Headless Horseman by Mayne Reid - Chapter Thirty Eight. The Avengers

Hastily—perhaps too truly—construing the sinister evidence, the half-frantic father leaped into the bloody saddle, and galloped direct for the Fort.

Calhoun, upon his own horse, followed close after.

The hue and cry soon spread abroad. Rapid riders carried it up and down the river, to the remotest plantations of the settlement.

The Indians were out, and near at hand, reaping their harvest of scalps! That of young Poindexter was the firstfruits of their sanguinary gleaning!

Henry Poindexter—the noble generous youth who had not an enemy in all Texas! Who but Indians could have spilled such innocent blood? Only the Comanches could have been so cruel?

Among the horsemen, who came quickly together on the parade ground of Port Inge, no one doubted that the Comanches had done the deed. It was simply a question of how, when, and where.

The blood drops pretty clearly, proclaimed the first. He who had shed them must have been shot, or speared, while sitting in his saddle. They were mostly on the off side; where they presented an appearance, as if something had been slaked over them. This was seen both on the shoulders of the horse, and the flap of the saddle. Of course it was the body of the rider as it slipped lifeless to the earth.

There were some who spoke with equal certainty as to the time—old frontiersmen experienced in such matters.

According to them the blood was scarce “ten hours old:” in other words, must have been shed about ten hours before.

It was now noon. The murder must have been committed at two o’clock in the morning.

The third query was, perhaps, the most important—at least now that the deed was done.

Where had it been done? Where was the body to be found?

After that, where should the assassins be sought for?

These were the questions discussed by the mixed council of settlers and soldiers, hastily assembled at Port Inge, and presided over by the commandant of the Fort—the afflicted father standing speechless by his side.

The last was of special importance. There are thirty-two points in the compass of the prairies, as well as in that which guides the ocean wanderer; and, therefore, in any expedition going in search of a war-party of Comanches, there would be thirty-two chances to one against its taking the right track.

It mattered not that the home of these nomadic savages was in the west. That was a wide word; and signified anywhere within a semicircle of some hundreds of miles.

Besides, the Indians were now upon the war-trail; and, in an isolated settlement such as that of the Leona, as likely to make their appearance from the east. More likely, indeed, since such is a common strategic trick of these astute warriors.

To have ridden forth at random would have been sheer folly; with such odds against going the right way, as thirty-two to one.

A proposal to separate the command into several parties, and proceed in different directions, met with little favour from any one. It was directly negatived by the major himself.

The murderers might be a thousand, the avengers were but the tenth of that number: consisting of some fifty dragoons who chanced to be in garrison, with about as many mounted civilians. The party must be kept together, or run the risk of being attacked, and perhaps cut off, in detail!

The argument was deemed conclusive. Even, the bereaved father—and cousin, who appeared equally the victim of a voiceless grief—consented to shape their course according to the counsels of the more prudent majority, backed by the authority of the major himself.

It was decided that the searchers should proceed in a body.

In what direction? This still remained the subject of discussion.

The thoughtful captain of infantry now became a conspicuous figure, by suggesting that some inquiry should be made, as to what direction had been last taken by the man who was supposed to be murdered. Who last saw Henry Poindexter?

His father and cousin were first appealed to.

The former had last seen his son at the supper table; and supposed him to have gone thence to his bed.

The answer of Calhoun was less direct, and, perhaps, less satisfactory. He had conversed with his cousin at a later hour, and had bidden him good night, under the impression that he was retiring to his room.

Why was Calhoun concealing what had really occurred? Why did he refrain from giving a narration of that garden scene to which he had been witness?

Was it, that he feared humiliation by disclosing the part he had himself played?

Whatever was the reason, the truth was shunned; and an answer given, the sincerity of which was suspected by more than one who listened to it.

The evasiveness might have been more apparent, had there been any reason for suspicion, or had the bystanders been allowed longer time to reflect upon it.

While the inquiry was going on, light came in from a quartet hitherto unthought of. The landlord of the Rough and Ready, who had come uncalled to the council, after forcing his way through the crowd, proclaimed himself willing to communicate some facts worth their hearing—in short, the very facts they were endeavouring to find out: when Henry Poindexter had been last seen, and what the direction he had taken.

Oberdoffer’s testimony, delivered in a semi-Teutonic tongue, was to the effect: that Maurice the mustanger—who had been staying at his hotel ever since his fight with Captain Calhoun—had that night ridden out at a late hour, as he had done for several nights before.

He had returned to the hotel at a still later hour; and finding it open—on account of a party of bons vivants who had supped there—had done that which he had not done for a long time before—demanded his bill, and to Old Duffer’s astonishment—as the latter naïvely confessed—settled every cent of it!

Where he had procured the money “Gott” only knew, or why he left the hotel in such a hurry. Oberdoffer himself only knew that he had left it, and taken all his ‘trapsh’ along with him—just as he was in the habit of doing, whenever he went off upon one of his horse-catching expeditions.

On one of these the village Boniface supposed him to have gone.

What had all this to do with the question before the council? Much indeed; though it did not appear till the last moment of his examination, when the witness revealed the more pertinent facts:—that about twenty minutes after the mustanger had taken his departure from the hotel, “Heinrich Poindexter” knocked at the door, and inquired after Mr Maurice Gerald;—that on being told the latter was gone, as also the time, and probable direction he had taken, the “young gentlemans” rode off a a quick pace, as if with the intention of overtaking him.

This was all Mr Oberdoffer knew of the matter; and all he could be expected to tell.

The intelligence, though containing several points but ill understood, was nevertheless a guide to the expeditionary party. It furnished a sort of clue to the direction they ought to take. If the missing man had gone off with Maurice the mustanger, or after him, he should be looked for on the road the latter himself would be likely to have taken.

Did any one know where the horse-hunter had his home?

No one could state the exact locality; though there were several who believed it was somewhere among the head-waters of the Nueces, on a creek called the “Alamo.”

To the Alamo, then, did they determine upon proceeding in quest of the missing man, or his dead body—perhaps, also, to find that of Maurice the mustanger; and, at the same time, avenge upon the savage assassins two murders instead of one.