Chapter 17 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

A Flight Urged by Despair.

“Now or never!” was the reflection that passed through Clara Blackadder’s mind; and she was in the act of springing up from her recumbent position, when a circumstance occurred seeming to say, “never!”

The mulatto had stepped out from the canvas screen, and stood in front of it; no longer robed in the costume of an Indian chief, but wearing the same dress he had worn as a slave on the Mississippi plantation. It was the same as on that morning when she had been a spectator of his punishment. He was the Blue Dick of bygone days, only taller and stouter. But the coarse jeans coat and cotton trousers, of copperas-stripe, had been ample enough not to be outgrown.

“You’ll know me better now, my old masters and fellow-slaves,” he shouted out, adding a derisive laugh. “And you, too, my young mistress,” he continued, turning toward the group of white women, and approaching it in a triumphant stride. “Ha, Miss Clara Blackadder! You little thought, when one fine day you stood in the porch of your father’s fine house, looking calmly on while I was in torture, that, some other fine day, your turn would come for being tortured too. It has come! The rest, including your beautiful brother, have had a taste—only a taste of what’s in store for them. I’ve kept you to the last, because you are the daintiest. That’s always the way in a feast of revenge. Ha, ha, ha!”

The young lady made no reply. In the fiendish glance cast upon her, she saw there was no hope for mercy, and that words would be thrown away. She only crouched cowering before him.

But even at that moment she did not lose presence of mind. She still contemplated springing up, and making toward her horse.

Alas! it seemed impossible. He stood right in the way, and could have caught her before she had taken three steps.

And he did catch her before she had made one—even before she had attempted to stand erect.

“Come!” cried he, roughly clasping her waist, and jerking her to her feet. “Come with me. You’ve been a looker-on long enough. It’s your turn now to afford sport for others.”

And, without waiting for a reply, he commenced dragging her in the direction of the waterfall.

She made no resistance. She did not scream, nor cry out. She knew it would be idle.

But there was a cry sent from the other side of the glen—a shriek so loud, wild, and unearthly, that it caused the mulatto to stop suddenly, and look in the direction whence it came.

Rushing out from among the crowd of negro captives, was one who might have been the oldest of them—a woman of near seventy years of age, and that weird aspect common among the old crones of a plantation. With hollow cheeks, and white wool thinly set over her temples, with long shrivelled arms outstretched beyond the scant rag of garment which the plunderers had permitted to remain upon her shoulders, she looked like some African Hecate, suddenly exorcised for the occasion.

Despite the forbidding aspect, hers was not an errand of destruction, but mercy.

“Let go hole of de young missa!” she cried, pressing forward to the spot. “You let go hole ob her, Bew Dick. You touch a hair ob her head! Ef you do, you a tief—a murderer. Yach! wuss dan dat. You be a murderin’ ob you own fresh an’ brud!”

“What do you mean, you old fool!” cried the mulatto, at the same time showing, by his looks, that her words had surprised him.

“Wha de ole fool mean? She mean wha she hab jess say. Dat ef you do harm to Missy Crara, you harm you own sissa!”

The mulatto started as if he had received a stab.

“My sister!” he exclaimed. “You’re gabbling, Nan. You’re old, and have lost your senses.”

“No, Bew Dick; Nan habent loss none o’ her senses, nor her ’membrance neider. She ’memba dan’lin you on her knee, when you wa’ bit piccaninny, not bigger dan a ’possum. She nuss Miss Crara ’bout de same time. She know who boaf come from. You boaf childen ob de same fadder—ob Mass Brackadder; an’ she you sissa. Ole Nan tell you so. She willin’ swar it.”

For a time Blue Dick seemed stunned by the startling revelation. And equally so she, whose wrist he still held in angry clasp. It was a tale strange and new to both of them.

But the asseverations of the old negress had in them the earnestness of truth; more so at such a moment. And along with this were some gleams of light, derived from an indefinite source—instincts or dreams—perhaps some whisperings over the cradle—that served to confirm her statement.

Revolting as was the thought of such a relationship to the delicate sensibilities of the young lady, she did not attempt to deny it. Perhaps it might be the means of saving her brother and herself; and, for the first time, she turned her eyes toward the face of Blue Dick in a glance of appeal.

It fell in sudden disappointment. There was no mercy there—no look of a brother! On the contrary, the countenance of the mulatto—always marked by a harsh, sinister expression—seemed now more merciless than ever. His eyes were absolutely dancing with a demoniac triumph.

“Sister!” he cried, at length, sarcastically hissing the word through his teeth. “A sweet sister! she who all my early life has been but my tyrant mistress! What if we are from the same father? Our mothers were different, and I am the son of my mother. A dear father, indeed, who taught me but to toil for him! And that an affectionate brother!”—here he pointed to Blount, who, restored to his fastenings, lay stretched on the grass—“who only delighted in torturing me; who ruined my love—my life! Sweet sister, indeed! you, who treated me as a menial and slave! Now shall you be mine! You shall sweep out my tent, wait upon my Indian wife, work for her, slave for her, as I have done for you. Come on, Miss Clara Blackadder!”

Freshly grasping the young lady’s wrist, he recommenced dragging her across the camp-ground.

An involuntary murmur of disapprobation rose from the different groups of captives. During their long, toilsome journey across the plains, Clara Blackadder had won the good wishes of all—not only by her grace and beauty, but for many kindnesses shown to her travelling companions, black as well as white. And when they now saw her in the clutch of the unnatural monster, being led, as they supposed, to the terrible torture some of them had already experienced, one and all uttered exclamations against it. They were not certain that such was the torture intended by the spiteful renegade; they only guessed it, by the direction in which he was conducting her.

Whatever might have been his purpose, it was prevented.

With a spring as if all the energies of youth had been restored to her shrivelled frame, the old nurse rushed upon him; and clutching his throat in her long bony fingers, caused him to let go his hold.

He turned upon her like an enraged tiger, and, after a short struggle, ending with a blow from his strong arm, old Nan fell flat upon the earth.

But on facing toward the girl to renew his grasp, he saw she was no longer within his reach! While he was struggling with the negress, she had darted away from his side; and, springing upon the back of her own horse, was urging the animal in full gallop out of the gorge!