thoughts, concluded
her own heartfelt invocation to the God of bounty, and protection. She
felt that she could do no more, yet much rather would she have followed
her husband into the woods, and dragged him away from the grasp of the
tempter, than knelt that moment in prayer.
Pickett meanwhile, little dreaming that he was watched, hurried to
the place assigned for meeting John Hurdis, among the Willows. The
emissary followed close behind him. It was no part of his plan to leave
the former ignorant of his proper quality; and the first intelligence
which he had of his approach, was the sound of his voice, which sank
into the heart of Pickett like an ice bolt. He shivered and stopped
when he heard it, as if by an instinct. His will would have prompted
him to fly, and leave itbehind forever, but his feet were fastened to
the earth. "What's the matter——why do you come after me?" he asked.
"I'll go along with you, brother," said the stranger coolly in
"As you will, but why? You don't think I'm running off from you, do
"No!——that you can't do, brother, even if you would. We have eyes
all around us, that suffer no movement by any of us to be made unseen;
and if you do run, such are our laws, that I should have to follow you.
But I know your business, and wish for an introduction to your friend."
"My friend!" exclaimed Pickett in profound astonishment. "What
friend——I know of no friend."
"Indeed——but you must surely be mistaken; your memory is confused I
see. The friend you're going to meet. Is he not your friend?"
"I'm going to meet no friend——"
"Surely you are! Brother, you would'nt deceive me, would you?
Didn't I hear the owl's hoot, and the dog's bark. I wasn't asleep, I
tell you. I heard the signal as well as you."
"Owl's hootand dog's bark——why, that's no signal in these parts,"
said Pickett, with a feeble attempt at laughter which failed
utterly——"you may hear owls and dogs all night if you listen to them.
We are wiser than to do that."
The other replied in graver accents than usual.
"I'm afraid, brother, you are not yet convinced of the powers of
the Mystic Brotherhood, or you wouldn't suppose me to have been
neglectful of the duties they sent me upon. I tell you, they gave it to
me in charge, to follow you, and to find out who and what you were——to
learn your motives for killing the youth that we were in pursuit of,
and to take all steps, for making so good a shot, and ready a hand, one
of our own. Do you think I lost sight of you for a single instant, from
that time to this? Be sure I did not. No! I saw you from the moment you
took your nag from the stunted poplar, where you fastened him. I marked
every footstep you have taken since. When you stopped at that
plantation and told your friend of your success——"
"Great God!——you didn't hear what we said!"
"Every syllable.——That was a most important part of my service. I
wouldn't have missed a word or look of that conference."
Pickett turned full upon the inflexible emissary, and gazed upon
him with eyes of unmixed astonishment and terror. When he spoke at
length it was in accents of mingled despair and curiosity.
"And wherefore was this important? Of what use will it be to you,
to know that I was working for another man in this business."
"It helps us to another member of the MysticBrotherhood, my
brother. It strengthens our arm ——it increases our resources.——It
ripens our strength, and hastens our plans. He, too, must be one of us!
It is for this, I seek to know him."
"But there's no need with him?" said Pickett.
"He's rich——he's not in want of money, as we are. Why should he be
one of us."
"To keep what he's got," said the other coolly.
"But suppose he won't join you."
"We'll hang him then, my brother. You shall prove that he was the
"The devil you say——but I'll do no such thing."
"Then, brother, we must hang you both."
The eyes of Pickett looked the terror that his lips could not
speak; and without farther words, he led the way to the place of
meeting, urging no farther opposition to a will, before which, his own
quailed in subjection.
Now we are alone, sir;
And thou hast liberty to unload the burden
Which thou groan'st under.
There is no fascination in the snake, true or fabled, of more
tenacious hold upon the nature of the victim, than was that of the
emissary of the Mystic Brotherhood, upon the miserable creature,
Pickett. A wretch born in degradation, living as it were by stealth,
and in constant dread of penal atonement, life was torture, of itself,
enough when it came coupled with the constant fear of justice. But when
to this danger was added, that of an accountability to a power, no less
arbitrary than the laws, and wholly illegitimate, the misery of the
wretch was complete. But if such was the influence of such a condition
over Pickett's mind, what must it be over the no less dishonourable,
and far more base offender who employed him. Though a murderer, a cold
blooded calculating murderer, who could skulk behind a bush, and shoot
down his victim from a covertwithout warning made, or time given for
preparation, he was yet hardy enough, if he had the sensibility for
hate, to avenge his wrong by his own hand, and not by that of an agent.
John Hurdis had proved himself deficient even in this doubtful sort of
courage. He could smile and be the villain—— could desire and devise
the murder of his enemy;—— but wanted even the poor valour of the
murderer. What must be the feeling——the fear——of his leprous heart,
when he is taught his true condition. When he finds his secret
known——when he feels himself in the power of a clan having a thousand
tongues, and hourly exposing themselves to a thousand risks of general
detection. It would have been a sight for study, to behold those three
villains gathered together in that nocturnal interview. Hurdis——his
soul divided between triumph and horror——eager to learn the particulars
of the horrid crime which his agent had horribly executed, yet dreading
the very recital to which he gave all ears;——Pickett——burdened with the
consciousness of unprofitable guilt, and of its exposure to the dogging
blood hound at his heels;—— and he, the emissary——like a keen
hunter——hanging upon the flanks of both, pricking them forward when
they faltered, and now by sarcasm, and now by threats, quelling their
spirits, and commanding all their secrets. Secure of his game, he
smiled in his security at the feeble efforts which he beheld them make,
and the futile hopes which he saw they entertained, of being able to
baffle his pursuit, and throw out his unerring nostril from the scent
which he had so fortunately followed. The struggle was, indeed, no less
pitiful than painful, and well might the utter villain smile with
contempt at the partial character, which the two brought to bear upon
their designs of evil. Without virtue and radically vicious, they were
alike deficient in that bold and daring insolence, which can defy the
laws which it offends, and by a courage, of however doubtful merit, at
least elevate its offences above the level of sneaking and insidious
vice. His game was that of the cunning angler, who knows that his hook
is keenly fixed in the jaws of his prey, and who plays with his hopes
only to make his fears more oppressive, and his compliance the more
unreserved and unqualified.
Hurdis was awaiting his companion in the place appointed.
"What have we here——who is this?" he exclaimed in surprise, as he
beheld the stranger with Pickett.
"It is a friend?" replied the latter with a subdued and
"A friend!" said Hurdis. "What friend? who? we want no friend——why
have you brought him?"
"You mistake," said the stranger boldly. "Youdo want a friend,
though you may not think so; and I am the very man for you. But go
aside with Pickett——he'll tell you all about it."
Having thus spoken, the emissary coolly seated himself upon a log,
and John Hurdis completely confounded by his impudence, turned, as he
was bidden, for explanation to his agent. They went aside together, and
in a confused and awkward manner, Pickett went through the bitter
narration, which it almost paralysed the other to hear.
"Great God, Ben Pickett——what have you done? we are ruined——lost
The cold sweat rolled from the forehead of Hurdis, and his knees
trembled beneath him. His companion tried to console him.
"No——there's no sort of danger. Hear his story of his business, and
we know much more against him, than he knows against us."
"And what is that to us? What is it to me that I can prove him a
villain or a murderer, Ben Pickett? Will it help our defence to prove
another as worthy of punishment, as ourselves? Will it give us
"We must make the best of it now. It's too late to grieve about
it," said the other.
"Ay, we must make the best of it," said Hurdis, becoming suddenly
bold, yet speaking in tonesthat were suppressed to a whisper——"and
there is but one way. Hear me, Ben Pickett——does this fellow come
"Ha! That is fortunate——then we have him. His companions
are——where, did you say?"
"All about——on the high roads——every where—— from Augusta to
Montgomery, to Mobile, to Tuscaloosa——from the Muscle Shoals to
Jackson——from Tuscaloosa to Chochuma. Every where, according to his
account of it."
"Which is probably exaggerated. They may be every where, but they
certainly are not here——not in this neighbourhood."
"We don't know that, 'Squire. God! there's no telling. To think
that the fellow should track me so, makes me afraid of every thing."
"You were careless, Pickett——frightened, perhaps——"
"No, I wasn't. I was just as cool as I wished to be, and I cleared
every step in the road afore I jumped it."
"It needs not to talk of this. We must be more careful in future.
We must match his cunning with greater cunning, or we are undone
forever. We are in his power, and who knows that he is one of a gang
such as you describe? Who knows that he is not anofficer of
justice——one who suspects us, and is come to find out our secrets?"
"No, no, 'Squire——how should he be able to tell me all that he did?
How should he know that I shot Dick Hurdis from the hill that hangs
over the road?"
"You remember you told me that yourself, Ben Pickett, and you say
he overheard our conversation," cried Hurdis eagerly.
"Yes, 'Squire, but how should he know that I hid my nag in a
thicket of poplars——how should he be able to tell me the very sort of
stump I fastened him to?"
"And did he do that, Ben?"
"That he did——every bit of it. No, no, 'Squire—— he saw all that he
says he saw, or he got it from somebody that did see it."
"Great Heavens! what are we to do!" exclaimed Hurdis, as he folded
his hands together, and looked with eyes of supplication upwards. But
his answer and the counsel which it conveyed, came from an entirely
"Do! well that's the question," replied Pickett, "and I don't know
what to tell you, 'Squire."
"We must do something——we cannot remain thus at the mercy of this
fellow. The thought is horrible. the rope is round our necks, Ben, and
he has the end in his hands."
"It's too true."
"Hear me!" said Hurdis in a whisper, and drawing his companion
still farther from the spot where the emissary had been left in
waiting——"There is but one way. He comes alone. We must silence him.
You must do it, Ben."
"Do what, Squire?"
"Do what!" exclaimed the other impatiently, though still in a
whisper. "Would you have me utter every word? Do with him as you have
done with Dick Hurdis."
"I've thought of that, 'Squire, but——"
"There's a mighty risk."
"There's risk in every thing. But there's no risk greater than that
of being at the mercy of such a blood hound."
"That's true enough, 'Squire; but he's too much for me single
handed. You must help me."
"What's the need? You don't think to do it now?" demanded Hurdis in
"If it's to be done at all, why not now? The sooner, the better,
'Squire. This is the very time. He has poked his nose into our pot, and
he can't complain, if he gets it scorched. Together, we could put it to
him, so that there could be no mistake."
But this counsel did not suit the less courageous nature of John
"No, Ben, that would be a risk, indeed. Wemight tumble him, but a
chance shot from a desperate man, might also tumble one or both of us."
"We must think of something else——some safer course, which will be
equally certain. He sleeps at your house."
"Yes,"——said the other quickly, "but I will do nothing of that
sort, within smell of Betsy. It's bad enough to draw blood on the high
road, but it must not run on one's own hearth."
"Pshaw! where's the difference. Murder is murder wherever it is
"That's true, 'Squire, but there's a feeling in it, that makes the
difference. Besides, I won't have the old woman worried with any of
this business. I've kept every thing of this sort from her that I
could; and the thing that I most hated Dick Hurdis for, was his making
such a blaze of that whipping business, as to bring it to her sight.
There's Jane, too! No, 'Squire, my wife and child, must not know all
the dirty matters that stick to my fingers."
"Well! as you please, on that score. But something must be done.
You must fix a trap for him. When does he leave you?"
"There's no knowing. He wants to fix you as as he's fixed me——to
make us both members of his clan——Mystic Brotherhood——as he calls it,
and when that's done, I suppose he'll be off."
"But why should he desire this? What motive can he have in it? Why
a society so extensive."
"There's no telling; only you'll have to consent."
"What! to this accursed Brotherhood? Never!"
"How can you help it, 'Squire? If you don't he'll expose you. He
swears to hang you, if you do not."
"But he cannot. How can he prove his charge? Besides, I struck no
blow——I never left my home."
"You forget, 'Squire, he heard our talk together."
"But who'll believe him, Ben? You can swear him down that you never
had such a conversation."
"No!——I dare not, for then he'd prove me to be the man that shot.
We must submit, 'Squire, I'm afraid, or he'd convict us both; and to
save myself, I'd swear against you. I'd have to do it, 'Squire."
This declaration completed the misery of Hurdis, as it showed him
how insecure was the tenure, by which the slaves of vice are held
together. the bitterness of fear——the very worst bitterness of human
passion——was in his heart, in all its force and fulness, and he had to
drink deeper draughts of its humiliating waters even than this.
"What! Ben Pickett, can it be that you would give evidence against
me——after all I have done for you? You do not tell me so."
"To save life only, 'Squire: To save life only—— for no other
necessity. But life is sweet, 'Squire——too sweet for us to stand on any
friendship, when we can save it by giving every thing up beside. It
wouldn't be at the first jump neither, 'Squire, that I would let out
the secrets of an old friend. It is only when I see there's no other
hope to save myself, and then, I should be mighty sorry."
"Sorry!" exclaimed Hurdis, bitterly. "Thus it is," he thought, "to
use base instruments for unworthy ends. The slave becomes the
arbiter——the master——and to silence and subdue our fears, we add to our
secret consciousness of shame."
In anxiousness, but without expression, he mused thus with his own
"Well, Ben, since it can be no better," he spoke to his companion;
"we must even hold together, and do as well as we can to work ourselves
out of this difficulty. You are resolved to do nothing with the fellow
at your own house."
Pickett replied in words and a tone, which made his negative
"We must see his hand, then, and know the game he intends to play,"
continued Hurdis. "You are agreed that we must get him out of the way
for our own safety. To say when and how is all the difficulty. Am I
"That's it, 'Squire; though, somehow, if we could clinch him now,
it seems to me it would be better than leaving it over for another
"That's not to be thought on, Ben. It's too great a risk."
"I don't know, 'Squire. I could give him a dig while you're talking
with him; and if, when I made the motion, you could take him by the
throat, or only dash your hat in his face to confuse him, I think it
might be done easily enough."
Pickett showed his Bowie knife as he spoke, which he had carefully
hidden in his bosom, unperceived by his guest, before he went abroad.
But this plan, though, perhaps, the best, met with no encouragement
from his more politic, or, to speak plainly, more timid companion. He
shook his head, and the voice of the emissary at a little distance, was
heard, as he sang some rude ditty to cheer the solitude of his
situation, or perhaps to notify the twain that he was becoming
"Hark! he approaches us," said Hurdis. "Let us say no more now.
Enough that we understand each other. We must watch his game, in order
to determine upon our own; and, though, I would not we should do any
thing to night; yet, what we do, must not only be done without risk,
but must be done quickly. Let us go to him now."
Your oaths are past, and now subscribe your name,
That his own hand, may strike his honor down,
That violates the smallest branch herein.
—— Love's Labor Lost
Unto bad causes, swear
Such creatures as men doubt.
—— Julius Cæsar
The emissary had awaited the end of their long conference with
"I could have told you all in fewer words," he said bluntly to John
Hurdis, the moment they came in sight.——"The story is soon told by one
who is accustomed to it. I am compelled to talk it over to so many,
that I go through it now almost as a matter of memory, with a certain
set of words which I seldom have occasion to change. I trust that my
brother, here, has done no discredit to my skill, by halving it in
"I fear not," replied Hurdis.——"He has certainly told enough to
startle one less confidently assured in his own innocence, than myself.
He has unfolded a strange history in my ears. Can it be true?"
"And you really have the large number of persons leagued together
which he mentions?"
"Full fifteen hundred."
"And for such purposes?"
"And what is your object here? What do you seek from us?"
"To increase the number. We seek friends."
"Wherefore! Why should you increase your number, when such an
increase must only diminish your resources?"
"I don't know that such will be its effect, and it increases our
power. We gain in strength, when we gain in number."
"But why desire an increase of strength, when even now you have
enough for all your purposes?"
"Indeed! but who shall know——who declare——our purposes? I, even I,
know nothing of them all. I may suspect——I may conjecture——but I know
them not. They are kept from us, till the proper moment."
"Indeed——who should then——if you do not? Who keeps them from you?"
"The Grand Council. They determine for us, and we execute."
"Who are they?"
"That must be a secret from you, yet. You shallknow it, and all our
secrets, when you shall have taken your several degrees in our
"I will take none!" said Hurdis, with more emphasis than
"You do not say it!" was the cool reply of the emissary. "You dare
"How! not dare?"
"It's as much as your life is worth."
"You speak boldly."
"Because I am confident of strength, my brother," replied the
emissary. "You will speak boldly too——more boldly than now——when you
become one of us. You will feel your own strength, when you know ours.
When you feel as I do, that there are friends forever nigh, and
watchful of your safety; making your enemies theirs; guarding your
footsteps; fighting your battles; making a common cause of your
interests, and standing elbow to elbow with you, in all your dangers.
Wherefore should I be bold enough to seek you here——two of you, both
strong men——both, most probably armed.——I, alone, having strength of
person, not greater, perhaps, than either of you, and, possibly, not so
well armed——but that I feel myself thus mighty in my connections? I
know they have taken my footsteps——they know where I am at all seasons,
as I know where to find others of our Brotherhood, and if I could not
call them at a given moment, to save me from a sudden blow, I am at
least certain that they know where, and when to avenge me. But, for
this, brothers, both, I should not have ventured my nose into your very
den, as I may call it, telling you of your tricks upon travellers, and
spurring you into our ranks."
The audacious development of the emissary absolutely confounded the
two criminals, before whom he stood. They looked at one another,
vacantly, without answer, and the emissary smiled to see in the ghastly
star light, their not less ghastly countenances. He put his hand upon
the arm of Hurdis who stood next to him.
"I see you are troubled, brother; but what reason have you to fear?
The worst is over. Your secret is known to friends——to those only who
can and will serve you."
"Friends! Friends! God help me, what sort of friends!" was the
bitter speech of Hurdis, as he listened to this humiliating sort of
consolation. With increasing bitterness he continued.——"And what do our
friends want of me? what shall I do for them—— what give them? Their
friendship must be paid for, I suppose. You want money?"
"We do——but none of yours."
"And why not mine as well as others. Is it not quite as good?"
"Quite, but not enough of it, perhaps. But we never take from our
friends——from those whom weare resolved to have in our brotherhood. You
might give us money upon compulsion, but it would be scarce worth our
while, to extort that, when your co-operation is necessary to our other
purposes, and must result in getting us a great deal more."
"I must know how——I must know your other purposes, before I consent
to unite with you. I will not league with those who are common
"Common robbers, brother," cried the emissary with a contemptuous
sneer, "are not, perhaps, such noble people as common murderers, but, I
take it, they are quite as virtuous. But we are not common robbers, my
brother; far from it. You do great injustice to the Mystic Brotherhood.
Know from me that we are simply seekers of justice; and we only differ
from all others having the same object, in the means which we take to
bring it about. We are those who redress the wrongs and injuries of
fortune, who protect the poor from the oppressor, who subdue the
insolent, and humble the presumptuous and vain. Perhaps, we are, in
truth, the most moral community under the sun; since our policy keeps
us from harming the poor, and if we wrong any body, it is only those
who do. We take life but seldom, and then only with the countenance of
our social laws, and by the will of the majority, except in individual
cases, when the fundamental law of self-protection makes the exception
to other lawswhich are specified. Does your court house in Marengo do
better than that——more wisely, more justly? I know to the contrary, my
brother, and so do you."
"But we are content with our laws," said Hurdis.
"Ah, indeed! are you willing to be tried by them. Shall I go to the
attorney, and tell him what I know ——shall I point to your agent beside
you, and say he shot down a tall fellow without any notice, and would
have robbed him of his money, if he could, and all on your account."
"You could not say that!" said Hurdis in trembling haste——"his
robbery was not our object."
"His death was."
"Ay——but he was an enemy——a hateful, malignant enemy——one who
trampled on his elder and his brother——"
"Was he your brother?" exclaimed the emissary starting back at the
words, and looking upon the criminal in undisguised astonishment.
The silence of Hurdis answered the question sufficiently.
"Your own brother——the child of the same mother! Well! It must have
been a cruel wrong that he did to you."
"It was!" stammered out Hurdis in reply.
"It must have been," said the other——"It must have been. I would
take a great deal from a brother, if I had one, before I'd shoot him,
and then, I tell you, if 'twas necessary to be done, my own hands
should do it. I wouldn't send another man on the business. But, I've
nothing to do with that. All that I've got to say is, that you're just
the sort of man we want. You must be one of us. Swear to stand by us,
help us and counsel with us, and in all respects obey the Grand
Council, and be faithful."
"Any thing but that. Tell me, my good fellow, is there no
alternative. Will not money answer? You shall have it."
"Money!——why, what can you give that we might not take. What are
you worth that you talk so freely of money. We can take your life and
money too. You only live by our indulgence. And why do we indulge
you?——not because of any affection that we bear you, nor because of any
admiration which we entertain of your abilities and valour, but simply
because we lack assistants, here and there, throughout the whole
southwest, in order to facilitate the progress of certain great events,
which we have in preparation. But for this, we should compound with
you, and take a portion of your wealth, in lieu of your life, which you
have forfeited. This is what we do daily. Whenever we detect a
criminal——a friend, as it were, ready made to our hands—— we do not
expose, but guard his secret; and when he becomes one of us, his secret
becomes ours, which it is, then, no less our policy, than principle to
preserve. No, no, my brother——we want you, not your money. Do you keep
your money, but we will keep you."
"Great God!" muttered the miserable wretch in self rebuke, "into
what a pit have I fallen. Better die——better perish at once, than
submit to such a bondage as this."
"As you please, my friend——but to one or the other you must submit.
You have heard my terms, you must decide quickly. I have not much time
to waste——I have other members to secure for the confederacy, and must
leave you in a day or so."
"What am I to do——what is it you require?"
"Your oath——your solemn oath to do what I shall enjoin upon you,
now, and what ever else may at times be enjoined upon you by the Grand
"What may that be? What sort of duties do they enjoin?"
"I cannot answer you that. Our duties are various, and are
accommodated to the several capacities and conditions of our members.
You, for example, are a man of substance and family. From you, the
tasks exacted would seldom be of an arduous character. You will,
perhaps, be required to furnish monthly reports of the conduct, wealth,
principles, and pursuits of your neighbours, particularly the most
wealthy, active, and intelligent. It is the most importantbranch of our
study, to know all those who are able to serve, or to annoy us. You
must also communicate to us, the names of all who intend emigrating
from your parts——find out, and let us know their destination——the route
they take——the amount of money they have with them, their arms, and
resolution. I will give you an address which will enable you to
communicate these things!"
The enumeration of these degrading offices, filled the measure of
John Hurdis's humiliation. A sense of the most shameful servitude vexed
his soul, and he absolutely moaned aloud, as in the extremity of his
despair, he demanded——
"May there be more than this?"
"Hardly. You will, perhaps, be required to meet the brotherhood
before long, in order to learn what farther duties they may impose."
"Meet them!——where——where do they meet?"
"Every where——but where is not to be said at this time. You will be
warned in season by one of our messengers, and, possibly, by myself,
who will show you the sign, and whom you must follow. Let me show you
the sign now, and administer the oath."
The victim submitted, as Pickett had already done, and the bonds of
iniquity were sealed, and signed between them. John Hurdis began to
feel that there was no slavery so accursed——no tyranny so
unscrupulous——no fate so awful, as that of guilt.He almost began to
steel himself with the conviction that it would be an easier matter for
him to give himsel up at once to the executioner of the laws. With a
feeling almost akin to despair, he beheld the cool emissary take out
his pocket book, and in the uncertain light of the night record their
names——nay, actually tax both himself and Pickett for the right
orthography in doing so——with all the exemplary and courtly nicety of
one "learned in the law."
"It must be done:
There is no timely season in delay,
When life is waiting. I must take the sword,
Though my soul trembles. Would it were not so."
The conference was over. The emissary did not seem willing to waste
more words than were absolutely necessary. He was a man of business.
But Hurdis, to whom the conference had been so terrible, he was
disposed to linger.
"I must speak with you, Ben Pickett, before you go," said he
hoarsely to his colleague. The emissary heard the words, and went
aside, saying, as he did so, with a good humoured smile of indifference
upon his countenance——
"What! you would not that I should hear, though you know we are now
of the same family. You will grow wiser one day."
"It's nothing," said Hurdis——"a small matter—— a mere trifle," and
his tones faltered in the utterance of the lie.
"It's of no account," said the emissary, "I donot care to know it;"
and, whistling as he went, he put aside the bushes which surrounded the
group, and made his way towards the road.
"Ben Pickett," said Hurdis, when the emissary had got out of
hearing——"I cannot bear this dreadful bondage——it will kill me, if I
suffer it a week. We must break from it——we must put an end to it in
some way or other. I cannot stoop to do the dirty business of this
confederacy——these grand rascals——and what is our security? This
scoundrel or any one of the pack, may expose us at any moment, and
after toiling deeper in the mire, we shall be taken out of it at the
cart's tail. It is not to be thought on——I cannot bear it. Speak to me.
Say ——what are we to do?"
"Well, 'Squire——I can't say——it's for you to speak. You know best."
"Nonsense, Ben Pickett——this is no time for idle compliments. It is
you who should know best. You are better taught in the tricks of these
scoundrels, than I am, and can give better counsel of what we are to
do. Something must be done;——is there no easier way to get rid of this
fellow than by—— you know what I mean. I would not that either of us
should do any more of that business."
"I reckon not, 'Squire. There's only one way to stop a wagging
tongue, that I know of; and if you're willing to lend a hand, why, the
sooner it's done,the better. The chap stands by the end of the broken
The constitutional timidity of John Hurdis arrested the suggestion,
ere it was fully spoken.
"That's too great a risk, Ben——besides, we have not come prepared."
"I don't know, 'Squire. I've got a knife that's sharp enough, and I
reckon you've got your pistols. 'Twould be easy enough as we walk along
beside him. The night's clear enough to let you take good sight upon
"But should the pistol miss fire, Ben——"
"Why then, my knife,"——was the prompt reply.
"It might do, Ben, if he were not armed also. But you remember, he
told us that he was, and it is but reasonable to think, that he must
be, coming on such a business as this. He must not only be armed, but
well armed. No, no! It will not do just now; and there's another
objection to our doing it here. It's too nigh home. Let him leave us
first, Ben, and its safest in every respect to give him long shot for
his passport. That's our plan, Ben——I see no other."
"Just as you say, 'Squire, just as you say; but to tell you the
truth, I'm almost of the notion that it's best to come toe to toe, at
the jump——take it now, in the starlight, and have it over. It's a
monstrous cold business now, that watching behind a bush with
yourrifle, 'till your enemy comes in sight. It's a cold business."
"Yes——it may be, but it's the safest of all; and our safety is now
the single object of both of us. That must be the way, Ben; and——"
"But who'll watch for him? You, I think——there's no other, for, as
he sleeps at my house, I can't leave him, you know, to take a stand.
You'll have to do it."
The suggestion was an astounding one; and, for a few moments,
Hurdis was puzzled and silent. To become himself a principal actor in
such a business, was no part of his desire. He was unprepared, as well
by habit, as constitution, to engage in deeds of violence, where he
himself was the chief performer, though at no sort of personal risk.
Not that he had moral or human scruples in the matter. We have seen
enough of him already, to know the reverse. It was necessary, however,
for him to say something; and he proposed a course to his confederate
which was vacillating and indecisive, and could promise not even a
probable advantage. He could not muster courage enough to recognize the
necessity of doing all himself, and looking his task in the face.
"Well, but you could let him off and follow him, as you followed
"Yes, if I knew his course so well. But whenhe leaves the
neighbourhood road, who knows where he'll strike. All we know, is, that
he goes upward. We are sure of him then before he gets to the 'Crooked
Branch,' which is but ten miles off. There you could watch for him
snugly enough, and be sure of him from the opposite hill for a good
quarter of an hour. But it would be impossible for me to beat round
him, so as to get in front, before he reaches that point; and after
that, who knows where he turns his bridle."
"Well, Ben, but you must find that out. You can inquire as you go,
and mark his hoofs."
The other shook his head.
"I'm dubious about that way, 'Squire. If the fellow says true, that
he has his friends all about him, I may be asking about his tracks from
one of them, and then all's dicky with both of us. I think 'Squire,
there's only that one way, which is the safe one. You'll have to take
the bush at 'Crooked Branch,' and do this business yourself."
"But I'm not a sure shot with the rifle, Ben, and to miss were to
knock every thing in the head."
"Take your double barrel; you're a good shot with that. Put twenty
buck shot in each barrel, and give him one after the other. He won't
know the difference."
"If I should miss, Ben——"
"You can't miss——how can you? The path's clear ——nothing to stop
your sight. You're out of his reach. You're on the hill. You see him
coming towards——going round by——you, and you see him for two hundred
yards on a clear track, after he's passed you. There's no chance of his
getting off, Squire—— and——"
"Ha! what's that," cried Hurdis, as the sound of a pistol shot
aroused all the sleeping echoes of the wood. The voice of the emissary
followed, and he was heard approaching them through the bushes.
"Don't be frightened, brothers, but believing you to have fallen
asleep, I thought to rouse you up for fear that you'd take cold. Are
you most done, for I'm getting cold myself."
They were taught by this——which the emissary probably desired——that
he had fire arms, and enough, too, to render the loss of one load a
matter of small consequence.
"The fellow's getting impatient," said Hurdis in suppressed tones
to Pickett. Then, crying aloud, "we will be with you directly," he
hurried through the rest of his bloody arrangements for the ensuing
day. When they were about to go forth, Pickett suddenly stopped his
"I had almost forgot, 'Squire, but do you know, Bill Carrington's
got back already. He gave me a mighty bad scare to day that I ha'n't
got over yet."
"How?" demanded Hurdis with natural alarm.
"I saw him going from my house door. He hadn't been in it, so Betsy
swore to me, though I could almost swear I saw him come out; and
without stopping to say what he wanted, he took to the woods, like one
more frightened than myself."
"Strange! He hadn't come home by dinner time to day. Did you take
"Yes, after a little while I did, but I was too much scared at
first to do any thing quickly; not that I was so much scared by Bill
Carrington, as by another that I saw just afore him."
"Who was that?"
John Hurdis started back, and with jaws distended, and cheeks,
whose pallid hue denoted the cowardly heart within him, almost gasped
his words of astonishment.
"Ha!——you do not say——but——why ask? You had not killed him
then——and yet——if you had wounded him even, how could he be there?"
"He was not there," replied the other in low and trembling
accents.——"It was his ghost."
"Pshaw! I believe not in such things," was the answer of Hurdis;
but his faltering tones contradicted the confidence of his language.
"It was your imagination, Ben——nothing else."
And, speaking thus, he drew nigher to Pickett, and looked
cautiously around him. The other, who had faith, had less fear than him
who had none.
"Well, I can't say I don't believe in the things that I see. Call
it imagination or what you will, it gave me a mighty bad scare,
'Squire. But, come, sir, let us go to this man——he is approaching us
again——I hear his whistle."
"A moment," said Hurdis. Pickett hung back, while the other
hesitated to speak. It required an unusual effort to enable him to do
"I say, Ben——I'm ready to do this matter, but if you could contrive
any way to take it off my hands, I should like it——"
"I don't see, 'Squire, how I can," said the other.
"If a couple of hundred, or even three, Ben——"
"I'd like to serve you, 'Squire, but——"
"Say five, Ben."
"I reckon it's imposible, 'Squire. I see no way; besides, to tell
you the truth, I'd rather not. When I think that the blood on my hands,
already, is got for fighting another man's battles, 'Squire, I'm worse
satisfied than ever with what I've done, and I'm clear for doing no
more, hereafter, than is for my own safety."
"But this is for your safety, Ben——we are in the same boat."
"Not so, 'Squire——our boats are different——verydifferent. You are
in a fine large ship with mighty sails——I am in a poor dug-out. If I
lose my dug-out it's no great matter. But your ship, 'Squire, if you
"I lose more than you do, and yet we both lose all we have, Ben.
You, your life——I mine——it matters not much which of us is the most
wealthy, since we both lose every thing in losing life. Our loss is
equal then, and it is your interest, quite as much as mine, to put this
fellow out of the way."
"Well, 'Squire, the truth is, I'm tired of scuffling for life. I've
been scuffling for it all my life. I won't scuffle any more. I'll take
the world as I find it. I'll take my chance with this fellow, and run
the risk of his blabbing, sooner than squat down behind a bush and blow
his brains out."
"And yet you expect me to do it, Ben."
"No, I don't expect you. You ask me how to put this fellow out of
your way——and I tell you. I know no other way, unless you'll come to
the scratch at once, and have it out with him now, while the stars are
"What! just when you've heard his pistol too, and know that he's
well provided in arms. That would be madness."
"I know no other way, 'Squire," was the indifferent reply.
"Ah, Ben, don't desert me," was the pitiful appealof the imbecile
villain.——"Don't fly from me at the very first sign of danger."
"I don't, 'Squire——I'm ready to jump now, this minute, into its
throat, though you know, as well as I do, that it's full of teeth."
"That we must not do. We should both perish, perhaps——certainly, if
my pistol should miss fire."
"But it would be a warm scuffle for it, 'Squire, and that's better
than waiting in a cold bush."
"We must not think of such a plan. It would be folly. The first is
the best after all——the safest. I must do it then myself. I will. Why
should I fear? All rests on it, and he——what is he? The deed were a
benefit to society, not less than to ourselves."
A sudden fit of courage and morality grew at once prominent
together in the spirit of the dastard. Driven to the necessity, he at
length seemed to embrace it with the resolution of the man; and, thus
resolved, he went forth to meet the person whom, the next day, he had
decreed for the sacrifice.
Like dastard curres, that having at abay
The savage beast embost in wearie chace,
Dare not adventure on the stubborn prey,
Ne byte before, but rome from place to place,
To get a snatch, when turned is his face.
—— Faery Queen
The emissary of the Mystic confederacy had been well chosen for the
business upon which he came. He discriminated at a glance, between the
characters of John Hurdis and his agent. The imbecility of the one had
been the chief occasion of his vices; the destitution of the other had
originated his. A proper education, alone, with due reference to their
several deficiencies, could have saved them; and, under strict guidance
and just guardianship they had, doubtlessly, been both good men. They
were not, however; and the task of the emissary was to make the
particular deficiencies of each, the agent for securing the required
degree of influence over them. To Pickett, when Hurdis left them, he
had that to say, which, though it did not entirely answer the intended
purpose of securing his hearty co-operation, had, at least, the effect
of confounding him. Though the agent of Hurdis could not be immediately
changed into an enemy, he was effectually prevented from appearing
forever after in the attitude of an active friend. The words were few,
which effected this object.
"That is a poor creature for whom you risked your life. If he
dared, he would even now have you risk it again for him. There is no
need to risk it for yourself. He would pay you well to murder me! The
fool! as if I, only, am in possession of his secret——as if I were
utterly unguarded in coming down into his jaws, or stood in any sort of
danger of their closing upon me. I'll tell you what, brother, ——when
you stab or shoot, let it be on your own account. If you do it for
another, let it be for one who is not too great a coward to do it for
himself. Here's a wretch, would kill his enemy——that's nothing——if his
own arm held the weapon! Has the feeling which makes him hate——the
malignity which prompts him to revenge, yet lacks the very quality,
which alone can make hate honorable, and malignity manly. By the seal
of the Grand Council, if 'twere with me, I'd compound with the fellow
for his life——take his money, as much as he could give——and let him off
from the confederacy. I despise such sneaks, and would trust them with
nothing. And yet——they have their uses. To savehis own throat, he can
tell us where others are to be found, and do the business of a spy, if
he lacks the boldness to take the weapon of the soldier. The scoundrel,
too, to strike his own brother——there's no trusting such a chap,
Pickett, and it's fortunate for you that another has him on the skirts,
as well as yourself. If ever this business had come out, you would have
suffered all——he'd have made you the scapegoat, and would have lacked
the will, as well as the courage, to have helped you, by a proper
effort, out of the halter. He is planning something now——I know
it——something against me;——but he must be a keener hunter of blood than
I think him, to find me napping. By mid-day to-morrow, I'll put another
hound upon his track, so that he shall take no step without the Council
Thus speaking, the emissary led the way back to the hovel of
Pickett, with a manner of the utmost unconcern. The latter was too much
bewildered by what he heard——by his own peculiar situation, and the
position in which his former coadjutor was likely to be placed——to
think of any thing calmly, or to make any answer. He began, with that
easy pliability to vice and its suggestions, which had always marked
his character, to feel that there was no need for him to struggle
against a power that almost seemed like a fate; and if he had any
reflections at all, they were those of one, who, buffeting muchwith the
world's troubles, had, at last, learned to make something of the worst
of them. His mind began to address itself to the advantages which might
result from this new association, and it was not an emissary so
faithful to his trust, as the one before us, who would suffer these to
go unmustered into notice. Before Pickett slept that night, he had come
to the conclusion that he might as well take his share in the business
of the Mystic confederacy, which promised so magnificently and paid so
But, meanwhile, what of John Hurdis? What were his thoughts——his
dreams, that night? Any thing but pleasant and promising. The hopes of
Pickett——springing from his poverty and destitution ——were nothing to
him. He was rich——a man of family and substance. Standing fair in the
world's esteem——seeking the regards and the affections of the virtuous,
and the beautiful——what were his reflections in the position in which
he now found himself? His felony brought home to his doors, and only
withheld from public exposure——at the mercy of a band of professed
felons——and then, only, by his timely compliance with their laws and
exactions ——by his becoming one with them——forced into their
crimes——forced into all their thousand responsibilities. What a mesh of
dangers gathered about him! What a fecund crime was that which he had
committed! The teeth of his malignity were alreadysprouting from the
ground, and under his own feet. Well might he tremble at every step he
was about to take, and bitterly curse the folly, not less than the
wickedness, of the deed which he had commissioned Pickett to perform.
And Pickett, too, had deserted him——that was a blow not less severe
than the rest. Could he have thrust upon the hands of his agent the
other deed yet to be done, he had been comparatively easy, not so much
because of the service itself, but because he would not then have been
taught so terribly to feel the awful solitude of crime. The desertion
of the confederate is, perhaps, the first-felt warning which a just
fate despatches to the vicious.
"Fool! miserable fool that I was!" raved the miserable Hurdis when
he found himself alone. "Where am I? What have I done? Where do I
stand? The earth opens before me. Would it hide me! I have labored
wildly, and without profit. I am no nearer to Mary Easterby than
ever——nay, farther off than ever——and the blood of a brother, shed that
I might clear the way to her, is upon my hands in vain. She rejects me,
and I have gained nothing but misery and danger. I am at the mercy of
the worst——the most desperate of mankind!——With no ties to bind them in
my service and to secrecy. The very wealth which I believed capable to
do every thing, rejected at my hands.There is but one hope——but one
chance for freedom. It must be done, and, double misery!——my hand alone
must do it. I must not shrink——I must not falter now. On the word of
this desperado my life hangs. I must risk life that he should not speak
that word. He must be silenced. Better that I should do so now, than
wait till the sheriff knocks at the door. It cannot be worse——it may
His terrors did not deprive him of his cautions, nor operate to
defeat his deliberate thoughts upon the course which he resolved to
take. On the contrary, it rather contributed to increase his acuteness,
and make his caution more deliberate than ever. Nature which denied him
courage, seemed to have provided him, in his strait, with a double
share of cunning; and one little incident will sufficiently serve to
show his own providence in making his arrangements. He had to take his
gun from his chamber after he had carefully loaded both barrels with
buck shot, and, lest he might be met while descending the stairs, by
any of the family or servants, he lowered it from his window by means
of a string—— thus obviating any danger of being seen armed at an
unusual hour of the night. Before the day had dawned, he had made his
way to the place designed for his concealment; and with the patience,
if not the indifference, of the professed outlaw, he waited for the
approach of one.
He had to wait for some hours, for Pickett's hospitality towards
his new associate, would not suffer him to depart till after breakfast.
The same consideration was not sufficient, however, to induce the
former to acquaint the emissary with the ambush which he well knew had
been set for him. His regards had not yet been warmed to such a degree.
His policy may be comprised in few words.
"If," thought he, "John Hurdis kills him, well and good——I've
nothing to do with it——I can lose nothing by it, but will most probably
escape from a connection, which is decidedly dangerous. But, whether I
escape from the connection or not, at least I am safe from any charges
of having done this deed; I am certainly untroubled with the
consciousness of it. Should he not kill him, still well and good——we
stand where we are. I am neither worse nor better. The confederacy, if
it has its dangers, has its rewards also——and what am I, and what are
my prospects in the world, that I should heed the former, when the
latter are to me, so important a consideration. Live or die, my
brother, (here he adapted the affectionate language of the emissary,)
Live or die, my brother, it's all one to me."
And with these thoughts, though unexpressed, he sent the emissary
forward on his path of danger. As was inevitable, he took the road
upward according to the opinion of Pickett, and, it may be added, his
course was directly over the ground which he had already travelled. The
distance was small, however, from the house of Pickett, to the spot
where Hurdis awaited him; and the fellow took no long time in
approaching it. Meanwhile, what were the emotions of the felonious
watcher. We may imagine——I cannot describe them. Life and death
depended upon his resolve——so he thought, at least—— yet was he still
irresolute. He had chosen, with the judgment of one experienced in such
matters, the very spot which, for all others, afforded him the best
opportunity of putting his design in execution. Approaching or
departing from him, his victim was at his mercy for a full hundred
yards on either hand. The bushes around effectually concealed him——his
aim was unobstructed——the path was not often travelled——not liable to
frequent interruption ——the day was dark——there was not a breath
stirring. Yet the hand of the assassin trembled, and the tremor at his
heart was even greater than that of his hand. Nature had not designed
him for a bold villain. He might have made a cunning shopkeeper, and
succeeded, perhaps, in doing a far better business, though not a more
moral one, in vending bad wares, and spurious money, than by crying,
"stand" to a true man. His nerves were not of the iron order, and
painfully, indeed, was he made conscious of this defect, as he beheld
his enemy approach. No opportunity could have been better. The road by
the branch, above which he lay in waiting, was almost under him; and
for a good three minutes, the movement of the traveller was in a direct
line with his first appearance. Hurdis got his gun in readiness, and
when the victim came within its reach, he raised it to his shoulder.
But it sank again a moment after. The muzzle veered to and fro, as a
leaf in the wind. He could not bring the sight to rest upon the
traveller. Keen was the anguish which he felt when he brought it down
to the earth; and it was in desperate resolve that he again lifted it.
"It must be done," he said to himself——"there is no hope else. My
life or his——shall I hesitate! I must do it——I cannot miss him now."
Again the instrument of death was uplifted in his unwilling hands,
and this time he rested it upon a limb of the tree, which rose directly
before his person.
"I have him now. It is but fifty yards. There he is beside the
poplar! Ha! what is this——where is he——I cannot see him——a mist is
before my eyes."
A mist had indeed, overspread his sight. His straining eyes were
full of water, and he drew back from the tube, and looked over it upon
the road. Still, his enemy was there. Why had he not seen him before?
He would have resumed his aim, but just then, he saw the eyes of the
emissary turned upwardsupon the very spot where he stood. Had he been
seen through the bushes? The doubt was a palsying one, and he shrunk
back in terror, and listened with a beating heart that shook in his
very throat, to hear the steps of the enemy in pursuit of him up the
hill. But he heard nothing and was emboldened to look again. He had
lost one chance. The emissary had rounded the branch, and was now upon
the other end of the trace and going from him. But his back was now
turned to the assassin, and his base spirit derived strength from this
circumstance. He felt that he could not have drawn a trigger upon his
foe, while he looked upon his face. He now did not doubt of his being
able to execute the deed. His arms were rigid——he felt that he was
resolved. There was not the slightest quiver in limb or pulse; and with
the confidence of assured strength, and a tried courage, he once more
lifted the weapon. Never did man take better aim upon his foe. The
entire back of the slow-moving stranger was towards him. The distance
was small, for, in rounding the branch, the traveller had approached,
rather than receded from, the point where the murderer lay in waiting.
Cautiously, but firmly, did he cock the weapon. The slight click upon
his own ears, was startling, and before he could recover from the start
which it had occasioned him, and while he was about to throw his eyes
along the barrel, his marrowlesspurpose was again defeated by one of
the simplest incidents in the world. A flock of partridges, startled by
the head of the horse, flew up from the road side, at the very feet of
the traveller. The moment had passed. The victim was out of reach
before his wretched enemy could recover his resolution. Desperate and
wild, John Hurdis rushed out of his covert, and half-way down the hill.
He would have cried aloud to the retreating emissary. He would have
defied him to an equal, mortal struggle. But the soul was wanting, if
not the will. The sound died away in his husky throat. The voice
stuck——the tongue was palsied. The imbecile dropped his weapon, and
sinking down upon the grass beside it, thrust his fingers into the
earth, and moaned aloud. It is a dreadful misery to feel that we can
confide in no friend——that we can trust no neighbour; but this sorrow
is nothing to that last humiliating conviction, which tells us that we
cannot trust ourselves. That our muscles will fail us in the trying
moment——that, when we most need resolution, we shall find none within
our hearts. That our nerves shall be unstrung when their tension is our
safety——that our tongue shall refuse its office, when its challenge is
necessary to warm our own hearts, and alarm those of our enemies.
Conscious imbecility next to conscious guilt, is the most crushing of
all mental maladies. To look upon that poor, base, criminal now, as he
lies upon the grass——his fingers stuck into the sod and fixed there
——his jaws wide, and the frothing tongue lolling out and
motionless——big drops upon his forehead——bigger drops in his red and
glassy eyes——his hair soaked by the sweat of his mental agony, and all
his limbs without life——and we should no longer hate, but pity——we
should almost forget his crime in the paralysing punishment which
followed it. But this was not the limit of his afflictions, though, to
the noble mind, it must appear the worst. There were yet other terrors
in store for him. He was yet to learn, even in this narrow life, that
"the wages of sin is death."
"Why stand you thus amazed? Methinks your eyes
Are fixed in meditation; and all here
Seem like so many senseless statues;
As if your souls had suffered an eclipse
Betwixt your judgment and affections."
—— Woman Hater
Hours elapsed before John Hurdis arose from the earth upon which he
had thrown himself, overcome by the mortification of his conscious
imbecility. When he did arise he was like one bewildered. But he went
forward. Stunned and staggering, he went forward——the stains of the
soil upon his face and hands——his gun and clothes marked also with the
proofs of his humiliation. But whither should he go? His mind, for a
brief space, took no heed of this question. He wandered on without
direction from his thought; but, with an old habit, he wandered towards
the dwelling of his coadjutor, Pickett. He was partially awakened from
his stupor, by the sounds of a voice——the merry voice of unheeding
childhood. The sounds were familiar——they half recalled him to
himself——they reminded him wherehe was, while fully impressing upon him
his forlorn condition. They were those of the idiot girl, and she now
came bounding towards him with an old feeling of confidence. But ere
she drew nigh, she remembered the interview with John Hurdis in which
her mother unexpectedly became a party. Without knowing why, she yet
well enough understood that her mother found fault with her conduct on
that occasion, and the remembrance served to arrest her forward
footsteps. She hung back when but a few feet from the criminal; and a
faint cry escaped her. She shrunk from his altered appearance. There is
no form of idiocy, which brings with it an utter insensibility to wo;
and never was wo more terribly depicted upon human countenance, than it
was then on that of John Hurdis. The involuntary exclamation and
spontaneous speech of the girl, taught the miserable criminal, who had
hitherto regarded his inner man only, to give a moment's consideration
to his outer appearance; and he smiled with a sick and ghastly smile to
behold the clay-stains upon his garments.
"Oh, Mister John——what's the matter——what have you been doing to
yourself. Look at your clothes. You've tumbled in the ditch, I reckon."
"Yes, Jane——yes! I've had a fall, Jane——a bad fall. But how do you,
Jane——I havn't seen you for a very long time."
"'Most a week, Mister John——and I've been wanting to see you too,
Mister John, to tell you all about the strange man, and dad; and how
mother was frightened so. But you're hurt, Mister John—— you've got a
bad hurt, I'm sure, or you wouldn't look so."
John Hurdis thought only of his hurts of mind, and his moral fall,
in replying to the idiot in the affirmative——a reply which she received
in a purely literal sense. She would have run on in a strain of
childish condolence, but he listened to her impatiently, and, at
length, with an air that mortified the child to whom he had always
looked indulgence only, he interrupted her prattle, and bade her go to
the hovel and send her father to him. She prepared to comply, but her
steps were slow, and looking back with an expression of mournful
dissatisfaction on her countenance, awakened Hurdis to a more
considerate feeling. Changing his tone of voice, and employing a few
kind words, she bounded to him with a sudden impulse, caught his hand,
kissed it, and then, like a nimble deer, bounded away in the direction
of the hovel. An age seemed to pass away, in the mind of the criminal,
ere Pickett came in obedience to his summons. When he beheld him
coming, he retired into the wood, to which the other followed him,
eagerly asking, as he drew nigh——
"Well, 'Squire——how's it——all safe——all done?"
"Nothing's done!" was the reply. All's lost—— all. Oh, Pickett! I
am the most miserable, the most worthless wretch alive. My heart failed
me at the very moment. My hand refused its office——my eyes——my
limbs——all denied their aid to rescue me from this accursed bondage. I
knew it would be so——I feared it. I would that you had done it——I
am!——Pity me, Ben Pickett, that I must say the words myself——I am a
coward——a poor, despicable coward. I cannot avenge my own wrong——I
cannot defend my own life. I cannot lift my arm, though the enemy
stands threatening before me. I must only submit and die."
The look which accompanied these words——the looks of mingled frenzy
and despair——of feebleness and passion——would beggar all attempt at
description. The cheeks of the wretched imbecile were white——whiter
then the marble. His eyes glassy, almost glazed with the glaze of
death. His mouth was open, and remained so during the greater part of
their conference; and a stupid stare which he fixed upon his companion
while the latter spoke in reply, was far from attesting that attention
which his ear, nevertheless, gave to his utterance. The inferior, yet
better nerved villain, absolutely pitied, and, after his own humble
fashion, endeavoured to console him under his afflictions. But words
are idle to him who has need of deeds which he dares not to
performhimself, and cannot purchase from another. It was a bitter
mockery to Hurdis, in his situation, to hear the commonplaces of hope,
administered by one whom guilt and ignorance, alike, made hopeless as a
teacher of others, as he must have been in his own case hopeless. After
hearing all that Pickett could say, Hurdis was only conscious of
"Go home with me, Ben——I feel so weak——I don't think I can find the
way myself. I am very weak and wretched. Let me take your arm."
Pickett complied, and relieving him from the gun, the weight of
which was oppressive to him under his general mental, and physical
prostration, conducted him through by-paths to his home. Ere they
reached the avenue, he gave him up the gun, and finding that he was
unable to confer farther, though willing, upon their mutual situation
and necessities, he left him with a cold exhortation to cheer up and
make the most of his misfortune. The other heard him with little head
or heed, and in the solitude of his own chamber endeavoured to conceal
the marks of that misery which he was only now beginning to discover it
was beyond his art to subdue.
But, to return to my own progress while these events were passing.
It will be remembered that, stunned by the murder of my friend, I was
for three days almost incapable of thought or action. I lingeredduring
that time with Colonel Grafton, whose own kindness and that of his
happy family ministered unremittingly to the sorrows which they did not
hope to stay. After that time I felt the necessity of action. The
stunning sensations occasioned by the first blow were now over, and I
began to look about me, and to think. I set forward on my way homeward,
burdened with the cruel story, which I did not know how to relate.
Nothing but a penknife and plain gold ring of William Carrington had
been left untouched by his robbers. They had stripped him of every
thing in the shape of arms and money. The knife was in a vest pocket
and was probably too insignificant for appropriation; the ring——one
given him by Katharine——was upon a little finger, and probably escaped
their notice, or was too tight for instant removal. These I bore with
me back——sad tokens of what I could not bring. His horse they had taken
in their flight from the hovel, and probably sold the next day in the
Choctaw nation. Mine was preserved to me, as, when William fell, and he
felt himself freed from all restraint, he naturally made his way back
to Colonel Grafton's where he had been well provided for the night
before. I had, indeed, lost nothing, but that which I could not
replace. My money was untouched in my saddle bags, and even that which
I had about my person had been left undisturbed. It is true, I had
concealedit in a secret pocket of my coat, but they had not even
offered at a search. The flight of Carrington had too completely
occupied their minds at first, and the large sum which they found upon
his person, had subsequently too fully answered their expectations to
render it important, in their urry, that they should waste time in
examining me. Perhaps, too, they may have regarded William as the purse
bearer for both. Whatever may have been the cause of their neglect, I
was certainly no loser of any thing with which I had at first set out.
And yet how dreadful was the loss which I had to relate! How could I
relate it——how name to the poor girl, looking for her lover, any one of
the cruel words, which must teach her that she looked for him in vain?
This was my continual thought, as I travelled homewards. I had no
other. It haunted me with a continual questioning, and the difficulty
of speech seemed to increase with the delay to answer it, and before I
had answered it, I reached home.
The very first person I encountered was John Hurdis. I approached
him unawares. He was walking from me, and towards the house. I had
dismissed from my bosom all feeling of hostility; for, since the murder
of William, it seemed to me that all my old hates and prejudices were
feeble. They were all swallowed up and forgotten in that greater
sorrow. So completely had this become the case, that, though, at
leaving him but a week before, I should have only spoken to him in
curses. I now spoke to him in kindness. My speech seemed to confound
him, no less than his conduct, on hearing it, confounded me. As I have
said, he was walking from me in the road leading up to the avenue. He
had nearly reached the entrance, and was so completely absorbed in his
own thoughts that the head of my horse provoked none of his attention.
I called to him, and I am sure that my voice could not have been made
more studiously unoffending.
"Well, John, how are you——how are all?"
"John——John!" he exclaimed, turning round, and staring at me with a
face full of unspeakable agitation. "Who's that! What do you mean? What
do you want with me? Ha!"
"Why, what's the matter with you, John?" I cried.——"What frightens
you——don't you know me?"
"Know you. Yes, yes——I know you;" and his face and movements both
indicated a strong disposition on his part to fly from me, but that his
trembling limbs refused to assist him.
"Why do you shrink from me?" I asked, thinking that all his
agitation arose from our previous quarrel, and the fear that I was
seeking some opportunity of personal collision with him. "Why do you
shrink from me, John Hurdis? I am not angry with you now——I do not seek
to harm you. Beyourself, brother, for God's sake, and tell me how the
old folks are. How's mother?"
He saw me alight from my horse, which I did at this moment, and
approach him, without being able to give me any answer. When, however,
I had got alongside of him, he enforced himself to speech, but without
replying to my question.
"And what brings you back? How did you——I mean——you have come back
"Ay——I am safe," was my answer; "but, truth to say, brother John,
you do not seem to know exactly what you mean. What! you are still
angry about the old business?——but you are wrong. It is for me to be
angry, if any body; but I am not angry——I have forgiven you. Tell me,
then, are the old people well?"
"They are!" was his only and brief answer; and I got nothing from
him, but plain yes and no, while we moved along together to the house.
He was evidently overcome with astonishment and fear. I knew him to be
timid, but, at that time——ignorant as I was then, of the history which
has been already related——I found it difficult to account for his
imbecility. It was easily understood afterwards. But even then I looked
on him with pity, mixed with scorn, as, shrinking and silent, he moved
along beside me. Guilty or not, I would not have had in my bosom such a
soul as his, for all creation.
Oh, stop that speedy messenger of death,
Oh, let him not run down that narrow path,
Which leads unto thy heart.
My unexpected return, of course, brought the family together. John
Hurdis could not well be absent, and he was a pale and silent listener
to my melancholy narrative. The story was soon told, and a dumb horror
seized upon all. I saw that he was palsied——that he shivered——that a
spasmodic emotion had fastened upon all his limbs, but even had he not
been guilty, such emotion, at such a narrative, would have been natural
enough. He rose to leave the room, but staggered in such a manner that
he was forced once more to take his seat. My account of the murder had
confirmed the story of the emissary. He had a vain, vague hope before,
that the clan——the Mystic Confederacy——was a fable of the stranger, got
up for purposes yet unexplained, or, if true, that its purposes and
power, had been alike exaggerated. The history of my seizure, and of
thepursuit of William Carrington, however, was attended with so many
circumstances of bold atrocity, that he could deceive himself no longer
as to the strength and audacity of the clan. Still, his guilty soul,
could draw some consolation, even from a fate so dreadful. He breathed
with more freedom, when he found that I unhesitatingly ascribed the
murder of my friend to the robbers, and had no suspicion in any other
quarter. His own common sense sufficiently taught him that such a
belief was the most reasonable and natural to one who did not know the
truth; and with a consciousness of increased security, from one quarter
at least, he did not afflict himself much with the reflection that he
had been the murderer of one unoffending person, and the cruel
destroyer of another's dearest hopes. So long as he was himself safe,
these considerations were of small importance. And, yet let us not
suppose that they did not trouble him. He had not slept in peace from
the moment that he despatched Pickett on his bloody mission. He was
doomed never to sleep in peace again——no, nor to wake in peace. Forms
of threatening followed his footsteps by day, and images of terror
haunted his dreams by night. He might escape from human justice, but he
soon felt how idle was any hope to escape from that worst presence of
all——the constant consciousness of crime.
But I must not forget my own trobles in surveyingthose of John
Hurdis. Of his woes I had no thought at this moment. My only thought
was of that fearful interview with Katharine. What would I not have
given could I have escaped it. But such wishes were foolish enough. I
had undertaken the task, regarding it as a solemn duty, as well to the
dead, as to the living, and, sooner or later, the task was to be
executed. Delay was proof of weakness, and that afternoon I set out for
the house of the poor maiden, widowed ere a wife. During the solitary
ride, I thought in vain of the words which I should use in telling her
the story. How should I break its abruptness——how soften the severity
of the stroke. The more I thought of this——as is most usually the case
in such matters with most persons, the more difficult and impracticable
did the labour seem, and, but for the shame of such a movement, I could
have turned my bridle, and trusted to a letter to do that, which I felt
it impossible that my lips should do well. I had seen preachers,
otherwise sagacious enough, undertake to console the afflicted, by
trite maxims, which taught them——strangely enough——to forbear grief for
the very reason which makes them grieve——namely, because their loss is
irreparable. "Your tears are vain," says the book-man.——"Therefore I
weep," replied the man. How to avoid such wanton folly was the question
with me, yet it was a question not so easy to answer. Themind runs upon
commonplaces in the matter of human consolation, and we prate of
resignation to the end of the chapter to those who never hear us. This,
of course, assumes the grief to be sincere. There is a conventional
sort of sorrow which is relieved by conventional language; and the heir
finds obedience to the will of providence, a very natural lesson. But
the love of Katharine Walton seemed to me a thing all earnestness. I
had seen enough of her to know that she could freely have risked life
for William Carrington——to tell her that no risk of life could save him
now, I felt convinced would almost be at the peril of hers. Yet the
irksome labour must be taken——the risk must be met. I had that sort of
pride which always sent me forward when the trial appeared a great one;
and the very extremity of the necessity, awakened in me an intensity of
feeling, which enabled me to effect my object. And I did effect it——how
it will be seen hereafter. Enough, that I shared deeply in the
suffering I was unavoidably compelled to inflict.
It was quite dark when I reached her dwelling. My progress towards
it had been slow, yet I felt it too fast for my feelings. I entered the
house with the desperate haste of one who distrusts his own resolution,
and leaps forward in order that it may not leave him. My task was
increased in difficulty, by the manner in which Katharine met me.
Thehappy heart, confident in its hope, shone out in her kindling eye,
and in the buoyant tones of her voice.
"Ah, Mr. Hurdis——back so soon! I did not look for you for a whole
month. What brought you—— but why do I ask, when I can guess so
readily? Have you seen Mary yet?"
While she spoke, her eyes peered behind me as if seeking for
another; and the pleasant and arch smile which accompanied her words,
was mingled with a look of fondest expectation. I could not answer
her——I could not look upon her when I beheld this glance. I went
forward to a chair, and sank down within it.
She arose and came hurriedly towards me.
"What is the matter——are you sick, Mr. Hurdis?" And, though
approaching me, her eyes reverted to the entrance as if still seeking
another. Involuntarily, I shook my head as if in denial. She saw the
movement and seemed to comprehend it. Quick as lightning, she
"You come alone?——Where's William——where's Mr. Carrington?"
"He did not come with me, Katharine. He could not."
"Ha! could not——could not! Tell me why he could not come, Mr.
Hurdis. He is sick!——where did youleave him? He is ill,
perhaps——dangerously ill. Tell me——speak, Richard Hurdis——your looks
"They should, Katharine."
I could not then speak more. My face was averted from her.
Trembling with half-suppressed emotion, she hastened to confront me.
Her voice grew thick and hoarse as she again spoke.
"You have come for me, Richard.——You have come for me to go to him.
He must be ill, indeed, when he sends for me. I will go to him at
once—— let us set out instantly. Where did you leave him? Is it far?"
I availed myself of the assistance which she thus furnished me, and
Near Tuscaloosa——a two days' journey."
"Then the less time have we to spare, Richard. Let us go at once. I
fear not to travel by night——I have done it before. But tell me, Mr.
Hurdis, what is his sickness. From what does he suffer?"
"An accident——a hurt."
"Ha! a hurt——"
"God be merciful——a wound——a wound. Out with it, Richard Hurdis,
and tell me all, if you be a man. I am a woman, it is true, but I can
bear the worst, rather than the doubt which apprehends it.How came he
by a wound——how was he hurt——what accident?"
"He was shot!"
"Shot! shot! By what——by whom? Tell me, Richard, dear Richard——his
friend——my friend—— tell me not that he is hurt dangerously——that he
will recover——that there are hopes. Tell me, tell me, if you love me
and would have me live."
I shook my head mournfully. Her hand grasped my arm, and her gripe
though trembling, was firm as steel.
"You do not say it——you cannot tell me, Richard—— that his wound is
mortal. That William——I cannot think it——I dare not, though you may
tell me so—— that he will die!"
"Be calm, awhile, dear Katharine, and hear me." I answered
retreatingly, while I took her hand, with which she still continued to
grasp my arm, in my own. She released her hold instantly.
"There! I am calm. I am patient. I listen. Speak now, Richard——fear
not for me, but tell me what I must hear, and what, if my apprehensions
be true, I shall never be better prepared to hear than now. William
Carrington is hurt——by an accident you say. He sends for me. Well——I
will go to him—— go this instant. But you have not told me that there
is hope——that he is not dangerously——not mortally hurt. Tell me that.
It is for that I wait."
Wonderful woman! She had recovered her stature——her firmness——her
voice——all, in a single instant. And never had she looked so beautiful
as now, when her eyes were shining with a fearful light——when doubt and
apprehension had imparted to their natural fire, an expression of
wildness, such as the moon shows when mocked on her march, by clouds,
that flit over her disk, yet leave no impression on its surface. When
her small and rosy mouth, the lips slightly parted and occasionally
quivering, exhibited the emotion, which she was only able to subdue by
assuming one of a higher character, and putting on the aspect of
command. Full, finely formed in person, with a carriage in which grace
and dignity seemed twins, neither taking precedence of the other, but
both harmoniously co-operating, the one to win, the other to sway; she
seemed, indeed, intended by nature to command. And she did command.
Seeing that I hesitated, she repeated her injunction to me to proceed;
but with a voice and words that evidently proved her to have lost some
of her most sanguine hopes, by reason of my reluctant and hesitating
"Tell me one thing only——tell me that I am in time to see him! That
he will not be utterly lost—— that I may again hear his voice——that he
may hear mine——that I may tell him, I come to be with him to the
last——if need be, to die with him. Say, Richard——say, my brother, for
he called you his——say that I will be in time for this."
My answer was spoken almost without my own consciousness, and it
seemed as instantaneously, to deprive her of all hers.
"You will not!"
With one wild, piercing shrick, she rent the air, while tossing her
arms above her head, she rushed out of the room and into the passage.
Then I heard a dead, heavy fall; and, rushing after her, I found her
prostrate at the foot of the stairs, as utterly lifeless as if a
cleaving bolt had been driven through her heart.
What! thou hast fled his side in time of danger,
That clung to him in fortune!
Oh! cruel treachery; he had not done thee
So foul a wrong as this, Away, and leave me.
—— The Paragon
I followed her with all haste and raised her from the floor. My
cries brought her mother to her assistance——a venerable and worthy
dame, whom years and disease had driven almost entirely to her chamber.
She received her daughter at my hands in an almost lifeless condition.
I assisted in bearing the poor maiden to her room; and after giving the
mother a brief account of what had taken place——for the circumstances
of the scene would admit of no more——I left her for my father's
habitation. I shall not undertake to describe my misery that night. The
thought, that, in my want of resolution, my haste, my imperfect
judgment, I had given a death stoke to the poor heart that I had seen
so paralysed in a single instant before my eyes, was little less than
horrible to me. It was a constant and stalking terror in my eyes. In my
dreams, I beheld the bloody body of William Carrington, and the
lifeless form of Katharine beside it, stretched out in the same damp,
cold, bed of death. If I awakened, my active fancy represented a
thousand similar objects——familiar forms lying and gasping in all the
agonies of dissolution, or crouching in terror, as if beneath some
sudden bolt or blow. In all these visions I never lost sight of the
living and real scene of misery through which I had so recently gone.
At first, the smiling, hopeful face of Katharine rose before me; and I
could distinguish the devoted love in the look that asked after her
betrothed, when her lips refused all question. Then rose the wonder why
he came not——then the doubt——then the fear——the terror next; and,
lastly, the appalling and thunder-riving blow, which hurled her to the
ground in a stupor scarcely less firm and freezing than was that which
had stricken down her lover, and from which he could never more awake.
Was it better that she should awake? Could the light of returning life,
be grateful to her eyes? Impossible! The heart which had been so
suddenly overthrown, was never destined to know any other than the
consciousness of sorrow. There was no light in life for her. The eyes
might kindle, and the lips might wear a smile, in after days, even as
the tree which the wanton axe of the woodman has wounded, will
sometimes put forth a few sickly buds and imperfect branches.But these
do not speak for life always. The life of the soul is wanting——carried
off by untimely sap. The heart is eaten out, and gone; and when the
tree falls, which it does when the night is at the stillest, men wonder
of what disease it perished. The natural world abounds in similitudes
for humanity, which, it is our misfortune, perhaps, too infrequently to
The next day, to my surprise, I was sent for, by Katharine. I had
not thought it possible she should recover in so short a time——she was,
it seems, resolved to hear all the dreadful particulars of my
narrative; and strove, with wonderful energy, to listen to them calmly.
Her words were subdued almost to a whisper, and uttered as if measured
by the stop-watch. I could see that the tension of her mind was doing
her but little good.——That she was overtasking herself, and exhausting
the hoarded strength of years, to meet the emergency of a moment. I
implored her to wait but a day, before she required the intelligence
she wished; I pleaded my own mental suffering in excuse; but to this,
she simply answered, by touching her head with her finger, and smiling
in such a sort, as if to rebuke me for arrogating to myself a greater
degree of feeling and suffering than was hers. I could not refuse, and
yet, I trembled to comply with her demand. I shuddered as I thought
upon the probable——nay,the almost certain——consequences of evil which
must follow to her life, from the recital. Her features denoted a
latent war in the mind, in which my details, like the spark to the
combustible, I felt sure, must bring about an explosion no less
terrible than sudden. Her eyes were bloodshot and dry——without a sign
of moisture. Had they been wet, I should have been more free to speak.
Her cheeks were singularly pale; but in the very centre of her
forehead, there was a small spot of livid red——an almost purple
spot——that seemed like a warning beacon, fired of a sudden in sign of
an approaching danger. I took her hand in mine, as I sat down by the
couch on which she lay, and found it cold and dry. There was little, if
any, pulse, at that moment. It was not long after, however, when it
bounded hotly beneath my finger, like a blazing arrow, sent suddenly
from the bended bow.
"And now," she said, "now that I am calm, Richard——I can hear all
that you have to say——you need not be afraid to speak to me now, since
the worst is known."
"You have heard, then, from your mother?" I asked affirmatively.
"Yes, I have heard all——I have heard that he is——" here she
interrupted the sentence by a sudden pause, which was followed by a
long parenthesis. "You will now see how strong I have become, whenyou
hear the words that I can calmly speak——know then that you can tell me
nothing worse than I already know. I know that he is dead, to whom I
had given myself, and whom——I repeat it to you, Richard, as his
friend——and whom, as heaven is my witness, I most truly loved."
"I believe it——I know it, Katharine; and he knew it too."
"Did he? are you sure he knew it," she asked, putting her hand upon
my arm as she spoke these words in a tone of appealing softness. "Ah,
Richard, could I know that he felt this conviction to the last——could I
have been by to have heard him avow it——to have laid bare my heart
before him——to have listened to the last words in which he received and
returned my affections. Oh, those last words, those last words!——Let me
hear them. What were they? ——it is for this I sent for you to come. It
is these words that I would hear. Tell me, then, Richard, and set my
heart at rest——give peace to my mind and relieve me from this anxiety.
What said he at the last, what said he'?'
"Will it relieve you? I fear not, Katharine——I fear it would only
do you harm to listen to such matters now. You could not bear it now."
"Not bear it! Have I not heard all——have I not borne the worst?
What more can you have to say to distress me? I tell you, I know that
he is dead; I know that I shall speak to him no more——that I can never
hear his voice in answer to mine. For him, I might as well be dumb as
he. You see now, that I can speak the words which yesterday you could
not speak. What then have you to fear? Nothing——nothing. Begin then,
Richard——begin, my brother, and tell me the particulars of this cruel
story. It will be a consolation, though a sad one, to know the history
of the sorrow that afflicts me."
"Sad consolation, indeed, Katharine, if any, but I will not believe
that it can be a consolation now. Some time hence, when you have
learned calmly to look upon your loss, and become reconciled to your
privation, I doubt not that you will receive a melancholy satisfaction
from a knowledge of the truth. But I do not think that it will benefit
you now. On the contrary, I fear that it will do you infinite harm. You
are not well——there is a flushed spot upon your brow which shows your
blood to be in commotion; to-morrow, perhaps——"
"No to-morrow, Richard;——all days are alike to me now. I am already
in the morrow——the present is not mine——I live in the past or in the
future, or I live not at all. Let me then hear from you now—— let me
know all at once——now, while the cup is at the fullest, let me drink to
the bottom, and not take successive and hourly draughts of the same
bitter potion. I must hear it from you now, Richard,without delay or
evasion, or, I tell you, I cannot sleep again. If I do, it will only be
to dream a thousand things, and conjure up a thousand fancies, much
more terrible than any you can bring me now. Come, then! why should you
fear to tell me, when I already know the worst? I know that he perished
by the sudden stroke of the murderer, having no time given him for
prayer and preparation. Can your story tell me worse than this? No! no!
you have no words of darker meaning in my ears, than those which my own
lips have spoken."
"Katharine, dear Katharine, let me have time for this. Let me put
it off for awhile. Already the blood is rising impetuously in your
veins. Your pulse beneath my finger is shooting wildly——"
"I am calm——you mistake, dear Richard——you are no doctor,
clearly——I was never more calm—— never more composed in all my life. My
The impatient and irritable manner of this speech, was its
sufficient refutation.——I replied,
"Your will is calm and resolute, Katharine——I doubt not your
strength of mind and purpose——but I doubt your command of nerve,
Katharine, and your blood. You are very feverish."
She interrupted me almost petulantly.
"You are only too considerate, Richard. Perhaps, had you been half
so considerate, when a fellowtraveller with the man you called your
friend, and who certainly was yours, he had not perished."
"Ay! I speak what I think, Richard——what I feel. You are a grave
physician when with me. You talk sagely and shake your head. But with
him——with William Carrington——were you grave, and wise, and
considerate? You persuaded him to this journey——you knew that he was
hasty and thoughtless——did you shake your head in warning, and lift
your finger when you saw him running wide from prudence——from safety?"
"Katharine, my child," exclaimed the mother. "You are unkind——you
do Richard injustice."
"Let him show me that I do him injustice, mother. That is what I
wish him, and pray him, to do. I do not desire to do him injustice."
Her tone and manner, which were almost violent before, now changed even
into softness here, and turning to me, she continued, "you know I do
not wish to do you injustice; but why will you not oblige me? Why not
tell me what I claim to know——what I have a right to know?"
I could see that the blood was mounting in torrents to her brain.
Her pulse was momently quickening, and the little speck of red, so
small and unimposing at first, had overspread her face, even as the
little cloud, that dots the eastern heavens at morning,spreads by noon
until it covers with storm and thunder the whole bosom of the earth. It
was more than ever my policy to withhold a narrative so full of
details, which, though they could unfold no circumstance, worse in
substance than that which she already knew, were yet almost certain to
harrow up her feelings by the gradual accumulation of events before her
imagination, to a pitch almost unendurable. I resorted to every
argument, plea, suggestion—— every thing which might move her to forego
her wish——at least for the present. But my efforts were unavailing.
"You entirely mistake me," she would say. "I am earnest——not
excited. My earnestness always shows itself in this manner. I assure
you that my blood is quite as temperate as it would be under the most
And this she said in words that were uttered with spasmodic effort!
Her mother called me aside for a moment.
"You will have to tell her," she said; "the very opposition to her
desire makes her worse. Tell her all, Richard, as she demands it, and
God send, that it be for the best."
Thinking it probable that such might be the case, though still
reluctant, I waived my objections, and determined to comply. When I
resumed my seat by the bedside, and avowed this determination, asif to
confirm the words of the mother, a sudden change came over her. Her
respiration, which had been impeded and violent before, became easier;
and, closing her eyes, she leaned back upon the pillow, from which,
during the greater part of the previous conference her head had been
uplifted; and thus prepared herself to listen. It was a strong effort
which she made to be, or seem, composed, and it was only successful for
a time. My confidence in it soon began to waver, as I found, when
fairly in my narrative, that her eyes were re-opened, and with a
fearful resumption of light——her head once more raised from the pillow;
and her unconscious hand, when I reached that part of my narrative
which detailed the first assault upon us at the hovel of Webber,
suddenly extended and grasping my arm which lay on the bed beside her.
"Stop——stop awhile——a moment——I am not ready yet to hear you——not
I paused at her direction, and she sank back upon the pillow, and
closed her eyes with a rigid pressure of her fingers upon their lids as
if to shut out from sight some horrible vision. In this state she
remained for a space of several seconds; and I could perceive, when she
resumed her attitude of attention, and bade me proceed with my
narrative, that though she might have succeeded in expelling the
phantom from her sight, the very effort requisite indoing so, had
accelerated the action of her blood. I proceeded, however, striving to
avoid every word, phrase, or unnecessary incident, which might have the
effect of increasing the vividness of an event, already too terribly
impressive; but with all my caution, I could perceive the constant flow
and gathering of excitement in her brain. Her words became thick yet
more frequent. She started constantly from the pillow to which she as
constantly and immediately sank back, as if conscious of departing from
the tacit pledge which she had given me, but which I had never relied
on, to be calm and collected while I spoke. At length, when I told of
the flight of Carrington, of his pursuit by the ruffians, of the long
interval, in which, bound to the floor, I lay at their mercy, and after
they had gone, before the arrival of Grafton to my relief; and how I
looked for my friend in vain among those who rescued me; her emotion
grew utterly beyond constraint, and she cried out aloud, and gasped
with such effort between her cries, that I dreaded lest suffocation
should follow from her fruitless endeavours at speech. But she
contrived to speak.
"Yes! yes; they came——they loosed you——they set you free——but what
did they for him——what did you, who called yourself his friend? What
did you for him, who was yours? Tell me that——that!"
These were words of madness——certainly therewas madness in the wild
and roving expression of her fire-darting eye. I would even then have
paused if I could; but she would not suffer it. Resuming a look of
calmness——such a look as mocked itself by its inadequacy to effect her
object——when she saw me hesitate, she begged me to continue.
"I am calm again, Richard——it was for a moment only. Forgive me, I
pray you, Richard——forgive me and go on. Let me hear the rest. I will
not cry out again."
I hastened to close the painful narrative, but she did not hear me
to the end. She was no longer capable of knowing what she did, or said,
but leaping from the couch, in defiance of all my own and her mother's
efforts——short of absolute violence——to restrain her, she strode across
the chamber, as if with a leading purpose in view. Then, suddenly
turning, she confronted me, with a face in which, if a face might ever
be said to blaze with fire and yet maintain its natural expression,
hers did. She gazed on me for a few seconds with all the intensity of
an expression which was neither hate nor anger, but blind ferocity, and
destructive judgment; and then she spoke, in accents which would have
been bitter enough to my heart, had I not well enough understood the
maddening bitterness in hers.
"And so he was murdered, and you led him on this expedition to be
murdered. You were hisfriend——and while they pursued him for the
accursed money——you lay quietly——without effort——having bonds, which a
child——a woman——which I——weak and feeble as I am——which I would have
broken at such a time——which you might have broken, had you been warmed
with a proper spirit to help your friend. And he thought you a brave
man, too—— he told me you were so, and I believed it——I gave him in
charge to you; and you suffered your villains to murder him. Tell me
nothing, I say, Richard Hurdis——they were your villains, else how
should you, a brave man, submit, as you did, to be bound and laughed
at, while he could break from his bonds and escape from the very snare
to which you so tamely submitted. I will not hear you——they were your
villains——else how should you, a brave man, submit and do nothing.
Would he——would William have submitted thus? Would he have left his
friend to perish. Or, if he could not save his life, would he have come
sneaking home with the tidings of his friend's murder and his own base
cowardice? No, Richard Hurdis——I tell you——I answer for the dead——he
would have pursued these murderers to the ends of the earth. He would
have dragged them to justice, or slain them with his own hands. He
never would have slept in his bed till he had taken this vengeance. Day
and night would have been to him the same. Day and night, he had
pursued them——through the forests——through the swamps, in all haunts,
in all disguises, till he had revenged the murder of his friend. 'Till,
for the holy blood of friendship, he had drained the hearts of all
having any hand in his murder. But you——what have you done! Ha! ha! ha!
Bravely——bravely, Richard Hurdis. William thought you had courage——he
did——and he relied on it. He relied too much. You have shed no blood,
though he is murdered. You have neither shed the blood of his
murderers, nor your own. Show me a finger scratch if you can. You
are——ha! ha! ha! this is courage, is it? and he thought you
brave——well, the wisest may be mistaken——the wisest——the very wisest."
She went on much farther, but her ravings grew incoherent, and at
length, from imperfect thoughts her strength being nigh exhausted, she
only articulated in broken words and sentences. On a sudden, she
stopped; her eye grew fixed while gazing upon me, and her lower jaw
became paralysed ere the halting word was uttered. I saw that a crisis
was at hand, and rushed towards her at the fortunate moment. I caught
her as she fell; and she lay paralysed and senseless, like the very
marble, in my arms.
Are they both dead! I did not think
To find thee in this pale society
Of ghosts so soon.
—— The Brothers
Though little of a physician, I yet saw that something must be done
for her relief instantly, in this almost complete suspension of her
powers, or she must perish; and procuring a lancet which was
fortunately in the house, made an opening in one of her arms. The
results were hardly satisfactory. A few drops of jellied and almost
black blood, oozed from the opening, and had no visible effect upon her
situation. I opened a vein in the other arm but with little better
success. Warm fomentation and friction were next resorted to, but to no
advantage; and, leaving the patient to the charge of the mother, I
mounted my horse and rode with all speed to the nearest physician——a
man named Hodges, an ignorant, stupid fellow, but the best, which, at
this time, our neighborhood could afford. He was one of those
accommodating asses, who have the one merit at least, if theyare fools
in all other respects, of being an unpretending one; and gladly, at all
times, would he prefer taking the opinion of another to the task of
making, or the responsibility of giving, one of his own. I have heard
him ask an old lady if she had jalap and calomel in the house; and when
she replied that she had not, but she "had some cream of tartar,"
answer "that will do ma'am," and give the one medicine in lieu of the
other. There was little to be looked for at the hands of such a
creature; but what were we to do? I had already exhausted all my little
stock of information on such subjects; and ignorance, in a time of
emergency, is compelled to turn, even to licensed stupidity, for the
relief which it cannot find itself.
Dr. Hodges came and did nothing. He re-opened the veins without
advantage, repeated the warm water fomentations, took an extra chew of
tobacco, shook his empty head and remained silent. I ventured a
suggestion of the merits of which I had only a partial guess.
"Would not a blister to the head help her, Doctor?"
"I think it would, Mr. Hurdis——I think you had better try it."
Cursing the oaf in the bitterness of my heart, I went to work, with
the help of the old lady, and we prepared a blister. When it was ready,
we proceededto cut away the voluminous masses of her raven hair, the
glistening loveliness of which we could not but admire, even while we
consigned it to destruction. But we were not suffered to proceed in
this work. Ere the scissors had swept away one shred, the unhappy
maiden awakened from her stupor; but she awakened not to any mental
consciousness. She was mad——raving mad; and with the strength of
madness she rushed from the couch where she was lying and flew at her
mother like a tigress. I was fortunately nigh enough to interfere, and
save the old lady from her assaults, or the effects might have been
seriously hurtful. I clasped her in my arms and held her, though with
some difficulty. Her strength was prodigious under the terrible
excitement which raged in her bosom, and, though rather a strong man, I
found that I dared not relax for a single instant in my hold, or she
became free. Yet she complained not that I held her. She uttered no
word whatsoever. She knew nothing——she spoke to none. Sometimes, a
slight moaning sound escaped her lips, but she had no other form of
language. Her eyes were fixed and fiery; yet they never seemed to look
upon any one of us. I observed that they seemed instinctively to avoid
the light, and that they shone with a less angry lustre when turned
towards the darker sections of the apartment, and from the windows.
Seeing this, I directed the mother to double her curtains and exclude
as much of the light as possible——this done, it seemed to relieve the
intensity of her stare and action. But she was as little disposed to be
quiet as before. The moment I yielded in my grasp, that moment did she
make new exertions to escape; and when she failed in her object, that
same slight moaning, perhaps, once or twice repeated, was all the
acknowledgment given by her lips to the annoyance which the constraint
evidently put upon her. In the mean time, what a terrible loveliness
shone in her countenance and form. The pythoness, swelling with the
voluminous fires of the god, were but a poor comparison to the divinity
of desolation, such as she appeared at that moment to my eyes. Her long
black tresses which we had let loose in order to cut, were thrown all
around her own neck, and partially over my shoulders as I held her. Her
eyes were shooting out from their spheres——the whites barely
perceptible as the dilating orbs seemed to occupy entirely the dry and
fiery cells, from which they yet threatened momently to dart. Purple
lines and blotches gleamed out upon, and as suddenly disappeared from,
her face——the consequence, probably, of her restraint, and the violent
exertions which she made to get herself free from it; and her teeth and
lips were set as resolutely as if death's last spasm had been already
undergone. If theyopened at all, it was only when she uttered that
heart piercing moan——so faint——so low——yet so thrilling, that it seemed
to indicate at every utterance the breaking of some vital string. In
this way she continued full two hours without intermitting her
struggles. My arms had grown weary of the rigid grasp which I had been
compelled to keep upon her, and sheer exhaustion must have soon
compelled me to relax my hold. But, by this time, she, too, had become
exhausted——her efforts grew fainter, though the insane direction of her
mind was not a whit changed. Gradually, I felt her weight increase upon
me, and her own exertions almost entirely cease; and I thought at
length that I might safely return her to the couch. It was with some
difficulty that I did so, for her poor mother——miserable and infirm,
not to say terrified——could give me no help; and the doctor, no less
terrified than she, had hurried off, on the first exhibition of the
maiden's fury, to procure her, as he promised, some medicine which was
to be potential for every thing. But the doctor knew not the disease of
his patient. With all his "parmaceti" he could do nothing for that
"inward bruise," which was mortifying at her heart.
When fairly placed in the bed, I found it still somewhat difficult
to keep her there; and in order to avoid giving her pain which the
grasp of my hand might do, I contrived to fold the bed clothes in sucha
manner about her, as not only to retard her movements, but to enable
us, by sitting upon either side, to keep her down. An old negro servant
was called in to assist in this duty, and with the mother's aid, I was
partially relieved. With a few struggles more, her eyes gradually
closed, and her limbs seemed to relax in sleep. An occasional moan from
her lips alone told us that she suffered still; and a sudden opening
and flashing of her eye at other moments, still served to convince us
that her show of sleep was deceptive. She slept not, and we were
compelled to be watchful still.
While she remained in this situation our doctor returned to my
great surprise, bringing with him a score of bottles with one nostrum
or another. He seemed a little more confident now in what he should do,
having, most probably during his absence, consulted some book of
authority in the circle of his limited reading. Thus prepared, he
compounded a dose from some two or three bottles, one of
which——assafœtida——soon declared its quality to our nostrils, and left
no hope to Doctor Hodges of making a medical mystery——a practice so
common among small practitioners——of the agent by which he was to work
the salvation of the patient. I had no great hope of the potion which
he brought, for I had no great faith in the doctor, but I readily took
the wine-glass in which he compounded it, and addressed myselfto the
arduous task of forcing it down the throat of the poor sufferer. It was
an arduous task, indeed! Her teeth were riveted together, and she
seemed to have just sense enough to close them more tenaciously in
defiance to our prayer that she might open them. Here was a difficulty;
but as Hodges insisted upon the vital importance of the dose, cruel as
the operation seemed, I determined to do all that I could to make her
take it. In our efforts we were at length forced to pry her teeth apart
with our fingers, and to force the glass between them. It was an error
to have used the wineglass in such a situation; and the reflection of a
single instant would have taught us to transfer the medicine to a
spoon. We were taught this lesson by an incident of startling terror;
for no sooner had we put the edge of the glass between her divided
teeth, than they closed upon it crunching it into the minutest
fragments. Fortunately, I was prompt enough to prevent the worst
consequences of this act. I dropped the fragment of the glass which
remained in my hands, and grasped her instantly by the throat. I
grasped her almost as tightly as I should have done a mortal foe. It
was a desperate resort for a desperate situation. I nearly strangled
her, but it was the only thing that could have saved her from
swallowing the broken particles. With my fingers, while the jaws were
stretched apart, I drew out the bits ofglass which were numerous,
though not without cutting her mouth and gums in a shocking manner. The
blood ran from her mouth, and over the side of her pallid face,
staining its purity; and her tongue, bleeding also the while, hung over
the lips, and yet she seemed to feel none of the pain. No cry escaped
her——no struggle was made——and the occasional moan which now and then
continued to escape her, was the acknowledgment of a greater agony than
any for which we labored to provide remedies.
Dr. Hodges persevered in his physic, but we might as well have
spared the poor girl the pain of forcing it down her throat, for it did
no good. Her madness, it is true, was no longer hysterical; but this
change was probably quite as much the result of exhaustion as of the
medicine we gave her. She seemed conscious of none of our labors. Yet
she studiously kept her eyes from the spectator, and fixed them upon
the darkest part of the wall of her chamber. Her grief was speechles in
all other respects; she seemed not to hear, and she answered none of
our inquiries. In hope to arouse and provoke her consciousness, I even
ventured to speak to her of her lover, and the cruel fate which had
befallen him. I named to her the bitter words of death which I had
shrunk before to utter. But the ear seemed utterly obtuse. She moved
neither limb nor muscle, and the stupor of complete mentalindifference
was gradually overcoming all her faculties. Thus she continued
throughout that day. Night came on, and yet there was no change. It was
a dismal night to me. I sat up with her and watched her with a degree
of nervous irritation and anxiety which led me to fear, at moments,
that I might fall into some condition of insanity like that I
witnessed. The poor old mother strove to sleep, but she could not
subdue the nature within her; and that raised her every moment to look
into the face of her child, whose unconscious eyes were yet bright and
unblessed by sleep. Besides these, there were no interruptions to the
general silence of the night, unless that slight and now scarcely
sensible moan, which continued at intervals to escape the lips of the
sufferer, might be called one. Day dawned upon us, and found her still
in the same condition. We gave her the prescribed physic, but I felt
while pouring it down her throat that our labors were as cruel as they
were idle. We administered the little nourishment which she took, in
the same manner—— by violence. She craved nothing——she asked for
nothing——and what we gave her brought no nourishment in consequence.
The day and night passed in the same manner with the preceding. I
snatched a few hours of sleep during the day, and this enabled me again
to sit up with her the night following. But there were other watchers
beside myself around herbed; and, amidst all my agonising thought of
the terrible picture of affliction present in my eyes, there were other
thoughts and feelings of a far differing character, mingling among
them, and operating upon my mind. Mary Easterby sat by the bed-side of
the invalid, and our eyes and hands met more than once during the
night, which to me, though not less painful, was far less wearisome,
than that which I had passed before. Such is the nature of man. We
foster our petty affections even at the grave of our friend's sweetest
hopes. Our plans and promises for self, desert us no where——they mingle
in with our holiest emotions——they pile the dust of earth upon the very
altars of heaven. Perhaps, it is only right that such should be the
case. Our nature while on earth must be, to a certain extent, earthy.
It may be, too, that our pride undergoes some restraint when it
discovers that base necessities and narrow aims clog the loftiest wing,
and dazzle the most eagle-eyed of the soaring spirits among men.
But why linger upon a painful narrative like this? Why record
throbs and agonies? I will hasten to a conclusion which the reader may
readily anticipate. Katharine Walker died. In three days more she was
silent forever! Her hopes, her fears, her pangs ——all were silent——all
buried. Five days did she live in this state of suspended
consciousness——taking no nourishment save that which we poured downher
throat by main force; and every added hour proved her less able to
oppose us in our labors of doubtful kindness. She sank just after that
last paroxysm in which she crushed the brittle glass between her teeth.
Our man of art had exhausted his slender resources of skill, and with a
modesty that did not shake a confident head of power to the last
moment, he soon declared his inability to help her more. But we needed
not his words to give us painful assurance to this effect. We saw it
with our own eyes, while looking into the fast glazing orbs of hers. We
knew, from every symptom, that she must die. Perhaps it was as
well——what should she live for?
It was on the sixth day after her attack, when her powers had been
so far exhausted that it became somewhat doubtful at moments whether
she breathed or not, and when, up to that time she had given no sort of
heed to any of the circumstances going on around her, that she suddenly
started, as if out of a deep sleep, and turned her sad but still bright
eyes, now full of divine intelligence, upon me. There was "speculation"
in their orbs once more. The consecrating mind had returned to its
dwelling though it were only to set all in order, and then dispose of
it forever. I bent forward as I saw the glance which she gave me, and
breathlessly asked her how she felt.
"Quite well," she answered in a scarcely perceptible
whisper——"quite well, Richard; but it is so dark. Do put aside that
curtain, if you please. Mother has shut every thing up. I don't know
whether it's day light or not."
I rose and put aside the curtain; and the waiting sunlight, the
broken but bright beams that he sprinkled through the leaves, came
bounding into the chamber. Her eyes brightened as if with a natural
sympathy, when she beheld them. She made an effort to raise herself in
the bed, but sunk back with an expression of pain, which slightly
impressed itself upon her countenance, even as a breath passes over the
mirror giving a momentary stain to its purity. It was one breath of the
approaching tyrant——to her the consoler. Seeing that she desired to be
raised, I lifted, and sustained her head upon my bosom. Her mother
asked her if she felt better.
"Well, quite well," was her answer. A minute did not elapse after
that, when I felt a slight shiver pass over her frame, which then
remained motionless. Her breathing was suspended. I let her head sink
back gradually upon the pillow, and looking in her face, I saw that her
pure, yet troubled spirit, had departed forever. My watching was ended.
I shall find time;
When you have took some comfort, I'll begin
To mourn his death and scourge the murderer.
—— T. Heywood, 1655.
The ending and beginning I had seen——the whole of this catastrophe.
We buried the poor maiden in a grove near her dwelling in which her
feet had often rambled with him whose grave should have been beside
her. There was nothing more for me to do——there was no reason why I
should linger in Marengo; and I resolved once more to leave it. As yet,
my error remained uncorrected in regard to Mary Easterby. I still
deemed her the affianced wife of John Hurdis; and——sometimes wondering
why he came not with her to the dwelling of Katharine Walker, and
sometimes doubting their alliance from little signs and circumstances,
which now and then occurred to my observation,——I was still impressed
with the conviction that there was no more hope for me. I escorted her
home after the burial of Katharine, and sad and sweet was ourconference
by the way. We rode together, side by side on horseback, and we soon
left the animals to their own motion which was gratefully sluggish to
me. I will not say whether I thought it so to her, but, at least, she
gave no symptoms of impatience, nor made any effort to accelerate the
movements of her steed. It will not, perhaps, be assuming too much, to
suppose that, in some large respects, our thoughts and feelings ran
together in satisfied companionship. We were both deeply affected and
subdued by the cruel events to which we had been witnesses. There was a
dreadful warning to hope, and love, and youth, in the sad history which
has been written, and which we were forced to read in every stage of
its performance. Never could morality teach more terribly to youth its
own uncertainties, and the mutations hanging around that deity whose
altar of love it is most apt to seek in worship. How evanescent to our
eyes seemed then all our images of delight. The sunlight, which was
bright and beautiful around us——making a "bridal of earth and sky,"——we
looked upon with doubt and apprehension as a delusion which must only
woo to vanish. We spoke together of these things; and what, it may be
asked, was the conclusion of all this sombrous reflection? Did it make
either of us forswear the world and hope? Did it make either of us more
doubtful and desponding than before?No! Its effects were softening and
subduing, not overthrowing——not destructive of any of those altars, to
which love brings wreaths that wither, and offers vows that are
rejected or forgotten. We lost not one hope or dream of youth. We gave
freedom to none of our anticipations. Even the lessons taught us by the
death of those who, loving in life so fondly, in death were not
divided, were lessons of love. The odour of the sacrifice made amends
for the consumption by fire of the rich offerings which were upon the
altar; and love lost none of his loveliness either in her eyes or mine,
because, in this instance, as in a thousand others, it had failed to
rescue its votaries from the grasp of a more certain, if not a greater
power. The lesson which was taught us by the fate of Katharine Walker,
made us esteem still more highly the sacred influence, which could
consecrate so sweet and pure a spirit to immortality, and lead it,
without struggle or reluctance, into the brazen jaws of death. What a
triumph to youth, to fancy, to reflection, was the thought which
portrayed a power so wonderful——so valuable to those who more than love
"I will see you before I leave Marengo, Mary," was my promise on
leaving her that evening.
"What! you mean to leave us, again, Richard?" was her involuntary
and very earnest demand.—— "Oh, do not, Richard——wherefore would you
go? Why would you encounter such cruel risks as befell poor William?
Stay with us——leave us not again."
With an utterance and movement, equally involuntary, I took her
hand and replied,
"And would you have me stay, Mary? Wherefore? What reward can you
give——what is there now in your power to give that could bribe me to
I paused just at the time when I should have spoken freely. To what
I had said, she could make no answer; yet she had her answer ready to
what I might have said. But I said nothing, and she made no reply. Yet,
could I have seen it!——had I not been still the blind and besotted
slave and victim to my own jaundicing and jealous apprehensions, the
blush upon her cheek, the tremor upon her lip, the downcast and shaded
eye, the faltering accent——all these would have conveyed an answer,
which might have made me happy then. And yet these persuasive signs did
not utterly escape my sight. I felt them, and wondered at them——and was
almost tempted, in the new warmth of heart which they brought me, to
declare my affections, but for the thought that it would be unseemly to
do so, at a moment when we had just left the chamber of death, and
beheld the last gleam of life pass from the eyes of loveliness and
youth. Fool that I was, as if love did not plant his roses even on the
grave of his worshipper, andfind his most flourishing soil in the heart
of the beloved one.
That night my mother drew me aside, and asked me with some
significance, what had passed between Mary and myself.
"What! have you not spoken?"
"Of your love!——"
"No! Why should you think it, mother? What reason? Is she not
engaged to John——is that matter broken off?"
"I think it is——he has not been to see her for a week."
"And have you not seen, my son, how sad she looks——she has looked
so ever since you went away."
"That may be only because he has not been to see her, mother; or it
may be because of the affliction which she has been compelled to
"Well, Richard, I won't say that it is not, and yet, my son, I'm
somehow inclined to think that you could have her for the asking."
"Do you think so, mother, and yet——even if it were so, mother, I
would not ask. The woman who has once accepted the hand of John Hurdis,
though she afterwards rejects him, is not the woman for me."
"But, Richard, I'm not so sure now that she ever did accept him.
There was that poor woman, Mrs. Pickett, only a few days ago came here,
and she took particular pains to let me know that Mary and John were
never half so near together, to use her own words, as Mary and
"How could she know any thing about it," was my reply.
"Well, I don't know; but I can tell you, she's a very knowing
"She would scarcely be the confidant of Mary, nevertheless."
"But you will see Mary, Richard——you will try."
"If I thought, mother, that she and John had never been engaged——if
I knew that. But I will see her."
The promise satisfied both my mother and myself for the time; and I
now gave myself up to reflection in solitude, as a new task had been
forced upon me, by the circumstances of the few past days. I had
suffered more in mind from beholding the misery and madness of
Katharine Walker, than it would be manly to avow; and there was one
portion of this tragedy which more than any other, impressed itself
upon me. I was haunted by the continual presence of the lovely maniac,
as she appeared at the moment when she denounced me as deserting my
friend, exposing, and leavinghim to peril, and finally suffering his
murder to go unavenged. The more I thought upon this last passage of
her angry speech, the more impressively did it take the shape of a
moral requisition. I strove seriously to examine it as a question of
duty, whether I was bound to go upon this errand of retribution or not,
and the answers of my mind were invariably and inevitably the same.
Shall the murderer go unpunished——shall so heinous a crime remain
unavenged? Are there no claims of friendship——of manhood upon you? The
blood of the innocent calls upon you. The indignities which you
yourself have undergone——these call upon you. But a louder call upon
you than all, is the demand of society. She calls upon you to ferret
out these lurkers upon the highway——to bring them to justice that the
innocent traveller may not be shot down from the thicket, in the
sunshine, in the warm morning of youth, and hope, and confidence.
True——the laws of man do not summon you forth on this mission; but is
there no stronger voice in your heart inciting you to the sacred work?
The brave man waits not for his country's summons to take the field
against the foreign enemy——shall he need her call when his friend is
slain almost by his side; and when sworn foes to friendship, and truth,
and love, and all the social virtues, lurk in bands around their
several homes to prey upon them as they unconsciouslycome forth? Can
you doubt that it is your duty to seek and exterminate these wretches?
You say that is the duty of others no less than of yourself; but does
the neglect of others to perform their duties, render yours unnecessary
or release you? On the contrary, does it not make it more incumbent
upon you to do more than would be your duty under other circumstances,
and to supply, as much as lies in your power, their deficiencies? Such
was the reasoning of my own mind on this subject; and it forced
conviction upon me. In the woods where I had meditated the matter, I
made my vow to the avenging deities.
"I will seek the murderers, so help me heaven! I will suffer not
one of them to escape, if it be within the scope of my capacity and
arm, to bring them to justice." And, even upon the ground where I had
made this resolution, I kneeled and prayed for the requisite strength
and encouragement from heaven in the execution of my desperate vow.
This resolution induced another, and endued me with a courage which
before I had not felt. Conceiving myself a destined man, I overleapt,
at a moment, all the little boundaries of false delicacy, morbid
sensibility, and mere custom, which before, had, perhaps, somewhat
taken from my natural hue of resolution——and the next day I rode over
to the house of Mary Easterby. A complete change by thistime had taken
place in my feelings in one respect. I was no longer apprehensive of
what I said in speaking to Mary. I now proceeded as if in compliance
with a prescribed law; and asking her to walk with me, I led her
directly to the favorite walk which, in our childhood, our own feet
chiefly had beaten out in the forests. I conducted her almost in
silence to the huge fallen tree which had formed the boundary of our
previous rambles, and seated her upon it, and myself beside her, as I
had done a thousand times before.
"And now Mary," I said, taking her hand, "I have a serious question
to ask you, and beg that you will answer it with the same unhesitating
directness with which I ask it. Your answer will nearly affect my
I paused, but she was silent——evidently through emotion——and I
"You know me too well to suppose that I would say or do any thing
to offend you, and certainly you will believe me when I assure you that
it is no idle curiosity which prompts me to ask the question which I
will now propose."
A slight pressure of her fingers upon my wrist—— her hand being
clasped the while in mine——was my sufficient and encouraging answer,
and I then boldly asked if she was or had been engaged to John Hurdis.
Her answer, as the reader must anticipate, wasunequivocally in the
negative. In the next moment she was in my arms——she was mine. Then
followed explanations which did away, as by a breath, with a hundred
little circumstances of my own jaundiced judgment, and of my brother's
evil instigation, which for months I had looked upon as insuperable
barriers. For the part which John Hurdis had in raising them, I was at
that moment quite too happy not to forgive him. I now proceeded to tell
Mary of my contemplated journey, but not of its objects. This I kept
from the knowledge of all around me, for its successful prosecution, I
had already well conceived, could only result from the secrecy with
which I pursued it. Nor did I suffer her to know the direction of
country in which I proposed to travel; this caution was due to my
general plan, and called for, at the same time, by her natural
apprehensions, which would have been greatly alarmed to know that I was
about to go into a region where my friend had been so inhumanly
murdered. I need not say that she urged every argument to keep me in
Marengo. She pleaded her own attachment, which, having once avowed, she
now delighted in; and urged every consideration which might be supposed
available among the thoughts of a young maiden unwilling to let her
lover go. But my resolve had been too seriously and solemnly taken. "I
had an oath in heaven," and no ties, even such, so dearones, as those
which I had just formed, could make me desire escape from it if I
could. She was compelled to yield the contest since I assured her that
my resolution was no less imperative than my engagements; but I
promised to return soon, and our marriage was finally arranged for that
period. What an hour of bliss was that, in those deep groves, under
that prevailing silence. What an elysium had suddenly grown up around
me. How potent was the magician which could make us forget the graves
upon which we stood, and the blood still flowing around us, dreaming
only of those raptures which, in the fortunes of two other fond
creatures like ourselves, had so suddenly been defeated. In that hour I
thought not of the dangers I was about to undergo, and she——the dear
girl hanging on my bosom, and shedding tears of pleasure——she seemed to
forget that earth ever contained a tomb.
Next morning, after we had taken breakfast, I strolled down the
avenue to the entrance, and was suddenly accosted by a man whom I had
never seen before. He rode up with an air of confidence and asked me if
I was Mr. Hurdis, Mr. John Hurdis. I replied in the negative, but
offered to show him the way to the house where he would find the person
whom we sought. We met John coming forth.
"That is your man, sir," said I, to the stranger. He thanked me,
and instantly advanced to my brother. I could not help being a
spectator, for I was compelled to pass them in order to enter the
house; and my attention was doubly fixed by the singular manner in
which the stranger offered John Hurdis his hand. The manner of the
thing seemed also to provoke the astonishment of John, himself, who
looked at me with surprise amounting to consternation. I was almost
disposed to laugh out at the idiot stare with which he transferred his
gaze from me to the stranger, and to me again, for the expression
seemed absolutely ludicrous; but I was on terms of too much civility
with my brother to exhibit any such unnecessary familiarity; and,
passing into the house, I left the two together. Their business seemed
of a private nature, for they went into the neighbouring woods to
finish it; and John Hurdis did not return from the interview, until I
had set forth a second time on my travels. The meaning of this
conference, and the cause of that singular approach of the stranger
which awakened so much seeming astonishment in the face of John Hurdis,
will be sufficiently explained hereafter. Little did I then imagine the
nature of that business which I had undertaken, and of the mysterious
developments of crime to which my inquiries would lead me.
What! thou dost quit me then——
In the first blush of my necessity,
The danger yet at distance.
It was, perhaps, an earnest of success in the pursuit which I had
undertaken, that I did not underrate, to myself, its many difficulties.
I felt that I would have to contend with experienced cunning and
probably superior strength——that nothing but the utmost adroitness and
self-control could possibly enable me to effect my purposes. My first
object was to alter my personal appearance, so as to defeat all chance
of recognition by any of the villains with whom I had previously come
in collision. This was a work calling for much careful consideration.
To go down to Mobile, change my clothes, and adopt such fashions as
would more completely disguise me, were my immediate designs; and I
pushed my way to this, my first post, with all speed and without any
interruption. My first care in Mobile was to sell my horse which I did
for one hundred and eighty dollars. I had now nearly five
hundreddollars in possession——a small part in silver, the rest in
United States Bank, Alabama, and Louisiana notes, all of which were
equally current. I soon procured a couple of entire suits, as utterly
different from any thing I had previously worn as possible. Then,
having a proper regard to the usual decoration of the professed
gamblers of our country, I entered a jeweller's establishment, and
bought sundry bunches of seals, a tawdry watch, a huge chain of
doubtful, but sold as virgin, gold; and some breastpins and shirt
buttons of saucer size. To those who had personally known me before, I
was well assured that no disguise would have been more perfect than
that afforded by these trinkets——but when, in addition to these and the
other changes in my habit of which I have spoken, I state that my beard
was suffered to grow goatlike, after the most approved models of
dandyism, under the chin, in curling masses, and my whiskers, in rival
magnificence, were permitted to overrun my cheeks——I trust that I shall
be believed when I aver that after a few weeks space, I scarcely knew
myself. I had usually been rather fastidious in keeping a smooth cheek
and chin, and I doubt very much, whether my own father ever beheld a
two days' beard upon me from the day that I found myself man enough to
shave at all, to the present. The more I contemplated my own
appearance, the more sanguine I became of success; and I lingered in
Mobile a little time longer in order to give beard and whiskers a fair
opportunity to overrun a territory which before had never shown its
stubble. When this time was elapsed, my visage was quite Siberian; a
thick cap of otter skin, which I now procured, fully completed my
northern disguises, and, exchanging my pistols at a hardware
establishment, for others not so good, but for which I had to give some
considerable boot, I felt myself fairly ready for my perilous
adventure. It called for some resolution to go forward when the time
came for my departure, and when I thought of the dangers before me; but
when, in the next instant, I thought of the murder of my friend, and of
the sad fate of his betrothed, my resolution of vengeance was renewed.
I felt that I had an oath in Heaven——sworn——registered;——and I repeated
it on earth.
Let me now return for an instant to the condition of my worthy
brother, and relate some passages, in their proper place in this
narrative, which, however, did not come to my knowledge for some time
after. The reader will remember my meeting with the stranger at the
entrance of the avenue leading to my father's house, who asked for John
Hurdis, and to whom I introduced him. It will also be remembered that I
remarked the surprise, nay almost consternation, which his appearance
and address seemed to produce in my brother's countenance. There was a
reason for all this, though I dreamed not of it then. John Hurdis had
good cause for the terrors, which, at that time, I found rather
ludicrous, and was almost disposed to laugh at. They went together into
the woods, and, as I left the plantation for Mobile an hour after, I
saw no more of either of them on that occasion. The business of the
stranger may best be told in John Hurdis's own words. That very
afternoon he went to the cottage of Pickett, whom he summoned forth, as
was his custom, by a signal agreed upon between them. When together, in
a voice of great agitation, John began the dialogue as follows:
"I am ruined, Pickett——ruined, undone forever. Who do you think has
come to me——presented himself at the very house, and demanded to see
Pickett looked up, but exhibited no sort of surprise at this
speech, as he replied by a simple inquiry.
"A messenger from this d——d confederacy. A fellow with his cursed
signs——and a summons to meet the members at some place to which he is
to give me directions at a future time. I am required to be in
readiness to go, heaven knows where, and to meet with, heaven knows
who——to do, heaven knows what."
Pickett answered coolly enough——and with an air of resignation to
his fate, which confounded Hurdis.
"He has been to me too, and given me the same notice."
"Ha! and what did you tell him——what answer ——what answer?"
"That I would come——that I was always ready. I suppose you told him
"Ay——you may well suppose it——what else, in the name of all the
fiends, could I tell him. I have no help——I must submit——I am at their
mercy—— thanks to your bungling, Ben Pickett——you have drawn us both
into a bog which is closing upon us like a gulf. I told him as you told
him, though it was in the gall of bitterness that I felt myself forced
to say so much, that I would obey the summons and be ready when the
time came to meet the 'Mystic Confederacy.'——Hell's curses upon their
confederates and mystery——that I was at their disposal as I was at
their mercy——to go as they bid me, and do as they commanded——I was
their servant—— their slave——their ox, their ass, their any thing.——
Death! death! that I should move my tongue to such admission, and feel
my feet bound in obedience with my tongue."
"It's mighty hard, 'Squire, but it's no use getting into a passion
about it. We're in, and, like the horsein the mire, we mustn't think to
bolt, 'till we're out of it."
"It's mighty hard, and no use getting in a passion," said Hurdis
ironically, and with bitterness repeating the words of his companion.
"Well, I know not, Ben Pickett, what situation would authorise a man in
becoming angry and passionate if this does not. You seem to take it
coolly, however. You're more of a philosopher, I see, than I can ever
hope to make myself."
"Well, 'Squire, it's my notion," said the other, "that what's not
to be helped by grumbling, will hurt the grumbler. I've found it so,
always; and now that I think of it, 'Squire, there's less reason for
you to grumble and complain than any body I know; and, as it's just as
well to speak the truth first as last, I may say now once for all, that
it was you that bungled, not me, or we shouldn't have got into this
bog; or we might have got out of it."
"Indeed! I bungle, and how I pray you, Mr. Pickett? Wasn't it you
that was caught in your own ambush?"
"Yes——but who sent me? I was doing your business, 'Squire, as well
as I could; and if you didn't like my ability, why did you trust it?
Why didn't you go yourself. I didn't want to kill Richard Hurdis——I
wasn't his brother."
"And then to mistake your man too——that was another specimen of
"Look you, 'Squire, the less you say about that matter, the better
for both of us. The bungling is but a small part of that business that
I'm sorry for. I'm sorry for the whole of it, and if sorrow could put
back the life in Bill Carrington's heart, and be security for Dick
Hurdis's hereafter, they'd both live for ever for me. But if I was such
a bungler at first, 'Squire, there's one thing I may tell you, and tell
you plainly. I was never afraid to pull trigger, when every thing
depended on it. The cure for all my bungling was in your own hands.
When the man first talked with us in these same woods, under them
willows, what did I say to you? Didn't I offer to close with him, if
you'd only agree to use your pistol? And wasn't you afraid?"
"I was not afraid——it was prudence only that made me put it off,"
said Hurdis hastily.
"And what made you put it off when you way-laid him in Ten Mile
Branch? No, 'Squire, as you confessed yourself, it was because you were
afraid to shoot, though every thing hung on that one fire. Had you
tumbled that fellow, we had'nt seen this; and if it had been convenient
for me to have done it, as God's my judge, I'd much rather have put the
bullet through a dozen fellows like that, than throughone clever chap
like Bill Carrington. That's a business troubles me, 'Squire; and more
than once since he's been covered, I've seen him walk over my path,
leaving a cold chill all along the track behind him."
"Pshaw, Ben, at your ghosts again."
"No, 'Squire, they're at me. But let's talk no more about it. What
can't be undone, may as well be let alone. We must work out our
troubles as we can; and the worst trouble to our thoughts is, that we
have worked ourselves into them. We have nobody but ourselves to
The manner of Pickett had become somewhat dogged and inflexible,
and it warned Hurdis, who was prompt in observing the changes of temper
in his neighbour, to be more considerate in his remarks, and more
conciliating in his tone of utterance.
"Well, but Ben, what is to be done? What are we to do about this
summons? How shall we get over it——how avoid it?"
"Avoid it! I don't think to avoid it, 'Squire."
"What! you intend to go when they call you?"
"Certainly——what can I do? Don't you intend to go? Did you not
"Yes, but I never thought of going. My hope was, that something
might turn up between this and then, that would interpose for my
safety. IndeedI never thought of any thing at the moment, but how best
to get rid of the emissary."
"That's the smallest matter of all," said Pickett.
"Now it is," replied Hurdis; "but it was not then, for I dreaded
lest some one should ask his business. Besides, he was brought up to me
by Richard, and his keen eyes seem always to look through me when he
speaks. As you say, to get rid of him is in truth, a small business, to
getting rid of his gang. How can that be done is the question? I had
hope when I came to you——"
The other interrupted him hastily.
"Don't come to me for hope, 'Squire; I should bungle, perhaps, in
what I advise you to do, or in what I do for you myself. Let us each
paddle our canoes apart. I'm a poor man that can't hope to manage well
the business of a rich one; and as I've done so badly for you before,
it won't be wise in you to employ me again. Indeed, for that matter, I
won't be employed by you again. It's hard enough to do evil for
another, and much harder, to get no thanks for it."
"Pshaw, Ben, you're in your sulks now——think better of it, my
friend. Don't mind a harsh word——a hasty word——uttered when I was
angry, and without meaning."
"I don't mind that, 'Squire——I wish it was aseasy to forget all the
rest, as to forgive that. But the blood, 'Squire——the blood that is on
my hands—— blood that I didn't mean to spill, 'Squire——'tis that makes
me angry and sulky——so that I don't care what comes up. It's all one to
me what happens now."
"But this fellow, Ben. You say you have resolved to comply with the
summons, and to go when they call for you?"
"And what am I to do?"
"The same, I suppose. I'm ready to go now; and I give you the last
counsel, 'Squire, which I think I ever will give you, and that is to
make the best of a bad situation——do with a good grace, what you can't
help doing, and it will go the better with you. They can't have any
good reason to expose a man of family to shame, and they will keep your
secrets so long as you obey their laws."
"But suppose they command me to commit crime ——to rob, to murder?"
"Well then you must ask yourself which you'd prefer——to obey or to
swing. It's an easy question."
"On all sides——the pit——the fire——the doom!" was the pitiable and
despairing exclamation of Hurdis, as he clasped his forehead with his
hands, and closed his eyes against the terrors which his imagination
brought before them. Suddenly recurring, he asked,
"But why, Ben, do you say this is the last counselwhich you will
give me. You do not mean to suffer a hasty and foolish word, for which
I have already uttered my regrets, to operate in your mind against
"No, 'Squire Hurdis——I don't mind the words of contempt that you
rich men utter for the poor—— if I did, I should be miserable enough
myself, and make many others more so. That's gone out of my mind, and,
as I tell you, I forget it all when I think of those worse matters
which I can't so well forget."
"Why then say you will counsel me no more?"
"Because I'm about to leave Marengo forever."
"Ha! remove! where——when?"
"In three days, 'Squire, I'll be off, bag and baggage, for the
'Nation.' My wife's ripe for it——she's been at me a long time to be off
from a place where nobody knows any good of me. And I have heard a good
deal about the 'Nation.' "
"And what will you do there for a livelihood."
"Well, just what I can——try at least, to live a little more
honestly than I did here——or more respectably, which is not often the
"But do you expect when there, to evade this 'confederacy?' "
Hurdis eagerly demanded.
"No——I have no such hope."
"How then can you hope to live more honestly?"
"More respectably, I may."
"They will summon you to do their crimes."
"I will do them."
"What! shed more blood at a time when you are troubled for what's
"Yes——I will obey where I cannot escape; but I will do no crime of
that sort again on my own account——nothing which I am not forced to do.
But if they say strike, I will do so as readily as if it was the best
action which they commanded. I will cut the throat of my best friend at
their bidding, for you see, 'Squire, I have been so long knocked about
in the world——now to one side, now to another, like a clumsy log going
down stream—— that I'm now quite indifferent, I may say, to all the
chances of the current; and I'll just go wherever it may drive me. This
'confederacy' can't make me worse than I have been——than I am——and it
increases my security and strength. It gives me more certain means and
greater power; and if I am to be forced, I will make what use I can of
the power that forces me."
"But, Ben, such a resolution will make you a willing and active
member of this clan."
"Surely!" said the other indifferently.
"All your old interests and friendships, Ben, would be forsaken,
"Ay, 'Squire, and my old friends just as liableto my bullet and
knife as my enemies, if the command of the confederacy required me to
use them. You yourself, 'Squire——though we have worked together for a
long time——even you I would not spare, if they required me to shed your
blood; and you will see from this, that there is no hope for you unless
you comply with the summons, and heartily give yourself up to the
interests of the whole fraternity."
Hurdis was stricken dumb by this frank avowal of his associate. He
had no more to say, and with a better understanding of each other than
either had ever possessed before, there was now a wall between them,
over which neither at the present moment seemed willing to look. In
three days more Pickett with all his family, was on his way towards the
"nation," where, it may be added in this place, he had already made
arrangements with the emissary for a more active co-operation with the
members of the "Mystic Confederacy." His destiny which forced him into
the bosom of this clan, seemed thoroughly to yield to his desire. The
buffeting of the world, of which he had spoken, had only made him the
more indifferent to the loveliness of virtue—— more reckless of the
risk, and less averse to the natural repulsiveness, of vice.
For dignity composed, and high exploit;
But all was false and hollow.
Were it proper for me to pause in my narrative for the purpose of
moral reflection, how naturally would the destitute condition of the
criminal, as instanced in the case of John Hurdis, present itself for
comment. Perhaps the greatest penalty which vice ever suffers is its
isolation——its isolation from friends and fellowship——from warm trust,
from yielding confidence. Its only resources are in the mutual
interests of other and perhaps greater criminals, and what is there in
life so unstable as the interests of the vicious? How they fluctuate
with the approach of danger, or the division of the spoil, or the
drunkenness of heart and habit which their very destitution in all
social respects must necessarily originate. When John Hurdis separated
from his late colleague, who had taught him that they were no longer
bound to each other by mutual necessities, he felt as if the last stay,
in the moment of extremity, was suddenlytaken from him. A sickness of
soul came over him, and that despair of the spirit which the falling
wretch endures, in the brief instant, when, catching at the impending
limb, he finds it yielding the moment that his hold is sure upon it,
and, in its decay, betraying utterly the last fond hope which had
promised him security and life.
But, enough of this——my journey is begun. I entered a steamboat,
one fair morning, and with promising auspices, so far as our voyage is
considered, we went forward swimmingly enough. But our boat was an old
one——a wretched hulk, which, having worked out its term of responsible
service in the Mississippi, had been sent round to Mobile, at the
instance of cupidity, to beguile unwitting passengers like myself, to
their ruin. She was a piece of patch-work throughout, owned by a
professional gambler, a little Israelite, who took the command without
knowing any thing about it, and by dint of good fortune, carried us
safely to our journey's end. Not that we had not some little stoppages
and troubles by the way. Some portion of the machinery got out of
order, and we landed at Demopolis, built a fire, erected a sort of
forge, and in the space of half a day and night repaired the accident.
This incident would not be worth relating, but that it exhibits the
readiness with which our wildest and least scientific people, can find
remedies for disasters which would seem to call for great skill and
most extensive preparations. On the eleventh day we reached Columbus;
but in the meantime, practising my new resolves, I made an acquaintance
on board the boat. This was an old gentleman, a puritan of the bluest
complexion, whom nobody would have suspected of being a rogue. Setting
out to seek for, and meet with none but rogues, he yet nearly deceived
me by his sanctity; and had I not maintained my watchfulness a little
longer than I deemed necessary myself, I should have taken it for
granted that he was a saint of the most accepted order, and, if I had
not committed my secret to his keeping, I should, at least, have so far
involved its importance as to make my labour unavailing. Fortunately,
as I said, having put on, with the dress common to the gamblers of the
great Mississippi Valley, as much of their easy impudence of demeanor
as I could readily assume, I succeeded as effectually in convincing my
puritan that I was a rogue, as he did in persuading me, at the
beginning, that he was an honest man. It was my good fortune to find
out his secret first, and to keep my own. It so happened that there
were several passengers like myself, bound for Columbus on the
Tombeckbe, to which place our boat was destined. As customary at that
time, we had no sooner got fairly under weigh before cards were
produced, and one fellow, whose lungs and audacity were greater thanthe
rest, was heard throughout the cabin calling upon all persons who were
disposed to "take a hand," to come forward. With my new policy in view,
I was one of the first to answer this challenge. I had provided myself
in Mobile with several packs, and taking a couple of them in hand, I
went forward to the table which meanwhile had been drawn out in the
cabin and coolly surveyed my companions. Our puritan came forward at
the same moment, and in the gravest terms and tones, protested against
"My young friends," he cried, "let me beg you not to engage in this
wicked amusement. Cards are, as it has been often and well said——cards
are the prayer books of the devil. It is by these that he wins souls
daily to his gloomy kingdom. Night and day he is busy in these arts, to
entrap the unwary, whom he blinds and beguiles until, when they open
their eyes at last, they open them in the dwellings of damnation. Oh,
my dear children, do not venture to follow him so far. Cast the
temptation from you——defy the tempter; and in place of these dangerous
instruments of sin, hearken, I pray you, to the goodly outpourings of a
divine spirit. If you will but suffer me to choose for you a text from
this blessed volume——"
Here he took a small pocket bible from his bosom, and was about to
turn the leaves, when a cry fromall around me, silenced him in his
homily, which promised to be sufficiently unctuous and edifying.——
"No text——no text," was the general voice—— "none of the
parson——none of the parson."
"Nay, my beloved children——" the preacher begun, but a tall
good-humoured looking fellow, a Georgian, with the full face, lively
eyes and clear skin of that state, came up to him, and laid his broad
hand over his mouth.
"Shut up, parson, it's no use. You can't be heard now, for you see
it's only civility to let the devil have the floor, seeing he was up
first. If, now, you had been quick enough with your prayer-book, and
got the whip-hand of him, d——n my eyes, but you should have sung out
your song to the end of the verses; but you've been slow,
parson——you've been sleeping at your stand, and the deer's got round
you. You'll get smoked by the old one, yourself, if you don't mind, for
neglecting your duty."
"Peace, vain young man——"
He was about to begin a furious denunciation, but was allowed to
proceed no farther. The clamor was unanimous around him; and one tall
fellow, somewhat dandyishly accoutred like myself, coming forward, made
a show of seizing upon the exhorter. Here I interposed.
"No violence, gentlemen; it's enough that we have silenced the man,
let him not be hurt."
"Ay, if he will keep quiet," said the fellow, still threatening.
"Oh, quiet or not," said the Georgian, "we mustn't hurt the parson.
'Dang it, he shan't be hurt. I'll stand up for him.——Parson, I'll stand
up for you; but by the Hokey, old black, you must keep your oven
I joined in promising that he would be quiet and offer no farther
interruption, and he so far seemed to warrant our assurance as, without
promising himself, to take a seat, after a few half suppressed groans,
on a bench near the table, on which we were about to play. I was first
struck with suspicion of the fellow by this fact. If the matter was so
painful to his spirit, why did he linger in our neighbourhood when
there were so many parts of the boat to which he might have retreated?
The suspicion grew stronger when I found him, after a little while, as
watchfully attentive to the progress of the game as any of the players.
Favourably impressed with the frankness of the Georgian, I proposed
that we should play against the other two persons who were prepared to
sit down to the table, and my offer was closed with instantly. We bet
on each hand, on the highest trump, and on the game with each of our
opponents, a dollar being the amount of each bet, so that we had a good
many dollars staked on the general result of thegame. I know that I
lost nine dollars before the cards had been thrice dealt. I now
proceeded to try some of the tricks which I had seen others perform,
and in particular that in which the dealer, by a peculiar mode of
shuffling, divides the trumps between his partner and himself. My
object was to fix the attention of one of my opponents, whom I
suspected from the first to be no better than he should be, simply
because he wore a habit not unlike my own, and was covered with
trinkets in the same manner. But I lacked experience——there was still a
trick wanting which no slight of hand of mine could remedy. Though I
shuffled the cards as I had seen them shuffled, by drawing them
alternately from top and bottom together, I found neither mine nor my
partner's hand any better than before, and looking up with some
affected chagrin in my countenance, I caught sight of what seemed to be
an understanding smile between the opponent in question and the parson,
who, sitting a little on one side of me, was able to look, if he
desired it, into my hand. This discovery——as I thought it——gave me no
little pleasure. I was resolved to test it, and ascertain how far I was
correct in my suspicions. I flattered myself that I was in a fair way
to fall upon the clue which might conduct me into the very midst of the
gamblers, who are all supposed to be connected moreor less on the
western waters, and yield me possession of their secrets. Accordingly,
I displayed certain of my cards ostentatiously before the eyes of the
preacher, and had occasion to observe, an instant after, that the play
of my opponent seemed to be regulated by a certain knowledge of my
hand. He finessed constantly upon my lead; and with an adroitness which
compelled the continual expression of wonder and dissatisfaction from
the lips of my partner. I was satisfied, so far, with the result of my
experiment, and began to think of pausing before I proceeded farther;
when my Georgian dashed down his cards as the game was ended against
us, and cried out to me, with a countenance which, though flushed, was
yet full of most excellent feeling——
"Look you, stranger, suppose we change. We don't seem to have luck
together, and there's no fun in being all the time on the losing side.
The bad luck may be with me, or it may be with you, I don't say, but it
can do no harm to shift it to other shoulders, whoever has it. I've
been diddled out of twenty-six hard dollars, in mighty short order."
"Diddled!" exclaimed my brother dandy, with an air of ineffable
heroism, turning to my partner. Without discomposure the other replied:
"I don't mean any harm when I say diddled,stranger, so don't be
uneasy. I call it diddling when I lose my money, fight as hard for it
as I can. That's the worst sort of diddling I know."
The other looked fierce for a moment, but he probably soon
discovered that the Georgian had replied without heeding his air of
valor, and there was something about his composed manner which rendered
it at least a doubtful point whether any thing in the shape of an
insult would not set his bulky frame into overpowering exercise. The
disposition to bully, however slightly it was suffered to appear, added
another item to my suspicions of the character before me. The
proposition of my partner to change places with one of the other two,
produced a different suggestion from one of them, which seemed to
please us all. It was that we should play vingt-un.
"Every man fights on his own hook in that, and his bad luck, if he
has any, hurts nobody but himself."
I had begun to reproach myself with a course which, however useful
in forwarding my own objects, had evidently contributed to the loss by
my partner of his money. If free to throw away my own, I had no right
to try experiments on his purse, and I readily gave my assent to the
proposition. Our bets were more moderate than before, but I soon found
the game a losing one still. The preacherstill sat at my elbow, and my
brother dandy was the banker; and in more than one instance when I have
stood on "twenty" he has drawn from the pack, though having "eighteen"
and "nineteen,"——upon which good players will always be content, unless
assured that better hands are in the possession of their opponents,
when, by "drawing," they cannot lose. This knowledge could only be
received from our devoted preacher, and when I ceased to play—— which,
through sheer weariness I did——I did so with the most thorough
persuasion, that the two were in correspondence——they were birds of the
Moody and thoughtful, for I was now persuaded that my own more
important game was beginning to open before me, I went to the stern of
the boat, and seated myself upon one of the bulks, giving way to the
bitter musings of which my mind was sufficiently full. While I sat
thus, I was startled on a sudden to find the preacher beside me.
"Ah, my young friend, I have watched you during your sinful play,
against which I warned you, with a painful sort of curiosity. Did I not
counsel you against those devilish instruments——you scorned my counsel,
and what has been your fortune. You have lost money, my son, money——a
goodly sum, which might have blessed the poor widow, and the
portionless orphan——which might have sent the blessings of the word
into strange lands among the benighted heathen——which might have helped
on in in his labours wayfaring teacher of the word—— which might be
most needful to yourself, my son, which, indeed, I see it in your
looks——which you could very ill spare for such purposes, and which even
now it is your bitter suffering that you have lost."
Admiring the hypocrisy of the old reprobate, I was yet, in
obedience to my policy, prepared to respect it. I availed myself of his
own suggestion, and thus answered him.
"You speak truly, sir; I bitterly regret having lost my money,
which, as you say, I could ill spare, and which it has nearly emptied
my pockets to have lost. But suppose I had been fortunate——if I was
punished by my losses for having played, he who won, I suppose, is
punished by his winnings for the same offence. How does your reason
answer when it cuts both ways?"
"Even as a two edged sword it doth, my friend; though in the
blindness of earth you may not so readily see or believe it. Truly may
it be said that you are both equally punished by your fortunes. You
suffer from your losses——who shall say that he will suffer less from
his gains. Will it not encourage him in his career of sin——will it not
promote his licentiousness——his indulgence of manyvices which will
bring him to disease, want, and, possibly——which heaven avert——to an
untimely end. Verily, my friend, I do think him even more unfortunate
than thyself; for, of a truth, it may be said, that the right use of
money is the most difficult and dangerous of all; and few ever use it
rightly but such as gain it through great toil, or have the divine
instinct of heaven, which is wisdom, to employ it to its rightful
Excellent hypocrite! How admirably did he preach! How adroitly did
he escape what had otherwise been his dilemma. He almost deceived me a
"In your heart, now, my friend, you bitterly repent that you heeded
not my counsel."
"Not a whit!" was my reply. "If I were sure I could win, I would
stick by the card table forever."
"What! so profligate and so young. Oh! my friend, think upon your
end——think of eternity."
"Rather let me think of my beginning, reverend sir, if you please.
The business of time requires present attention, and to a man that is
starving your talk of future provision is a mere mockery. Give me to
know how I am to get the bread of life in this life before you talk to
me of bread for the next."
"How should you get it, my friend, but by painstakingand labour,
and worthy conduct. The world esteems not those who play at cards——"
"And I esteem not the world. What matters it to me, my good sir,
what are the opinions of those to whom I am unknown, and for whom I
care nothing. Give me but money enough, and I will make them love me,
and honor me, and force truth and honesty into all shapes, that they
may not offend my principles or practice."
"But, my son, you would not surely forget the laws of honesty in
the acquisition of wealth?"
This was said inquisitively, and with a prying glance of the eye,
which sufficiently betokened the deep interest which the hypocrite felt
in my answer. But that I was now persuaded of his hypocrisy, I should
have never avowed myself so boldly.
"What are they? What are these laws of honesty of which you speak?
I cannot, all at once, say that I know them."
"Not know them!"
"Well," he continued, "to say truth, they are rather frequently
revoked among mankind, and have others wholly opposite in character
substituted in their place; but you cannot mistake me my young
friend——you know that there are such laws."
"Ay, laws for me——for the poor——to crush the weak——made by the
strong for their own protection——for the protection of the wealth of
the cunning. These are not laws calculated to win the respect or regard
of the destitute——of those who are desperate enough, if they did not
lack the strength, to pull down society with a fearless hand, though,
perhaps, they pulled it in ruin upon themselves."
"But you, my friend, you are not thus desperate ——this is not your
"What! you would extort a confession from me, first of my
poverty——then of my desperation——you would drag me to the county court,
would you, that you might have the proud satisfaction of exhorting the
criminal in his last moments, in the presence of twenty thousand
admiring fellow creatures, who come to see a brother launched out of
life and into hell. This is your practice and creed is it?"
"No, my friend," he replied, in a lower tone of voice, which was,
perhaps, intended to restrain the emphatic utterance of mine. "Know me
better, my friend——I would save you——such is my heart——from so dreadful
a situation——yes, I would even defeat the purposes of justice, though I
felt persuaded you would sin again in the same fashion. Be not rash——
be not hasty in your judgment of me, my friend. I like you, and will
say something to you which you will, perhaps, be pleased to hear. But
not now—— one of these vicious reprobates approaches us, and what I say
must be kept only for your own ears. To-night, perhaps——to-night."
He left me with an uplifted finger, and a look—— such a look as
Satan may be supposed to have fixed on Adam in Paradise.
'Twill be a bargain and sale,
I see, by their close working of their heads,
And running them together so in counsel.
—— Ben Jonson
The old hypocrite sought me out again that night. So far, it
appears that my part had been acted with tolerable success. My
impetuosity, which had been feigned, of course, and the vehemence with
which I denounced mankind in declaring my own destitution, were natural
enough to a youth who had lost his money, and had no other resources;
and I was marked out by the tempter as one so utterly hopeless of the
world's favors, as to be utterly heedless of its regards. Of such, it
is well known, the best materials for villany are usually compounded,
and our puritan, at a glance, seems to have singled me out as his own.
We had stopped to repair some accident to the machinery, and while the
passengers were generally making merry on land, I strolled into the
woods that immediately bordered upon the river, taking care that my
reverend fox, whose eye I well knew was upon me, should see the course
Itook. I was also careful not to move so rapidly as to make it a
difficult work to overtake me. As I conjectured would be the case, he
followed and found me out. It was night, but the stars were bright
enough, and the fires which had been kindled by the boat hands, gave
sufficient light for all ordinary objects of sight. I sat down upon the
bluff of the river, screened entirely by the overhanging branches which
sometimes almost met across the stream, where it was narrow, from the
opposite banks. I had not been here many minutes before the tempter was
"You are sad, my friend——your losses trouble you. But distrust not
Providence which takes care of all us, though, perhaps, we see not the
hand that feeds us, and fancy all the while that it is our own. You
will be provided when you least look for it; and to convince you of the
truth of what I say, let me tell you that it is not in goodly counsel
alone that I would serve you, I will help you in other matters—— I can
help you to the means of life——nay, of wealth. Ha! do you start? Do you
wonder at what I say? Wonder not——be not surprised——be not rash——refuse
not your belief, for of a truth, and by the blessing of God, will I do
for you all that I promise, if so be that I can find you pliant and
willing to strive for the goodly benefits which I shall put before
"What! you would make me a preacher, wouldyou? You would have me
increase the host of solemn beggars that infest the country with stolen
or silly exhortations, stuffed with abused words, and full of oaths and
blasphemy. But you are mistaken in your man. I would sooner rob a
fellow on the highway, than pilfer from his pockets while I preach.
None of your long talks for me——tell me now of some bold plan for
taking Mexico, which, one day or other, the southwest will have to
take, and I am your man. I care not how bold your scheme——there is no
one so perfectly indifferent to the danger as he who cannot suffer the
loss of a single sixpence by rope or bullet."
"You do not say, my friend, that you would willingly do such
violence as this you speak of, for the lucre of gain. Surely, you would
not willingly slay your brother for the sake of his gold?"
"Ask me no questions, reverend sir," I replied, moodily. "I am not
in the humour to be catechised."
"And yet, my friend," he continued, "I much fear me that your
conscience is scarcely what it should be. This was my surmise to day as
I beheld you with those unholy cards in your hands. Did I not see you,
while giving them that sort of distribution which is sinfully styled
shuffling——did I not see you practising an art which is commonly held
to be unfair among men of play. Ha! my son——am I notright?——have I not
smitten you under the fifth rib?"
"And what should you, a preacher of the Gospel as you call
yourself, what should you know about shuffling?"
"Preacher of the Gospel I am, my friend," was his cool reply. "I am
an expounder of the Holy Scriptures, though it may be an unworthy one.
I have my license from the Alabama conference, for the year 18——,
which, at a convenient season, I am not unwilling that you should see.
Yet, though I am a preacher of the Blessed Word, I have not, and to my
shame be it spoken, been always thus. In my youth, I am sad to say, I
was much given to carnal indulgence, and many were the evil practices
of my body, and many the evil devices of my heart. In this time of my
ignorance and sin, I was a great lover of these deadly instruments of
evil; and among my fellows I was accounted a proficient, able to teach
in all the arts of play. It was thus that I acquired the
knowledge——knowledge which hurts——to see when thou designedst a trick
in which thou didst yet fail, to win the money of thy fellow. I will
show thee that trick, my friend, that thou mayst know, I tell thee
nothing but the truth."
Here was a proposition from a parson. I closed with him instantly.
"You will do me a great service, I assure you."
"But, my friend, you would not make use of thy knowledge to despoil
thy fellow of his money."
"Would I not? For what else would I know the art?"
"But if I could teach thee other and greater arts than these——if I
could show thee how to make thy brother's purse thine own, at once, and
without the toil of doling it out dollar by dollar, I fear me, my
friend, that thou wouldst apply this knowledge also to purposes of
evil——that thou wouldst not regard the sinfulness of such performances,
in the strong desire of lucre which I see is in thy heart——that thou
wouldst seek an early chance to put in practice the information which I
"And wherefore give it me then? Of a certainty I would employ it,
as you see, to increase my means of life."
"Alas! my friend, but thy necessity must be great ——else would I
look upon thee with misgivings and much horror."
"Great indeed! I tell you, reverend sir, that but for your coming,
it is ten to one I had sent a bullet through my own head, or buried
myself in the waters of the 'Bigby.' "
"Thou surely didst not meditate an act so heinous."
"Look here!" and I showed him my pistol as Ispoke. He coolly took
it into his hands, threw up the pan, and with his finger assured
himself that it was primed. His tone was altered instantly. He dropped
the drawling manner of the exhorting; and though his conversation was
still sprinkled with the canting slang of the itinerant preacher, which
long use had probably made habitual, yet he evidently ceased to think
it necessary to play the hypocrite with me any longer.
"You are too bold a fellow," he said, "to throw away your life in
such a manner, and that too because of the want of money. You shall
have money ——as much as you wish of it; and I take it, you would
infinitely prefer shooting him who has it, rather than yourself——"
"Nay, nay, not that neither, reverend sir. There's some danger of
being hung for such a matter."
"Not if you have money. You forget, my friend, your own principles.
You said, and said truly, that money was the power which made virtue
and opinion take all shapes among men; and when this is the case,
justice becomes equally accommodating. You shall have this money——you
shall compel this opinion as you please, so that you may do what you
please, and be safe——only let me know that you wish this knowledge."
I grasped his hand violently.
"Ask the wretch at the gallows if he wishes life, and the question
is no less idle than that which you put to me."
"Come farther back from the river——some of these boatmen may be
pulling about; and such matters as I have to reveal, need no bright
blaze like that which gleams upon us from yon forge. That wood looks
dismal enough behind us——let us go there."
Thither we went, and having buried ourselves sufficiently among the
thick undergrowth to be free of any danger of discovery or
interruption, he began the narrative which follows; and which, together
with much additional but unnecessary matter, I have abridged to my own
"There was a boy," said he, "a poor boy of West Tennessee, who knew
no parents, and had no friends ——who worked for his bread and
education, such as it was, at the same moment, and in spite of all his
labours, found, at the end of every year, after casting up his
accounts, that he had gained during its passage many more kicks than
"No uncommon fortune in a country like ours."
"So he thought it," continued the parson, availing himself of my
interruption; "so he thought it." He wasted no time and feeling in idle
regrets of a condition which he found was rather more general than
grateful to mankind, and one day he asked himself how many years he was
willing to expend in trying to get a living in an honest way."
"Well——a reasonable question. What answer?"
"A reasonable one——like the question. Life is short even if we have
money, said he to himself; but we have no life at all without it.
Following a plough gives me none——I must follow something else."
"He resolved on being honest no longer."
"Indeed! But how could he put his resolution into effect in a
country like ours, where we are inundated with so much professional
"He put on a professional cloak."
"But, though commencing a new, and, as it proved, a profitable
business, he was not so selfish as to desire a monopoly of it——on the
contrary, a little reflection suggested to him a grand idea, which was
evolved by the very natural reflection which you made just now."
"What was that?"
"Simply that his condition was not that of an individual, but of
"Well——that is a trueism. What could he make of that?"
"He conceived that, if there were thousands in his condition, there
were thousands governed by his feelings and opinions. We all have a
family likeness in our hearts, however disguised by habits, manners,
education; but when habits, manners, education are agreed, and to these
is added a prevailing necessity, then the likeness becomes identity,
and the boy who, on reaching manhood, resolved to be no longer
despicably honest, felt assured that his resolve could be made the
resolves of all who are governed by his necessities."
"A natural reflection enough——none more so."
"Accordingly, his chief labour was that of founding an order——a
brotherhood of those who have learned to see, in the principles which
ostensibly govern society, a nice system of cobwebs, set with a double
object, as snares to catch and enslave the feeble and confiding, and
defences for the protection of the more cunning reptiles that sit in
the centre, and prey at ease upon the marrow and fat of the toiling
insects they entangle."
"Such is certainly a true picture of our social condition. Man is
the prey of man——the weak of the strong——the unwary of the cunning. The
more black, the more bloated the spider, the closer hisweb, and the
greater the number and variety of his victims. He sits at ease, and
they plunge incontinently into his snare."
Such were some of the reflections with which I regaled my
companion. He proceeded with increasing earnestness.
"He travelled through all the slave states making proselytes to his
doctrine. With the cassock of a sanctified profession which we no more
dare assail now than we did four hundred years ago, he made his way not
only at little or no expense, but with great profit. On all hands he
found friends and followers——men ready to do his bidding——to follow him
in all risks——to undertake all sorts of offences, and in every respect
to be the instruments of his will, as docile and dependent as those of
any oriental despot known in story. His followers soon grew numerous,
and having them scattered through all the slave states, and some of the
free, he could enumerate more than fifteen hundred men ready at his
summons and sworn to his allegiance."
I was positively astounded.
"But you are not serious?"
"As much so as at a camp meeting. There is not an atom of the best
certified texts of Scripture more true than what I tell you."
"What! fifteen hundred men——fifteen hundred in these southern
states professing roguery."
"Nay——not professing roguery——there you are harsh in your epithet.
Professing religion, law, physic, planting, shopkeeping,——any thing,
every thing, but roguery. They practise roguery, and roguery of all
kinds, I grant you, but no professions could be more immaculate than
"Is it possible!" My wonder could not be concealed, but I contrived
to mingle in some delight with my tones of astonishment, and my words
were cautiously adapted to second my affectation of delight.
"Yes," he continued, "by the overruling influence of this boy as I
may call him, though now a full grown man, such has become the spread
of his principles, and such is the power which he wields. Yet, in all
his labours, mark me, he himself commits no act of injustice with his
own hand. He manages——he directs others——he sets the spring in motion
and counsels the achievement, yet no blow is struck by his hand. He is
above the petty details of his own plans, and leaves to other and minor
spirits the task of executing the little offices by which the grand
design is carried out, and the work effected."
"Why, this man is a genius."
My unaffected expression of admiration warmed my companion, and he
soon convinced me not only that he had all the while spoken of himself,
but that he was remarkably sensitive on the subject of his own
greatness. Discovering this weakness, I plied him by oblique flatteries
of the wonderful person whom he had described to me, and he became
seemingly almost entirely unreserved in his communications. He related
at large the history of the clan—— the Mystic Confederacy, as it was
termed——as it has already been partially narrated to the reader; and my
horror and wonder were alike increased at every step in his progress. I
could no longer doubt that the fellows who murdered William Carrington
were a portion of the same lawless fraternity; and while the
developments of my new acquaintance gave me fresh hope of being soon
able to encounter with those murderers, they opened my eyes to a
greater field of danger and difficulties than had appeared to them
before. But I did not suffer myself to indulge in apprehensive musings,
and pressed him for an increase of knowledge; taking care at my each
solicitation to lard my inquiries thick with oily eulogies upon the
great genius who had planned, and so far executed, his enterprises.
"How has this wonderful man contrived to evade detection, or
suspicion at least? It is not easy to have a secret kept which is so
"That is one of the beauties of his scheme, that he confides little
or nothing which affects himself,and he secures the alliance and
obedience of those only who have secrets of their own much more
detrimental to them if made public than could be any which they have of
his. His art consisted simply in seeking out those who had secrets of a
dangerous nature. In finding these he found followers. But though he
has not always escaped suspicion——he has been able always to defy it.
Societies have been formed, schemes laid, companies raised and juries
prompted, to catch him in the act, but all in vain. It is not easy to
entrap a man who has an emissary in every section of the country. The
most active secretaries of the societies were his creatures——the
schemes have been reported him as soon as laid, and one of his own
right hand men has more than once been an officer of the company sworn
to keep watch over him in secret."
"Wonderful man!——and what does he design with all this power? To
rob merely——to procure money from travellers upon the highway——would
not seem to call for such an extensive association."
"Perhaps not!——but he has other purposes; and the time will come, I
doubt not, when his performances will, in no respect, fall short of the
power which he will employ to effect them. When I tell you of such a
man, you see at once that he is no common robber. Why should he confine
himself to the deeds of one——be assured he will not. Youwill see——you
will hear yet of his performances, and I tell you they will be such
that the country will ring with them again."
"He must be a man of great ambition——he should be to correspond
with the genius which he evidently has for great achievements. I should
like to know——by my soul, but I could love such a man as that."
"You shall know him in season——he is not unwilling to be known
where he himself knows the seeker, but——"
He paused, and I determined upon giving my hypocrisy a crowning
virtue, if possible, by utterly overmastering his. I put my hand upon
his shoulder suddenly, and looked him in the face, saying deliberately
at the same time:——
"You are the man himself——I'll swear it."
"How!" he exclaimed, in some alarm; and I could see that he fumbled
in his bosom as if for a weapon. "How! you mean not to betray me?"
"Betray you, no. I honour you——I love you. You have opened a road
to me——you have given me light. An hour ago and I was the most hopeless
benighted wretch under heaven——without money, without the means of
getting it, and fully resolved on putting a bullet through my head. You
have saved my life——you have saved me."
He seized my hand with warmth.
"I will be the making of you," he replied. "I have the whole
southwest in a string, and have only to pull it to secure a golden
draught. You shall be with me at the pulling."
"What more he said is unnecessary to my narrative, though he
thought it all important to his. In brief, he told me that he had
concocted his present schemes for a space of more than twenty years——
from the time that he was fifteen years of age, and he was now full
thirty five; showing by this a commendable perseverance of purpose,
which, in a good work is seldom shown, and which, in a good work, must
have ensured to any individual a most triumphant greatness. We did not
separate that night until he had sworn me a member of the "Mystic
Confederacy," and given me a dozen signs by which to know my brethren,
make myself known, send tidings and command assistance——acquisitions
which I shuddered to possess, and the consequences of which, I well
knew, would task all my skill and resolution to escape and evade.
Maugre thy strength, youth, place and eminence,
Despight thy victor sword, and fire new fortune,
Thy valour and thy heart——thou art a traitor."
—— King Lear
My thoughts, in my berth that night, were oppressive enough. I had
involved myself in the meshes of a formidable conspiracy, and was now
liable to all its dangers. It mattered not to the public how pure were
my real purposes, so long as the knowledge of them was confined only to
myself. The consciousness of virtue may be a sufficient strengthener of
one's resolve, but I doubt whether it most usually produces a perfect
feeling of mental quiet. I know all was turmoil in my brain that night.
I tossed and tumbled, and could not sleep. Thought was busy, as indeed
she had need be. I had now full occasion for the exercise of all my
wits. To entrap the black and bloated spiders in their own web was now
my task——to escape from it myself, my difficulty. But I had sworn to
avengeWilliam Carrington; and now, with a less selfish feeling, I
registered another oath in heaven.
In my next conversation with the parson, who gave me, as his name,
Clement Foster, though I doubt not——indeed I afterwards
discovered——that he had twenty other names;——I endeavoured, with all my
art, to find out if he knew any thing of Webber, and his associates. To
do this, without provoking suspicion, was a task requiring the utmost
caution. To a certain intent I succeeded. I found that Webber was one
of his men, but I also discovered that he let me know nothing in
particular——nothing, the development of which might materially affect
his future plans, or lead to the discovery of his past projects. I was
evidently regarded as one, who, however well estimated, was yet to
undergo those trials which always precede the confidence of the wicked.
I was yet required to commit myself, before I could be recognised in a
fellowship of risk and profits with them. Foster gave me to know, that
there was a test to which I would be subjected——a test depending on
circumstances——not arbitrary——and my full and entire admission to the
fraternity, would depend on the manner in which I executed my task.
"You will have to take a mail bag, or shoot an obstinate fellow,
who has more money than brains, through the head. Our tasks are all
adapted to theparticular characters of our men. Gentlemen bred, and of
good education and fine feelings, will be required to do some bold
action——our common rogues and underlings, are made to run a negro from
his master, or pick a pocket at a muster, or pass forged notes or some
small matter of that sort. You, however, will be subjected to no such
mean performances. I will see to that."
Here was consolation with a vengeance. I felt my cheek burn, and my
heart bound within me; but I was on the plank, and the stern necessity
schooled me so, that I was able to conceal all my emotion. But I soon
found that there were other tests for me; and that my friendly parson
was not yet so satisfied that my virtue was of the desirable
complexion. My brother dandy sought me out one day before we reached
"I see," said he, confidentially, "that parson talking with you
very frequently, and as you seem to listen to him very respectfully, I
think it only an act of friendship to put you on your guard against
him. Between us, he's a great rascal, I'm more than certain. I know him
to be a hypocrite, and while I was last in Orleans, there was a man
advertised for passing forged notes, and the description given of the
rogue, answers to a letter, the appearance of this fellow."
I thanked him for his kindness, but told him thatI really thought
the parson a very good man; and could not believe that he would be
guilty of such an act as that ascribed to him.
"You're mistaken," said he; "you're only too confiding——and I'll
convince you, if you'll only back me in what I do. Stand by me, and
I'll charge him with it before the captain, and, if so, we'll have the
reward. I'll lay my life his pocket is full of forged bills at this
I answered him with some coolness, and more indifference.
"I'm no informer, sir, and do not agree with you in your ill
opinion of the poor man. At least, I have seen nothing in his conduct,
and witnessed nothing in his deportment to warrant me in forming any
such suspicions. He may have forged notes or not, for me——I'll not
The fellow went off no wise discomfited, and I heard nothing more
of his accusation. That night I related the circumstance to Foster, who
smiled without surprise, and then said to me in reply——
"You see how well our agents work for us. Haller (that was the
dandy's name,) is one of our men. He knew from me of what we had
spoken, and proposed to try you. It is no small pleasure to find you so
faithful to your engagements."
In this way, and by the practice of the most unrelaxing cunning, I
fully persuaded Foster of my integrity——if I may use that word in such
relation. Hour after hour gave me new revelations touching the grand
fraternity——the "Mystic Brotherhood"—— into the bosom of which I was
now to be received; and of the doings and the capacities of which
Foster spoke at large and with all the zest of the truest paternity.
After repeated conferences had seemed to assure him of my fidelity, he
proceeded to reveal a matter which, in the end, proved of more
importance to my pursuit than all the rest of his revelations.
"We have quarterly and occasional meetings of our choice spirits,
who are few in number, and one of these meetings is at hand. We meet in
the neighbourhood of the Sipsy Swamp, on the road from Columbus to
Tuscaloosa, where we have a famous hiding place, which has heard——and
kept too——many a pretty secret. We have a conference to which twenty or
more will be admitted, who will report their proceedings in Western
Alabama. There will be several new members like yourself, who are yet
in their noviciate; but none, I am persuaded, who will go through their
trial half so well as yourself."
"What! the stopping the mail, or shooting the traveller!"
"Yes——'tis that I mean. You will do your duty, I doubt not. There
is another business which we have on hand, which is of some importance
to our interests:——it is hinted that one of our leading confederates——a
fine young fellow who committed an error, and joined us in consequence,
a year ago, is about to play the traitor; or, at least, fly the track."
"Ah, indeed! And how do you punish such an offence."
How! But by death!——our very existence as a society, and safety, as
men, depend upon the severity which we visit upon the head of the
traitor. He must die——that is, if the offence be proved against him."
"What! you give him a trial then?"
"Yes;——but not by jury——no such folly for us. We put on the track
of the offender, some two or three of our most trusty confederates, who
take note of all his actions, and are empowered with authority to put
the law in force without farther reference to us. I will try and get
you upon this commission, as your first trial before we invest you with
our orders. Haller will most probably be your associate in this
business. He brings the report of the suspected treason, and it is our
custom to employ in a business those persons who have the clue already
in their hands. Haller has some prejudice against Eberly,—— there have
been words between them, and Eberly, who is a fellow of high spirit,
got the better of him, and treats him with some contempt."
"Will there not be some danger of Haller's abusing the trust you
give him then, and making itspowers subservient to his feelings of
"Possibly——but Haller knows our penalty for that offence, and will
scarcely venture to incur it. Besides, I fear there is some ground for
his charges—— I have heard some matters about Eberly myself which were
"Eberly!" said I, "where did I hear that name before? I have surely
heard it somewhere."
"Not unlikely——I know several Eberlys in Georgia and Alabama——it's
not a very uncommon name, though still not a common one."
The consciousness of the next instant, made my cheek burn. I
remembered hearing the name of Eberly uttered by one of the banditti,
while I lay bound in the hovel of Matthew Webber; and then it appeared
to me in language which was disparaging. Things were beginning to fit
themselves strangely together before my eyes, and when the parson left
me to retire to his birth, I was soon lost in a wilderness of musing.
We soon reached and landed at Columbus——a wild looking and scattered
settlement, at that time, of some thirty families, within a mile of the
Tombeckbe. We proceeded boldly to the tavern——our parson leading the
way; and never was prayer more earnest and seemingly unaffected than
that which he put up at the supper table that night. He paid amply for
his bacon and greens, by his eloqeunce. He tendered no other form of
pay, nor indeed, did any seem to be desired. The next morning, it was
arranged between us that we should all meet at a spot a little above
the ford at Coal Fire Creek——a distance of some thirty miles from
Columbus, and on the direct route to Tuscaloosa. But here a difficulty
lay in my way which had been a source of annoyance to me for the three
days past. I had no horse, and had declared to Foster my almost
absolute want of money. To proceed on my mission, it was necessary to
procure one, and if possible, a good one; and how to do this while
Foster stayed, was a disquieting consideration. But he was too intent
upon securing his new associate, and not less intent upon his old
business, to suffer this to remain a difficulty long.
"You must buy a horse in Columbus, Williams, (that was the name I
had set out with from Mobile) you cannot get on without one. As you
have no money, I must help you, and you can repay me after you have
struck your first successful blow. Here are a couple of hundred
dollars——bills of the Bank of Mobile——counterfeit, it is true, but good
here as the Bank itself. There's an old fellow here——old General Cocke
that has several nags——you can possibly get one from him that will do
you good service, and not cost you so much, neither. Go to him at once
and get your creature——you'll find me to-morrow noon at the creek just
as I tell you. Set up a psalm tune, if you can, even as you reach the
creek, and you'll hear some psalmody in return that will do your heart
He left me, followed by Haller, and I took a short mode for getting
rid of the counterfeit bills he gave me. I destroyed them in my fire
that night, and taking the necessary sum from my own treasury, I
proceeded to procure my horse, which I found no difficulty in doing,
and at a moderate price; though General Cocke had none to sell. I
bought from another person whom I did not know.
Being so far ready, I took a careful examination of my pistols,
procured me an extra knife of large size in Columbus, and commending
myself to Providence with a prayer mentally uttered, as earnest as any
which I ever made either before or since, I set off for the place of
meeting which I reached about sunset. Though nothing of a Psalm-singer,
I yet endeavoured to avail myself of the suggestion of Foster, and
accordingly set up a monotonous stave, after the whining fashion of the
Methodists of that region——and was answered with a full burst of the
same sort of melody, of unsurpassable volume, proving the lungs of the
faithful whom I sought, to be of the most undiseased complexion. I was
immediately joined by Foster and three other persons, among whom, I
felt a spontaneous movement of pleasure inmy bosom, as I recognised the
features of Matthew Webber. But it was the pleasure of the hunter, who,
having his rifle lifted, discovers the wolf at the entrance of the den.
It relieved me from many apprehensions to find that Webber, though
looking at me with some attention, did so without seeming to recognise
me. This was an earnest of success in my pursuit, which cheered me not
a little in my onward progress.
We entered their hiding place together, where, in a leafy cover
that might have been used by innumerable tribes of bears and foxes
before, we found our supper and a tolerable lodgment for the night.
There we slept though not till some hours had been spent in
conversation touching a thousand plans of villany, which astounded me
to hear, but to which I was compelled not only to give heed, but
satisfaction. But little of their dialogue interested me in my
pursuit;——to some parts of it, however, I lent an ear of excited
attention. Webber spoke of Eberly; and though I could not understand
much of the matter he referred to, yet there was an instinct in my mind
that made me nervous while the discussion continued, and melancholy
long after it was over. To me was the task to be assigned of pursuing
this young man, of spying into his conduct, and reporting and punishing
his return to the paths of virtue. Not to do this work faithfully to
those who sent mewas to incur his risk; and this was a position into
which, with my eyes open, I had gone of my own head. It was no small
addition to my annoyance, that, in prosecuting the search into Eberly's
conduct, I was ministering to the mean malice of Haller, and the open
hate of Matthew Webber. But there was no room for hesitation now. I was
to go forward or fall. My hope, as well as purpose, was for the best;
my resolution to do nothing wrong. My task was to steer wide of injury
to others, and of risk to myself. No easy task with so many villains
around me. A sentence or two of the dialogue which so interested me,
may be well enough repeated here. It will be supposed that what was
said, must have had the effect of lifting the destined youth in my
consideration——it certainly placed him in a more favourable light than
could well be claimed for one found in such a connection.
"He is become too melancholy for any business at all," said Webber,
"and least of all for such a business as ours. Set him to watch for a
traveller, and he plays with the leaves, twists the vines round his
finger, writes in the sand, and sighs all the while as if his heart
"Why, he has suffered himself really to fall in love with the
girl!" exclaimed Foster. "What an ass!"
"So he is——and that is perhaps his chief offence,since a man who is
an ass can never be a good knave ——certainly never a successful one,"
was the reply of Webber.
"True enough, Matthew," said Foster, "but this is the poor fellow's
misfortune. In this condition he can do nothing for himself any more
than for us. Will he marry the girl?"
"If he can."
"And can he not?"
"Yes——I think he may——he might if he could keep his secret. But it
is my fear that he cannot keep his secret. His heart has got the better
of his head—— his conscience of his necessities; and these gloomy fits
which he has now so constantly, not only makes him neglectful of our
interests and his duties, but will, I am dubious, precipitate him into
some folly which will be the undoing of all of us. You know the laws,
Clement Foster; don't you think he could get clear of justice, by
telling all he knows about us."
"Pshaw! what does he know, and who would believe him, unless he
gave us up to justice——unless he brought the hounds to our cover; and
even that would do little unless he could point out and prove
particular acts. What does he know of me——or you; ——we could prove him
a liar by a cloud of witnesses whom he never saw, who would go into
court, and swear every thing."
"True enough; but that we should get clear does not do away with
his offence, should he endeavor to involve us."
"By no means——but wherefore should he seek to do so. What could be
his object. His own exposure follows, or indeed, precedes ours; and for
a man to prove himself a knave, merely to show that his neighbour is
just as bad, is thrice sodden folly."
"Well——such is always your conscientious fool."
"But Eberly is a fool of love, Mat, and not of conscience."
"And fools of love, Foster, are very apt to be fools of
"By no means——they are the greatest knaves in the wide world, and
worse hypocrites than a pork-eating parson. They lie or do any thing to
get the woman; for passion was never yet a moralist."
"Well——I don't know, but Eberly has done nothing for some time
past. He has let several matters slip through his fingers. There was an
affair only two weeks ago, that nearly swamped us all from his not
coming according to promise."
"What affair? Something I have not heard of."
"Yes——there were two larks that were hitched at my house, or rather
that we tried to hitch; one of them got out of the noose, and thumped
Breton over his mazzard so that the bridge of his nose is brokendown
for ever. He got off as far as the 'Day Blind,' and there was tumbled
by a stranger——a fellow that we sent after, and made sure of. I told
you something already of the matter."
Here was something to confound me. Webber evidently alluded to the
affair of William and myself; yet he spoke of my friend being killed by
a stranger. I was confused and bewildered by the new position of
events, but was quite too awkwardly placed to venture any questions on
so dangerous a topic. They proceeded in their dialogue:
"All this comes of his passion for the girl; when they are once
married, you'll see that he'll recover."
"If I thought so, by God, it would please me the best of all
things. It would do my heart good to sing it in the ears of her
insolent father, that his daughter was the wife of a public robber——a
thief of the highway."
"So, so, Mat!——don't, I pray you, disparage our profession.
Tenderly, tenderly——no nicknaming—— and have done with your malice.
Malice is a base, bad quality, and I heartily despise your fellows who
treasure up inveterate prejudices. They are always a yellow souled,
snakish set, that poison themselves with the secretions of their own
venom. Now, for my part, I have no hates, no prejudices——if I haveany
thing to thank Heaven for, it is possessions of a better sort than
this. My chickens lay better eggs, and hatch no vipers."
A pretty sentiment enough for a rogue and hypocrite. But of what
strange contradictions are we compounded. The dialogue was soon brought
to a close.
"It is understood, then," said Foster, that "Haller and Williams
(meaning me,) are to watch his motions, and see that he keeps in
traces. Are these two enough, or shall we put a third with them?"
"Quite enough to follow and to punish, though it is well that we
should all note his movements, and watch him when we can. Does Mr.
Williams know the extent of his power?" demanded Webber turning to me.
"Ay," was the reply of Foster——"he knows that he has power to
adjudge, and execute even to death; but I would beg him to recollect
that he must award with great caution against a confederate. An unjust
punishment incurs similar judgment; and we are prompt to avenge an
injury done to one of our comrades. I would not have him too
precipitate with Eberly——he is a fellow of good qualities——he is bold
as a lion——generous to the last sixpence——"
"And a little too conscientious, you should add," was the
interruption of Webber——"a little too conscientious. We were a few
thousand dollars the richer, but for that."
"Ah, you mistake, Matthew——he was busy making love and had holiday.
Let him but become a husband, and you'll see then how constant he will
be——in his absence from home." Here the conversation ended for the
The drunkard after all his lavish cups
Is dry and, then is sober; so, at length,
When you awake from the lascivious dream
Repentance then will follow, like the sting
Placed in the adder's tail.
—— White Devil
The next morning, before it was yet dawn, Foster aroused me where I
was sleeping beneath my green wood tree.
"We must be stirring, Williams; I have tidings from some of our
friends in Tuscaloosa, who appoint to meet me to-morrow noon, at the
Sipsy. We have a snug place in the River Swamp, more secure and
comfortable even than this; and we shall no doubt meet many of our
friends. There, too, you must keep a bright look out, for you will
there see Eberly, and your watch must begin from the moment you
I arose with no very comfortable feelings at this assurance. I was
to begin the labors of the spy. Well! my hand was in for it, and it was
no time to look back. I must on, with what feeling it mattered little
to those around me; and, having gone so far,perhaps but little to
myself. I strove, as well as I might, to shake off my sombre
feelings——certainly to conceal their expression. Foster did not seem to
heed my taciturnity. If he did, he did not suffer me to see that he
remarked it; but playfully and even wittily remarking upon the sluggish
movements of our companions, Webber included, to whom early rising
seemed an annoyance, he led the way, and we were all soon mounted and
on our journey. It was near noon when we reached our place of
destination, and such a place! Imagine for yourself, a thousand sluices
over a low boggy ground running into one, which, in time, overflowing
its channels sluices all the country around it, and you have some faint
idea of the borders of the Sipsy River. Nothing could we see but a
turbid yellow water, that ran in among the roots of the trees, spread
itself all around for miles, forming a hundred little currents some of
which were quite as rapid as a mill race. The road was lost in the
inundation; and but that our men were well acquainted with the region,
we should have been drowned——our horses at least——in the numerous bays
and bogs which lay every where before us. Even among our party a guide
was necessary——and one who understood the route better than the rest
was singled out to lead the way. For a time we seemed utterly lost in
the accumulating pits and ponds, crossing currents and quagmires
inwhich our path was soon involved, and I could easily conjecture the
anxiety of our company from the general silence which they kept. But
our guide was equal to the task, and we soon found ourselves upon a
high dry island, within a few yards of the opposite shore, which, when
we reached, Foster throwing himself with an air of satisfaction from
his horse, proclaimed it our present resting place. Here we were joined
by a man whom I had not seen before, who had been awaiting us, and who
brought letters to Foster. Some of these, from Mobile, New Orleans,
Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, he was pleased to show me; and their
contents contributed not a little to confound me, as they developed the
large extent of the singular confederacy, of which I was held a member.
Some of the plans contained in these letters were of no less startling
character. One, which was dwelt on with some earnestness by two of the
writers was a simultaneous robbery of all the banks.
"A good proposition enough," was the quiet remark of Foster,
passing his finger over the paragraphs——"had they in money but one
tenth part of the amount which they have in paper. But to empty vaults
which have no specie, is little to my taste. I should soon put a stop
to specie payments, without rendering necessary an act of congressHere
now, is something infinitely more profitable, but far more dangerous.
We shall consider this."
He pointed out to me another suggestion of the writer which seemed
to have been debated upon before——the atrociousness of which curdled my
blood to read. I could scarcely propose the question.
"But you will hardly act upon this——it is too ——"
I was about to say horrible——it was well I did not. Foster
fortunately finished the sentence for me in a different manner.
"Too dangerous you would say! It would be to a blunderer. But we
should be off the moment it was over. Having made use of the torch, we
should only stay long enough to take what was valuable from the house,
and not wait until it had tumbled upon us. But this matter is not yet
ready. We have business, scarcely less profitable, to be seen to, and
three days more may give us a noble haul. See to this. Here I am
advised by a sure friend at Washington, that a large amount of
Government money is on its way for the Choctaws——it will not be my
fault if they get it. That is worth some pains-taking——but——"
He paused and folded up his papers. The tramp of steeds was heard
plashing through the mire and approaching the island. Webber was next
heard in conversation with the new comers whose voices now reached us
distinctly. Foster addressed me as he heard them in suppressed tones
and with a graver manner.
"That's Eberly's voice," he said——"you must look to him, Williams.
From this moment do not lose him from your sight till you can report on
his conduct decisively. Here is Haller coming towards us. He has heard
of Eberly's approach and like yourself will be on the watch. Let me say
to you that Haller will report of you as narrowly as he does of Eberly.
He does not know you yet, and has no such confidence in you as I have.
I know that you will fear nothing that he can report; and yet, that my
judgment may not suffer in the estimation of our people, I should be
better pleased if you could outwatch your comrade."
I made out to say——"Trust me——you have no need of apprehension. I
will do my best at least."
"Enough," said he——"he comes. Poor fellow, he looks sick——unhappy!"
This was said in an under tone, as if in soliloquy, and the next
moment, the person spoke of, emerging from the shade of a bush which
stood between himself and me, came full in my sight. What was my
astonishment and misery to behold in him, the young man Clifton,
introduced to me by Colonel Grafton, and, as I feared, the accepted
lover of hisdaughter. I was rooted to the spot with surprise and
horror, and could scarcely recover myself in time to meet his approach.
A desperate resolve enabled me to do this, and when he drew nigh, I was
introduced to him as "one of us" by Foster. Clifton, or as I shall
continue to call him Eberly, scarcely gave me a look. His eyes never
once met either Foster's or my own. He was pale and looked care-worn.
With a haggard smile, he listened to the kind yet hypocritical
compliments of Foster, but uttered nothing in reply. Other persons now
began momently to arrive, and by night our number was increased to
twenty-five or thirty. I underwent the fraternal hug, with all the old
villains, and some five noviciates like myself; and, in a varied
discussion of such topics as burglary, horse and negro stealing,
forging, mail-robbing and various other similarly innocent employments,
we contrived to pass over the hours without discord or monotony until
the coming on of night put our proprietors in mind of supper. I need
not dwell upon any of the plans and purposes of crime, in particular,
which underwent discussion on that occasion, since none of them will
affect very materially my own narrative. It is enough for me to affirm
that among these members of the Mystic Brotherhood, crime of all sorts
and complexions, seemed reduced to a perfect system, and the hands
which ministered seemed tomove rather like those of automata than of
thinking and resolving men. At supper I sat opposite to Eberly——my eye
was fixed upon him all the while, and my recognition of him, as the
lover of the poor Julia, fully reconciled me to the task I had
undertaken of convicting him of treason to his associates. His treason
to beauty——to innocence——to hospitality, and confiding friendship——made
my otherwise odious duty a grateful one; and I felt a malignant sort of
pleasure, as I watched my victim, to think that his punishment lay in
my own hands. And yet, while I looked upon him, I felt, at moments, my
heart sink and sicken within me. I somehow began to doubt how far he
could be guilty——how far he could be guilty with these——how far guilty
to her? He ate nothing, and and looked very pale and wretched. His
spirit seemed any where but with his associates——and though his eye
acknowledged every address, and his tongue replied to every demand, yet
it was evident enough that there was a lack of mental consciousness——an
abstractedness of mood and thought, which left it doubtful when he
spoke whether he was altogether assured of the words he uttered or of
those he heard. After supper our chief rogues renewed the discussion of
sundry of their plans, and for a while the curiosity which I felt at
the strangeness of some of their propositions, and the stories of their
several achievements, half reconciled me to listen to their
heinousness. But there was quite too much of it in the end——a
still-beginning, never-ending repetition of the same business, only
varied by the acting persons, place and time; and, following the lead
of Webber and one or two others, I went aside to the fire which Haller
had kindled up, and under a tent of bark, I housed myself for the
night. I did not hope for sleep, for my mind was full of troublesome
thoughts, yet I was surprised by the feather-footed visitant, and slept
soundly for a space of two hours. I was awakened by some one shaking me
by the shoulder, and, starting to my feet, found my comrade Haller
standing beside me.
"Get up," he said, "it's time to look after Eberly. He has gone out
into the bushes, having left Webber whom he slept with. He thought Mat
was asleep, and stole off. We must get on his trail and see what he's
I obeyed and we went together with great caution to the rude tent
in which Webber slept. He gave us some directions, and following them
we soon found our man. He had gone to the place where Foster slept
alone——a bushy dell of the woods scooped out sufficiently to enable
one, by crawling through a narrow mouth to secure an easy, though
perhaps confined couch within. The greater apertures made by torn
branches or fallen leaves were supplied by saplingshewn from
neighbouring places, and twisted in with the native growth of the spot;
and with the aid of some rushes, a blanket, and a good warm watchcoat,
Foster had a tenement which art could scarcely have made warmer, though
in social respects, it certainly might have undergone considerable
We reached a spot within hearing distance of this, in sufficient
time to note the first approaches of Eberly to its inmate. Foster came
forth at his summons, and as my eye turned upon the course which they
took together, Haller touched my arm. When I turned, I beheld Webber
also standing beside us, who, taking Haller with him, proceeded
cautiously to an opposite point, where it seems they expected the two
to go, Webber giving me instructions to follow them cautiously from
where I stood; by which division of our force, he seemed resolute that
one of us should succeed in our espionage. The several fires of the
party were nearly extinguished. But there was still light enough to
enable me to discern the outlines of their persons as they moved from
me. I crept and crawled upon my mission of baseness, with all
pains-taking circumspectness, but every moment increased the space
between me and the men I pursued, until I had nearly lost sight of them
altogether, when, on a sudden, they turned about and came again towards
me. It is probablethat they may have been disturbed by the too eager
progress of the two spies on the other side, who thus drove them back
upon me. Whatever may have been the cause of their return, I had barely
time to shrink back into the shade of a large tree as they approached
it; and the spot being sufficiently dense and dark prompted them to
make it the scene of their conference. Foster was the first to speak.
Stopping short as he reached a cluster of saplings, only a few paces
removed from the place where I stood in shadow, he said,
"Here now, Eberly, we are safe. Every thing is still here, and
there is no more danger of interruption. Unfold yourself now. What
secret have you——why do you bring me forth at an hour when I assure you
a quiet snooze would be more agreeable to me than the finest plot which
you could fancy for robbing the largest portmanteau in Alabama?"
"Do not jest with me, Foster——I cannot jest; it is a matter of life
and death to me which makes me disturb you, else I should not do it. My
life hangs upon your hands——more than life; I cannot sleep myself;
forgive me that I have taken you from yours."
Never were the tones of a man more piteously imploring than those
of the speaker. I could well believe him when he said he could not
"Your life and death!" said Foster; "why, whatmean you man! Don't
stop to apologise for breaking my sleep, when such is the danger.
Speak—— speak out, and let us know from what quarter the storm is
coming. Who is the enemy you fear?"
"You!" was the emphatic reply. "You are my enemy!"
"You, your fellows, and mine——myself! These are my enemies, Foster.
It is from these that my apprehensions come——it is these that I fear;
my life is in their hands. More than life——much, much more."
"Ha! What is all this."
"You wonder. Hear me, Foster. I will tell you the truth——nothing
but the truth. I must leave the fraternity. I am not fitted for its
membership. I cannot do the work it requires at my hands. I dare
not——my soul sickens at its duties; and I cannot perform them. I lack
the will——the nerve."
"You know not what you say, Eberly," was the grave reply of Foster.
"You surely do not forget the penalties which follow such an avowal as
"No! would I could forget them! Have I not said that my life and
death are in your hands!"
"Wherefore have you awakened me then?" was the cold and
inauspicious reply. "I could tell you no more than you already know."
"Yes——you can save me. I come to you for pity.I implore you to save
me, which you can. A word from you will do it."
"Can I——should I speak that word? It would ruin me——it would ruin
"No! It would not. You could lose nothing by letting me go
free——nothing; for I can do nothing for you. I cannot commit crime——I
can neither lie nor rob, nor slay; I cannot obey you; and, sooner or
later, you must execute your judgment upon me for neglect or perversion
of my pledges."
"This is certainly a very sudden attack of virtue, Mr. Eberly. You
can neither lie, nor steal, nor slay. You have become too pure for
these duties; but I remember the time, and that too, no very distant
time, when you were guilty of one or more of these dreadful sins from
which your soul now shrinks."
"Ay——and I remember it too, Foster. I did not need that you should
remind me; would I could forget it——hence came my bondage. You
discovered my unhappy secret, and forged my shackles. It is to you that
I come to break them."
"You deny not that you were guilty of the robbery of old Harbers
"I deny it not; and yet I know not, Foster, if it was an offence of
which I have so much reason to be ashamed. Thank God, I took not his
money for myself; the wants of a dying mother, the presence of a cruel
necessity, was my extenuation, if not excuse, for that hapless act——an
act which has been the heavy millstone around my neck in each
succeeding moment of my life. Bitterly have I repented——"
"You cannot repent. You shall not repent!" was the sudden speech of
Foster. "You have not the right to repent——you are sworn to us against
it, and cannot repent without our permission."
"It is for that permission, Foster, that I come to implore you now.
I know that you are superior to the cold and cruel people whom you lead
You will ——you must feel for my situation. I am of no use to you. I
cannot rob the traveller, nor forge a note, nor inveigle a negro from
his master——still less can I stab or shoot the unoffending man who
opposes my unlawful attempts upon his property. I am, indeed, only an
incumbrance upon you——"
"You have our secrets."
"I will keep them——I swear to you, Foster, by all that is sacred
that I will keep them."
"You cannot, to be honest——to go back to the paths of virtue. You
must reveal our secrets; and not to do so is a half virtue which looks
monstrously like hypocrisy. It is a compromise with vice to say the
least of it, which puts the blush upon your late returning innocence.
No Eberly, we must keepour secrets ourselves by keeping bound those who
know them. Say that you are unable to serve us by any of the acts you
mention——you are not less able to serve us in other respects, equally
sinful yet not so obnoxious to public censure or punishment. As a
strong man it might be my lot to depend on your friendly sympathy to
save me from a halter."
"I would do it, Foster, believe me."
"We must make you do it. We must keep our reins upon you. But of
what avail would be a permission to you which could not annihilate the
proofs which we have against you? Whether we suffered you to go free,
and held you to be no longer one of us, or not; the offence which we
could prove against you, would still make you liable to the law. Our
mere permission to depart would be nothing——"
"Yes——every thing. It would free me from a bondage that now crushes
me to the earth and defeats all my meditated action in other respects.
For the wrong I have done to Harbers, I would make atonement——"
"Repay him the money from the robberies of others," replied Foster
with a sneer.
"No, Foster," said the young man patiently, "not a cent would I
bear from your treasury. I would go forth as unincumbered with your
booty as I hope to be unincumbered with the sin and shame of the
"You use tender words in speaking of your comrades and their
"Without meaning to offend, Foster. But hear me out. I should not
merely repay Harbers, but I would confess to him the crime of which I
had been guilty."
"Ha! and the subsequent sinful connections which you have formed
with us; and our precious doings together. This is your precious plan,
"Not so! Though resolved to declare my own crimes and errors, I am
not bound to betray the confidence of others."
"This is your resolution now——how long will it remain so; and what
will be our security when the chance happens, which may happen, when,
at one full swoop, you may take us all like a flock of partridges and
deliver us up as an atonement for your own youthful sins, to the hands,
so called, of Justice. Eberly, Eberly, you are speaking like a child;
do you think we can hearken to a prayer such as that you make. Why
every white-livered boy of our band, who happened to fancy a pair of
blue eyes and a dimity petticoat, would be seized with a fit of virtue
towards us in precise degree with his hot lust after the wench he
"Stay, Foster, I see that you are aware of my intimacy with Miss
"Surely. You have never taken a step that I amnot acquainted with.
And now let me ask——did you feel our bondage so oppressive till you
became acquainted with this girl?"
"I did not——my knowledge of her first impressed upon me, with a
more just sense of their value, the value of these rewards which follow
"Pshaw, man, how is the getting of this girl a reward of virtue.
Can't you get her now, while you are a trusted member of the
Confederacy? To the point, man, and speak out the truth, have you not
spoken to her, and has she not consented to be yours?"
"What more! Marry her——we do not hinder you. We object not to the
new bonds which you propose to put on yourself, though grumbling so
much at ours. Be sure, we shall none of us forbid the banns. Marry her,
and settle down in quiet; our laws will give you no trouble; your
duties shall be accommodated to the new change in your condition, and,
as a justice of the peace, a juror, member of the assembly or of
congress, you can be as eminently useful to us as——nay, more useful
than——a striker along the woods, or a passer of counterfeit notes.
These are small matters which any bull-head amongst us can perform; you
have talents which can better serve us in higher stations."
The youth shook his head as he replied sadly——
"If I did not love Julia Grafton, or if I loved her less, it might
be easy to be satisfied with what you say. But I neither can nor will
fetter myself or her in a bondage such as you mention. In truth,
Foster, I can serve you no more——I can serve the Confederacy no more——I
make this declaration to you, though I die for it. On your mercy I
throw myself——on your kindness often professed, and tried on more
occasions than one. Be my friend, Foster—— on my knees I pray you to
save me in this respect—— save me——let me go free——I will leave the
country—— I will go into a distant state, where you can be in no danger
from any thing that I can do and say. You can have no reason to refuse
me, since you can have no interest in keeping me to pledges which yield
you no interest, and only bring me suffering. Feeling as I do now, and
situated as I am, I can do nothing for you. Command me to strike here
or there, and I cannot obey you. From this day forth I must withhold my
service, though you do not cancel my bonds."
Foster seemed touched while the young man spoke, but this, perhaps,
was only a part of his cool and ready hypocrisy. He interrupted Eberly
when he had said the last sentence.
"Your refusal to serve us would, you know, be the signal for your
"I know it——and if you send forth the decree, I must meet my doom,
and I trust will meet it like a man. But I would escape this doom; and
to you, and you only, I refer, to extricate me from it——to effect my
object, and get my release from the secret council. There is but one
man whose refusal I fear, and with him you would have some difficulty,
I doubt not; but even that I know you could overcome. Webber hates
Grafton, the father of Julia, and hates me, because I love her
honourably. It was he who brought her to my notice, and prompted me to
the scheme by which I became an intimate in the family; a scheme
projected for a dishonourable and foul purpose, which has resulted so
far, in one of which I have no reason to be ashamed. I would spare her
the shame, Foster, of having consented to share the name and affections
of one, who may be outlawed the very moment that he confers upon her
I have said enough to exhibit the nature of this conference, which
was continued twice as long. In its progress, the youth exhibited a
degree of remorse and sorrow on the score of his own offences, and an
honourable and delicate consideration in reference to Julia Grafton,
which turned all my feelings of hostility into feelings of pity. Nor
was this sentiment confined to my own bosom. I conscientiously believe
that Foster sympathised with his grief, andinly determined, so far as
the power in him lay, to help him to the desired remedy. The conference
was ended by the latter saying to him, as he led the way back to his
place of rest——
"I must think on this matter, Eberly. I will do what I can for you,
but I can promise nothing. I deny not that I have influence, but my
influence depends, as you well know, upon such an exercise of it as
will best accord with the views and wishes of those whom I control. I
am sorry for you."
The youth stood a moment when the other had gone. Then throwing his
arms up to Heaven, as he turned away, he exclaimed——
"At the worst, I can but perish. But she! she at least, shall
suffer nothing, either from my weakness or my love. She, at least,
shall never be wedded to my accursed secret. Sooner than that, let the
bullet or the knife do its work. Thank God, amidst all my infirmities,
I have no dastard fear of death;——and yet——I would live. Sweet glimpses
of joy in life, such as I have never known till now, make it a thing of
value. Oh! that I had sooner beheld them——I had not then been so
profligate of honour——so ready to yield to the base suggestions of this
I'll note you in my book of memory,
To scourge you for this reprehension;
Look to it well, and say you are well warned.
The unhappy youth had scarcely gone from sight, when Mat Webber and
my colleague Haller emerged from a bush opposite, not ten paces off, in
which they had, equally with myself, listened to the whole dialogue as
I have already narrated it.
"So!" was the exclamation of Webber, shaking his slow finger after
the departing form of the youth ——"So! It is as I expected; and your
doom is written, Master Eberly. Foster can save you, can he? We will
see to that! It would be a difficult matter for him to save himself,
were he to try it. It is well you have no hopes from me——well! I hate
your girl, do I, because she is the daughter of Grafton, and hate you
because you love her honourably? Well! there is truth in the notion,
however your dull brains happened to hit upon it. I do hate both of you
for that very reason. Had the fool used his pleasure with the girl, by
God, I had forgiven him——he had had my consent to go where he pleased,
and swear off from us at any moment, for he has done nothing since he
has been a member——he was never of much use, and will be of still less
now. But to love where I hate, is an offence I cannot so readily
forgive.——No, Haller——the bullet and the knife for him. He shall keep
our secrets, and his own too, if you and Williams do your duty. Ha!
"Williams himself," was my answer, as I came out of my hiding
place, and joined them.
"Well!——you have heard him——he avows his treason, and you know his
doom. What need of delay? Go after him alone——you will not have a
better place for the blow if you waited a month. Go alone, and despatch
I was not prepared for so sudden a requisition, and the sanguinary
and stern command at once confounded me. Yet Webber had only repeated
the words of Foster. In our hands lay the award and the execution of
justice. We had been instructed to punish the moment we resolved that
the penalty had been incurred; and there was no reasonable pretext for
doubt. What to do or say, I knew not——to think of committing the cruel
deed was, of course, entirely out of the question. Fortunately, the
answer of my colleague, Haller, relieved me.
"We had better wait and hear what Foster hasto say. He may not be
pleased that we should proceed so suddenly, particularly when we knew
that he had promised to take the affair into consideration."
"And what can his consideration come to? What can he have to say?
He cannot alter the laws——he cannot acquit an offender whom we
condemn——he has no power for that."
"No! He has no power for that; and, so far as my voice goes, we
shall give him no such power in this instance," was the reply of
Haller. "Yet, as a matter of civility only, it will be better that we
should not proceed in this business till we have heard what Foster has
to say. He might look upon it that we slighted his opinions, and his
wishes, at the least; and there's no necessity for our seeming to do
that. Besides, we cannot lose by the delay. We can execute to-morrow
just as well as to-day—— Eberly cannot escape us."
"True——that's true," was the reply of Webber; "though to speak
plainly, I don't like this undertaking to interfere on the part of Clem
Foster. He can't certainly hope to persuade us to reverse our judgment,
and let this boy loose, unmuzzled, to confuse and convict us in some of
their rugged courts of justice."
"No! As you heard him say, that's a matter more easy to think upon
than to do. All that Eberlycould say in a court house, could not prove
against one of us, and we might hang him whenever we choose."
"Yes! But we don't want to get into a court of justice at all,"
said Webber; "and there's little need for it, when we have laws, and
courts, and executioners of our own. I tell you, Haller, that I shall
regard as an enemy any man who attempts to get this chap off from
punishment. He shall die, by the Eternal."
"So he may, for what I care," said Haller.——"So, indeed, he shall,
under our own certainty of what he deserves, and the power which has
been intrusted to us. Be at rest, Mat Webber——I have as little reason
to let Edward Eberly escape as you have. I hate him——from my heart, I
hate him. He has scorned and insulted me before our men; and it will go
hard with me, if I don't avenge the insult with sevenfold vengeance."
"I'm satisfied that you will keep your word, Haller; but Foster's a
smooth-spoken fellow, and he may have some kink in his head for saving
this chap. He used to be very fond of keeping company with him, and
they were always spouting verses and such stuff together. I know, too,
for all Foster speaks so promptly of punishing him, that, in his secret
heart, he had much rather let Eberly go clear from punishment, though
he risked the safety of the whole company by it."
"No danger of his doing it, whatever may be his wish," said Haller.
"You have my oath upon it, Mat. Whatever Foster may say or do in the
business, he can't say or do any thing to alter my determination.——So
make yourself easy. To-morrow, or the next day, at farthest, will wind
up the traitor."
"You must keep watch meanwhile upon him."
"Yes! Go about it now, Williams; look to Eberly for the space of an
hour, and I will come and relieve you. I must go with Webber, to see
what Foster has to say in the business; and hearken to his
interference, even if we do not mind it. But I don't think he'll
interfere, Mat:——The spouting poetry might please his ears well enough,
but I'm convinced he could slit the pipe of the spouter the moment he
"Perhaps so," was the reply of Webber; "but, at all events——"
They were leaving me now, and Haller interrupted the speaker to
counsel me before he went.
"I showed you, Williams, the place where Eberly sleeps——do you
think you can find it?"
"Yes——I doubt not."
"Then go to it at once, and note well who goes in to him, and who
comes out. If he comes out slily, and seems disposed to make off, do
not stop to consider, but give him your bullet. Be sure to do this, if
you find him with his horse."
These were the instructions of Webber. The other merely said——
"Don't fear that he will try to make off. He knows such efforts
cannot give him security, though he should, for the present, escape us.
No!——He thinks Foster's influence can save him; and he will remain
quiet in reliance upon it."
"Be not now too sure, Williams," were the parting words of
Webber——"watch closely, or the fellow may escape you yet. Remember, you
are on trial now; your promotion depends upon your zeal and success."
Nothing but the purposes which influenced me, could have enabled me
to tolerate, with patience, such language from such a wretch. I felt my
heart burn, and my blood rise, and my lip quiver, with an anger which
it required all my strength of resolution to repress, every moment
which I spent in my connection with this herd of rogues. They left me,
and obeying their instructions, I proceeded to the place among the
bushes——a leafy house——where Eberly slept; and, taking a position which
enabled me to observe all the movements of its inmates, I prepared,
with a thoughtful and sleepless mind, to pass away my hour of watch.
Haller afterwards related to me what took place in their interview
with Foster. As he had predicted, the latter made but a feeble effort
to excuse the unfortunate Eberly.
"We first tried to find out," said Haller, "if Foster was disposed
to have any concealment from us; and pretending that we knew nothing of
the interview between Eberly and himself, we spoke of other matters
entirely. But he volunteered and told us all pretty nearly as we
ourselves heard, except he may have suppressed some of those parts
where Eberly spoke scornfully of Mat Webber. These he did not speak. He
then asked us what we thought of the application, and when we told him
that now there was no doubt that Eberly ought to to die and must die,
he agreed with us entirely. Indeed, even if he had not agreed with us,
he must have seen from the resolved manner in which we spoke, that it
would not have been wisdom in him to express his disagreement; and his
death is therefore resolved upon. We are instructed to do the business
at once——better now than never——you say he is still in his house."
This conversation took place where I had been watching in front of
the bushy dwelling in whichEberly slept, but my answer to the
concluding question of my comrade, was a falsehood.
"Yes he is still there——no one has gone in or out since I have been
Nothing but the lie could save me, and I had no scruples whatsoever
in telling it. I had seen persons go in and out. Scarcely had I got to
my place of watch, indeed, when I saw Foster enter the dingle. I
crawled closely up behind it, and heard enough to convince me that
Foster was a greater hypocrite than I had thought him, yet not so bad a
"Eberly," he said, quickly. The youth started from the ground where
I could see he was kneeling. He started and drew a pistol in the same
moment. The click of the cock warned Foster to speak again. He did so
and announced his name.
"I come to warn you that you can stay here no longer. I cannot save
you, Eberly. I wish I could. But that is impossible. My lips must
denounce you, to keep myself unsuspected. There is a conspiracy against
me, which I must foil. To seek to save you, I would only sacrifice
myself and do you no service. I can do nothing, therefore, but counsel
you to fly. The sooner you are off the better. Indeed, I risk not a
little in coming to you now. Britton, the trusty fellow, advises me
that Webber, Haller and Williams are even now denouncing me in the
woods, where it seems they over-heardall our conference. It was well
that I suspected them, and scrupulously addressed my words rather to
their ears than yours. This will excuse to you my seeming harshness.
But I can say no more. In a short time they will seek me. Take that
time to be off. Fly where you can. Put the Ohio between us as soon as
possible, for no residence in the southwest will save you."
But few words were uttered by the visitor; but these were enough to
prompt the immediate exertions of the youth. Hitherto he had appeared
to me in an attitude rather feeble and unmanly——there was something
puny and effeminate in the manner of his appeal to Foster in their
previous interview; but this he seemed to discard in the moment which
called for resolute execution. He drew forth and reprimed his pistols,
set his dirk-knife in readiness, and was ready in two minutes to
"Fortunately, I left my horse on the very edge of the island!" was
his self congratulating remark.
"Foster, God bless you as I do! Would that I could persuade you to
fly with me."
The other shook his head.
"Go! go! that is impossible. You fly——because you have hopes to fly
to.——I have none. You love, Eberly——may your love be more fortunate
than mine has been——than I am disposed to think human affections
generally are. It is because I too have loved, that I sympathise with
you, and am willing to assist you in your flight. I know not that I am
serving you, Eberly, in this, yet it is my will to serve you. Take the
will for the deed and be gone with all haste. You have not a
Foster left him, and an instant after, Eberly emerged from the
dingle. It was in my power to have obeyed to the very letter the
instructions which had been given me, and to have shot him down without
difficulty. My extended arm, at one moment, as he passed from the
copse, could have touched his shoulder. But my weapon was unlifted; and
I felt a sudden satisfaction as I found it in my power to second the
intentions of Foster. This personage had placed himself also in a more
favorable light before my eyes, during the brief interview which I have
narrated. It gave me pleasure to see that amidst brutal comrades, and
wild, lawless and foul pursuits he yet cherished in his bosom some
lingering sentiments of humanity. There was something yet in his heart
which partook of the holy nature of a childhood which, we may suppose,
was even blessed with hopes and kindred, and, which, however perverted
now to the lessons and performances of hate, once knew what it was to
do homage at the altar of confiding love. Foster, as may already have
appeared to the reader, was not deficient in those requisitionsof
education which refine the taste and sentiment, however much they may
fail to impress themselves for good on a corrupt and insensible spirit.
To return. I denied to Haller, as already stated, that any one had
gone in or out from the place where Eberly slept. In the unequivocal
lie was my only hope, and I had no scruple to utter it. My comrade then
spoke as follows:
"We have agreed among ourselves that he must be wound up. Foster
makes no objections, and Webber insists that it be done immediately. To
you it is entrusted to give the blow; and this concludes your trial. I
will go in and entice him out to you. Do you creep forward as you see
me enter. Stand behind you tree to the left, and I will bring him under
it, on the other side. Have your pistol cocked and use it. But take
care not to mistake your man. If you notice his white hat, you can't
blunder. Keep quiet now, while I go in."
He left me, and I paused where I was. Musing on the unanticipated
disappointment of the ruffian, a sudden whisper at my side aroused me
to a recollection of myself. The voice was Webber's——he had crawled up
to me with the stealthy pace of the wild cat; and my involuntary start,
as he spoke, attested my wonder at the ease and dexterity of his
"Why do you stand," he said in stern accents;"were you not told
what to do——where to go? You have no time to waste——go forward."
Not to seem remiss, I answered promptly——
"I wished him first to get there. Both of us moving at the same
time might alarm him."
"More likely to do so moving one at a time; but move now——you are
slow. You will win no favour in the club if you are not more prompt."
I could have driven my fist into his teeth as he spoke thus
authoritatively. But prudence stifled my anger. As it was, however, I
gave a sharp reply which had in it a latent threat.
"You will find me prompt enough when the time comes, Mr. Webber."
"I hope so, I hope so," he said coolly. I went forward and reached
my station but a single instant before Haller re-emerged from the
"He is gone——the bird is off," he cried out as he approached.
"Ha! how is this?" exclaimed Webber, putting his hand upon my
shoulder with a firm gripe—— "You have let him escape, Williams. You
have slept on your post, man; or you have connived ——"
He paused, but his language, tone and manner were so irresistibly
provoking, that I shook his grasp from my shoulder and facing him
"It's false! whoever says it. I have done neither, sir——neither
connived with him nor seen him fly. Recall your words, or by Heavens, I
strike you in the mouth."
"And if you did, young'un, you'd get little profit from it. You'd
get quite as good as you sent. But this is no time to vapour. It's very
likely you're right and I'm wrong, and that must satisfy you at
present. How is it, Haller?——Wherefore should he fly? Did you not
understand that he would wait to hear Foster's decision?"
"No——I did not understand, but I inferred it. It seemed to me from
the confidence which he expressed in Foster's ability to save him, that
he would scarce think it policy to fly; since flight, as it indicated
distrust of us, would, at once, provoke our distrust of him, and lead
to a denial of his prayer. I would have sworn that we should find him
"He has thought better of it, and taken to his heels. But he has
not gone far. He will not go far. He's to marry Grafton's daughter——I
know that they're engaged and the affair is to take place very soon. I
shouldn't be at all surprised from his agitation and hasty reference to
Foster——not to speak of his flight now——if it is fixed for to-morrow or
the next night."
There was much in this speech to confound and afflict me. "That
marriage must be prevented," Iinly declared to myself——"I must risk
every thing to prevent its consummation. The poor girl must not be
sacrificed to such a connection. However much I may pity him"——and
circumstances really began to impress me favourably toward Clifton—— "I
must yet save her."
While the two confederates debated the matter, I formed my own
"Mr. Webber," I said, "you have ascribed the flight of this man to
my neglect, or, which is worse, my connivance; and your apology, if it
may be called such, is scarcely satisfactory to me. But I leave my
personal atonement over, and waive my own claims to the interests of
our confederacy. I claim to pursue this man, Eberly——to pursue and put
him to death. The privilege is mine, for several reasons——the principal
are enough. I will establish my claim to the confidence of the
confederacy, and, as the death of Eberly seems now essential to our
secret, secure that. Instruct me where to seek for him——I will pursue
him to Grafton's and put a stop to this wedding in the most effectual
manner. Give me the necessary directions, and you shall see, that I am
neither a sleeper nor a traitor. You will also see whether I am bold
enough to strike either in our common cause or in defence of my own
"Shrewdly crowed, young chicken, and to the purpose," was the
chuckling response of Webber."Now that's what I like——that's coming out
like a man, and if you succeed in doing what you promise you will
undoubtedly have an equal claim on me and the confederacy. But don't
misunderstand, me, Williams. I never had any doubt of your honour, and
if I had, your offer now sufficiently proves me to have been wrong. I
spoke from the haste and disappointment of the moment; and I have not
the slightest question that Eberly took off the moment after leaving
Foster. He took the alarm at something or other——and men who have in
them a consciousness of wrong find cause of alarm in every thing; or it
may be that he meditated flight from the first, for now I think of it,
I observed when he first came that he fastened his horse on the edge of
the swamp, by "Pigeon Roost Branch," which you know, Haller, is scarce
a stone's throw from the main road. Though that would be a stranger
plan than all, since if he meditated flight, he need not have come. He
only incurred useless risk by doing so."
"He's half mad——that's it," said Haller——"but let us look if his
horse is gone. That will settle our doubts. It may be that he is still
on the island somewhere."
To ascertain this fact did not take many minutes, and the absence
of the horse confirmed the flight of the fugitive. I now demanded of
Webber if my proffer was accepted. To go upon a mission of thiskind
which would enable me to seek out and confer with Colonel Grafton, was
now the dearest desire of my heart. To save his daughter was a
sufficient motive for this desire——to wreak the measure of my great
revenge upon the damnable fraternity with which I had herded for this
single object, was no less great, if not, in a public point of view,
much greater. I had a stomach for the lives of all——all. The memory of
my murdered friend took all mercy from my heart.
To my question, Webber answered——
"We must see what Foster says. We will go to him at-once. I'm
willing that you should go about this business, and will help you to
all information; but I'm scarcely in a hurry about it now. I've been
thinking it would please me better to let him marry the girl before we
kill him. Then, if it so happened that I could ever lay my foot on
Grafton's throat, as I hope to do before long, I could howl it in his
ears, till it hurt him worse than my bullet or my knife, that his sweet
Julia, his darling, of whom he is so fond, and proud, and boastful, was
the wife of a common robber——a thief of the highway——a rogue to all the
world, and worse than a rogue, to his own comrades. That would be a
triumph, Haller; and Grafton, if I know the man rightly would go out of
the world with a howl when I cried it in his ear."
Sickening at the fiendish thought, I turned withrevulsion from the
fiend, and felt humbled and sad as I was constrained to follow such a
ruffian in silence and without any show of that natural resentment
which I felt. But I conquered my impatience as I reflected that, by
delay, I hoped to obtain, at once, a complete and certain satisfaction.
An image of my sanguinary revenge rose before my eyes as I then went
forward; and in fancy, I beheld steaming wounds, and I felt my feet
plashing in rivulets of stagnating blood——and, a strange but shuddering
pleasure went through my bosom at the fancy.
——The land wants such
As dare with rigor execute the laws;
Her fester'd members must be lanced and tented:
He's a bad surgeon that for pity spares
The part corrupted, till the gangrene spreads,
And all the body perish: He that's merciful
Unto the bad is cruel to the good.
Foster received the tidings of Eberly's flight with well-affected
astonishment. Putting on the sternest expression of countenance, he
looked on me with suspicion.
"And you were set to watch him, Williams.—— How is this? I fear you
have been neglectful——you have slept upon your watch——I cannot think
that you have had any intelligence with Eberly."
In answering the speaker, I strove to throw into my eyes a
counselling expression, which it was my hope to make him comprehend. My
answer, shaped to this object, had the desired effect.
"I have not slept, and you do me only justice, when you think that
I have had no intelligence with the fugitive. But I have volunteered to
pursue him,and will execute your judgments upon him, if I can; even
though he should put the Ohio between us."
The reader will remember, that the phrase here italicised was
employed by Foster himself, in giving his parting counsels to Eberly.
Foster readily remembered it, and I could detect——so I fancied——in the
tone of voice with which he addressed me in reply, a conviction that I
was privy to his own partial, and, perhaps, pardonable treachery to his
comrades. In every other respect he seemed unmoved, and his reply was
"And we accept your offer, Williams——you shall have the opportunity
you seek to prove your fidelity, and secure the confidence of the club.
We are agreed, Webber, are we not, that Williams shall take the track
"Ay——to-morrow, though I care not that he should strike till the
day following, if it be that I conjecture rightly on one matter."
"What matter? What is it that you conjecture?" demanded Foster,
"Why, that Eberly is about to marry Julia Grafton. It would not
surprise me much if the affair takes place in a day or two.——I think it
must be so, from his present anxiety."
"He would be a fool, indeed, to think of such a thing, without our
permission," replied Foster; 'but even if such be the case, wherefore
would youdefer execution upon him, till the day following, supposing
that Williams should get a chance to strike as we blow."
"I would have the marriage completed," was the answer. "I would
have Grafton's pride humbled by his daughter's union with one whom we
should be able not only to destroy, but dishonor. By all that is
devilish in my heart, Foster, I could risk my life freely, to tell
Grafton all this story, with my own lips the day after his daughter's
"Well, you hate fervently enough," said Foster; "and, perhaps,
where one's hand's in, he may as well thrust away with his whole soul.
But this helps not our purpose. It is agreed, you say, that Williams
goes upon this business?"
"Then his course must take him at once to Grafton's neighbourhood."
"Yes——that is our course too. We meet to-morrow, you recollect,
with Dillon and others, at the 'Blind.' Our beginners must be examined
"But Williams must start before us."
"No——it needs not" said Webber. "We need be in no hurry now, since
there can be no doubt that we shall be able to find Eberly at any
moment within the three next days. Williams knows that he must find him
in that time, and if he does not, send Dillon and Haller on his track,
and they findhim, I'll bet my life, though they hid him in the closest
scuttle-hole of Natchy swamp. Let us all go together to the meeting at
the 'Blind,' and not alarm the traitor by pressing the pursuit upon him
in the very moment of his flight. Let him have a little time——let him
marry away, and be happy, if he can, for a night or two. It will not
diminish his punishment that he has a taste only of wedlock. Julia
Grafton is a sweet girl enough——I could have taken her myself, and,
perhaps, been an honest overseer of her father's plantation all my
life——bowing respectfully to his high mightiness, and kissing the rod
of his rebuke——had he only looked a willingness to let me have her.
But, as it is——let the game go! It matters not much who has what we
can't have; and yet I hate Grafton so cursedly, that it gives me
pleasure to think that she is to be the wife of one so completely in
our power, as Edward Eberly——or Clifton, as we should call him in
Grafton Lodge. Let him swing freely on his gate awhile; and Williams
may take his time. He cannot escape all of us, though he may escape
"You will instruct Williams then, when he shall go, and where,"
"Yes——that shall be my look out. In the meantime, let us go to
sleep. We have to start early, and the small hours are beginning——I can
tell from the increasing darkness and the cold. Let us wrap up, and
sleep fast, for we must be stirring early. Williams, I'll wake you in
"The sooner the better," was my reply; "for, between us, I don't
like this putting off. If I am to go after Eberly, I'd rather start at
daylight, and strike as soon as I get a chance. I hate when I have such
a business on hand, to risk its justice by my own delay; particularly
when delay can be avoided. Besides, I'm thinking that if Eberly marries
this girl, he will be cunning enough to leave the country. Ten to one,
he's made all his arrangements for an early start, and will be off on
fast horses soon after the event."
"That's true," said the ruffian; "I did not think of that——you
shall start as soon as possible after we have met our men at the
'Blind' to-morrow. We must meet them there first, for I have business
of importance with one of them that must be seen to; and you'll have to
wait till I can show you the way to Grafton's, and some few of our
hiding places thereabouts."
In my eagerness, I had almost told him that I knew the place well
enough, and could find it without him. My anxiety to be in season to
prevent the nuptials, had nearly blinded me to the great risk of
detection, to which such an avowal must have subjected me. But I met
the inquiring glance of Foster's eye at this moment, and that brought
me to mysenses. It taught me that I was playing a part of triple
treachery, and warned me to be duly cautious of what I uttered. Without
farther question or re- ply, we broke up for the night; and it seemed
to me that I had scarcely got snugly into my place of rest, and closed
my eyes for an instant, before I was awakened by Webber, with a summons
to set for- ward. However wanting in proper rest, for my partial
slumbers of the night had given me no re- freshment, I had too greatly
at heart the peace of Grafton's family, and the safety of the poor girl
Julia, not to leap with alacrity at the summons. Ten minutes sufficed
to set us all in motion, and as the bright blaze of the sun opened upon
us, we were speeding on at full gallop, some seven of us, at least, to
our place of meeting at the 'Blind.' There had been, at different
periods of the night, full thirty men in our bivouac in the Sipsy, but
they came and went at all hours, and none remained but those who had
something of the general management of the rest. Five of these were my
companions now. The other two were Haller and myself. Haller, it seems,
was not so much a counsellor as a trusted un- derling or orderly——a
fellow sufficiently cunning to seem wise, and so much of the rogue as
to deserve, even if lacking wisdom, a conspicuous place among those
whose sole aim was dishonesty. But our busi- ness is not with him.
A smart ride of a few hours brought us to ourresting place, a nest
of hills huddled together confusedly, and forming, with the valley
already described called the "Day Blind," an hundred natural hiding
places of like form and character. Here I was within a few miles only
of Col. Grafton's residence. I had passed the dwelling of Matthew
Webber, already so well known to the reader, and who should be my
companion, side by side with me as I passed it, but Webber himself. I
watched him closely when we came in sight of it, and though I could see
that he regarded it with wistful attention, yet he was as silent as the
grave even on the subject of his own late proprietorship; and my
position was too nice and ticklish to make any reference to it,
advisable on my part.
When we got to the place of rest, which was about noon, we found
several of the Brotherhood already assembled, most of whom were
instantly taken aside by Foster, Webber, and one or two others, who
ruled with them, and underwent an examination as to what they had done
or were in preparation to do. For my part I had nothing to do but
saunter about like many others——lie down on the sunny knolls, and
tumble among the yellow leaves, lacking employment. This was no
pleasurable exercise for one who had in his heart such an unappeasable
anxiety as was then pervading mine, and which I could scarce keep from
exhibition. Meantime, I couldsee men coming and going on every side;
the persons seeming quite as multiformed and particoloured as the
business was diverse in character in which they were engaged. While I
gazed upon them without particular interest, my eyes were drawn to a
group of three persons who now approached the valley from a pass
through the two hills that rose before me. At the distance where I lay,
I could not distinguish features, but there was an air and manner about
them, which, in two of the party, compelled my closest attention. The
horses which they rode seemed also to be familiar; and with more
earnestness of feeling than I can now describe, or could then account
for, I continued to gaze upon them, as, without approaching much nigher
to where I lay, they continued their progress forward to where Foster
and Webber were in the habit of receiving their followers. But, at
length, overcome by strange surmises, I sprang to my feet, and shading
my eyes with my hands, endeavoured to make out the parties. The next
moment they disappeared behind the knoll, and, with my anxiety still
unsubdued, I threw myself again upon the ground, and strove with my
impatience as well as I could. Perhaps a full hour elapsed when I saw
the three re-emerge from behind the knoll, and come out into the
valley. They were followed by Foster, who conducted them a little
aside, and the four seated themselves together for a while, onthe side
of the hills; after a brief space, Foster left them and came towards
me. He threw himself down beside me, with an air of weariness.
"Well, Williams, you seem to take the world easily. Here you lie,
stretched at length upon the ground, as if it had no insects, and
looking up to the skies as if they were never shadowed by a cloud. For
my part I see nothing but insects and worms along the earth, and
nothing but clouds in Heaven. This comes from the nature of our
pursuits, and to speak a truth, I sometimes see a beauty in virtue
which I have never been able to see in man. I almost think, if
circumstances would let me, that I would steal away, like poor Eberly,
from our comrades, and try to do a safer and a humbler sort of
business, among better reptiles than we now work with."
This speech, if meant to deceive, did not deceive me.
"You would soon long to return, Foster, to your present companions
and occupations, or I greatly mistake your temper," was my reply. "Your
ambition is your prevailing principle——to sway your leading object——to
be great——to have distinction, is the predominating passion of your
My reply was intended merely to flatter him and it had its effect.
He paused for an instant, then said with a smile,
"And you would add, Williams, that, like Milton's Devil, I am not
at all scrupulous as to the sort of greatness which I aim at, or the
quality of the instruments with which I wrought."
"And if I did, Foster, I do not see that the imputation would do
you any discredit. Men are pretty much alike wherever we find them, and
there are virtuous monsters no less than vicious ones. Circumstances
after all, make the chief differences in the characters of mankind; and
many a saint in white, born in my condition, would have cut many more
throats than it's my hope ever to do. To rule man is to rule man——any
inquiry as to the moral differences between those you rule and those
you rule by, is a waste of thought, since the times, and the seasons,
the winds and the weather, or a thousand differences which seem equally
unreal and shadowy, are the true causes of the vices of one class and
the virtues of another. A planter pays his debts and is liberal if he
makes a good crop——he fails in both respects if his crop fails; and the
creditor denounces him as a rogue, and sells his property under the
hammer of a sheriff, while the church frowns upon him from the moment
he ceases to drop his Mexican in the charity hat. Saints and devils are
pretty much the same people, if the weather prevails with equal force
in their favour; but when the wind changes and blights the crop of the
one, and ripens that ofthe other, ten to one, the first grows to be a
general benefactor and is blessed by all, while the other is driven
from society as a miserable skunk, whom it is mere charity to kick out
of existence. You should not bother your head in wishing for better
followers or a dominion less questionable. If you have fifteen hundred
men willing to fight and die for you, and not minding the laws on the
subject, you are a better and greater man than the governor of
Mississippi, who, do his best, cannot command fifteen hundred votes. To
my mind it is clear that yours is the greater distinction."
"That is true; and yet, Williams, what is distinction, indeed, but
a sort of solitude——a dreary eminence, which, though we may behold
many, labouring at all seasons to scramble up its side, how few do we
see able to occupy it, how much more few the number to keep it. My
eminence, imposing as it may seem to you, is at best very insecure. I
have rivals ——some who seek to restrain me and to crush my power, by
lopping off my best friends at every opportunity and on the slightest
pretences. These I am bound to save, yet I do so at great peril to
myself. I risk my own rule, nor my rule only——I risk my life daily, in
this connection, by seeking to save, as I am resolute always to do, the
friend, however, wanting in other respects, who has proved true to my
desires and cause."
I saw which way these remarks tended; and resolved, at once, to put
a satisfactory conclusion to the apprehensions which I saw prevailed in
the mind of my companion. He was obliquely seeking to justify himself
for his course in regard to Eberly which he saw that I knew——and,
probably, he was aiming to discover in how far I might be relied on in
sustaining him in any partisan conflict with the rivals of whom he
spoke. My answer was not without its art; and it fully answered its
"You do no more than you should," was my reply. "You are bound to
succour your friends even against the laws of your comrades, since they
risk the peril of these laws in serving you. I understand your
difficulty——Indeed, it did not need that you should declare it to me,
in order to make me know it. I had not been an hour in your camp on the
Sipsy before I saw the secret strife which was going on; and I may say,
Foster, once for all, you may count upon me to sustain you against any
rival that may be raised up in opposition to your just rule from among
the confederates. Count on me, I say, to support you against Webber and
his clan, for it strikes me that he is the fellow you have most to
"You are right," he said grasping my hand nervously——you are quite
right, and I admire your keenness of observation only less than the
warmth of your personal regard for me. Webber is indeed the person who
is now plotting secretly against me.—— There will be a trial of
strength between us in the council of twelve to-morrow——and I shall
defeat him there, though, by so small a vote that it will tend to
stimulate him to still greater exertions, and to make him more
inveterate in his hostility, which he has still grace enough to seek to
He would probably have gone on much farther in the development of
the miserable strife that followed hard upon his state, but that a
movement of my own interrupted him. My eyes had been for some time
turned watchfully upon the group of three persons to which I have
already called the reader's attention. They had left the little knoll
on which they seated themselves when Foster first emerged with them
from the place of conference, and had advanced somewhat farther into
the valley, and consequently rather nearer to my place of repose, which
was half way down one of the hills out of which it was scooped. This
approach enabled me to observe them better, and as they moved about
among another party, who were pitching quoits, my eyes gradually
distinguished their persons first, and at length their features. This
discovery led to my interruption of Foster's developments. Whatwas my
consternation and wonder to recognise John Hurdis in one, and Ben
Pickett in another of this group. With difficulty I kept myself from
leaping upright——my finger was involuntarily extended towards them.
"What see you?" demanded Foster looking in the same direction. His
demand was a sufficient warning for me to be cautious, and yet for the
life of me, I could not forbear the question in reply.
"Who are those?"
"Yes——yes! and their companions——the lookers on."
"One of the pitchers is a fellow named Hatfield ——a close friend of
Webber, and one of our most adroit spies——he is the fellow in
green——the other two are common strikers who will set out on an
expedition to-night. They are exceedingly expert horse stealers, and
the people near Columbus will hear of them before they are two days
older——the tallest one is named Jones——the other Baker."
"And how do they incline——towards you or Webber?" was an
indifferent question almost too indifferently put to answer the purpose
of a disguise to my real curiosity, for which it was intended. I heard
his answer impatiently, and then with lips that trembled, I demanded——
"And who are the three lookers on? I have notseen them
before?——They were not with us on the Sipsy last night?"
"No——they have just come from down the river. The smaller fellow is
one of our keenest emissaries; and perhaps, one of our bravest men. He
has just brought up the two men who are with him——"
"What! as prisoners?" I exclaimed in my impatience.
"Prisoners indeed! No! What should we do with prisoners? They
belong to us. They are our men."
"Why then do you say he brought them up?"
"This is the affair. I have but just finished their examination. It
appears that the large, fat fellow, is rather a rich young planter some
where in Marengo. He had a brother with whom he had a quarrel. This
brother set off with a companion some weeks ago for the "Nation," where
they proposed to enter lands. The elder brother avails himself of this
opportunity to revenge himself for some indignities put upon him by the
younger, and despatches after him the fellow in homespun whom you see
beside him ——his hands in his breeches pockets. Webber, it appears,
about the same time, laid a trap for the two travellers, one of whom
fell into it very nicely——the other broke off and got away. They
pursued, him, but they must have lost him, but for the timely aid of
the chap in homespun, who, lying in wait, shotdown the fugitive and
then made off to his employer. According to our general plan, an
emissary was sent after the murderer, and in securing him, the secret
of the brother was discovered. In this way, both have been secured, and
are now numbered among our followers."
I have abridged Foster's narrative, in order to avoid telling a
story twice. Here was a dreadful discovery. My stupid amazement cannot
be described. I was literally overcome. Foster saw my astonishment and
inquired into its cause. My reply was, perhaps, a sufficient reason for
my astonishment, though it effectually concealed the true one.
"Good God! Can this be possible? His own brother?"
"Even so. Neither you nor I would have done such a thing, bad as we
may be held by well ordered society. The fellow seems but a poor
creature after all, and could hardly stand during our examination. Of
such creatures, however, we make the most useful, if not the most
daring members. We will let him go back to Marengo after to-morrow, and
be a pillar of the church, which I think it not improbable he will
instantly join, if, indeed, he be not already a member. The other
fellow, who is called Pickett, takes to us with a relish, and Webber
has found him a place to squat somewhere on the banks of the Big
Warrior. But, a truce to this. Here Webber approaches. Do not forget
Williams——and, I am your friend. We must act together for mutual
benefit. Mum now!"
Webber drew nigh, bringing with him the emissary who had gone after
Pickett and John Hurdis. They remained with the pitchers, among whom, I
may add, Pickett was, at this time, incorporated, and working away as
lustily as the most expert. But I had no time allowed me to note either
his, or the labors of John Hurdis. My attention was instantly
challenged by Webber, who, unless angry, was not a man of many words.
"Get yourself in readiness, Williams——I will set you on the track
in an hour, and show you a part of the route."
I proceeded to obey, and it was not long, as may be conjectured,
before I was properly mounted for that journey which was to eventuate
in the rescue of my friend's child from the cruel sacrifice which was
at hand. Webber and myself set off together. Foster shook my hand at
parting, and his last phrase was one, which, between us, had a meaning
beyond that which met the ear.
"I trust you will find your man, Williams, though he even puts the
Ohio between us. Let us see you back soon."
I was annoyed by the searching stare of the keeneyed emissary. His
eyes were never once taken from my countenance from the moment of my
introduction to him; and I am sure that he had some indistinct
remembrance of me, though fortunately not of a sufficiently strong
character to do more than confuse him. I dreaded discovery every
moment, but, though watching me keenly to the last, with a most
unpleasant pertinacity of stare, he suffered me to ride away without
the utterance of those suspicions which I looked momently to hear
Cold tidings, sir,
I bring you, of new sorrows. You have need
To make division of your wide estate,
And parcel out your stores. Take counsel, sir,
How you will part from life; for 'tis my fear
That you must part from hope, which life more needs,
Than the dull fare it feeds on.
—— Knight Errant
We did not delay, having now put ourselves in readiness, but, after
a few brief words of parting, we left Foster and the emissary, whose
searching eyes I was truly anxious to escape from. That fellow's stare
gave me more uneasiness, and a greater idea of the danger that I ran,
than any other one circumstance since my connection with the ruffians.
Foster did not let me leave him without giving me some expressive
glances. I could see that he was desirous of saying something to me,
which, I fancied, must concern Eberly; but we had no opportunity for a
private word after Webber joined us, and to make an opportunity was
wishing far more than I desired or Foster was prepared for. Off we went
at full gallop, and we were soon out of sight of theencampment, and
rough hills were momently rising between us. In the course of a quarter
of an hour I found myself going once more over the very spot where we
found the body of William Carrington. I shuddered involuntarily as my
eyes rested upon it: the next moment I saw the glance of Webber fixed
curiously on the same spot, and a slight smile played upon his lips, as
he caught my look of inquiry.
"A tall fellow was tumbled here only the other day," he said with
an air of indifference that vexed me, "who might have been alive and
kicking now, if his heels had been less active."
I now drew nigher, and pretended a curiosity to hear the story, but
he baffled my desire as he replied——
"Not now——another time, when we are more at leisure I'll tell you
stories of what I've seen and know, to make you open your eyes much
wider than you do now. But here we reach the road, the 'Day Blind' as
they call it, for it's so deep and narrow that there's always a shade
over it. This road, taking the left hand fork, when you get on a mile
farther, takes you direct to Grafton's. You'll see the avenue leading
to the Lodge, to the right, and a pretty place enough it is. You can
lie to-night at a house which you'll see two miles after you pass
Grafton's, where you'll find two of our people. Give them the two first
signs, and they'll know whoyou are, and provide you with any help you
may call for. But the places which you must watch in particular, are
the two avenues to the Lodge——the front and rear. There is a thick wood
before the back avenue, where we've got one of our men watching now.
You must relieve him and send him to me instantly. He will not need you
to urge him to full speed if you will only remember to tell him that
the saddle wants nothing but the stirrups, he'll understand that, and
"But what does that mean?" I demanded.
"Oh, nothing much——it's a little matter between us, that doesn't at
all concern the fraternity."
"What! have you secrets which the club is not permitted to share?"
"Yes——when they do not conflict with our laws. An affair with a
petticoat is a matter of this sort."
"And yet such is Eberly's affair."
"True! But Eberly would sacrifice all to the petticoat, and for
that we punish him. He might go after a dozen women if he pleased, and
have a seraglio like the Grand Turk, and none of us would say him nay,
if he did not allow them to play Dalilah with him and get his secret.
But listen now, while I give you the necessary information."
Here we stopped awhile, and he led me into the woods, where he gave
me a brief account of Grafton family and Lodge, informed of one or two
hidingplaces of Eberly, and even told me at what hour I might look to
see him arriving at the avenue. So keen had been his watch, and that of
his creatures, upon the doomed fugitive, that, as I afterwards
discovered, he was not only correct to the very letter in what he told
me, but he also knew every movement which his victim made; and there
had not been a day, for the three months preceding, in which he had not
been able at any time to lay hands upon him. Indeed, had the directions
of Webber been followed while in the Sipsy swamp, Eberly could not by
any possibility have escaped, unless through my evasion of the
murderous task which had been then assigned me. I need not add that
such would have been the case. Regarding the unhappy youth as not
undeserving of punishment, I had yet no desire to become his
executioner. I had taken enough of this duty on my hands already, and
my late discovery, touching John Hurdis, had increased the solemnity of
the task to a degree which put the intensity of my excitement beyond
all my powers of description. I could now only reflect that I had sworn
in the chamber of death, and in the presence of the dead, to execute
the eternal sentence of justice upon the person of my own brother. When
Webber left me in that wood, I renewed the terrible oath before Heaven.
But to my present task. I rode forwards as Ihad been counselled,
and soon came in sight of the well known Lodge, which, whatever might
be my wish, I did not dare to enter, until I had first got out of the
way of the spy whom Webber kept upon it, and whom he requested me to
send to him. Avoiding the entrance accordingly I fell into a by-path,
which ran round the estate, and whistling a prescribed tune, as I
approached the back avenue, I had the satisfaction to hear the
responsive note from the wood opposite. Who should present himself at
my summons, but my ancient foe, the Tuscaloosa gambler whom they called
George. I felt the strongest disposition to take the scoundrel by the
throat, in a mood betwixt merriment and anger; but there was a stake of
too much importance yet to be played for; and with praiseworthy
patience I forbore. Subduing my voice, and restraining my mood to the
proper pitch, I introduced myself to him in the prescribed form. I
showed him the two first signs of the club, the sign of the striker,
and the sign of the feeler——the first being that of the common
horse-thief or mail robber——the other that which empowers a member to
probe the nature of the man he meets and secure him, if he thinks he
can, to the uses of the brotherhood. I gave him my assumed name, and
the history of my membership, and then sent him on his way——happy to
get him out of mine—— to the brothers in the encampment. I waited
withimpatience till he had gone fairly out of sight, then, with a full
heart, and a bosom bounding once more with freedom, I entered the
avenue, and hurried forwards to the dwelling of my friend.
My disguise was quite as complete in concealing me from Col.
Grafton, as it had been in hiding me from my foes. It was with
difficulty I persuaded him to know me. His first words, after he became
convinced of my identity, were——
"And the poor girl Katharine? How did she stand your tidings?"
"She is dead." I told him all the particulars; and accounted for
the disguise in which I appeared, by telling him what were the novel
duties which I had undertaken.
"You are a bold man——a very bold man, Mr. Hurdis——and how far have
you been successful?"
Briefly, I related to him my meeting with Foster ——the success of
my plans——his revelations to me—— and the progress of events until I
came to the encampment in the Sipsy swamp. These he listened to with an
intense interest, and frequently interrupted me to relate little
incidents within his own knowledge, which, strange and unaccountable
before, found an easy solution when coupled with such as I related.
When I had told him thus far, I came to an uneasy halt. He had
evidently no apprehension that he could be interested farther in such a
narrative, than as a good citizen and a public magistrate. Finding me
at a pause, he thus spoke:
"And you left these rascals in the Sipsy——you have come now for
assistance, have you not?"
"You are right, Colonel——I have come to get what assistance I can
to bring them to punishment. But I left them not in the Sipsy——they are
nigher than you think for; and much more conveniently situated for a
"Ha!——in the 'Day Blind'——is it so? That has long been a suspicious
place——and if my conjecture is right, I will do my best to ferret them
out, and clear it for good and all."
"They are near it, if not in it," was my reply. I proceeded to
describe the place which he very well knew.
"In three days more, Hurdis, I shall be ready for the hunt. We
cannot conveniently have it sooner; since a little domestic matter
will, for the next day or two, take up all my attention; and I must
forget the magistrate for a brief period in the father. You are come in
season, my friend, for our family festivities. My daughter, you must
"Let me stop you, Colonel Grafton——I do know; and I trust you will
not regard the bearer of ill tidings as responsible for the sorrow
which he brings.Your daughter, you would tell me, is to be married to
"Yes——it is that. But what ill tidings?"
"Mr. Clifton is with these ruffians——I saw him in the Sipsy swamp."
"What! a prisoner?"
I shook my head.
"Nothing worse, I trust. They have not murdered him, Mr Hurdis? He
"He lives, but is no prisoner, Colonel Grafton. It is my sorrow to
be compelled to say, that he was with them voluntarily when I saw him."
"How! I really do not understand you."
I hurried over the painful recital, which he heard in speechless
consternation. The strong man failed before me. He leaned with a
convulsive shudder against the mantel place, and covered his face with
his hands. While he stood thus, his daughter entered the room, with a
timid and sweet smile upon her lips, but shrunk back the moment that
she saw me. As yet, none of the family but Colonel Grafton himself,
knew who I was. The father turned as he heard her voice.
"Julia," he said, "my daughter,"——go to your chamber——remain there
till I send for you. Do not leave it."
His voice was mournful and husky, though he strove to hide his
emotion. She saw it, and preparedto obey. He led her by the hand to the
door, looking back at me the while; and when there, she whispered
something in his ears. He strove to smile as he heard it, but the
effort was a feeble and ineffectual one.
"Go to your mother, my child——tell her that it matters nothing. And
do you keep your chamber. Do not come down stairs till I call you."
The girl looked at him with some surprise, but she did not utter
the question, which her eyes sufficiently spoke. Silently she left the
room, and he returned to me instantly.
"Hurdis, you have given me a dreadful blow; and I cannot doubt that
what you told me, you believe to be the truth. But may you not be
deceived? It is every thing to me and my child, if you can think so——it
is more important, if you are not, that I should be certified of the
truth. You saw Clifton in the swamp with these villains——that I doubt
not. It may be too that you heard them claim him as a colleague. This
they might do——such villains would do any thing——they might claim me as
well as you ——for the horse thief and the murderer would not scruple to
rob the good name from virtue, and murder the fair reputation of the
best of us. They have sought to destroy me thus already. Tell me then
on what you ground your belief——give me the particulars. It may be,
too, that Clifton, if he leagues with them at all, does so for some
purpose like your own."
How easy would it have been to deceive the father——to persuade him
to believe any thing which might have favoured his desires, though
against the very face of reason and reflection.
"I would I could answer you according to your wish, but I cannot. I
have told you nothing but the truth——what I know to be the truth——if
the confessions of Clifton himself, in my hearing, and to the leader of
this banditti, can be received in evidence."
"His own confessions——Great God!——can it be possible! But I hear
you. Go on, Mr. Hurdis—— tell me all. But take a chair, I pray you. Be
seated, if you please, for I must."
He strode over the floor towards a seat, with a slowness of
movement which evidently proceeded from a desire to conceal the
feebleness of body which he certainly felt, and to a certain extent
exhibited. He sunk into the chair, his hands clasped, and drooping
between his knees, while his head was bent forward, in painful
earnestness, as I proceeded in my story. I related, step by step, all
the subsequent particulars in my own narrative, suppressing those only
which did not concern Clifton. He heard me patiently, and without
interruption, to the end. A single groan only escaped him as I
concluded; and one brief exclamation declared for whose sake only, all
his suffering was felt——
"My poor, poor Julia!"
Well might this be his exclamation; and as it came from his lips,
while his eyes were closed, and his head fell forward upon his
breast——I could see the cherished hopes of a life vanishing with the
breath of a single moment. That daughter was the pride of his noble
heart. Nobly had he taught——dearly had he cherished her; with a fond
hand he had led her along the pleasant paths of life, securing her from
harm, and toiling with equal care, for her happiness. And all for what?
My heart joined with his, as I thought over these things, and it was
with difficulty I could keep my lips from saying after his own——"poor,
At this moment a servant entered the apartment.
"Mr. Clifton, sir!"
"Ha! comes he then!" was the sudden exclamation of the father,
starting from his chair, and, in a single instant, throwing aside the
utter prostration of soul which appeared in his features, and which now
gave place to a degree of energy and resolution, which fully spoke for
the intense fire which had been kindled in his heart.
"Show him in!"
The servant disappeared.
"This night, Mr. Hurdis, this man was to have married my daughter.
You have saved us just in time. You speak of his repentance——you have
almost striven to excuse him——but it will not answer. I thank
you——thank you from my heart——that you have saved us from such
connection. Step now into this chamber. You shall hear what he will
say—— whether he will seek to carry out his game of deception; and, to
the last, endeavour to consummate by villany, what his villany had so
successfully begun. It is but right that you should hear his answers to
my accusation. He may escape the vengeance of his brother
scoundrels——but me he shall not escape. He comes——into that chamber,
Mr. Hurdis, I must beg you to retire——bear with me if I seem rude in
hurrying you thus. My misery must excuse me, if I am less heedful than
I should be of ordinary politeness."
Thus, with that nice consideration of character which made him
somewhat a precisian in manners, he strove to forget his own feelings
in his effort to avoid offending mine. At that moment I could have
forgiven him a far greater display of rudeness than that for which he
apologised. When I looked upon the face of that father, solicitous to
the last degree for the welfare of the beloved child of whom such care
had been taken, and thought upon the defeat of all his hopes, and
possibly all of hers, which had followedmy narration, I could not but
wonder at the iron strength of soul which could enable him to bear his
disappointment so bravely.
He conducted me into the little room, to which for the present he
had consigned me, and taking from it a small mahogany box, which I
readily conceived to be a case of pistols, he returned instantly to the
apartment which I left, where, a moment after, he was joined by
To what gulfs
A single deviation from the track
Of human duties, leads ever those who claim
The homage of mankind!
"Mr. Clifton," were the simple forms of address employed by the two
on first encountering.
"You are surprised to see me so soon, Colonel Grafton," was the
somewhat abrupt speech of Clifton the next minute.
"Surprised! not a whit, sir," was the quick reply. "You were looked
"Looked for, sir! Ah! yes, of course, I was expected to come, but
not yet, sir——not for some hours. You looked for me, indeed, but you
scarcely looked for the person who now seeks you; and when you know the
business which brings me, Colonel Grafton, you will not, I am afraid,
hold me so welcome as before."
"Why should you be afraid, Mr. Clifton? Believe me you were never
more welcome than at thisvery moment——never!" was the grave and
emphatic reply. "You seem surprised, sir, that I should say so, but
wherefore? Are you surprised that I should promptly welcome the man who
seeks to do so much honor to my family as to become one of it? Why do
you look on me so doubtingly, Mr. Clifton? Is there anything so strange
in what I say?"
"No, sir, nothing, unless it be in the manner of your saying it. If
you speak, Colonel Grafton, in sincerity, you add to the weight of that
humility which already presses me to the earth——if in derision ——if
with a foreknowledge of what I come to say—— then, I must only
acknowledge the justice of your scorn and submit myself to your
"Of what you came to say, Mr. Clifton?" slowly replied the half
hesitating listener. "Speak it out then, sir, I pray you——let me hear
what you came to speak. And in your revelations do not give me credit
for too great a foreknowledge, or you may make your story too costive
for the truth. Proceed, sir——I listen."
"You seem already to have heard something to my disadvantage,
Colonel Grafton. It is my misfortune that you have not heard all that
you might have heard——all that you must hear. It is my misery that my
lips alone must tell it."
The unfortunate young man paused for an instant,as if under the
pressure of emotions too painful for speech. He then resumed:
"I come, sir, to make a painful confession; to tell you that I have
imposed upon you, Colonel Grafton——dreadfully imposed upon you——in more
respects than one."
"Go on, sir."
"My name, sir, in the first place, is not Clifton but——"
"No matter, sir, what it is! Enough, on that point, that it is not
what you call it. But the letters, sir——what of them? How came you by
letters of credit and introduction from my known and tried friends in
"They were forged, sir."
"Well, I might have known that without asking. The one imposition
fairly implies the other."
"But not by me, Colonel Grafton."
"They were used by you, and you knew them to be forged, sir. If
your new code of morality can find a difference between the guilt of
making the lie, and that of employing it when made, I shall be
informed, sir, if not pleased. Go on with your story which seems to
concern me; and, considering the manner of its beginning, the sooner
you bring it to an end the better. What, may I ask, did you propose to
yourself to gain by this imposition?"
"At first, sir, nothing. I was the creature——the base instrument of
the baser malice of another. Without any object myself, at first, I was
weak enough to labor thus criminally for the unworthy objects of
"Ha! indeed! For another. This is well——this is better and better,
sir; but go on——go on."
"But when my imposition, sir, had proved so far successful as to
bring me to the knowledge and the confidence of your family——when I
came to know the treasure you possessed in the person of your lovely
"Stay, sir——not a word of her. Her name must not pass your lips in
my hearing, unless you would have me strike you to my feet, for your
profanity and presumption. It is wonderful to me, now, how I can
"Your blow, though it crushed me into the earth, could not humble
me more, Colonel Grafton, than my own conscience has already done. I am
not unwilling that you should strike. I came here this day to submit,
without complaint or prayer, to any punishment which you might deem it
due to your injured honour to inflict. But, as a part of the reparation
which I propose to make to you, it is my earnest desire that you should
hear me out."
"Reparation, sir——reparation! Do you talk to me of reparation——you
that have stolen into mybosom, like an insidious serpent, and tainted
the happiness, and poisoned all the springs of joy which I had there.
Tell your story, sir——say all that you deem essential to make your
villany seem less, but do not dare to speak of reparation for wrongs
that you cannot repair——wounds that no art of yours, artful though you
have proved yourself, can ever heal."
"I do not hope to repair——I feel that it is beyond my power to heal
them. I do not come for that. I come simply to declare the truth——to
acknowledge the falsehood——and, in forbearing to continue a course of
evil, and in professing amendment for the future, to do what I can for
the atonement of what is evil in the past. To repair my wrongs to you
and yours, Colonel Grafton, is not within my hope. If it were, sir, my
humility would be less than it is, and, perhaps, your indulgence
"Do not trust to that, sir——do not trust to that. But we will spare
unnecessary words. Your professions for the future are wise and well
enough; it is to be hoped that you will be suffered to perform them. At
present, however, our business is with what is past, of evil, not with
what is to come, of good. You say that you were set on by another to
seek my confidence——that another prepared the lies by which you
effected your object. Who was that other? Who was that master spirit to
which your own yielded such sovereign control over truth and reason,
and all honesty? Answer me that, if you would prove your contrition."
"Pardon me, sir, but I may not tell you that. I may not betray the
confidence of another, even though I secured your pardon by it."
"Indeed! But your principles are late and reluctant. This is what
is called 'honour amongst thieves.' You could betray my honour, and the
confidence of a man of honour, but you cannot betray the confidence of
a brother rogue."
"My wrong to you, Colonel Grafton, I repent too deeply to suffer
myself to commit a like wrong against another, however unworthy he may
be. Let me accuse myself, sir; let me, I pray you, declare all my own
offences, and yield myself up to your justice, but do not require me to
betray the secrets of another."
"What! though that other be a criminal——though that other be the
outlaw from morals, which you should be from society, and trains his
vipers up to sting the hands that take them into the habitations of the
unwary and the confiding! Your sense of moral justice seems to be
strangely confounded, sir."
"It may be——I feel it is, Colonel Grafton, but I am bound to keep
this secret, and will not reveal it. It is enough that I am ready to
suffer for the offence towhich I have weakly and basely suffered myself
to be instigated."
"You shall suffer, sir; by the God of Heaven you shall suffer, if
it be left in this old arm to inflict due punishment for your
treachery. You shall not escape me. The sufferings of my child shall
determine yours. Every pang which she endures shall drive the steel
deeper into your vitals! But proceed, sir, you have more to say. You
have other offences to narrate——I will hear you."
"I feel that you will not heed my repentance. I know, too, why your
indulgence should be beyond my hope. I do not ask for forgiveness,
which I know it to be impossible that you should grant; I only pray
that you will now believe me, Colonel Grafton, for before Heaven I will
tell you nothing but the truth."
"Go on, sir, tell your story; your exhortation is of little use,
for the truth needs no prayer for its prop. It must stand without one
or it is not truth. As for my belief, that cannot affect it. Truth is
as certainly secure from my doubts, as I am sorry to think she has been
foreign to your heart for a long season. If you have got her back
there, you are fortunate, thrice fortunate. You will do well if you can
persuade her to remain. Go on, go on, sir."
"Your unmeasured scorn, Colonel Grafton, helpsto strengthen me. It
is true, it cannot lessen my offence to you and yours, but it is no
small part of the penalty which should follow them; and holding it
such, my punishments grow lighter with every moment which I endure
"Trust not that. I tell you, William Clifton, or whatever else may
be your true name——for which I care not——that I have that tooth of fire
gnawing in my heart, which nothing, perhaps, short of all the blood
which is in yours can quench or satisfy. Think not that I give up my
hope of revenge as I consent to hear you. The delay but whets the
appetite. I but seek in thought for the sort of punishment which would
seem most fitting to your offence."
"I will say nothing, Colonel Grafton, to arrest or qualify it——let
your revenge be full. The blood will not flow more freely from my
heart, when your hand shall knock for it, than does my present will, in
resignation, to your demand for vengeance. Let me only, I pray you, say
a few words, which it seems to me will do you no offence to hear, and
which I feel certain it will be a great relief to me to speak. Will you
hear me, sir?"
The humility of the guilty youth seemed not without its effect on
the heated, but noble old man, who replied promptly:
"Surely, sir——God forbid that I should refuse to hear the criminal.
"I am come of good family, Colonel Grafton——" began the youth.
"Certainly——I doubt not that. Never rogue yet that did not."
A pause ensued. The voice of the youth was half stifled, as with
conflicting emotions, when he endeavoured to speak again. But he
"I am an only son——a mother——a feeble, infirm mother——looked to me
for assistance and support. A moment of dreadful necessity pressed upon
us, and in the despair and apprehension which the emergency brought
with it to my mind, I committed an error——a crime, Colonel Grafton——I
appropriated the money of another!"
"A fit beginning to so active a life——but go on."
"Not to my use, Colonel Grafton——not to my use, nor for any
pleasure or appetite of my own, did I apply that ill got spoil.——It was
to save from suffering and a worse evil, the mother which had borne
"I believe, Mr. Clifton, in no such necessity," was the stern
reply. "In a country like ours, no man need steal, nor lie, nor cheat.
The bread of life is procured with no difficulty by any man having his
proportion of limbs and sinews, and not too lazy and vicious for honest
employment. You could surely have relieved your parent without a resort
to the offence you speak of."
"True, sir——I might. But I did not know it then ——I was a youth
without knowledge of the world or its resources. Brought up in
seclusion, and overcome by the sudden terror of debt, and the law ——"
"Which, it seems, has kept you in no such wholesome fear to the end
of the chapter. Pity for both our sakes that it had not. But to make a
long story short, Mr. Clifton, and to relieve you from the pleasure or
the pain of telling it, know, sir, that I am acquainted with all, and,
perhaps, much more than you are willing to relate."
"Indeed, sir——but how——how came you by this knowledge?"
"That is of no importance, or but little. Not an hour before you
made your appearance, I received an account of your true character and
associates—— thank Heaven! in sufficient time to be saved from the
fatal connection into which my child had so nearly fallen."
"She should not have fallen, Colonel Grafton," said Clifton
solemnly. "I came on purpose to declare the truth, sir."
"So I believe, Mr. Clifton; and it is well for you,and, perhaps,
well for me, that you were so prompt to declare the truth when you made
your appearance. Had you but paused for five minutes——had you lingered
in your self exposure——I had put a bullet through your head with as
little remorse, as I should have shot the wolf which aimed to prey upon
my little ones. I had put my pistols in readiness for that purpose.
They are this instant beneath my hands. Nothing but your timely
development could have saved you from death, and even that would not
have availed, but that you have shown a degree of contrition during
your confession, to which I could not shut my eyes. Know, sir, that I
not only knew of the deception practised upon me, but of your
connection with the daring outlaws who overrun the country; and from
whom, by the way, you have much more at this moment to fear, than you
can ever have reason to fear from me. Their emissaries are even now in
pursuit of you, thirsting for your blood."
"Colonel Grafton, tell me——I pray you tell me—— how know you all
"Is it not true?"
"Ay!——ay! true as Gospel, though my lips, though I perished for
denying, should never have revealed it."
"What! you would still have kept bond with these outlaws?"
"No, sir; but I would not have revealed their secrets."
"But you shall sir——you shall do more. You shall guide me and
others to the place where they keep. You shall help to deliver them
into the hands of justice."
"Never, sir! never!" was the quick reply.
"Then you perish by the common hangman, Mr. Clifton," said Colonel
Grafton. "Either you deliver them up to punishment, or you die for your
share in their past offences."
"Be it so——I can perish, you will find, without fear, though I may
have lived without honour. Let me leave you now, Colonel Grafton——let
"You pass not here, while I have strength to keep you, sir," said
Grafton; and as these words reached my ears, I heard a rushing sound,
and then a struggle. With this movement, I opened the door, and entered
the apartment. They were closely grappled as they met my sight, and
though it was evident enough that Eberly studiously avoided the
application of his whole force in violence to Grafton, it was not the
less obvious that he was using it all in the endeavor to elude him, and
break away. I did not pause a moment to behold the strife, but making
forward, I grasped the fugitive around the body, and lifting him from
the floor, laid him, in another instant, at full length upon it. This
done, I put my knee upon his breast, and presenting my dirk knife to
his throat I exacted from him a constrained and sullen submission.
The sun has set;
A grateful evening doth descend upon us,
And brings on the long night.
To dispose of him now was a next consideration, and one of some
little difficulty. It was no wish of mine, and certainly still less a
wish with Colonel Grafton, to hold the unfortunate and misguided youth
in bondage for trial by the laws. This was tacitly understood between
us. By the statements of his associates, it was clear enough that he
had been a profitless comrade, doing nothing to earn the applause, or
even approval of the criminal; and as little, if we except the mere
fact of his being connected with such a fraternity, to merit the
punishment of the laws. His hands had never been stained by blood; and,
setting aside his first offence against virtue, and that which brought
him into such perilous companionship with vice, we knew nothing against
him of vicious performance. Apart from this, the near approximation
which he had made towards a union with the family of Colonel Grafton,
howevermortifying such an event may have become to his pride, was
calculated to produce a desire in his mind that as little notoriety as
possible should be given to the circumstances; and even had Eberly been
more guilty than he was, I, for one, would rather infinitely have
suffered him to escape, than to subject the poor girl, whose affections
he had won, to the constant pain which she must have felt by the
publication of the proceedings against him. Even as it was, her trial
was painful enough, as well to those who witnessed her sufferings, as
to the poor heart that was compelled to bear them. Enough of this at
But it was essential at this moment, when it was our design to
entrap the heads of the "Mystic Brotherhood," that Eberly, though we
refrained to prosecute him before the proper tribunal, should not be
suffered to escape our custody. By his reluctance to accuse, or to act
against these outlaws, he evidently held for them a degree of regard,
which might prompt him, if permitted, to apprise them of their danger,
even though he may have held himself aloof, as he had promised, from
all future connection with them. But how and where to secure him was
another difficulty for which an answer was not so readily provided. To
imprison him in the dwelling, in which that very day he was to have
found his bride, and in which, as yet uninformed of the melancholy
truth, that unconscious and full heartedmaiden was even then preparing
to become so, was a necessity of awkward complexion; and yet to that
necessity we were compelled to come. After deliberating upon the matter
with an earnestness which left no solitary suggestion unconsidered, the
resolution was adopted to secure the prisoner in the attic until our
pursuit of his comrades was fairly over. This, it was our confident
hope, would be the case by the close of the day following, and only
until that time did we resolve that he should be a prisoner. His
comrades once secured, and his way of flight, it was intended, should
be free. How our determination on this subject was evaded and rendered
unavailing, the following pages will show.
His course once resolved upon, and the measures of Colonel Grafton
were prompt and decisive.
"Keep watch upon him here, Hurdis——let him not stir, while I
prepare Mrs. Grafton with a knowledge of this unhappy business. My
daughter, too, must know it soon or late, and better this hour than the
next, since the strife will be the sooner over. They must be out of the
way when we take him up the stairs——out of hearing as out of sight.
Once there, I have a favourite fellow who will guard him as rigidly as
I should myself."
He left me, and was gone, perhaps, an hour——it was a tedious hour
to me in the painful watch that was compelled to keep over the unhappy
prisoner.In this time he had communicated the discovery both to his
wife and Julia; and a single shriek, that faintly reached our ears, and
the hurried pace of many feet going to and fro in the adjacent
chambers, apprised us of the very moment when the soul of the poor
maiden was anguish-stricken by the first intelligence of her hapless
situation. My eye was fixed intently upon the face of Eberly, and when
that shriek reached us, I could see a smile, which had in it something
of triumph, overspread his cheek, and, though it did not rest there a
single moment, it vexed me to behold it.
"Do you exult!" I demanded, "that you have made a victim of one so
lovely and so young? Do you rejoice, sir, in the pang that you
"No! God forbid"——was his immediate answer. "If it were with me
now, she should instantly forget not only her present, but all
sorrows——she should forget that she had ever known so miserable a
wretch as myself. But is it wonderful that I should feel a sentiment of
pleasure, to find myself an object of regard in the eyes of one so
pure——so superior? Is it strange that I should rejoice to find that I
am not an outcast from all affections, as I am from all hopes; that
there is one angelic spirit who may yet intercede for me at the bar of
Heaven, and pray for, and command mercy, though she may not even hope
for it on earth?"
Grafton now returned, and the flush of anger was heightened on his
face, though I could see a tear even then glistening in his eye.
"Mr. Clifton," he said calmly, but peremptorily ——"we must secure
your person for the night."
"My life is at your service, Colonel Grafton——I tender it freely.
As I have no hopes in life now, I do not care to live. But I will not
promise to remain bound if I can break from my prison. I came to you of
my own free will, without any impulse beside; and, though I thought it
not unlikely when I came, and revealed my story, that you would take my
life, I had no fear that you would constitute yourself my gaoler. I am
not prepared for bonds."
"Make what distinctions you please," was the cold reply——"you hear
my resolution. It will be my fault if you escape, until I myself
declare your freedom. I trust that you will not render it necessary
that we should use force to place you in the chamber assigned for you."
"Force!" he exclaimed fiercely, and there was a keen momentary
flashing of the youth's eye, as he heard these words, that proved him a
person to resent as quickly as he felt; but the emotion soon gave way
to another of more controlling influence. His tone changed to mildness,
as he proceeded:
"No, sir——no force shall be necessary. Lead me where you please. Do
with me as you please. Iknow not whether it would not be better and
wiser for me, henceforward, to forego my own will and wishes
altogether. God knows it had been far better and wiser, had I
distrusted them half as much hitherto as I now distrust them. I had
now——but, lead on, sir——conduct me as you will, and where you will. I
will not trouble you longer——even with my despondency. It is base
enough to be humbled as I am now——I will not farther debase myself by
the idle language of regret. I have put down a boy's stake in the
foolish game which I have played——I will bear with its loss as a man. I
will go before you, sir, or follow even as you desire. It shall not be
necessary to employ violence. I am ready."
We could not help pitying the youth, as we conducted him up stairs
into the small garret-room, which had been prepared for him. He was
evidently of noble stuff at first——naturally well fashioned in mind and
moral——with instincts, which, but for circumstances, would have carried
him right——and feelings gentle and noble enough to have wrought
excellence within him, could it have been that he had been blessed with
a better education, and less doubtful associates, than it was his
fortune to have found. He certainly rose greatly in my esteem within
the last two hours, simply by the propriety of his manners, and the
degree of correct feeling with which he had, without any ostentation,
coupledtheir exhibition. Securing the windows as well as we could, and
placing a sturdy and confidential servant at the door of the chamber,
which was double-locked upon him, we descended to the lower apartment,
where we immediately proceeded to confer upon the other toils before
"There is some public good," said Colonel Grafton, with a degree of
composure, which spoke admirably for the control which his mind had
over his feelings——"There is some public good coming from the personal
evil which has fallen to my lot. The proposed festival, which was this
night to have taken place, brings together the very friends, as guests,
whom I should have sought in our proposed adventure to-morrow, and whom
it would have taken me some time to have hunted up, and got in
readiness. Our party was to have been large——and I trust that it will
be, though the occasion now is so much less loving and attractive than
This was said with some bitterness, and a pause ensued, in which
Grafton turned away from me and proceeded to the window. When he
returned, he had succeeded quite in obliterating the traces of that
grief which he was evidently unwilling that his face should show. He
"We shall certainly have some fifteen able-bodied and fearless men,
not including ourselves; there may be more. Some of them will, I am
sure, bringtheir weapons; they have done so usually; and for the rest,
I can make out to supply them, I think. You shall see, I have a
tolerable armoury, which though any thing but uniform, can be made to
do mischief in the hands of men able and willing enough when occasion
serves to use it. There is a rifle or two, an old musket, two excellent
double-barrelled guns, and a few pistols, all of which can be made use
of. You, I believe, are already well provided."
I showed him my state of preparation, and he then proceeded.
"I know the region where these fellows harbour, much better than
you do, and, perhaps, much more intimately than they imagine. My plan
is to surprise them by daybreak. If we can do this, our fifteen or
twenty men will be more than a match for their thirty. And then, I
trust, we have no less an advantage in the sort of men we bring to the
conflict; men of high character, and among the most resolute of the
surrounding country. I have no doubts that we shall be able to destroy
at least one half of them, and disperse the rest. We must strike at
your master-spirits——your Foster and your Webber——though the former,
according to your account, seems not without his good qualities. The
latter is a tough villain, but he fears me, deny it as he may. If he
did not, having such a feeling towards me as he has so openly avowed,
he would have drawn trigger on me before now. I must endeavour, this
time, to wipe out old scores, and balance all my accounts with him.
These two, and one or two more provided for, and we may be content with
the dispersion of the rest. I care nothing for the pitiful rascals that
follow——let them go."
But such was not my thought. There was one of these pitiful rascals
whom it brought the scarlet to my cheek to think on. Brother though he
was, he was the murderer of William Carrington, and I had sworn, and
neither he nor Pickett could escape, according to my oath. But of this
I said nothing to Colonel Grafton. I was resolved that John Hurdis
should perish, but that he should perish namelessly. There was a family
pride still working in my breast, that counselled me to be silent in
respect to him. We proceeded in our arrangements.
"There are two fellows belonging to this clan," said Grafton, "that
lodge, if I recollect rightly what you said, some two miles below me."
"Yes, at a place called 'the Trap Hole,' if you know such a spot;
it was described to me so that I could find it easily, but I know
nothing of it."
"I know it well——it's an old hiding place; but I had not thought
the hovel was inhabited. These fellows must be secured to-night at an
early hour. They are spies upon us, I doubt not, and will reportevery
thing that happens, if they see anything unusual. Certainly, it is our
policy to clear our own course as well and speedily as possible; and as
soon as our men come, which will be by dark or before, we will set
forth as secretly as we may, to take them into custody. This, as you
have the signs which they acknowledge, can be done without risk. You
shall go before, and set them at rest, while we surround the house and
take them suddenly. They will hardly life weapon when they see our
force; and, once in our possession, we will take a lesson from the book
of Master Webber and rope them down in the woods, with a handful of
moss in their mouths to keep them from unnecessary revelations."
Such, so far, was our contemplated plan. It was the most direct of
any, and, indeed, we hardly had a choice of expedients. To come upon
our enemy by surprise, or in force, was all that we could do, having so
little time allowed us for preparation of any sort. It was fortunate
that we had a man like Grafton to manage——a man so well esteemed by the
friends he led, and so worthy in all respects of the confidence they
put in him. As the hour drew nigh, and the looked for guests began to
assemble, he rose superior to the paternal situation in which he stood,
and seemed to suppress the father in the man and citizen. He revealed
separately to each ofhis guests the affair as it now stood, upon which
they had been summoned together, then submitted the new requisition
which he made upon their services, as a friend and magistrate alike.
With one voice they proclaimed themselves ready to go forth against the
common enemy, and with difficulty were restrained from precipitating
the assault; changing the hour to midnight from the dawn. This rashness
was fortunately overruled, though it could scarcely have been thought
rashness, if all the men had possessed an equal knowledge with Colonel
Grafton, of the place in which the outlaws harboured. To quiet the more
impetuous among his guests, he led them out after dark, in obedience to
our previous resolve, to take the two fellows at 'the Trap Hole,' and,
I may say, in brief, that we succeeded to a tittle in making them
prisoners just as we had arranged it. Surprise was never more complete.
We roped them to saplings in a thicket of the woods, filled their
mouths with green moss, and the arms of which we despoiled them,
enabled us the better to meet their comrades.
Had we never lov'd so kindly,
Had we never lov'd so blindly:
Never met or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken hearted.
We completed our preparations at an early hour, and by midnight
were ready to depart on our work of peril. We had so arranged it as not
to go forth en masse——it was feared that, if seen, our array would
occasion apprehension, and possibly lead to a detection and defeat of
all our plans. By twos and threes, therefore, our men set forth, at
different periods, with the understanding that, taking different
routes, we were all to rendezvous at the "Day Blind," by one o'clock,
or two, at farthest. The onslaught we proposed to make with the first
blush of the morning. I remained, with two others, behind with Colonel
Grafton, until the designated hour drew nigh; then, with emotions
exciting in the last degree, and greatly conflicting with each other, I
mounted my steed, and we took our departure for the place agreed on.
Let us now return, for a fewmoments, to the unhappy maiden, whose
bridal night was so suddenly changed to gloom from festivity. We were
permitted to see nothing of her sorrows. When first stricken by the
intelligence which her father gave of her felon lover, her grief had
shown itself in a single sudden shriek, a fainting fit, and, for some
time after, a complete prostration of all her physical powers.
Restorative medicines were given her, and it was only when she was
believed to be in a deep and refreshing slumber, that her mother
retired to her own apartment. But the maiden did not sleep. The
medicines had failed to work for her that oblivion, that momentary
blindness and forgetfulness, which they were charitably intended to
occasion. The desire to relieve her mother's anxiety, which she
witnessed, led her to an undoubted effort at composure, and she subdued
her sorrows so far, as to put on the aspect of a quiet apathetic
condition, which she was very far from enjoying. She seemed to sleep,
and as the hour was late, her mother, availing herself of the
opportunity, retired for the night, leaving her daughter in charge of a
favourite nurse, who remained in the apartment. Julia, who was no less
watchful than suffering, soon discovered that her companion slept. She
rose gently, and hurried on her clothes. Her very sorrows strengthened
her for an effort totally inconsistent with her prostration but a
little while before; andthe strange and perilous circumstances in which
Eberly stood, prompted her to a degree of artfulness, which was alike
foreign to her nature and education. The seeming necessity of the case
could alone furnish its excuse. She believed that the life of the youth
was jeoparded by his position. In the first feeling of anger, her
father had declared him to be liable to the last punishments of the
law, and, in the same breath, avowed himself, as an honest magistrate,
bound to inflict them. She was resolved, if possible, to defeat this
resolution, and to save the unhappy youth, whom, if she might no longer
look upon with respect, she, at least, was still compelled to love.
Without impugning the judgment of her father, she felt the thought to
be unendurable, which told her momently of the extreme peril of the
criminal; and, under its impulse, she was nerved to a degree of
boldness and strength, quite unlike the submissive gentleness which
usually formed the most conspicuous feature in her character and
deportment. We have already seen that it was really no part of
Grafton's desire, whatever might be the obnoxiousness of Eberly to the
laws, to bring him to trial. Though evidently connected with the
banditti that infested the country, and, strictly speaking, liable to
all the consequences of their crimes——yet the evidence had been
conclusive to Grafton, that the unhappy youth had shared in none of
their performances. Could he have proved specifically any one offence
against him, Grafton must have brought him to punishment, and would
have done so, though his heart writhed at its own resolution; but it
was with a feeling of relief, if not of pleasure, that he found no such
evidence, and felt himself morally, if not legally, freed from the
necessity of prosecution, which such a knowledge must have brought with
it. To secure Eberly until his late associates were dispersed or
destroyed, was the simple object of his detention; for, to speak
frankly, it was Grafton's fear, that if suffered to go forth, he might
still be carried back, by the desperate force of circumstances, to the
unholy connections from which he had voluntarily withdrawn himself. He
had no confidence in the avowed resolutions of the youth, and deemed it
not improbable, that, as his repentance seemed originally to have been
the result of his attachment to Julia, the legitimate consequence of
her rejection would be to throw him back upon his old principles and
associates. But this doubt did injustice to the youth. The evil aspects
of crime had disgusted him enough, even if the loveliness of virtue had
failed to persuade him. His resolution was fixed, and considering his
moral claims alone, without reference to the exactions of society, it
may be safely said, that never was Eberly more worthy ofthe love of
Julia Grafton, than at the very moment when it was lost to him forever.
With cautious hands she undid the fastening of her apartment, and,
trembling at every step, but still resolute, she ascended the stairs
which led up to the garret chambers. In one of these Eberly was
confined. From this——as there was but a single window, to leap from
which would have been certain death——there was no escape, save by the
door, and this was securely fastened on the outside, and the key in the
possession of a faithful negro, to whom Colonel Grafton had given
particular instructions for the safe keeping of the prisoner. But the
guardian slept on his post, and it was not difficult for Julia to
detach the key from where it hung, upon the fore-finger of his
outstretched hand——this she did without disturbing him in the slightest
degree. In another moment she unclosed the door, and fearlessly entered
"Julia!"——was the exclamation of the prisoner, as, with a fresh
sentiment of joy and love, he beheld her standing before him. "Julia,
dear Julia, do I indeed behold you? You have not then forgotten—— you
do not then scorn the wretch who is an outcast from all beside?"
He approached her. Her finger waved him back, while she replied, in
"Clifton, you must fly. You are in danger—— your very life is
endangered, if you linger here."
"My life!" replied the criminal, in tones of melancholy despair.
"My life! Let them take it. If I must leave you, Julia, I care not to
live. Go to your father——let him bring the executioner——you will see
that I will not shrink from the defiling halter and the cruel
death——nay, that I will smile at their approach, when I am once assured
that I cannot live for you."
"And you cannot!" said the maiden, in sad but firm accents. "You
must forget that thought, Clifton——that wish, if, indeed, it be your
wish. You must forget me, as it shall now be the chief task of my life,
to forget you."
"And can you, Julia——can you forget me, after those hours of
joy——those dear walks, and the sweet delights of so many precious, and
never-to-be-forgotten meetings? Can you forget them, Julia? Nay, can
you desire to forget them? If you can——if such be, indeed, your desire,
then death shall be doubly welcome——death in any form. But I cannot
believe it, Julia——I will not. I remember——but no! I will not remind
you——I will not seek to remind you, when you declare your desire to
forget. Why have you sought me here, Julia? Know you not what I
am——have you not been told what the world calls me——what the malice of
my cruel fortune has compelledme to become? Have you not heard?——must I
tell you that I am——"
"Hush!" she exclaimed, in faltering and expostulating accents. "Say
it not, Clifton——say it not. If, indeed, it be true as they tell me——"
"They have told you then, Julia?——your father has told you——and oh!
joy of my heart, you ask of me if what they have said to you can be
true. You doubt——you cannot believe it of me. You shall not believe
"Then it is not true, Clifton?" cried the maiden eagerly, advancing
as she spoke, while the tear which glistened in her eyes, took from her
whole features the glow of that joy and hope, which had sprung up so
suddenly in her bosom. "They have slandered you when they pronounced
you the associate of these outlaws——it is a wanton, a malicious
falsehood, which you can easily disprove? I knew it——I thought it from
the first, Clifton; and yet, when my father told me—— and told me with
such assurances——with such solemn looks and words——and upon such
evidence——ah! Edward, forgive me, when I confess to you, I could not
doubt what I yet dreaded and trembled to believe. But you deny it,
Edward——you will prove it to my father's conviction to be false——you
will cleanse yourself from this polluting stigma, and I feel, I hope,
we shall be happy yet. My father——"
The chilling accents of her lover's voice recalledher from the
hopeful dream which her young heart began to fancy. He dashed the
goblet of delight from the parting lips which were just about to quaff
from its golden circle.
"Alas! Julia, it is only too true——your father has told you but the
truth. Bitter is the necessity that makes me say so much; but, I will
not deceive you; indeed, if he told you all, he must have told you that
I came of my own free will to undeceive him. My own lips pronounced to
him my own fault, and, humbling as its consciousness is to me, I must
declare that, in avowing my connection with these wretched associates,
I have avowed the extent of my errors, though not of my sufferings.
Thank God! I have taken part in none of their crimes——I have shared in
none of their spoils——my hands are free from any stain, save that which
they have received from grasping theirs in fellowship. This, I well
know is a stain too much, and the contact of my hands would only defile
the purity of yours. Yet, could I tell you the story of wo and
suffering which drove me to this miserable extremity, you would pity
me, Julia, if you could not altogether forgive. But wherefore should I
tell you this?"
"Wherefore!" was the moaning exclamation of the maiden as the youth
briefly paused in his speech, "Wherefore——it avails us nothing. Yet I
will believe you, Clifton——I must believe that you havebeen driven to
this dreadful communion, if I would not sink under the shame of my own
consciousness. I believe you, Edward——I believe you, and I pity
you——from my very soul I pity you. But I can no more; let us part now.
Leave me——fly while there is yet time. My father returns in the
morning, and I fear that his former regard for you will not be
sufficient to save you from the punishment which he thinks due to your
offences. Indeed, he will even be more strict and severe because of the
imposition which he thinks you have practised upon him——"
"And upon you, Julia——you say nothing of that."
"Nothing! Because it should weigh nothing with me at such a moment.
I feel not the scorn which you have put upon me, Edward, in the loss
which follows it."
"Blessed, beloved spirit; and I too must feel the loss; and such a
loss! Oh! blind, base fool that I was, to suffer the pang and the
apprehension of a moment, to baffle the hopes and the happiness of a
life. Ah, Julia, how can I fly? How can I leave you?——knowing what you
are, and not forgetting that you have loved me, worthless as I am."
"No more of this, Edward," replied the maiden, quickly withdrawing
her hand from the grasp which his own had passionately taken upon it;
"no more of this; it will be your policy, as it shall be my duty, to
forget all this. We must strive to forget——we must forget each other.
It will be my first prayer always, to be able to forget what it must
only be my constant shame and sorrow to remember."
"And why your shame and sorrow, Julia? I tell you that in
connecting myself most unhappily with these wretched people, I have
abstained from their offences. If they have robbed the traveller, I
have taken none of their spoils. If they have murdered their victim,
his blood is not upon my hands. I have been their victim, indeed,
rather than their ally. They forced me——a dire necessity forced me——
into their communion; in which I have been a witness rather than a
"Alas! Edward, I am afraid the difference is but too slight to be
made use of in your defence. Did you witness to condemn and disapprove?
Did you seek to prevent or repair? Did you stay the uplifted hand which
struck down the traveller? Did you place yourself on his side to
sustain and help him in the moment of his deadly and last peril? My
father would have taken this part——his lessons have always taught me
that such was the part always of the brave and honourable gentleman. If
you have taken this part, Edward; if you can prove to him that you have
taken this part——"
She paused. The criminal shrunk from her while she spoke, and
covered his face with hishands, while he murmured hoarsely, and in
bitter, broken accents——
"I have not. I have seen him robbed of his little wealth——I have
seen him stricken down by the unexpected blow; and I have not lifted
voice or weapon in his defence. Basely have I witnessed the deeds of
baseness, and fittingly base should be my punishment. And yet, Julia, I
could say that ——will you hear me?" he demanded, seeing that she turned
"Speak——speak," she murmured faintly.
"Yes, Julia, I have that to say which would go far to make you
forget and forgive my weakness—— my crime."
"Alas! Edward, I fear not. There is nothing ——"
"Nothing! Nay, Julia, you care not to hear my defence. You are
indifferent whether I live or die——whether they prove me guilty or
innocent of crime," said he, with a bitter manner of reproach. She
answered with a heart-touching meekness.
"And yet I come even now to save your life. I throw aside the fears
and delicacy of my sex——I seek you at midnight, Edward——I seek you but
to save. Does this argue indifference?"
"To save my life. Oh, Julia, bethink you for a moment what a
precious boon this is to one of whom you rob every thing which made
life dear, at thevery moment when you profess to save it. This is a
mockery——a sad, a cruel mockery. Let them take the life if they will;
you will see how that boon is valued by me, to which you offer to prove
that you are not indifferent. You will see how readily I can surrender
the life which the withdrawal of your love has beggared——which the
denial of your esteem has embittered forever!"
"Ah, Edward, speak not thus. Wherefore would you force me to say
that my love is not to be denied nor my esteem withheld, by a will, or
in an instant?"
"And you do still love——you will promise, Julia, to esteem me
"No! I will promise nothing, Edward——nothing. I will strive only to
forget you; and though I promise not myself to be successful in the
effort, duty requires that it should yet be made. Go now. Let us part,
and forever. My father and his guests are all gone——there is none to
interrupt you in your flight. Fly——fly far, Edward, I pray you. Let us
not meet again; since nothing but pain could come from such a meeting."
"But, Julia, will you not promise me that if I can acquit myself
worthily, you will once more receive me."
"I cannot! my father's will must determine mine, Edward; since it
is to his judgment only that I canrefer, to determine what is worthy in
the sight of men, and what is not. Were I to yield to my affections
this decision, I should, perhaps, care nothing for your offences; I
should deem you no offender; and love would blindly worship at an altar
from which truth would turn away in sorrow and reproach. Urge me not
farther, Edward, on this painful subject. Solemnly I declare to you,
that under no circumstances henceforward can I know you, unless by
permission of my father."
Eberly strode away, with a spasmodic effort, to another part of the
chamber. His emotions left him speechless for a while; when he returned
to her, his articulation was still imperfect; and it was only by great
resolution that he made himself intelligible at last.
"I will vex you no more. I will be to you, Julia, nothing——even as
you wish. I will leave you; and when next you hear of me, you will
weep, bitterly weep; not, perhaps, that you have sent me from you in
scorn, but that I was not wholly worthy of that love which you were
once happy to bestow upon me."
He passed her as he spoke these words, and before she could fix any
one of the flitting and confused fancies in her mind, he had left the
apartment, and her ear could readily distinguish his footsteps as,
without any of the precautions of the fugitive, tremblingfor his life,
he deliberately descended the stairs. She grasped the post of the door,
and hung on it for support. Her strength which had sustained her
throughout the interview, was about to leave her. When she ceased to
hear his retreating steps she recovered herself sufficiently to reach
her chamber; where, after locking carefully her door, she threw
herself, almost without life, upon her bed, and gave vent to those
emotions which now, from long restraint, like the accumulated torrents
of the mountain, threatened in their flow to break down all barriers,
and overwhelm the region which they were meant to invigorate and
refresh. One bitter sentence of hopelessness alone escaped her lips;
and the unsyllabled moaning which followed it, attested the depths of
these sorrows which she had so long and so nobly kept in check.
"He leaves me——I have seen him for the last time——I have heard his
departing footsteps——departing forever. Hark! it is the tread of a
horse. It is his. He flies——he is safe from harm. He will be free——he
will be happy, and I——Oh! my father—— I am desolate!"
If thou couldst redeem me
With any thing but death, I think I should
Consent to live.
—— The Traitor
Meanwhile we sped towards our place of rendezvous. We reached it,
as we had calculated, in sufficient season. The whole party was
assembled at the "Blind," according to arrangement, and within the
limited hour; and, for a brief period after our reunion, nothing was to
be heard but the hum of preparation for the anticipated strife. Our
weapons, as before stated, were of a motley description. But they were
all effective——at least, we resolved that they should be made so.
Leaving as little to accident as possible, we reloaded and reprimed our
fire arms, put in new flints where we could do so, and girded ourselves
up for the contest with the cool considerateness of men who are not
disposed to shrink back from the good work to which they have so far
put their hands. Encouraged by the feeling and energy of Colonel
Grafton, who was very much beloved among them, there was not one of the
partywho did not throw as much personal interest into the motives for
his valour, as entered either into Grafton's bosom or mine. When we
were all ready, we divided ourselves into three bodies, providing thus
an assailing force for the three known outlets of the outlaws' retreat.
One of these bodies was led by Grafton, and under his lead, and by his
side, I rode ——to two sturdy farmers of the neighbourhood, who were
supposed to be more conversant with the place than the rest, the other
divisions were given; and it was arranged that our attack upon the
three designated points should be as nearly simultaneous as possible.
The darkness of the forest——the difficulty of determining and
equalising the several distances—— the necessity of proceeding slowly
and heedfully, in order to avoid giving alarm, and other considerations
and difficulties of like nature and equal moment, rendered our advance
tedious and protracted; and though we had not more than two miles to
cover after separating at the Blind, yet the gray streaks of the early
dawn were beginning to vein the hazy summits in the East, before we
reached the point of entrance which had been assigned us.
The morning was cold and cloudy, and through the misty air sounds
were borne rapidly and far. We were forced to continue our caution as
we proceeded. When we reached the valley, the porch, as it were, to the
home among the hills where therobbers had found their refuge, we came
to a dead halt. There were slight noises from within the enclosure
which annoyed us, and we paused to listen. They were only momentary,
however, and we rode slowly forward, until the greater number of our
little party were fairly between the two hills. In my anxiety, I had
advanced a horse's length beyond Colonel Grafton, by whose side I had
before ridden. We were just about to emerge from the passage into the
area, when the indistinct figure of a man started up, as it were, from
beneath the very hoofs of my horse. I had nearly ridden over him, for
the day was yet too imperfect to enable us to distinguish between
objects not in motion. He had been asleep, and was, most probably, a
sentinel. As he ran, he screamed at the loudest pitch of his voice——the
probability is, that in his surprise he had left his weapon where he
had lain, and had no other means of alarming his comrades, and saving
them from the consequences of his neglectful watch. In the midst of his
clamours, I silenced him. I shot him through the back as he ran, not
five steps in front of my horse, seeking to ascend the hill to the
right of us. He tumbled forward, and lay writhing before our path, but
without a word or moan. At this moment, the thought possessed me, that
it was John Hurdis whom I had shot. I shivered involuntarily with the
conviction, and in my mind I felt a busy voice of reproach, that
reminded me of our poor mother. I strove to sustain myself, by
referring to his baseness, and to his deserts: yet I felt sick at heart
the while. I had the strangest curiosity to look into the face of the
victim, but, for worlds, I would not then have done so. It was proposed
that we should examine the body by one of the men behind me. It was a
voice of desperation with which I shouted in reply——
"No——no examination.——We have no time for that."
"True!" said Grafton, taking up the words.—— "We must think of
living, not dead enemies. This shot will put the gang in motion. We
must rush on them at once, if we hope to do any thing, and the sooner
we go forward the better."
He gave the word at this moment, which I seconded with a fierce
shout, which was half-intended to overcome and scare away my own
"Better," I said to myself——"better that I should believe John
Hurdis to be already slain, than that I should think the duty yet to be
done. He must perish, and I feel that it will be an easier deed to slay
him while he is unknown, regarding him merely as one of the common
These self-communings——indeed the whole events which had occasioned
them——were all the work of amoment. I had fired the pistol under the
impulse which seemed to follow the movement of the victim, as closely
as if it had been a certain consequence of it. In another instant we
rushed headlong into the valley, just as sounds of fright and confusion
reached us from one of the opposite entrances, which had been assigned
the other parties. There was now no time for unnecessary
reflections——the moment for thought and hesitation had gone by, and the
blood was boiling and bounding in my veins, with all the ardour and
enthusiasm of boyhood. Wild cries of apprehension and encouragement
reached us from various quarters, and we could see sudden forms rushing
out of the bushes, and from between the hollows where they had slept;
and with the sight of them, our men dashed off in various directions,
and divided, in pursuit. Colonel Grafton and myself advanced in like
manner, towards a group consisting of three persons, who seemed
disposed to seek, rather than fly from us. A few bounds brought us near
enough to discover in one of these, the person of Matthew Webber. The
two deadly enemies were now within a few steps of each other; and,
resolving to spare Colonel Grafton the encounter with a man who had
professed such bitter malice towards him, and such a blood-thirsty and
unrelenting hate, I put spurs to my horse, and, with earnest efforts,
endeavoured to put myself between them; but my object was defeated, and
Iwas soon taught to know that I required all my address to manage my
own particular opponent. This was the man whom we have before seen as
the emissary of the Brotherhood, at the habitation of Pickett, and,
subsequently, when I left the encampment, ostensibly as the spy upon
Eberly. This fellow seemed to understand my object, for he put himself
directly in my way; and, when not three steps distant, discharged his
pistol at my head. How he came to miss me I know not. It would appear
impossible that a man resolved and deliberate as he certainly showed
himself then and elsewhere to be, should have failed to shoot me at so
small a distance. But he did; and, without troubling myself at that
moment to demand how or why, I was resolved not to miss him. I did not.
But my bullet, though more direct than his, was not fatal. I hit him in
the shoulder of the right arm, from the hand of which he dropped the
knife which he had taken from his bosom, the moment after firing his
pistol. My horse was upon him in another instant; but, as if insensible
to his wound, he grasped the bridle with his remaining hand, and, by
extending his arm to its utmost stretch, he baffled me for a brief
space, in the effort which I was making to take a second shot. It was
but a moment only, however, that he did so. I suffered him to turn the
head of the horse, and deliberately took a second pistol from my bosom.
Hesunk under the breast of the animal as he beheld it, still grasping
him by the bridle, by swinging from which, he was enabled to avoid the
tramplings of his feet. But I was not to be defeated. I threw myself
from the animal, and shot the outlaw dead, before he could extricate
himself from the position into which he had thrown himself. This affair
took less time to act than I now employ to narrate it. Meanwhile the
strife between Colonel Grafton and Webber had proceeded to a fatal
issue. I had beheld its progress with painful apprehensions, beholding
the danger of the noble gentleman, without the ability to serve or
succour him. On their first encounter, the deliberate ruffian calmly
awaited the bold assault of his foe, and, perhaps, feeling some doubt
of his weapon, in aiming at the smaller object, or resolved to make
sure of him though slow, he directed his pistol muzzle at the advancing
steed, and put the bullet into his breast. The animal tumbled forward,
and Webber nimbly leaping to one side, avoided his crushing carcass,
which fell over upon the very spot where the outlaw had taken his
station. In the fall of the beast, as Webber had anticipated, Grafton
became entangled. One of his legs was fastened under the animal, and he
lay prostrate and immovable for an instant, from the stunning effect of
the fall. With a grim smile of triumph, Webber approached him, and when
not three paces distant from his enemy, drew his pistol, but before he
could fix the sight upon him, a fierce wild scream rang through the
area, and in the next instant, when nothing beside could have saved
Grafton, and when looking fearlessly at his advancing enemy, he
momently expected the death which he felt himself unable to avoid, he
beheld, with no less satisfaction and surprise, the figure of the
doubly fugitive Clifton bounding between them, to arrest the threatened
shot. He came too late for this, yet he baffled the vengeance of the
murderer. The bullet took effect in his own bosom, and he fell down
between Grafton and Webber, expiating his errors and offences, whatever
may have been their nature and extent, by freely yielding up his life
to save that of one, who just before, as he imagined to the last, had
sat in inflexible and hostile judgment upon his own. A faint smile
illuminated his countenance a moment before his death, and he seemed
desirous to turn his eyes where Grafton lay, but to this task he was
unequal. Once or twice he made an effort at speech, but his voice sunk
away into a gurgling sound, and at length terminated in the choking
rattle of death. Webber, while yet the breath fluttered upon the lips
of his victim, strode forward, with one foot upon his body, to repeat
the assault upon Grafton, which had been baffled thus, but before he
could do this, he fell by an unseen hand. He was levelled to the earth,
by a strokefrom the butt of a rifle from behind, and despatched, in the
heat of the moment, by a second blow from the hands of the sturdy
forester who wielded it. We extricated Grafton from a situation which
had been productive to him of so much peril, and addressed ourselves to
a pursuit of the surviving outlaws who were scattered and flying on all
hands. In this pursuit, it fell to my lot to inflict death, without
recognising my victim at the time, upon the actual murderer of William
Carrington. I saw a fellow skulk behind a bush, and shot him through
it. That was Pickett. I only knew it when, in the afternoon of the day,
we encountered his wife, with countenance seemingly unmoved, and
wearing its general expression of rigid gravity, directing the burial
of her miserable husband, whom a couple of negroes were preparing to
deposit in a grave dug near the spot where he had fallen.
But our toils were not ended. Seven of the outlaws had been killed
outright, or so fatally wounded as to die very soon after. Two only
were made prisoners; and we had started at least eight or ten more.
These had taken flight in as many different directions, rendering it
necessary that we should disperse ourselves in their pursuit. My blood
had been heated, by the affray, to such a degree that I ceased to
think. To go forward, to act, to shout and strike, seemed now all that
I could do; and thesewere performances through which my heart appeared
to carry me with an ungovernable sensation of delight; a sensation
cooled only when I reflected hat the body of John Hurdis had not yet
been found——that we were in pursuit of the survivors; and that I had
sworn by the grave of the hapless Katherine Walker, to give no mercy to
the murderers of my friend. My oath was there to impel me forward even
should my heart fail me, and forward I went in the bloody chase——we
urged, having a distant and imperfect view of two wretches; both
mounted and fleeing backward upon the Big Warrior. They had gone
through the "Blind," and for a mile farther I kept them both in sight.
At length, one disappeared, but I gained upon the other. Every moment
brought the outlines of his person more clearly to my eye, and at
length I could no longer resist the conviction that the fates had
brought me to my victim.——John Hurdis was before me. What would I not
then have given to have found another enemy. How gladly would I then
have unsworn myself, and, could it be so, have given up the task of
punishment to other persons. There was a sound of horsemen behind me,
and at one moment, I almost resolved to turn aside and leave to my
comrades the solemn duty which now seemed so especially to devolve
itself upon me. But there was a dread in my mind that such amovement
might be misconstrued, and the feeling be taken for fear, which was in
strict truth the creature of conscience. The conviction grew inevitable
that the bloody duty of the executioner was mine. The horse of my
brother stumbled; the fates had delivered him into my hands——he lay on
the earth before me; and, with a bursting heart, but a resolved spirit,
I leaped down on the earth beside him. He had weapons, but he had no
power to use them. I would have given worlds had he been able to do so.
Could he have shown fight——I could have slain him without scruple; but
when, at my approach, he raised his hands appealingly, and shrieked out
a prayer of mercy, I felt ashamed of the duty I had undertaken. I felt
the brutal blood-thirstiness of taking life under such
circumstances——the victim but a few paces off ——using no weapons, and
pleading with a shrieking desperate voice for that life, which seemed
at the same time too despicable to demand or deserve a care. And yet,
when I reflected that to grant his prayer and take him alive, was not
to save his life, but to subject him to a death, in the ignominy of
which I too must share; I felt that he could not live. I rushed upon
him with the extended pistol, but was prevented from using it by a
singular vision, in the sudden appearance of the poor idiot daughter of
Pickett. She came from the door of a little cottage by the road-side,
which I had not before seen, andto which, it is more than probable,
that John Hurdis was bending his steps, as to a place of refuge. To my
horror and surprise she called me by name, and thus gave my brother the
first intimation which he had of the person to whom he prayed. How this
idiot came to discover that which nobody besides had suspected, was
wonder enough to me; and while I stood, astounded for the instant, she
ran forward like a thoughtless child, crying as she came:
"Oh, Mr. Richard, don't you shoot——it's Master John——it's your own
dear brother——don't you shoot ——don't."
"Brother!" cried the miserable wretch, with hoarse and husky tones,
followed by a chuckle of laughter, which indicated the latent hope
which had begun to kindle in his breast at this discovery.
"Away——I know you not, villain," was my cry, as I recoiled from
him, and again lifted the pistol in deadly aim. The idiot girl rushed
between us, and rising on tiptoe, sought to grasp the extended hand,
which I was compelled to raise above her reach.
"Run, Master John, run for dear life," was her cry, as she clung
upon my shoulders. "Run to the bushes, while I hold, Mr. Richard——I'll
hold him tight——he can't get away from me. I'll hold him tight enough
while you run."
The miserable dastard obeyed her counsel; andwhile clinging, now to
my arms, and now to my legs, she baffled my movements, and really gave
him an opportunity, which a cool, brave fellow would have turned to
account, and most probably saved himself. He, in his alarm, actually
rushed into the woods in the very direction of the pursuit. Had he
possessed the spirit of a man, he would have leaped upon his horse, or
upon mine, and trusted to the chase a second time. Hardly a minute had
elapsed from his disappearance in the woods, and when I had just
extricated myself from the clutches of the girl, which I did with as
little violence as possible, when I heard one shot and then another. I
resumed my horse and hurried to the spot whence the sounds came. One of
our party, who had taken the same route with me, had overtaken the
fugitive, and had fired twice upon him as he fled. My voice trembled
when I asked the trooper, as he emerged from the bush, if the outlaw
"As a door nail!" was the reply. I stopped for no more; but turning
the head of my horse again, I renewed the pursuit of the second
fugitive, whom I had first followed. My companion kept with me, and we
went forward at full speed. As we rode we heard the faint accents of
the idiot girl crying in the woods for "Master John;" as, here and
there, she wound her way through its recesses, seeking for him who
could no longer answer to her call. Thesounds were painful to me, and I
was glad to get out of hearing of them. I had now none of those
scruples in the pursuit which had beset me before. My trial was over;
and fervently in my heart did I thank God, and the stout fellow who
rode beside me, that my hand had not stricken the cruel blow which was
yet demanded by justice. I urged my horse to the utmost and soon left
my companion behind. I felt that I must gain upon the footsteps of the
fugitive. There were few horses in the country of better bottom, and
more unrelaxing speed than mine. He proved himself on this occasion.
Through bog and branch, he sped; over hill, through dale, until the
road opened in double breadth upon us. The trees grew more
sparsely——the undergrowth was more dense in patches, and it was evident
that we had nearly reached the river. In another moment I caught a
glimpse, not of it only, but of the man I pursued; and he was Foster.
He looked round once, and I fancied I could detect a smile playing on
his lips. I felt loth to trouble this strange fellow. He was a generous
outlaw, and possessed many good qualities. He had given me freely of
his money, though counterfeit, and had shown me a degree of kindness
and consideration, which made me hesitate, now that I had brought him
to the post. I concluded it to be impossible that he should escape me,
and I summoned him with loud tones to surrender,under a promise which I
made him, of using all my efforts and influence to save him from the
consequences of the laws. But he laughed aloud, and pointed to the
river. "He will not venture to swim it surely," was my thought on the
instant. A few moments satisfied my doubts. There was a pile of cotton,
consisting of ten or fifteen bags, lying on the brink of the river, and
ready for transportation to market whenever the boats came by. He threw
himself from his horse as he reached the bags, and tumbling one of them
from the pile into the stream, he leaped boldly upon it, and when I
reached the same spot, the current had already carried him full forty
yards on his way, down the stream. I discharged my pistol at him but
without any hope of touching him at that distance. He laughed
good-naturedly in return, and cried out——
"Ah, Williams, you are a sad dog, and something more of a hypocrite
than the parson. I am afraid you will come to no good, if you keep on
after this fashion; but, should you ever get into a difficulty like
this of mine, I am still sufficiently your friend to hope that you may
find as good a float. You can say to the owner of this cotton——a man
named Baxter, who, I suppose, is one of your party this morning——that
he will find it some five miles below; I shall not want it much
farther. Should he lose it, however, it's as little as a good
patriot——as it is said he is, should be ready at any time to lose for
his country. Farewell——though it be for a season only. We shall meet
some day in Arkansas, where I shall build a church in the absence of
better business, and perhaps make you a convert. Farewell."
Colonel Grafton came up in time to hear the last of this discourse;
and to wonder and laugh at the complacent impudence and ready thoughts
of the outlaw. Foster pulled his hat, with a polite gesture, when he
had finished speaking, and turned his eyes from us in the direction
which his strange craft was taking.
"Shall I give him'a shot, Colonel?" demanded one the foresters, who
had come up with Grafton, lifting his rifle as he spoke.
"No, no!" was the reply——"let him go. He is a clever scoundrel and
may one day become an honest man. We have done enough of this sort of
business this morning, to keep the whole neighbourhood honest for some
years. Let us now return, my friends, and bury those miserable
creatures out of sight. Hurdis!" He took me suddenly aside from the
rest, and said:
"Hurdis, there is a girl back here, who says that you have killed
your own brother. She affirms it positively."
"She speaks falsely, Colonel Grafton," was my reply; "I am not
guilty of a brother's blood; andyet I may say to you that she has
spoken a portion of the truth. A brother of mine has been killed among
the outlaws. Guilty or not guilty of their offences, he pays the
penalty of bad company. If you please we will speak of him no more."
I had been married to Mary Easterby about three years, when one day
who should pay us a visit but Colonel Grafton and the lovely Julia, the
latter far more lovely than ever. Her sorrows had sublimed her beauty,
and seemed to give elevation to all her thoughts and actions. The worm
was gnawing at her heart, and its ravages were extending to her frame;
but her cheek, though pale, was exquisitely transparent, and her eye,
though always sad, was sometimes enlivened with the fires of an intense
spirituality which seemed to indicate the approximation of her thoughts
to the spheres and offices of a loftier home than ours. She lived but a
year after this visit, and died in a sweet sleep, which lasted for
several hours, without being disturbed by pain, and from which she only
awakened in another world. May we hope that the loves were happy there
which had been so unblessed on earth.