Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Twenty Eight. A Pleasure Forbidden

Ever since Texas became the scene of an Anglo-Saxon immigration—I might go a century farther back and say, from the time of its colonisation by the descendants of the Conquistadores—the subject of primary importance has been the disposition of its aborigines.

Whether these, the lawful lords of the soil, chanced to be in a state of open war—or whether, by some treaty with the settlers they were consenting to a temporary peace—made but slight difference, so far as they were talked about. In either case they were a topic of daily discourse. In the former it related to the dangers to be hourly apprehended from them; in the latter, to the probable duration of such treaty as might for the moment be binding them to hold their tomahawks entombed.

In Mexican times these questions formed the staple of conversation, at desayuno, almuerzo, comida, y cena; in American times, up to this present hour, they have been the themes of discussion at the breakfast, dinner, and supper tables. In the planter’s piazza, as in the hunter’s camp, bear, deer, cougar, and peccary, are not named with half the frequency, or half the fear-inspiring emphasis, allotted to the word “Indian.” It is this that scares the Texan child instead of the stereotyped nursery ghost, keeping it awake upon its moss-stuffed mattress—disturbing almost as much the repose of its parent.

Despite the surrounding of strong walls—more resembling those of a fortress than a gentleman’s dwelling—the inmates of Casa del Corvo were not excepted from this feeling of apprehension, universal along the frontier. As yet they knew little of the Indians, and that little only from report; but, day by day, they were becoming better acquainted with the character of this natural “terror” that interfered with the slumbers of their fellow settlers.

That it was no mere “bogie” they had begun to believe; but if any of them remained incredulous, a note received from the major commanding the Fort—about two weeks after the horse-hunting expedition—was calculated to cure them of their incredulity. It came in the early morning, carried by a mounted rifleman. It was put into the hands of the planter just as he was about sitting down to the breakfast-table, around which were assembled the three individuals who composed his household—his daughter Louise, his son Henry, and his nephew Cassius Calhoun.

“Startling news!” he exclaimed, after hastily reading, the note. “Not very pleasant if true; and I suppose there can be no doubt of that, since the major appears convinced.”

“Unpleasant news, papa?” asked his daughter, a spot of red springing to her cheek as she put the question.

The spoken interrogatory was continued by others, not uttered aloud.

“What can the major have written to him? I met him yesterday while riding in the chapparal. He saw me in company with—Can it be that? Mon Dieu! if father should hear it—”

“‘The Comanches on the war trail’—so writes the major.”

“Oh, that’s all!” said Louise, involuntarily giving voice to the phrase, as if the news had nothing so very fearful in it. “You frightened us, sir. I thought it was something worse.”

“Worse! What trifling, child, to talk so! There is nothing worse, in Texas, than Comanches on the war trail—nothing half so dangerous.”

Louise might have thought there was—a danger at least as difficult to be avoided. Perhaps she was reflecting upon a pursuit of wild steeds—or thinking of the trail of a lazo.

She made no reply. Calhoun continued the conversation.

“Is the major sure of the Indians being up? What does he say, uncle?”

“That there have been rumours of it for some days past, though not reliable. Now it is certain. Last night Wild Cat, the Seminole chief, came to the Fort with a party of his tribe; bringing the news that the painted pole has been erected in the camps of the Comanches all over Texas, and that the war dance has been going on for more than a month. That several parties are already out upon the maraud, and may be looked for among the settlements at any moment.”

“And Wild Cat himself—what of him?” asked Louise, an unpleasant reminiscence suggesting the inquiry. “Is that renegade Indian to be trusted, who appears to be as much an enemy to the whites as to the people of his own race?”

“Quite true, my daughter. You have described the chief of the Seminoles almost in the same terms as I find him spoken of, in a postscript to the major’s letter. He counsels us to beware of the two-faced old rascal, who will be sure to take sides with the Comanches, whenever it may suit his convenience to do so.”

“Well,” continued the planter, laying aside the note, and betaking himself to his coffee and waffles, “I trust we sha’n’t see any redskins here—either Seminoles or Comanches. In making their marauds, let us hope they will not like the look of the crenelled parapets of Casa del Corvo, but give the hacienda a wide berth.”

Before any one could respond, a sable face appearing at the door of the dining-room—which was the apartment in which breakfast was being eaten—caused a complete change in the character of the conversation.

The countenance belonged to Pluto, the coachman.

“What do you want, Pluto?” inquired his owner.

“Ho, ho! Massr Woodley, dis chile want nuffin ’t all. Only look in t’ tell Missa Looey dat soon’s she done eat her brekfass de spotty am unner de saddle, all ready for chuck de bit into him mouf. Ho! ho! dat critter do dance ’bout on de pave stone as ef it wa’ mad to ’treak it back to de smoove tuff ob de praira.”

“Going out for a ride, Louise?” asked the planter with a shadow upon his brow, which he made but little effort to conceal.

“Yes, papa; I was thinking of it.”

“You must not.”


“I mean, that you must not ride out alone. It is not proper.”

“Why do you think so, papa? I have often ridden out alone.”

“Yes; perhaps too often.”

This last remark brought the slightest tinge of colour to the cheeks of the young Creole; though she seemed uncertain what construction she was to put upon it.

Notwithstanding its ambiguity, she did not press for an explanation. On the contrary, she preferred shunning it; as was shown by her reply.

“If you think so, papa, I shall not go out again. Though to be cooped up here, in this dismal dwelling, while you gentlemen are all abroad upon business—is that the life you intend me to lead in Texas?”

“Nothing of the sort, my daughter. I have no objection to your riding out as much as you please; but Henry must be with you, or your cousin Cassius. I only lay an embargo on your going alone. I have my reasons.”

“Reasons! What are they?”

The question came involuntarily to her lips. It had scarce passed them, ere she regretted having asked it. By her uneasy air it was evident she had apprehensions as to the answer.

The reply appeared partially to relieve her.

“What other reasons do you want,” said the planter, evidently endeavouring to escape from the suspicion of duplicity by the Statement of a convenient fact—“what better, than the contents of this letter from the major? Remember, my child, you are not in Louisiana, where a lady may travel anywhere without fear of either insult or outrage; but in Texas, where she may dread both—where even her life may be in danger. Here there are Indians.”

“My excursions don’t extend so far from the house, that I need have any fear of Indians. I never go more than five miles at the most.”

“Five miles!” exclaimed the ex-officer of volunteers, with a sardonic smile; “you would be as safe at fifty, cousin Loo. You are just as likely to encounter the redskins within a hundred yards of the door, as at the distance of a hundred miles. When they are on the war trail they may be looked for anywhere, and at any time. In my opinion, uncle Woodley is rights you are very foolish to ride out alone.”

“Oh! you say so?” sharply retorted the young Creole, turning disdainfully towards her cousin. “And pray, sir, may I ask of what service your company would be to me in the event of my encountering the Comanches, which I don’t believe there’s the slightest danger of my doing? A pretty figure we’d cut—the pair of us—in the midst of a war-party of painted savages! Ha! ha! The danger would be yours, not mine: since I should certainly ride away, and leave you to your own devices. Danger, indeed, within five miles of the house! If there’s a horseman in Texas—savages not excepted—who can catch up with my little Luna in a five mile stretch, he must ride a swift steed; which is more than you do, Mr Cash!”

“Silence, daughter!” commanded Poindexter. “Don’t let me hear you talk in that absurd strain. Take no notice of it, nephew. Even if there were no danger from Indians, there are other outlaws in these parts quite as much to be shunned as they. Enough that I forbid you to ride abroad, as you have of late been accustomed to do.”

“Be it as you will, papa,” rejoined Louise, rising from the breakfast-table, and with an air of resignation preparing to leave the room. “Of course I shall obey you—at the risk of losing my health for want of exercise. Go, Pluto!” she added, addressing herself to the darkey, who still stood grinning in the doorway, “turn Luna loose into the corral—the pastures—anywhere. Let her stray back to her native prairies, if the creature be so inclined; she’s no longer needed here.”

With this speech, the young lady swept out of the sala, leaving the three gentlemen, who still retained their seats by the table, to reflect upon the satire intended to be conveyed by her words.

They were not the last to which she gave utterance in that same series. As she glided along the corridor leading to her own chamber, others, low murmured, mechanically escaped from her lips. They were in the shape of interrogatories—a string of them self-asked, and only to be answered by conjecture.

“What can papa have heard? Is it but his suspicions? Can any one have told him? Does he knew that we have met?”