Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Eleven. An Unexpected Arrival

“Say, ye durnationed nigger! whar’s yur master?”

“Mass Poindex’er, sar? De ole massr, or de young ’un?”

“Young ’un be durned! I mean Mister Peintdexter. Who else shed I? Whar air he?”

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

“Down the river! How fur d’ye reck’n?”

“Ho! ho! sar. Dis nigga reck’n it be ’bout tree or four mile—dat at de berry leas’.”

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

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

“Durn you, nigger, don’t ye remember me? Now I look into yur ugly mug, I recollex you.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord o’ marcy, Miss Lewaze!” he at length gasped forth, “I thort when I used to see you on the Massissippi, ye war the puttiest critter on the airth; but now, I think ye the puttiest thing eyther on airth or in hewing. Geehosofat!”

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

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

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

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

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

“No, gurl. Durn yur water! I hev hed enuf o’ thet since I started this mornin’. I hain’t hed a taste o’ licker the hul day—ne’er as much as the smell o’ it.”

“Dear Mr Stump! surely you can’t drink it that way? Why, it will burn your throat! Have a little sugar, or honey, along with it?”

“Speil it, miss. It air sweet enuf ’ithout that sort o’ docterin’; ’specially arter you hev looked inter the glass. Yu’ll see ef I can’t drink it. Hyur goes to try!”

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

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

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

“Putty critter ye may well pernounce it. It ur all o’ thet. Besides, it ur a maar.”

“A ma-a-r! What is that, Mr Stump? I don’t understand.”

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

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

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

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

“What makes her a maar? ’Case she ain’t a hoss; thet’s what make it, Miss Peintdexter.”

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

“Heern o’ her, seed her, an feeled her.”


“She air grupped.”

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

“Ye mean who grupped the maar?”


“Why, in coorse it wur a mowstanger.”

“A mustanger?”

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

“His name?”

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

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

Neither had escaped the observation of Florinda.

“La, Miss Looey!” exclaimed the latter, “shoo dat de name ob de brave young white gen’l’m—he dat us save from being smodered on de brack prairee?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ye won’t need it long afore ye git it, then; thet ole Zeb Stump kin promise ye, Miss Peintdexter. He’d be stinkiner than a skunk, an a bigger coward than a coyoat, es wouldn’t stan’ by sech as you, while there wur a bottle-full o’ breath left in the inside o’ his body.”

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

“I dud.”

“You meant—?”

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

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

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

“Boun’ to do it, ef you bid me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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