Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Thirty Two. Light and Shade

He had not long to chafe under the trysting-tree, if such it were. At the very moment when he was stepping into the skiff, a casement window that looked to the rear of the hacienda commenced turning upon its hinges, and was then for a time held slightly ajar; as if some one inside was intending to issue forth, and only hesitated in order to be assured that the “coast was clear.”

A small white hand—decorated with jewels that glistened under the light of the moon—grasping the sash told that the individual who had opened the window was of the gentler sex; the tapering fingers, with their costly garniture, proclaimed her a lady; while the majestic figure—soon after exhibited outside, on the top of the stairway that led down to the garden—could be no other than that of Louise Poindexter.

It was she.

For a second or two the lady stood listening. She heard, or fancied she heard, the dip of an oar. She might be mistaken; for the stridulation of the cicadas filled the atmosphere with confused sound. No matter. The hour of assignation had arrived; and she was not the one to stand upon punctilios as to time—especially after spending two hours of solitary expectation in her chamber, that had appeared like as many. With noiseless tread descending the stone stairway, she glided sylph-like among the statues and shrubs; until, arriving under the shadow of the cotton-wood, she flung herself into arms eagerly outstretched to receive her.

Who can describe the sweetness of such embrace—strange to say, sweeter from being stolen? Who can paint the delicious emotions experienced at such a moment—too sacred to be touched by the pen?

It is only after long throes of pleasure had passed, and the lovers had begun to converse in the more sober language of life, that it becomes proper, or even possible to report them.

Thus did they speak to each other, the lady taking the initiative:—

“To-morrow night you will meet me again—to-morrow night, dearest Maurice?”

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,—if I were free to say the word.”

“And why not? Why are you not free to say it?”

“To-morrow, by break of day, I am off for the Alamo.”

“Indeed! Is it imperative you should go?”

The interrogatory was put in a tone that betrayed displeasure. A vision of a sinister kind always came before the mind of Louise Poindexter at mention of the lone hut on the Alamo.

And why? It had afforded her hospitality. One would suppose that her visit to it could scarce fail to be one of the pleasantest recollections of her life. And yet it was not!

“I have excellent reasons for going,” was the reply she received.

“Excellent reasons! Do you expect to meet any one there?”

“My follower Phelim—no one else. I hope the poor fellow is still above the grass. I sent him out about ten days ago—before there was any tidings of these Indian troubles.”

“Only Phelim you expect to meet? Is it true, Gerald? Dearest! do not deceive me! Only him?”

“Why do you ask the question, Louise?”

“I cannot tell you why. I should die of shame to speak my secret thoughts.”

“Do not fear to speak them! I could keep no secret from you—in truth I could not. So tell me what it is, love!”

“Do you wish me, Maurice?”

“I do—of course I do. I feel sure that whatever it may be, I shall be able to explain it. I know that my relations with you are of a questionable character; or might be so deemed, if the world knew of them. It is for that very reason I am going back to the Alamo.”

“And to stay there?”

“Only for a single day, or two at most. Only to gather up my household gods, and bid a last adieu to my prairie life.”


“You appear surprised.”

“No! only mystified. I cannot comprehend you. Perhaps I never shall!”

“’Tis very simple—the resolve I have taken. I know you will forgive me, when I make it known to you.”

“Forgive you, Maurice! For what do you ask forgiveness?”

“For keeping it a secret from you, that—that I am not what I seem.”

“God forbid you should be otherwise than what you seem to me—noble, grand, beautiful, rare among men! Oh, Maurice! you know not how I esteem—how I love you!”

“Not more than I esteem and love you. It is that very esteem that now counsels me to a separation.”

“A separation?”

“Yes, love; but it is to be hoped only for a short time.”

“How long?”

“While a steamer can cross the Atlantic, and return.”

“An age! And why this?”

“I am called to my native country—Ireland, so much despised, as you already know. ’Tis only within the last twenty hours I received the summons. I obey it the more eagerly, that it tells me I shall be able soon to return, and prove to your proud father that the poor horse-hunter who won his daughter’s heart—have I won it, Louise?”

“Idle questioner! Won it? You know you have more than won it—conquered it to a subjection from which it can never escape. Mock me not, Maurice, nor my stricken heart—henceforth, and for evermore, your slave!”

During the rapturous embrace that followed this passionate speech, by which a high-born and beautiful maiden confessed to have surrendered herself—heart, soul, and body—to the man who had made conquest of her affections, there was silence perfect and profound.

The grasshopper amid the green herbage, the cicada on the tree-leaf, the mock-bird on the top of the tall cotton-wood, and the nightjar soaring still higher in the moonlit air, apparently actuated by a simultaneous instinct, ceased to give utterance to their peculiar cries: as though one and all, by their silence, designed to do honour to the sacred ceremony transpiring in their presence!

But that temporary cessation of sounds was due to a different cause. A footstep grating upon the gravelled walk of the garden—and yet touching it so lightly, that only an acute ear could have perceived the contact—was the real cause why the nocturnal voices had suddenly become stilled.

The lovers, absorbed in the sweet interchange of a mutual affection, heard it not. They saw not that dark shadow, in the shape of man or devil, flitting among the flowers; now standing by a statue; now cowering under cover of the shrubbery, until at length it became stationary behind the trunk of a tree, scarce ten paces from the spot where they were kissing each other!

Little did they suspect, in that moment of celestial happiness when all nature was hushed around them, that the silence was exposing their passionate speeches, and the treacherous moon, at the same time, betraying their excited actions.

That shadowy listener, crouching guilty-like behind the tree, was a witness to both. Within easy earshot, he could hear every word—even the sighs and soft low murmurings of their love; while under the silvery light of the moon, with scarce a sprig coming between, he could detect their slightest gestures.

It is scarce necessary to give the name of the dastardly eavesdropper. That of Cassius Calhoun will have suggested itself.