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Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Twenty Seven. I Love You!—I Love You!

Louise Poindexter upon the azotea again—again to be subjected to a fresh chagrin! That broad stone stairway trending up to the housetop, seemed to lead only to spectacles that gave her pain. She had mentally vowed no more to ascend it—at least for a long time. Something stronger than her strong will combatted—and successfully—the keeping of that vow. It was broken ere the sun of another day had dried the dew from the grass of the prairie.

As on the day before, she stood by the parapet scanning the road on the opposite side of the river; as before, she saw the horseman with the slung arm ride past; as before, she crouched to screen herself from observation.

He was going downwards, as on the day preceding. In like manner did he cast long glances towards the hacienda, and made halt behind the clump of trees that grew opposite.

Her heart fluttered between hope and fear. There was an instant when she felt half inclined to show herself. Fear prevailed; and in the next instant he was gone.


The self-asked interrogatory was but the same as of yesterday. It met with a similar response.

Whither, if not to meet Doña Isidora Covarubio de los Llanos?

Could there be a doubt of it?

If so, it was soon to be determined. In less than twenty minutes after, a parded steed was seen upon the same road—and in the same direction—with a lady upon its back.

The jealous heart of the Creole could hold out no longer. No truth could cause greater torture than she was already suffering through suspicion. She had resolved on assuring herself, though the knowledge should prove fatal to the last faint remnant of her hopes.

She entered the chapparal where the mustanger had ridden in scarce twenty minutes before. She rode on beneath the flitting shadows of the acacias. She rode in silence upon the soft turf—keeping close to the side of the path, so that the hoof might not strike against stones. The long pinnate fronds, drooping down to the level of her eyes, mingled with the plumes in her hat. She sate her saddle crouchingly, as if to avoid being observed—all the while with earnest glance scanning the open space before her.

She reached the crest of a hill which commanded a view beyond. There was a house in sight surrounded by tall trees. It might have been termed a mansion. It was the residence of Don Silvio Martinez, the uncle of Doña Isidora. So much had she learnt already.

There were other houses to be seen upon the plain below; but on this one, and the road leading to it, the eyes of the Creole became fixed in a glance of uneasy interrogation.

For a time she continued her scrutiny without satisfaction. No one appeared either at the house, or near it. The private road leading to the residence of the haciendado, and the public highway, were alike without living forms. Some horses were straying over the pastures; but not one with a rider upon his back.

Could the lady have ridden out to meet him, or Maurice gone in?

Were they at that moment in the woods, or within the walls of the house? If the former, was Don Silvio aware of it? If the latter, was he at home—an approving party to the assignation?

With such questions was the Creole afflicting herself, when the neigh of a horse broke abruptly on her ear, followed by the chinking of a shod hoof against the stones of the causeway. She looked below: for she had halted upon the crest, a steep acclivity. The mustanger was ascending it—riding directly towards her. She might have seen him sooner, had she not been occupied with the more distant view.

He was alone, as he had ridden past Casa del Corvo. There was nothing to show that he had recently been in company—much less in the company of an inamorata.

It was too late for Louise to shun him. The spotted mustang had replied to the salutation of an old acquaintance. Its rider was constrained to keep her ground, till the mustanger came up.

“Good day, Miss Poindexter?” said he—for upon the prairies it is not etiquette for the lady to speak first. “Alone?”

“Alone, sir. And why not?”

“’Tis a solitary ride among the chapparals. But true: I think I’ve heard you say you prefer that sort of thing?”

“You appear to like it yourself, Mr Gerald. To you, however, it is not so solitary, I presume?”

“In faith I do like it; and just for that very reason. I have the misfortune to live at a tavern, or ‘hotel,’ as mine host is pleased to call it; and one gets so tired of the noises—especially an invalid, as I have the bad luck to be—that a ride along this quiet road is something akin to luxury. The cool shade of these acacias—which the Mexicans have vulgarised by the name of mezquites—with the breeze that keeps constantly circulating through their fan-like foliage, would invigorate the feeblest of frames. Don’t you think so, Miss Poindexter?”

“You should know best, sir,” was the reply vouchsafed, after some seconds of embarrassment. “You, who have so often tried it.”

“Often! I have been only twice down this road since I have been able to sit in my saddle. But, Miss Poindexter, may I ask how you knew that I have been this way at all?”

“Oh!” rejoined Louise, her colour going and coming as she spoke, “how could I help knowing it? I am in the habit of spending much time on the housetop. The view, the breeze, the music of the birds, ascending from the garden below, makes it a delightful spot—especially in the cool of the morning. Our roof commands a view of this road. Being up there, how could I avoid seeing you as you passed—that is, so long as you were not under the shade of the acacias?”

“You saw me, then?” said Maurice, with an embarrassed air, which was not caused by the innuendo conveyed in her last words—which he could not have comprehended—but by a remembrance of how he had himself behaved while riding along the reach of open road.

“How could I help it?” was the ready reply. “The distance is scarce six hundred yards. Even a lady, mounted upon a steed much smaller than yours, was sufficiently conspicuous to be identified. When I saw her display her wonderful skill, by strangling a poor little antelope with her lazo, I knew it could be no other than she whose accomplishments you were so good as to give me an account of.”



“Ah; true! She has been here for some time.”

“And has been very kind to Mr Maurice Gerald?”

“Indeed, it is true. She has been very kind; though I have had no chance of thanking her. With all her friendship for poor me, she is a great hater of us foreign invaders; and would not condescend to step over the threshold of Mr Oberdoffer’s hotel.”

“Indeed! I suppose she preferred meeting you under the shade of the acacias!”

“I have not met her at all; at least, not for many months; and may not for months to come—now that she has gone back to her home on the Rio Grande.”

“Are you speaking the truth, sir? You have not seen her since—she is gone away from the house of her uncle?”

“She has,” replied Maurice, exhibiting surprise. “Of course, I have not seen her. I only knew she was here by her sending me some delicacies while I was ill. In truth, I stood in need of them. The hotel cuisine is none of the nicest; nor was I the most welcome of Mr Oberdoffer’s guests. The Doña Isidora has been but too grateful for the slight service I once did her.”

“A service! May I ask what it was, Mr Gerald?”

“Oh, certainly. It was merely a chance. I had the opportunity of being useful to the young lady, in once rescuing her from some rude Indians—Wild Oat and his Seminoles—into whose hands she had fallen, while making a journey from the Rio Grande to visit her uncle on the Leona—Don Silvio Martinez, whose house you can see from here. The brutes had got drunk; and were threatening—not exactly her life—though that was in some danger, but—well, the poor girl was in trouble with them, and might have had some difficulty in getting away, had I not chanced to ride up.”

“A slight service, you call it? You are modest in your estimate, Mr Gerald. A man who should do that much for me!”

“What would you do for him?” asked the mustanger, placing a significant emphasis on the final word.

“I should love him,” was the prompt reply.

“Then,” said Maurice, spurring his horse close up to the side of the spotted mustang, and whispering into the ear of its rider, with an earnestness strangely contrasting to his late reticence, “I would give half my life to see you in the hands of Wild Cat and his drunken comrades—the other half to deliver you from the danger.”

“Do you mean this, Maurice Gerald? Do not trifle with me: I am not a child. Speak the truth! Do you mean it?”

“I do! As heaven is above me, I do!”

The sweetest kiss I ever had in my life, was when a woman—a fair creature, in the hunting field—leant over in her saddle and kissed me as I sate in mine.

The fondest embrace ever received by Maurice Gerald, was that given by Louise Poindexter; when, standing up in her stirrup, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, she cried in an agony of earnest passion—

“Do with me as thou wilt: I love you, I love you!”

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