Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Twenty Two. An Unknown Donor

In Texas a duel is not even a nine days’ wonder. It oftener ceases to be talked about by the end of the third day; and, at the expiration of a week, is no longer thought of, except by the principals themselves, or their immediate friends and relatives.

This is so, even when the parties are well known, and of respectable standing in society. When the duellists are of humble position—or, as is often the case, strangers in the place—a single day may suffice to doom their achievement to oblivion; to dwell only in the memory of the combatant who has survived it—oftener one than both—and perhaps some ill-starred spectator, who has been bored by a bullet, or received the slash of a knife, not designed for him.

More than once have I been witness to a “street fight”—improvised upon the pavement—where some innocuous citizen, sauntering carelessly along, has become the victim—even unto death—of this irregular method of seeking “satisfaction.”

I have never heard of any punishment awarded, or damages demanded, in such cases. They are regarded as belonging to the “chapter of accidents!”

Though Cassius Calhoun and Maurice Gerald were both comparatively strangers in the settlement—the latter being only seen on occasional visits to the Fort—the affair between them caused something more than the usual interest; and was talked about for the full period of the nine days, the character of the former as a noted bully, and that of the latter as a man of singular habitudes, gave to their duello a certain sort of distinction; and the merits and demerits of the two men were freely discussed for days after the affair had taken place nowhere with more earnestness than upon the spot where they had shed each other’s blood—in the bar-room of the hotel.

The conqueror had gained credit and friends. There were few who favoured his adversary; and not a few who were gratified at the result for, short as had been the time since Calhoun’s arrival, there was more than one saloon lounger who had felt the smart of his insolence. For this it was presumed the young Irishman had administered a cure; and there was almost universal satisfaction at the result.

How the ex-captain carried his discomfiture no one could tell. He was no longer to be seen swaggering in the saloon of the “Rough and Ready;” though the cause of his absence was well understood. It was not chagrin, but his couch; to which he was confined by wounds, that, if not skilfully treated, might consign him to his coffin.

Maurice was in like manner compelled to stay within doors. The injuries he had received, though not so severe as those of his antagonist, were nevertheless of such a character as to make it necessary for him to keep to his chamber—a small, and scantily furnished bedroom in “Old Duffer’s” hotel; where, notwithstanding the éclat derived from his conquest, he was somewhat scurvily treated.

In the hour of his triumph, he had fainted from loss of blood. He could not be taken elsewhere; though, in the shabby apartment to which he had been consigned, he might have thought of the luxurious care that surrounded the couch of his wounded antagonist. Fortunately Phelim was by his side, or he might have been still worse attended to.

“Be Saint Pathrick! it’s a shame,” half soliloquised this faithful follower. “A burnin’ shame to squeeze a gintleman into a hole like this, not bigger than a pig-stoy! A gintleman like you, Masther Maurice. An’ thin such aytin’ and drinkin’. Och! a well fid Oirish pig wud turn up its nose at such traytment. An’ fwhat div yez think I’ve heerd Owld Duffer talkin’ about below?”

“I hav’n’t the slightest idea, my dear Phelim; nor do I care straw to know what you’ve heard Mr Oberdoffer saying below; but if you don’t want him to hear what you are saying above, you’ll moderate your voice a little. Remember, ma bohil, that the partitions in this place are only lath and plaster.”

“Divil take the partitions; and divil burn them, av he loikes. Av yez don’t care fur fwhat’s sed, I don’t care far fwhat’s heeurd—not the snappin’ av me fingers. The Dutchman can’t trate us any worse than he’s been doin’ already. For all that, Masther Maurice, I thought it bist to lit you know.”

“Let me know then. What is it he has been saying?”

“Will, thin; I heerd him tellin’ wan av his croneys that besoides the mate an the dhrink, an the washin’, an lodgin’, he intinded to make you pay for the bottles, and glasses, an other things, that was broke on the night av the shindy.”

“Me pay?”

“Yis, yerself, Masther Maurice; an not a pinny charged to the Yankee. Now I call that downright rascally mane; an nobody but a dhirty Dutchman wud iver hiv thought av it. Av there be anythin’ to pay, the man that’s bate should be made to showldor the damage, an that wasn’t a discindant av the owld Geralds av Ballyballagh. Hoo—hooch! wudn’t I loike to shake a shaylaylah about Duffer’s head for the matther of two minutes? Wudn’t I?”

“What reason did he give for saying that I should pay? Did you hear him state any?”

“I did, masther—the dhirtiest av all raisuns. He sid that you were the bird in the hand; an he wud kape ye till yez sittled the score.”

“He’ll find himself slightly mistaken about that; and would perhaps do better by presenting his bill to the bird in the bush. I shall be willing to pay for half the damage done; but no more. You may tell him so, if he speak to you about it. And, in troth, Phelim, I don’t know how I am to do even that. There must have been a good many breakages. I remember a great deal of jingling while we were at it. If I don’t mistake there was a smashed mirror, or clock dial, or something of the kind.”

“A big lookin’-glass, masther; an a crystal somethin’, that was set over the clock. They say two hunderd dollars. I don’t belave they were worth wan half av the money.”

“Even so, it is a serious matter to me—just at this crisis. I fear, Phelim, you will have to make a journey to the Alamo, and fetch away some of the household gods we have hidden there. To get clear of this scrape I shall have to sacrifice my spurs, my silver cup, and perhaps my gun!”

“Don’t say that, masther! How are we to live, if the gun goes?”

“As we best can, ma bohil. On horseflesh, I suppose: and the lazo will supply that.”

“Be Japers! it wudn’t be much worse than the mate Owld Duffer sits afore us. It gives me the bellyache ivery time I ate it.”

The conversation was here interrupted by the opening of the chamber door; which was done without knocking. A slatternly servant—whose sex it would have been difficult to determine from outward indices—appeared in the doorway, with a basket of palm sinnet held extended at the termination of a long sinewy arm.

“Fwhat is it, Gertrude?” asked Phelim, who, from some previous information, appeared to be acquainted with the feminine character of the intruder.

“A shentlemans prot this.”

“A gentleman! Who, Gertrude?”

“Not know, mein herr; he wash a stranger shentlemans.”

“Brought by a gentleman. Who can he be? See what it in, Phelim.”

Phelim undid the fastenings of the lid, and exposed the interior of the basket. It was one of considerable bulk: since inside were discovered several bottles, apparently containing wines and cordials, packed among a paraphernalia of sweetmeats, and other delicacies—both of the confectionery and the kitchen. There was no note accompanying the present—not even a direction—but the trim and elegant style in which it was done up, proved that it had proceeded from the hands of a lady.

Maurice turned over the various articles, examining each, as Phelim supposed, to take note of its value. Little was he thinking of this, while searching for the “invoice.”

There proved to be none—not a scrap of paper—not so much as a card!

The generosity of the supply—well-timed as it was—bespoke the donor to be some person in affluent circumstances. Who could it be?

As Maurice reflected, a fair image came uppermost in his mind; which he could not help connecting with that of his unknown benefactor. Could it be Louise Poindexter?

In spite of certain improbabilities, he was fain to believe it might; and, so long as the belief lasted, his heart was quivering with a sweet beatitude.

As he continued to reflect, the improbabilities appeared too strong for this pleasant supposition; his faith became overturned; and there remained only a vague unsubstantial hope.

“A gintleman lift it,” spoke the Connemara man, in semi-soliloquy. “A gintleman, she sez; a kind gintleman, I say! Who div yez think he was, masther?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea; unless it may have been some of the officers of the Port; though I could hardly expect one of them to think of me in this fashion.”

“Nayther yez need. It wasn’t wan av them. No officer, or gintleman ayther, phut them things in the basket.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Pwhy div I think it! Och, masther! is it yerself to ask the quistyun? Isn’t there the smell av swate fingers about it? Jist look at the nate way them papers is tied up. That purty kreel was niver packed by the hand av a man. It was done by a wuman; and I’ll warrant a raal lady at that.”

“Nonsense, Phelim! I know no lady who should take so much interest in me.”

“Aw, murdher! What a thumpin’ big fib! I know won that shud. It wud be black ungratytude av she didn’t—afther what yez did for her. Didn’t yez save her life into the bargain?”

“Of whom are you speaking?”

“Now, don’t be desateful, masther. Yez know that I mane the purty crayther that come to the hut ridin’ Spotty that you presinted her, widout resavin’ a dollar for the mare. If it wasn’t her that sint ye this hamper, thin Phaylim Onale is the biggest numskull that was iver born about Ballyballagh. Be the Vargin, masther, speakin’ of the owld place phuts me in mind of its paple. Pwhat wud the blue-eyed colleen say, if she knew yez were in such danger heeur?”

“Danger! it’s all over. The doctor has said so; and that I may go out of doors in a week from this time. Don’t distress yourself about that.”

“Troth, masther, yez be only talkin’. That isn’t the danger I was drhamin’ av. Yez know will enough what I mane. Maybe yez have resaved a wound from bright eyes, worse than that from lid bullets. Or, maybe, somebody ilse has; an that’s why ye’ve had the things sint ye.”

“You’re all wrong, Phelim. The thing must have come from the Fort; but whether it did, or not, there’s no reason why we should stand upon ceremony with its contents. So, here goes to make trial of them!”

Notwithstanding the apparent relish with which the invalid partook of the products—both of collar and cuisine—while eating and drinking, his thoughts were occupied with a still more agreeable theme; with a string of dreamy conjectures, as to whom he was indebted for the princely present.

Could it be the young Creole—the cousin of his direst enemy as well as his reputed sweetheart?

The thing appeared improbable.

If not she, who else could it be?

The mustanger would have given a horse—a whole drove—to have been assured that Louise Poindexter was the provider of that luxurious refection.

Two days elapsed, and the donor still remained unknown.

Then the invalid was once more agreeably surprised, by a second present—very similar to the first—another basket, containing other bottles, and crammed with fresh “confections.”

The Bavarian wench was again questioned; but with no better result. A “shentlemans” had “prot” it—the same “stranger shentlemans” as before. She could only add that “the shentlemans” was very “Schwartz,” wore a glazed hat, and came to the tavern mounted upon a mule.

Maurice did not appear to be gratified with this description of the unknown donor; though no one—not even Phelim—was made the confidant of his thoughts.

In two days afterwards they were toned down to their former sobriety—on the receipt of a third basket, “prot by the Schwartz gentleman” in the glazed hat, who came mounted upon a mule.

The change could not be explained by the belongings in the basket—almost the counterpart of what had been sent before. It might be accounted for by the contents of a billet doux, that accompanied the gift—attached by a ribbon to the wickerwork of palm-sinnet.

“’Tis only Isidora!” muttered the mustanger, as he glanced at the superscription upon the note.

Then opening it with an air of indifference, he read:—

“Querido Señor!

“Soy quedando por una semana en la casa del tio Silvio. De questra desfortuna he oido—tambien que V. esta mal ciudado en la fonda. He mandado algunas cositas. Sea graciosa usarlos, coma una chiquitita memoria del servicio grande de que vuestra deudor estoy. En la silla soy escribando, con las espuelas preparadas sacar sangre de las ijadas del mio cavallo. En un momento mas, partira por el Rio Grande.

“Bienhichor—de mi vida Salvador—y de que a una mujer esa mas querida, la honra—adios—adios!

“Isidora Covarubio De Los Llanos.

“Al Señor Don Mauricio Gerald.”

Literally translated, and in the idiom of the Spanish language, the note ran thus:—

“Dear Sir,—I have been staying for a week at the house of Uncle Silvio. Of your mischance I have heard—also, that you are indifferently cared for at the hotel. I have sent you some little things. Be good enough to make use of them, as a slight souvenir of the great service for which I am your debtor. I write in the saddle, with my spurs ready to draw blood from the flanks of my horse. In another moment I am off for the Rio Grande!

“Benefactor—preserver of my life—of what to a woman is dearer—my honour—adieu! adieu!

“Isidora Covarubio De Los Llanos.”

“Thanks—thanks, sweet Isidora!” muttered the mustanger, as he refolded the note, and threw it carelessly upon the coverlet of his couch. “Ever grateful—considerate—kind! But for Louise Poindexter, I might have loved you!”